How to Make Noise Blocking Earbuds

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The winner! Does reduce noise somewhat.

I love podcasts.  You probably love podcasts.  The problem is finding time to listen to them.  I’ve started listening to some when I mow the lawn but the sound of the mower drowns out the sound of the podcast.  I won’t wear my nice noise-canceling headphones out in the yard where they would probably get dirty, sweaty, and damaged.  What to do?

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Making a Harry Potter Wand

Packaging for a Wizard's Wand.  Name and Address Blanked out to Prevent any Muggling.
Packaging for a Wizard’s Wand. Name and Address Blanked out to Prevent any Muggling.

My ears perked up when I found out that our good friends oldest boy is such a Harry Potter fan that they are going to both HP theme parks in Orlando for his birthday.  I thought I’d have just enough time to construct a wand for him before they left.

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New Zealand: Introduction and Planning

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Purple mountains light up at the dawn of a new trip. Those little black dots on the grass are sheep!

You can jump straight to Day One of the trip.

I am so thrilled to be sharing the recap of our recent trip to New Zealand!  This post will serve as an intro and talk you through the months of planning that we did.  If you are dreaming of  visiting New Zealand in the future,  I hope this information makes your planning quicker and easier.

Be sure to follow this blog as upcoming posts will walk you through each day of our trip with details and pictures.

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100 Push Ups

Have you ever been able to do 100 push ups in a row?  I didn’t think so.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could?  What if I told you there was a simple 15-minute program that could take you from lump to push up master?

A friend of mine went from being able to do just a few (maybe none) to 100 in a row on her toes in just a few weeks.  She said the secret was the free program at www.hundredpushups.com.

I looked over the schedule at hundredpushups.com and was impressed.  It meets you at whatever level of fitness you have and builds you up from there.  If you can’t even do one push up it has other exercises you can do until you can.  From there it tests you and puts you into a specific track for training.

So far I’ve found it to be just about a perfect balance.  When you finish you don’t feel injured but later that day your muscles feel worked.  I’ve read and been told that optimal exercise wears you out but doesn’t break you down.  It is tricky to balance an optimal work out against one that is damaging but if you can strike that balance your body is supposed to respond the quickest.

Because you are focusing on only one exercise, it would be easy for anyone to fit this program into any schedule because an entire day’s workout can’t take more than 15 minutes.  Admittedly I’m starting in better shape than the average person who might undertake this program, but so far I’ve found that I don’t even really breathe that hard and have yet to break a sweat doing it.  My point is that I think just about anyone that has the desire can successfully follow this program.

They have a rudimentary program to track and share progress on the site but I have not been able to get it to work for two people on the same computer so I’m just tracking our results on a spreadsheet.  They have a smart phone app but I don’t have a smart phone so I can’t speak to that.

I mentioned on Facebook that we were starting the program and invited anyone interested to join us.  Several people have taken up the challenge and we tested this past weekend and started on Monday (1/9/12).  If you are interested in tracking your progress and want the subtle accountability and inspiration of publishing your results online, please feel free to use the comments section below for that purpose.

When you finish this program, start mixing in some of the other programs.  They have plans for squats, dips, pull ups and more.

Do something good for your body!

How to Make a Quick and Easy Green Lantern Costume

I found out recently that we would be attending a Halloween event for kids and they hoped that we would wear costumes too.  Their theme for the evening will be superheroes and it was requested that I dress as Green Lantern and Melanie dress as Catwoman.  We didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money on the costumes but we wanted them to at least be decent.  This article will detail how I made my Green Lantern costume.  I’ll write a separate article for Melanie’s costume.

It didn’t take much thinking to realize that my costume should be quick and easy to make.  The members of the Green Lantern Corps come in all shapes, sizes and colors and so do their costumes.  This meant my costume could pretty much look like anything as long as I had an emblem on me somewhere and wore a power ring.  Hal Jordan is my favorite lantern and he actually wears one of my favorite superhero costumes so I decided to try and look somewhat like him – maybe his cousin, Sal Jordan.

MASK – Heat-Formed Sheet Foam Cut to Shape and Glued on with Spirit Gum
Hal wears a simple green mask that is “held on by his willpower” without any strings or straps.  I thought this would be a neat opportunity to experiment with spirit gum, the special effects glue that is used to hold on fake beards, Klingon head lobsters and such.  I haven’t actually tried that part out yet since it is a one-shot deal but if it doesn’t work, I’ll just punch two little holes and attach the mask to my face using black string.

I wil try to Attach the Mask with This – String is a Backup

I knew that it needed to be lightweight, so cheap options included paper, fabric and a cool sheet foam material I’d tried out recently when I made a Golden Ticket.  I also found this video which details how to turn a sheet of this material into a mask.  How simple.  Decision made!

I made my mask out of green Foamies sheet foam.  It cost about $1.50 for a roughly 12”x18” 2mm or 3mm sheet.  It comes in various thicknesses, sizes, colors and is available at most art supply and craft stores.  They only had one shade of green when I was looking.  It would have been nice if it was a little darker, but for $1.50, I’m not complaining.

Alternatively, the mask could be done away with completely or drawn on with green face paint.

Step One – Make Mold
Because I was unwilling to spend the money on two adult Batman masks as detailed in the how-to video, I had to make my own mold.  A trip to the Halloween isle at the dollar store got me this hard plastic face mask.

Hard Plastic Mask is Basis of Mold

I then determined the size and shape of the beak portion of the mask with paper.

Working out Dimensions for Beak

Next the paper pattern was transferred to a more sturdy mat board and taped to the mask.

Final Mold

Step Two – Heat Sheet Foam and Form on Mold
Next I cut a roughly six inch piece of sheet foam and placed it in a 250 degree oven for about four minutes.  Basically, what you are trying to do is let the foam get hot enough to begin to slump but not so hot that it melts or burns (I don’t think it would do either at this temperature).

Preheat Oven to 250 Degrees
Cut off a Six Inch Strip of Foamies
Place on Rack in Oven Until Foamies Slumps (As Shown)

Incidentally, I don’t know if this material gives off any harmful gasses when heated, but I didn’t detect any odd smells or notice a change in the material other than it softened (unlike vacuum forming plastic).  I would guess that it is completely safe but, since I don’t know for sure, you should work in a well-ventilated area and wear a high-end respirator mask that blocks out all fumes and toxins just to be safe.

Once the foam sheet softened, I removed it from the oven with a wooden spoon (the foam wasn’t that hot but the rack in the oven was).  Working quickly, I placed the foam on the mold and used my hands to press it in place.  I held it for about a minute at which point the foam was cool and had taken on its new shape.  Simple, fast, cheap!

Formed Foam

Step Three – Figure Out Eye Holes and Mask Shape
Then I measured my eyes center to center and made small cuts in the foam at these points.  I enlarged these holes enough to determine exactly where my eye holes needed to be.

Eye Holes Cut

From there I sketched out paper patterns and put them on my face to finalize the shape and size of the mask.  Of both costumes, this was surprisingly the single most time consuming step and I went through several iterations.  If you opt to use the double Batman mask molding option from the video, it will be much easier as all of the details will be pressed right into the foam.

Many Attempts to Find the Right Shape and Eye Placement

Step Four – Transfer Pattern to Foam and Cut Out with Scissors
From there, I just laid the pattern over the formed foam, lining up the eye holes on the pattern with the eye holes on foam and traced it with a pen.

Finally, I used a pair of scissors to cut the mask to its final shape.

RING – Buy a Toy
I looked into building my own but when I discovered that they make both kid and adult-sized movie prop replicas that light up for less than $5, I was sold.  I couldn’t make a decent copy that cheap.  Apparently the ones you see in most stores that come packed with a little plastic mask are kid-sized.  The one I ordered came individually packaged and fits my normal-to-slender adult-sized finger.  It lights up and is brighter than I expected but the battery isn’t replaceable and it only stays lit for a few seconds each time the button is pressed.  I was sad that it wasn’t eligible for Amazon’s Super Saver shipping because it ended up costing just as much to ship it as to buy it.

Momentary Switch Lights for a Few Seconds

UNIFORM – Buy a Green Lantern Shirt and Wear Dark Clothes Under It
To finish things off, I bought a shirt with a Green Lantern logo on it.  I had one of these years ago and this new one is a much nicer darker green than the old bright green one I had.  My biggest problem with it is that the green in the insignia is screen printed on and it isn’t exactly the same color as the shirt.  It isn’t the end of the world though and now I’ll be able to wear the shirt even after Halloween.

If you don’t want to spend $14 on the shirt, you could easily cut the emblem out of sheet foam, felt or paper and just sew or pin it to a shirt.

For my base layer I’ll wear a black long sleeve running shirt that I already own.  It has a cool futuristic weave to the material which enhances the look.  I have some grey running pants and black hiking boots that I will also wear.

There you have it.  An affordable Green Lantern costume you can make in a weekend.

Black Running Shirt & Grey Running Pants
Black Boots
GL Shirt
Mask and Ring

Simple Delicious Homemade Ice Cream

There is a light bulb moment the time you make your first dessert.  Things that look complicated are really simple.  Cookies seem complex until you find out they are little more than butter and sugar.  Frosting is even simpler.  You can literally make it from just butter and sugar.  In this pantheon of simple but sweet, we should include ice cream.  It tastes great but what is it?  “I know there is a loud machine and a lot of ice involved.  It must be too hard to make.  Please pass the Häagen-Dazs.”

Hold on!  Ice cream is simple.  With the right equipment and the recipes I’m about to give you, you can have soft serve sitting in your lap in about an hour.

Step One – Get the right kind of ice cream maker.  Unless you really love ice cream or have a large family, sell that giant beast of an ice cream maker lurking in the corner of the garage.  You want a smaller, quicker and easier machine.  We received the Cuisinart ICE-20 as a gift one year and it works great.  It is such a simple device that I’m sure you can find something comparable for about $50 (example).

“Can’t I just mix the ingredients together and stick them in my freezer?  Then I don’t need an ice cream maker.”  Only if you want a solid ice brick instead of ice cream.  The ice cream maker freezes the concoction while it is whipping air into it.

Preferred Ice Cream Maker Specifications
1. 1-1/2 to 2 quart capacity
2. Reusable freezer bowl (liquid core freezes so no ice used)
3. Simple to set up, operate and clean.

From Left to Right: Cover, Paddle, Freezer Bowl, Motorized Base

Step Two – Develop your base recipe.
The first ice cream aha moment came when we made our first batch of vanilla.  You freeze milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract while whipping air into it.  That’s all there is to it.  Simple!

My second aha moment was when I realized that pretty much every flavor of ice cream uses the same base and adds in different flavorings and those flavorings are usually in about the same proportions.  Wow!  That means you can get new flavors pretty true to what you want with very little experimenting.

So let’s develop our base recipe first.  Everyone has slightly different ideas about what ice cream should taste and feel like.  Almost all of this is controlled by the amount of butterfat that is used.  You can get butterfat from a number of dairy ingredients like whipping cream, 2% milk and so on.  To keep things simple I recommend that you work with two sources:  heavy cream (it has the highest concentration at 36%) and whole milk (3 to 4%).

Try this recipe for vanilla first.

Vanilla Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk and sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
4.  Add cream and vanilla and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is thick and frozen (probably 30 minutes).
6. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Next, modify the recipe to suit your tastes.  Most recipes call for two cups of heavy cream and one cup of whole milk.  We thought that tasted great and was very smooth but it leaves a greasy feeling in your mouth.  One cup of heavy cream and two cups of whole milk is acceptable but the ice cream begins to get a little more crunchy and I wouldn’t reduce the butterfat below this level.  As you can see with our recipe above, we settled right in the middle.

A note about eggs.  The very best ice creams use eggs.  Look on the side of Ben & Jerry’s and you’ll see them listed.  Why are they there?  Well, they serve as an emulsifier suspending all those little butterfat particles.  They also impart a nice texture, increase the shelf life and aid in whipping air into the mixture.  We don’t include them here because they are either added raw or really add complexity to the recipe when you cook them into a custard.  You can make great tasting ice cream without them so we leave them out.

Step Three – Go crazy with the combo moves.
You have your base tweaked just the way you like it.  Now comes the fun part.  Get creative and mix tasty stuff into it.

I’ve found that usually one teaspoon of liquids and two cups of chopped up or small solids works well so use this as a starting point.  Here are three recipes that we really like:

Oreo Mint Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 cups coarsely chopped Oreos

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk and sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
4.  Add cream and peppermint and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
6. Add Oreos and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the Oreos if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
7. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 6 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups Reece’s Peanut Butter Minis (1 bag – the tiny unwrapped ones)

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk, sugar and peanut butter in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until mixture is smooth.
4.  Add cream and vanilla and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
6. Add PB minis and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the PB minis if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
7. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Peach Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

2 cups finely chopped peaches (about 4 small peaches – small have less water & better taste)
½ juice of a lemon
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Combine peaches, lemon juice and ½ cup of sugar in a medium bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Stir mixture occasionally (if desired).
4. Stir mixture and strain liquid into a separate bowl.  Return peaches to refrigerator.
5. Mix peach juice, milk and remaining 1 cup of sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
6.  Add cream and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
7. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
8. Add peaches and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the peaches if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
9. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Be sure to let me know about your fantastic cream creations.  I’m always looking for an excuse to eat more ice cream.

Update:  Here are all four ice cream recipes on a one-page layout.