Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Backstory

I am the crazy mom in four inch heels with a two year old perched one hip, waiting in the parent pick-up line for the four older kids to emerge from the cafeteria. I'm the mom who misses phone calls from the pediatrician's office because the stereo is turned up too loud and I'm singing along. Loudly. The mom with two tattoos, chocolate for breakfast and more lipstick than Estee Lauder? Yup, that's me. I'm the mom who's kids look at her like she's speaking Swahili when she tells them to clean their rooms, but come running when she announces the edamame has just been salted.

A few years ago, my tendency to go overboard with everything paid off big time when I was Googling 'science toys' for my son's ninth birthday party. The theme was Harry Potter, and I've never been the type to hit a party outlet and pick up licensed character paper plates. Not me. I spent days on the Steve Spangler Science website, trying to narrow my wishlist down to a reasonable dollar amount that wouldn't make my husband go into cardiac arrest and miss our oldest son's birthday. An addiction was born.

I ordered holographic wizard cards from Great Britain to go with the frogs I made with tempered Belgian milk chocolate. I made iron-on Gryffindor crests and emblazoned the chests of handmade Hogwart's robes. Chopsticks sanded to a point and stained walnut made perfect wands, and hand-lettered invitations were composed with carefully edited wordage from the pages of 'The Sorcerer's Stone'. Hogwart's Summer Abroad Program was established in Sandy, Utah.

Students arrived to find their class schedules and supplies waiting at the door. The first class was transfiguration, changing water to crystals. Water was tinted with food color, and we dropped in a little scoop of Steve Spangler Science (to be called SSS from now on) Water Jelly Crystals. The cup, which seemed to be filled only with tinted water, was set aside while we moved on to the second class. During care of magical creatures, the cups of water began to overflow with glistening crystals that felt like very firm gelatin.

In care of magical creatures, the students made their own magical creatures to care for. The SSS project was an easy fit for this class. In a 1-liter bottle (from SSS) containing mysterious blue-green water from the lake at Hogwart's, students made Glow-in-the-Dark Squidies. It's a fun take on an experiment by Descartes, involving a trimmed pipette, a hex-nut, and a combination of air and water. The squid sank to the bottom with a squeeze of the bottle, and then rose back upward when the pressure was released. Varying amounts of squeezing resulted in a bobbing squid. The lights were lowered, and everyone played with their dancing squids in the glow of a blacklight. The squids were a hit as a party favor. Kids reported still having their 'magical creatures' a year later. Water had to be adjusted/replaced, but the little guys were still floating.

Charms class was the one I thought would be the least popular, but boy was I wrong. Using Magic Sand from SSS, NOT the unbelievable rip-off of Magic Sand as-seen-on-TV, a wave of a wand made the sand waterproof. Actually, that was done by some smart science people somewhere else, but nine year-olds don't care. The students made fantastic underwater sculptures using pipettes, with the blacklight illuminating ultra-blue glow powder I'd mixed into the sand before the party. Very fun. We poured the water off and send the sand home with the kids in little plastic bags.

The birthday boy (heretofore referred to as #1) came up with the idea for our potions class. Pre-scooped miniature balls of sherbet in pastel colors were rolled in Pop Rocks and frozen until the party. Students measured water into little cups of white powder (Kool-Aid powder mixed with sugar) using pipettes. The mixture became flavor syrup, which they mixed into seltzer water and created fruit soda. The balls of sherbet were plopped into the soda, and my kitchen was instantly sticky and loud.

With the kids hopped up on sugar and the kitchen destroyed, it was time to go outside. Defense against the dark arts class was the Mentos/Diet Coke fountain. Actually, quite a few fountains. The students pointed their wands at innocent looking bottles of Diet Coke (with a deadly geyser tube on top), and yelled "incendio!", causing the soda to explode upward in a bubbly mushroom of foam. Actually, yelling incendio just caused me to yank the strings on the tubes and run for my life, but the effect was cool. More stickiness.

The grand finale was a spell from #1's Harry Potter video game; glacius. A wading pool in the yard contained a harmless sprinkling of white powder. As wands waved, the serpentine garden hose spilled cold water over the powder and the pool was filled with arctic snow. In minutes, the Insta-Snow (Steve Spangler is a genius) was all over my front yard, down robes, and in hair. The students were wild, upending the wading pool and turning the driveway into a ski-slope. It was chaos. Glorious, snowy chaos in the dog days of summer.

Kids were sent home with all manner of science experiment remnants in baggies, their squids, and very cool Honeydukes bags filled with treats. The robes and wands went home as party favors as well. As parents arrived (and were subsequently bombarded with tales of magic from their sugar-infused children), my husband lit off a gazillion fireworks while the students jumped around pointing their wands at the sparks and shouting spells.

Pictures? Sigh. Just over a month later, my water broke with #5 and all hell broke loose. I spent the next six weeks in a hospital bed, while my husband had to handle a spur-of-the-moment move cross country. That's all on another blog, The Weenie Hut. Somewhere in there, the desktop computer crashed, and I lost all my pictures from the party. Preparing for this blog, I tried to track down relatives with two year old birthday pictures, but the only one who still had the email describing the party had blank squares where the pictures used to be.

The point? We are SSS groupies. I entertain dinner guests with Baby Soda Bottle Test Tubes filled with Alka Seltzer lava lamps or Aqua Orbs. There is a special shelf in my closet filled with SSS stuff. My kids are incensed by the commercials for knock-off SSS products on TV. We are fans for life.

Tune in to Fun with Polymers to read the antics of a snarky mother and her five wiener children as we play with science. Think of it as 'Julie & Julia' meets 'Mr. Wizard'.


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