Don’t Try This At Home Kids

don't try this at homeA monkey on a unicycle rolls down a ramp towards a snake. The bar holding the snake drops, which causes a bag of peanuts to fall into a container that sends a cart down a ramp into a tennis racket rigged to a mechanism that touches a match to a cannon fuse and fires an acrobat through a ring of fire!

Rube Goldberg’s inventive cartoons have fascinated me since I was a kid. A few years ago, our library even hosted a Rube Goldberg program, complete with a behemoth of a page turner and other activities. So imagine my delight when I spotted Wonderology’s Rube Goldberg kits on the shelves at Target.

wonderology rube goldberg kitsIntended for ages 8 and up, Wonderology offers 6 different kits that cost between $10 – $20. Each kit contains a plethora of parts and a fully illustrated set of instructions. I purchased the Acrobat Challenge, the Garden Challenge, and the Speeding Car Challenge, then invited 3 kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) to try them out.

kid testers at workThe kids were very excited as they unpacked the kits. The parts are fun, bright, and nice quality plastic. Here, for example, are the various pieces of the Acrobat Challenge:

acrobat challenge kit partsHere are the kit’s illustrated instructions. They’re presented in classic Rube Goldberg format (they even use his special font!):

acrobat challenge instructionsBut as soon as construction started on the kits, well…that’s when things started to go wrong. Take the Acrobat Challenge, for example. In one part of the instructions, it clearly shows the yellow “monkey release” flag facing right. In two other sections of the instructions, it’s facing to the left! Also, either way I turned the flag, I never could get the monkey to work quite right.

problem with instructionsThere was a lot more of this I’m afraid – mechanisms not working like the instructions suggested, confusion with where to place the various pieces, the whole schbang toppling over when you tried to adjust it. Soon, there were shouts of frustration, explosive sounds of exasperation, creative G-rated cursing, and a box kicked across the floor (and it wasn’t just the kids doing all that).

Between me and the 6 year-old, we never did get the Acrobat Challenge to work. So our kid tester used it like a play set instead, creating and narrating an involved story about a monkey snake circus. Cool.

Meanwhile, things were looking a bit more promising at the Speeding Car Challenge. It was, against all odds, assembled with somewhat minimal adult assistance.

speeding car challengeBut…see that chicken? It’s supposed to get a feather “plucked” from its tail, which causes it to lay an egg, which triggers the tennis racket, etc. But the egg just wouldn’t stay under the chicken. It just kept dropping and triggering the rest of the mechanism. So you had to skip the chicken all together, which is rather disappointing.

Also, the 8 year-old kid tester wants you to know that the balloon on the car is a little tricky. Once you blow it up, you have to: 1) Block the tailpipe with your finger; 2) Rapidly remove your finger; then 3) Plug in a plastic cork in juuuuuust right. The seal on the balloon starts to leak pretty quickly too. But it was, he admits, a cool-looking car.

balloon car testSo that just leaves the Garden Challenge. This kit was particularly intriguing to me because it involves real water! Our 10 year-old tester managed to assemble it just fine.

the garden challengeBut we soon discovered a fatal manufacturing flaw. See the orange gutter at the top of the mechanism? It’s supposed to tilt downward and let the 8 ball roll down and hit the watering can. But there was a little plastic piece that wouldn’t allow the gutter to tip down far enough! Katie had to saw the piece off with a box cutter in order to get it to finally work.

bad partThen it was test, adjust, retest, adjust, curse quietly under one’s breath, test, adjust, and retest. It took dozens and dozens of attempts, close to an hour of concentration, and Katie’s sheer determination to get it to work. And yes, I did say work. Katie and the kid tester got it to work! Drumroll please…


OK. So maybe the ball bounced off that final ramp, but I’ll take it and call it DONE.

I really admire Wonderology’s concept. The kits are a clever idea, they look fantastic, and the quality of the plastic is good. However, they’re simply not for kids. Especially 8 – 10 year-olds (unless said 8 – 10 year-olds have the patience of saints and the hands of neurosurgeons). Heck, some of us adults had trouble getting them to work! Our testing group found them difficult and rather vexing. While we ultimately had success with one kit, we encountered enough flaws along the way that the ultimate take-away was more exhaustion than exhilaration. Alas, not recommended.

Shop Local

shop localStock up your stand and get ready for some customers! We let grown-ups and siblings browse at a farmer’s market full bursting with fresh veggies, flowers, and artisanal cheeses (which, coincidentally, look a lot like foam beads).

farmers with their stands

We read Farmers’ Market Day, written by Shanda Trent and illustrated by Jane Dippold (Tiger Tales, 2013). It’s Saturday! It’s Market Day! A little girl eagerly searches for the perfect thing to buy with her piggy bank money. Cherries, flowers, pie, herbs, spices, hats, jars of honey, canvas bags – everything is so tempting! Finally, she spots exactly what she wants. A pink watering can, just her size.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • Some pieces of brown poster board or tagboard for your farm stand’s counters
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (we used a 9.75″ x 13.75″ cake pad)
  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (our were 8″ long)
  • A 4.5″ x 10.5″ card stock awning
  • 2 small clear plastic cups (ours were 1oz)
  • 2 foam beads (orange and yellow)
  • 2 mini pom-poms
  • 2 green pipe cleaners
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

We’ll start with the farm stand’s slanted counter. First, I’ll  show you how we did it with brown craft boxes, then I’ll show you how to replicate it with a large tissue box. With the lid of the box raised, cut slants in both sides of the box. The slants are cut downward, towards the lid.

farm stand step 1Now make 2 folds. Fold the lid over the lower edge of the counter. Then fold the lid upwards (a.k.a. a valley fold) so it rests on the higher end of the counter. Your counter will now look like this:

farm stand step 2See the part of the lid that extends past the counter? Push that back down towards the lower end of the counter, then tuck it inside the higher end of the counter. You now have slanted bins that are sunken in the counter.

farm stand step 3Make a pair of folded tagboard bin dividers, but don’t attach them just yet!

farm stand step 4

To make a tissue box version of the counter, flip a large tissue box over and use scissors to cut the bottom of the box into a lid. Then, follow the same steps above. Cut slanted sides in the box…

tissue box stand step 1Fold the lid over the lower edge, then upwards to the higher edge. But instead of tucking the end of the lid into the box, just tape it to the higher edge.

tissue box stand step 2Finish with a pair of tagboard bin dividers.

tissue box stand step 3Use markers and patterned tape to decorate the counter, then hot glue it to the cardboard base. Now for the awning! Hot glue (or tape) 2 jumbo craft sticks to both ends of the counter. Fold a 4.5″ x 10.5″ piece of card stock in half and decorate it with markers. Put generous globs of hot glue on the ends of the jumbo sticks, then gently press the card stock awning in place.

farmers market stand awningColor and cut the produce bin backdrops from the farmers market stand template and slide them into the bins. Once you’re sure everything fits, hot glue (or tape) your tagboard bin divider in place.

veggie bin backdropsYou’ll notice that there are 2 sets of produce bins on the template. One set is for the background. The other set is for you to individually cut, drop in the bins, and sell at market!

more veggies in binsTo create the cheese table, cut a toilet paper tube in half and hot glue the halves to a piece of poster board or tagboard. Place a pair of foam bead “cheeses” on the table, then cover them with a clear plastic cup. Hot glue a mini pom-pom handle to the top of each cup, and finish with a cheese sign attached to a craft stick or wooden coffee stirrer.

cheese tableTo make the flowers, cut 2 pipe cleaners into thirds, then color and cut 6 flowers from the farmers market flowers template. Tape the flowers to the pipe cleaners, and tuck the stems into half a toilet paper tube (we made a green tissue paper shrub for the other half of the toilet paper tube, but that’s optional!). I’d recommend hot gluing the cheese table and flower vases to the base – they can get a little tippy.

farm stand flowersA few more touches. Behind the flowers you’ll see a “Today’s Specials” sandwich board (it’s on the farm stand template). On the front of the stand are “Shop Local” and “Jersey Fresh” signs, courtesy of Google images. Add some cute little flower stickers, and you’re done!

shop localThe kids lined up their fantastic stands, and the Farmer’s Market was officially open!

the farmers market is openWe gave grown-ups and little siblings magic bucks and paper sandwich bags. They browsed the stands, checking out the wares. We made a rule that you had to visit at least three stands and chat with three vendors.

customer 1Customers seemed particularly enamored with the foam cheeses. And really, who wouldn’t be? Just keep an eye out to make sure the littlest shoppers don’t enthusiastically sample the wares!

customer 2

Pop’s Top 10: Literary Weddings

It’s June, and that, my friends, is wedding season! Today, we are celebrating the tying of the knot with our top 10 picks for literary-themed weddings. Now. There are zillions and zillions of bookish wedding ideas out there, and add another gabillion Pinterest boards. Type “literary themed wedding” in Google and you’ll get 989,000 results. “Literary wedding cakes?” 924,000. We did, however, turn up only 1 literary bachelorette party (you go girls)!

So we went with couples who dedicated their entire special day to books. We also ruled out the plethora of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones weddings in favor of the more obscure. Here they are, in no particular order. Definitely click on the links, because the details are AMAZING.


#1 THE NIGHT CIRCUS
From Offbeat Bride

First, they pick a cool book. Then, they have their wedding in Los Angeles’ famous Last Bookstore. Her nail art rocked, there were silhouette cake toppers, AND they had a stage magician. I can’t handle the awesome.


#2 PETER PAN
From Ruffled

White with pops of hunter green, floating fabrics, and simple elegance. Add some golden crocodiles and the cutest Tinkerbell you’ve ever seen and you’re off to Neverland!


#3 SHREK
From The Daily Mail

Technincally, Shrek was a picture book before it became a movie. And while this couple definitely went with the Dreamworks version, they are so darn adorable, we couldn’t resist including them here.


#4 THE LITTLE PRINCE
From Ruffled

I do believe the cake says it all. And that gorgeous color palette! But click on the link to see what has to be the most adorable ring-bearer of all time, rocking a pair of purple boots.


#5 ALICE IN WONDERLAND
From Rock n Roll Bride

The original blogger titled this “Margaret & Edi’s Incredible ‘Blows-Everything-Else-Out-of-the-Water’ Gothic Alice in Wonderland Wedding.” And it delivers. What’s cool is that the couple actually had a very simple ceremony at the groom’s parents’ house. But then they totally blew the top off the reception.


#6 TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
From Publisher’s Weekly

A beautiful, thoughtful, and touching wedding. I especially love the childhood trinket boxes at the tables. Also, oversized ham costumes are mentioned. My heart is won.


#7 THE PRINCESS BRIDE
From Offbeat Bride

Another wedding that draws more on the movie than the book, and this one is full of joy. And that kiss? Since the invention of the kiss, there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most the pure. This one leaves them all behind.


#8 A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
From Green Wedding Shoes

Prepare to be transported. The ceremony was in a redwood grove. The reception was in an exposed-rafter barn blooming with lush ferns and gorgeous flowers. The bride handmade animal masks for each and every guest. Oh rapture!


#9 THE WORKS OF DR. SEUSS
From Green Wedding Shoes

This couple didn’t choose one book. They chose many Seuss books and perfectly nailed the color palette to boot. Especially nice touches were whimsical directional signs, opportunities for the guest to doodle, and Bar 1 and Bar 2.


#10 SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
From Rock n Roll Bride

Two film-makers, joined through their mutual love of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel,  transport their Los Angeles friends to a jovial Gothic carnival in the bride’s childhood hills of Montana. Laughter, love, costumes, music, and fire breathers. I don’t even know these guys, but I’m totally bummed I missed their wedding!