Saturday, September 29, 2012

Plinko Board

I work with children as a Cub Scout den leader and as a Primary Music Leader. Before I started working with these little ones, I knew that I have a penchant for being boring sometimes; now that I'm working with them regularly, they kindly let me know whenever they are the slightest bit bored.
I know, they're considerate like that.

To combat my inherent boring-ness, I decided to make a Plinko board to work into games and other activities. In Singing Time at primary, I think I'll call it Plink-go Sing-o!

In case you're interested, here's an overview of what I did:

1. Gather Materials

I used the following:
  1. Pegboard - I bought a 4' x 4' piece and had it cut in half (for about $1 more than a single 2' x 4' piece at Lowe's, so under $9 for both pieces)
  2. Wood to frame it - I used two pieces of 1" x 2" x 8' (about $1 each)
  3. Dowels for the pins - I used ten 1/4" x 4' dowels that I cut by hand (because I'm a masochistic miser, apparently, and this saved me a few dollars--my cost was $6 total for the dowels), but you can likely find pre-cut 1/4" x 1.5" dowel pins.
  4. Dot stickers - I used these to mark my layout plan on the back
  5. Paint - I used a combination of super-cheap spray paint and acrylic paint
  6. Ping pong balls

2. Prepare Wood

 I cut the 1x2 pieces to length (two 4' pieces; two 2' pieces) using a miter box set at 45 degrees for nice corners. They're shown here against the 2' x 4' pegboard.

I also cut about 300 1.5" dowel pins in the miter box, but I tried to be smart about it. I bundled the dowels together (with a zip tie) as a single piece of wood and used a small template block of wood to help keep the lengths consistent. Take a look:

I then enlisted my son to help me quickly sand the ends of the dowels where they were rough:

3. Assemble Wood Pieces

I wanted the frame pieces to be flush with the outside edge of the pegboard. Unfortunately, the spacing of the pegboard holes didn't work, so I simply drilled pilot holes 5/16" (which is half the width of the "1 inch" side of the 1" x 2") in from the edge at strategic locations (using a 7/32" bit).

After carefully positioning the frame pieces, I drilled pilot holes through the pegboard pilots into the wood, sunk wood screws, and added additional frame pieces using a dab of wood glue at the corners. Here's how it looked:

And a close-up of a corner:

4. Layout Pin Design

I planned my design on the computer (using Excel, which helped me know how many dowel pins I would need), but I wanted to see what it would look like on the board. I used round dot stickers to do this. As an added bonus, I figured the stickers would help me to get the pins in the right holes, and they might even help keep wood glue from leaking out the back when I glued the pins in.

Here's the layout design on the back of the board:

5. Attach Dowel Pins

To glue the dowel pins in the pegboard, I dipped the pin in a small reservoir with wood glue in it (I used a cleaned milk container lid, put them in place, and lightly tapped them with a hammer to seat them fully. Some aren't as straight as they could be, but imperfections preserve the DIY feel to this project!

6. Paint the Board

I used white spray paint as a base with the intention of adding a personalized touch afterward. Here's my spray paint station:

And here's my team helping to add a touch of color. They used Q-tips to put dots of different colors of acrylic paint on the tips of the dowel pins:

Add a nice border, and it's done!

7. Test

The final step is to ensure that it still works after adding all the paint:

The only remaining step is to have fun with it and keep it from falling apart!

Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Remove Coconut Husk

My neighbors have a coconut palm and let us have some coconuts. It turns out that cartoons and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (link) got it wrong: coconuts don't grow as exposed, three-eyed, hairy creations. Instead, they're covered in a thick protective husk (makes sense if they are to survive a fall from way up at the top of the tree).

Wanting to find an effective way to remove the husk, I turned to Google. Now, I'm no Google novice, but I couldn't find a useful site to help me; I felt like a caveman! After complaining on facebook, I decided to record the steps I take in hopes that they're helpful to some other cavemen (or cavewomen) out there. Enjoy:

How to Remove Coconut Husk

Coconuts grow in a protective husk which helps them to not crack when they fall. This picture shows three larger coconuts in their husk and two more familiar coconuts without husks.

Coconuts in husk (rear) and out of husk (front)

  1. Identify Heavy End and Get Claw Hammer
    One end should be more heavy and dense around the coconut; this side is shown at left in this picture

    The coconut tips because one side is heavier
  2. Use Hammer to Pulverize Light End of Coconut
    Don't worry too much about the coconut inside; it survived the fall from the tree—is should survive this step

    Pound the end to soften the husk
  3. Use Claw End of Hammer to Make Trenches
    These lines of trenches will help in tearing off the husk in later steps

    Score the husk with claw end of hammer
  4. Tear Off a Strip of Husk
    Start at the lighter end, grab a thin strip of husk, and PULL!

    Tear off strip of husk to reveal hard coconut buried inside
  5. Tear Off More Strips of Husk
    Make your way around the coconut, one thin strip of husk at a time

    Tear more strips off around coconut
  6. Remove Coconut from Husk
    With all the husk removed, the recognizable coconut is revealed

    Here's the coconut you're familiar with
  7. Prepare to Drain Coconut
    I use a drill with a 1/4" bit (drills are fun, but a Phillips screwdriver works just as well) to make holes
    Get a container to preserve coconut water, if you like, or suck out the water with a straw (if you like the taste)

    Gather tools to drain coconut
  8. Make Two Holes in Coconut
    Two of the three circles are usually smaller and closer together; these are the "eyes." The third is the "mouth." Drill two holes, one in the mouth (easy because it's larger and softer) and one in an eye (a little harder; it's smaller and harder)

    Drill holes in mouth and one eye (of the coconut, of course)
  9. Drain Coconut Water
    My little helper simply tipped the coconut and the water drained into the measuring cup

    Capture coconut water in container
  10. Inspect Water for Cloudiness
    Clear water indicates the coconut is good, cloudy water equals a bad coconut (throw the water and coconut away if the water is cloudy). If the water is clear, reserve it for later use if you would like.

    Clear water means the coconut is good
  11. Remember to Have Fun
    Harvesting and preparing coconut flesh is a time-consuming process, so take a break and have a smile

    Get the last few drops of water

    Juggle if you have three or more coconuts
  12. Harvest Coconut Flesh
    I tried cooking the coconuts at 350° for about 20 minutes to help separate the flesh from the hard shell. It might crack the coconuts, but they're going to be cracked at some point anyway. (Note: there are hundreds of sites giving advice on how to open coconuts and harvest the flesh. I wanted to have at least one record of how to get the coconut out of the husk, so I'm skimming the rest of the steps)

    Coconuts in oven to (350°, 20 min) to help separate flesh from shell

    Cracked after cooking
  13. Prepare Coconut Flesh
    Once you get the flesh out of the hard shell, you'll see there's a softer shell outside of the white flesh. A vegetable peeler helps remove this tougher skin (it's fine to eat, but pure white coconut is so much more appetizing).

    Remove skin with vegetable peeler
  14. Process/Blend Coconut Flesh
    Place coconut flesh and coconut water in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth.

    Process coconut flesh and coconut water

    Blend/process until smooth
  15. Soak and Strain
    You may want to add a tablespoon of sugar to the mixture (for three coconuts) and let it soak for about 30 minutes. Strain the coconut flesh from the liquid (which is now defined as coconut milk).

    Strain the coconut milk from coconut flesh
  16. Spread and Dehydrate
    One option is to spread the flesh on a cookie sheet and bake at 250°until it is as dry as you prefer it. (I turn the flesh every 10-15 minutes while it's in the oven.)

    Coconut ready for dehydrating
  17. Enjoy!
    Homemade coconut!

    Even better than store-bought


Here are the finished products in the light of day (I finished the process after the sun had set):

And here's what we enjoyed for breakfast: Starfruit-strawberry-coconut smoothies!

I think we'll have coconut curry for dinner tonight...

Was It Worth It?

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Was It Worth It?, by David F. Evans
Of the Seventy

I recently wrote about how wonderfully the last lesson I taught my class of nine-yr-olds went prior to my change to a different position (read more here). As we learned about Christ's visit to the Nephites, a great feeling of peace filled the room. I thought it couldn't get any better than this.

A week after this experience, my wife shared two experiences she had that, in my opinion, were even better than the one I shared:

On a Sunday afternoon when our eight-yr-old son was complaining of having nothing to do, my wife suggested he do some reading. Normally he's an enthusiastic reader, but when my wife recommended reading the scriptures instead of his latest novel, he balked.

Unlike me, she's sweet, patient, and kind, so she offered to have him read to her from a great chapter.

He agreed.

They sat together as he read the account of Christ visiting the Nephites, preceded by the voice of the Father announcing His Son. She later told me of our son's excited questions, engagement in the account, and that he identified that he was feeling the Holy Ghost. She, in turn, quietly and simply reassured him that he was right and that the Spirit was touching his heart because what they were reading really happened—that it is true!

Within a few days after this, my wife was going about her normal morning-time routine of helping the children get breakfast, review their vocabulary and spelling, read scriptures, and get ready for school. (All without me because I'm an early-to-work person.) During the usual scripture reading time, my six-yr-old daughter said, with a tear in her eye, that her heart was warm and felt good. Again, my wife took the opportunity to quietly and simply teach our children that the Spirit was touching their hearts because the scriptures are true!

I was reminded of these stories as I read Elder Evans' talk on "natural and normal" missionary work through simply living the gospel and not hiding our true selves. While introducing his talk, he said:

In this and every other important endeavor, our most important work is always within our own home and family. It is within families that the Church is established and real growth occurs.

He later gave a checklist, of sorts, I used to determine if we're doing all that we can and should. I was happy to see that we either are, or we're trying to do all that he mentioned! We have our share of struggles and arguments, but we don't let the hard times keep us from doing the little things we hope will make big differences in our lives and the lives of our children.

I don't think it's easy for my wife to get our four children up and ready all alone. There may be times when she is tempted to skip reading morning scriptures—I know I'm sometimes tempted to skip our evening scripture routine—but she does it faithfully, and I suspect with a smile. Usually, at least.

Is it easy? Probably not. But as time passes, I'm sure we'll look back at how far we've come together, and if someone asks, "Was it worth it?" we'll be able to quietly and simply testify that it made all the difference in the world!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Only upon the Principles of Righteousness

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Only upon the Principles of Righteousness, by Larry Y. Wilson
Of the Seventy

I like to walk a circle around my yard in the evening to check on our plants and baby trees. When I do this, I'll talk to the trees and the many, many lizards on their branches. This may sound strange, and it probably is, but if anyone sees me, I'm likely covered because I'm usually flanked by one or more of my children and the observer will likely think I'm talking to them instead. (They may wonder if my children's nicknames are little tree, and lizard.)

As I was grooming our orange tree last night, I looked over and saw that my youngest (21-month-old) was swinging from the trapeze of our swing set all by himself. My first thought wasn't, "Oh no, now the neighbors will know that I was talking to the lizards and not my son," but rather surprise that he was tall enough, coordinated enough, and strong to do what he was doing!

Sorry, I didn't get a picture of the trapeze action;
here's one of him running in a grassy field instead.

When children are small, the little steps of independence are celebrated: standing, walking, feeding oneself, reaching the trapeze, etc. After cheering for my little growing boy, I wondered if my likewise celebrate the steps of independence that my older children show. I concluded too often I scold their acts of independence because theirs frequently seem associated with pushing the limits of family rules or safety standards.

Later on in the evening, I took my four-yr-old to a curriculum night at my eldest's school. On the way, we spoke about how fun it was that he was big enough to stay up to go to this meeting with me. Once in the classroom, I saw some schoolwork my eldest had done, and heard from his teacher how much he is growing and learning.

Naturally, I was torn. On one hand, I was thrilled that he is excelling in a new school year, in a new school, in a new program. On the other hand, I realized that too many of my interactions with him are in a corrective role. I decided that I need to recognize more often his successes, and let him know that I noticed!

I thought of these experiences as I read Elder Wilson's words:

Wise parents must weigh when children are ready to begin exercising their own agency in a particular area of their lives. But if parents hold on to all decision-making power and see it as their “right,” they severely limit the growth and development of their children.

He continued:

Our children are in our homes for a limited time. If we wait until they walk out the door to turn over to them the reins of their moral agency, we have waited too long. They will not suddenly develop the ability to make wise decisions if they have never been free to make any important decisions while in our homes. Such children often either rebel against this compulsion or are crippled by an inability to make any decisions on their own.

My attitude toward my children, unfortunately, varies depending on how I think they're behaving. When they're sweet, it's easy to shower them with praise and love; when they're sour, a resulting shower of criticism and scolding ensues. As I read the second quote (above), I realized that when my children push the limits—in ways that seem to frustrate me to no end—I should be happy that they trust me enough to engage in guided learning at home; they don't simply act one way at home, secretly waiting for the time when they can rebel against everything when parents are away.

After reading this talk, I want to love and trust my children more. I want to help them make decisions now, let them make bigger decisions, and hopefully establish enough trust with them that they will want to talk to me when they're on their own, making even more decisions.

After all, as much fun as it is to talk to trees and lizards, it's much more fun to watch my children succeed and grow!

Monday, September 17, 2012

That the Lost May Be Found

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

That the Lost May Be Found, by M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Upon seeing our family yesterday, someone asked why three of my children have red hair like their mother and only one looks just like me. Before I could answer, my wife jumped in with, "because redheads are strong!" If ever I felt outnumbered it was when I looked at my wife and oldest two children and saw them all looking at me with a playful you-know-we-can-take-you-down look. The littlest redhead was simply smiling at me, sensing something funny was happening.

I thought of this as I read Elder Ballard's talk where he says, "husbands and wives, you should be equal partners in your marriage. . . No one owns a spouse or children; God is the Father of us all and has extended to us the privilege of our own family. . . to help us become more like Him."

I quote this because it's sometimes hard to feel like an equal partner when I'm surrounded by calculating redheads! See for yourself, but don't let their smiles fool you...

I'm only joking, of course; my wife and children are angels (most of the time), even the one without red hair! In fact, in my last post, I wrote about how sad I am that I no longer get to teach side-by-side with my beautiful wife.

I'm trying to say that I love my wife and children, and that we're trying to be a happy family. In fact, we've had a bit of a theme song lately, "A Happy Family" (link). This is a song that our eldest asks us to sing to him each night, and our middle son has spontaneously started singing it many times—he even incorporates it into his prayers: "Please bless that I love Mommy, she loves me, we love Daddy, yes sirree, he loves us, and so you see, we are a happy family! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen!" (He often includes all the children in his song-prayer, too.)

Yes, I love my family, but yesterday was kind of hard for me. After going to church early for choir practice, staying a bit late for an interview, heading out immediately after church to go visit some people, coming home with just enough time for dinner before heading out again for an evening meeting, and coming home after everyone was asleep, I was longing for more together-time. Interestingly, on the hour drive home from my meeting, a friend I rode with and I had a discussion that closely resembled points made by Elder Ballard—albeit our were not nearly as politically correct. Here are some connections:
  • My friend and I spoke of political hot topics, including income gaps and apparent-abuse of government assistance. After alluding to marriage/divorce statistics, Elder Ballard mentioned the worrisome "ever-growing gap between the rich and poor and between those who strive to preserve family values and commitment and those who have given up on doing so."
  • We pontificated that the economic (and social) situation of this nation would improve if many mothers who didn't need to work would return home to their families. Elder Ballard taught young women that "no career can bring you as much fulfillment as rearing a family."

We spoke about many other things, but I think listing each point will be too tiring for readers, so I'll venture using a too-long quote in case you're dying for more insights into our conversation. Surprisingly, without reviewing this talk beforehand, we discussed each of Elder Ballard's points found n the following (I know you see a loooong quote and naturally want to skip it—I'll never know if you do skip it—but I thought it was quite thought-provoking):

When people make family and religious commitments to gospel principles, they begin to do better spiritually and often temporally as well.

And, of course, societies at large are strengthened as families grow stronger. Commitments to family and values are the basic cause. Nearly everything else is effect. When couples marry and make commitments to each other, they greatly increase their chances of economic well-being. When children are born in wedlock and have both a mom and a dad, their opportunities and their likelihood of occupational success skyrocket. And when families work and play together, neighborhoods and communities flourish, economies improve, and less government and fewer costly safety nets are required. . .

The Church stands as an example of heart turning and as a catalyst for good in the world. Among Church members who are married in the temple and who regularly attend Sunday meetings, the divorce rate is significantly less than that of the world, and families remain closer and are in more frequent communication. The health in our families is better, and we live several years longer than the population average. We contribute more financial resources and more service per capita to those in need, and we are more likely to seek higher education. I point out these things not to boast but to testify that life is better (and much happier) as hearts turn toward family and as families live in the light of the gospel of Christ.

I love that I have a happy family. Of course, there are times when I get terribly frustrated by things my children do (which turn out to be nearly meaningless in the long-term). I enjoyed the discussion my friend and I had, and I enjoyed reading Elder Ballard's words and being reminded of the blessings that come from trying to live the gospel.

Even when I'm surrounded by redheads whom I think are sometimes secretly trying to take me down!

The littlest redhead is already coming after me!

The Power of Deliverance

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Power of Deliverance, by L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My wife and I are at the end of a glorious year serving together, side-by-side, teaching a class of children at church. It's been wonderful to be together, plan together, and teach together. Alas, I've been asked to help in another area and leave my wife teaching our class with someone else. (I'm going to be the Primary Singing Time Leader.)

Yesterday was our last lesson together. Perhaps one reason I'm so sad for this time together to end is because our lesson was near-perfect! We taught about the personal visit of Christ to the Nephites after great destruction, given as a sign of his crucifixion. The children were engaged, they paid attention, and they asked questions.

After a dramatic reenactment of various storms I've been in (I'm fairly ridiculous in front of a crowd), we talked about how the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, just as it says on the cover of the book. Using a globe, we discussed how the Bible is a testament of Jesus Christ and contains the writings of prophets and other stories, the majority of which took place in an area about the size of a quarter (on the globe, of course).

Spinning the globe, we showed the general area from which the Book of Mormon originates. We discussed how the stories of prophets in the Book of Mormon serve as another witness of Jesus Christ. The fun came when we talked about how the prophecies of the prophets were fulfilled when Christ appeared in glory, showing himself to the people one-by-one, so that they, too, might be considered additional testaments of Jesus Christ.

At the end of our lesson we showed a short film summarizing the Savior's visit to the Nephites. We prefaced this by encouraging them to imagine that they were there seeing what others saw, feeling what others felt. The children were asked to pay attention to how they felt and to know that the warm, happy feelings that come when we learn of Christ are from the Holy Ghost.

I'm happy to report that it looked like the children did what we asked them to do, and felt what we promised they would feel. While I won't be their teacher any more, I hope they remember the things we discussed together. They may remember how I would jump around the room acting things out, but what I really want them to remember is that they felt and recognized the Holy Ghost in our time together.

I was reminded about all of this today as I reviewed Elder Perry's talk where he testified of how our lives are blessed by turning to the scriptures:

What a blessing it is to have the account of the mission of our Lord and Savior declared in the Book of Mormon to add a second witness to the doctrine declared in the Bible.