Aromatic Fire Starters

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These easy peasy lemon squeezy fire starters are a perfect stocking stuffer for anyone who loves to curl up in front of a nice wood fire on a cold evening. They’re great for avid campers or armchair bookworms alike, and don’t contain any of the scary chemicals you find in a lot of commercial fire starters. And you can make them as cutesy as you like. So I’m going full cutesy.

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Now, the whole point of a fire starter is that it keeps burning long enough to get the larger pieces of wood in your fire going. For that, it’s handy to have some sort of wick/candle thing going on. So we’re going to start by making our own wicks. Now that I know how to do this I’m never buying pre-made wicks from the store ever again. All you need is water, borax, salt, and cotton string. I’m going to guess that most of you have those on hand. You can pick up borax from the cleaning aisle of your grocery store. It’s a very handy item.

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Anyone else find it super meta that the Borax girl is holding a box with a picture of herself on it, holding a box with a picture of herself on it … ?

Dissolve 4 tablespoons borax and 2 tablespoons salt in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Or dissolve it as much as you can. Mine didn’t dissolve all the way.

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Now cut a length of cotton string (butcher’s twine, anything like that). I decided seeing as I had the solution going I’d make a lot of wicks ahead of time for future use.

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Submerge the string in the solution and leave it overnight. Mine started to grow a few crystals as the supersaturated solution cooled. SCIENCE. The next day, hang the wet string to dry completely.

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Now all you need to do is melt some paraffin wax, which you can find in the canning aisle of the grocery or hardware store. You *could* use beeswax for this project but I think it’s a little pricey for something you’re going to chuck in a fire.

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Melt the wax in a double boiler or heatproof bowl suspended over simmering water.

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Dip your borax string in the wax two or three times and let it harden between dippings.  Tada. You have made wicks.

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Keep that melted wax going – make sure to check your water periodically to make sure it doesn’t boil away, because that happens and it’s not very good for your pot.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake cups. I picked owls because they’re all woodsy and stuff. And hella cute.

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And I’ve been saving my dryer lint for like forever. It’s full of dog hair, which is also flammable. Yay.

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So I put some dryer lint in the bottom of each cup, together with half a cinnamon stick, a sprig of fresh rosemary, and a dried bay leaf.

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Then I stuck the wick in and added a bit of melted wax, just to get the wick positioned where I wanted it. The wick doesn’t have to be centred in this thing – this is not a candle – it just needs to be sticking up and out of the cup.

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Then I added in enough wax to mostly fill the cup. Don’t worry about submerging all the tidbits inside. They add visual interest.

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Let the wax set for several hours. Once it starts to develop a skin on top like this you can start moving things around in the cups if you can’t leave well enough alone or if the wicks fall down.

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Set the finished fire starters on your mantle in a pretty bowl.

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Or hand them out in matching gift bags to the pyromaniacs in your life.

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Fun with Science! Bouncy Balls!

Good morning!  Today we are introducing a new category to Ali Does It: MAD SCIENCE.

Cait and I did a lot of science together in high school, and we quite enjoyed ourselves.  So we decided, while I was home in Ottawa for a WHOLE MONTH, to do some more science to keep ourselves occupied and out of the Pie’s hair.

For our first attempt at science, we decided to create polymer bouncy balls.  Seemed simple enough.  We got all the necessary supplies at the dollar store, including these sparkly plastic Christmas balls that held chocolate.  We threw out the chocolate but kept the spheres to serve as moulds.

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So what you need to do this is borax; corn starch; white, clear, or blue school glue; warm water;  measuring spoons; two small plastic containers for mixing, as well as a stick or spoon for stirring; and optional glitter or food colouring.

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Pour 2 tablespoons warm water and 1/2 teaspoon borax into one of the containers and stir or shake it to dissolve the borax. If you want to add food colouring, now’s your chance.

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In the other container, pour 1 tablespoon glue.

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Add in 1 tablespoon of corn starch and 1 tablespoon of the borax solution that you just made. DO NOT STIR. Let this all mellow and mix together on its own for 15 seconds. I think maybe our container was too big because there wasn’t really any interaction going on.

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After fifteen seconds, whip out your spoon and start stirring. Stir until the mixture becomes too stiff to pull the spoon through.

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Then empty the contents of your container into your hands and start kneading. It will begin as super messy.

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But then it will start to come together.

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And eventually form a ball.

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However, we couldn’t really get our ball to fully solidify, and it never bounced, so we thought we’d try again.

This time we used clear glitter glue.

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This stuff ended up forming an odd sort of non-Newtonian fluid and never solidified at all. Not to mention it didn’t turn out translucent as promised.  I blame the weird dollar store glue.

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And of course the amounts we used were way too small to fit in our clever little moulds.

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Never mind. We’ll try again some time.