Category Archives: reviews

Enhance your homeschool science class with MEL Chemistry

Disclaimer: MEL Chemistry sent Nichole a starter kit to review here at Butterscotch Sundae. All opinions are Nichole’s own, and Nichole is paying for subsequent kits.

“Can we blow stuff up?”

This is, naturally, a question one frequently fields when teaching a middle school chemistry class, and I anticipated that when I started planning our semester. So I started scouring Pinterest for experiments that walk that fine line between safe and exciting, and we started the class.

Things were going pretty well. The experiments were probably closer to the “safe” end of the spectrum than the kids had hoped for, but I felt OK about it.

And then one evening as I was browsing Pinterest, and a post about MEL Chemistry caught my eye. “Exciting experiments delivered to your door every month”? I clicked and looked around, and I was sold.

They were equal parts thrilled and nervous to wield the fire in the carbon snake experiment.
I contacted the company and explained that I was interested but wasn’t sure it would work in a class setting, and they said they’d send me the first kit to try out. A couple days later it arrived, and I was and am so impressed with it. The starter kit includes a flask and a beaker; a VR viewer; a solid-fuel stove; safety glasses; and a macro lens for your cell phone camera. They also send you two kits with the starter set, and each kit includes two experiments.

The kits include full, clear instructions and most everything you need to perform the experiments. MEL Chemistry sends enough of the reagents to be able to do each experiment twice. With 7 kids in our class, though, that’s not quite enough for everyone to do every experiment. It’s working well for us to run the experiments as Lab Demonstrations, with two kids doing the work and the others either observing or working as photographers and videographers.

The included camera phone lenses have proven to be popular.

So far we’ve made fiery little carbon snakes and a foam eruption from the Chemistry of Monsters kit and a wee little hedgehog from the Tin kit. The kids enjoyed the carbon snake and the foam eruption a bit more than the tin and zinc “hedgehog” — because of the fire and movement — but I thought the formation of the spikes on a little ball of zinc was pretty incredible.

The carbon snake was very cool and somewhat creepy, though.

MEL Chemistry has made 80 virtual reality lessons, and the ones I was able to check out were phenomenal. The atom structure and electron orbital lessons were particularly great for helping the kids visualize a pretty esoteric concept. With the kits and the virtual reality lessons, I think this could be a complete chemistry curriculum. Unfortunately, the cost of the full VR license — $499 for 10 devices for a year — is far out of my price range. Some of the VR content is available just by downloading the MEL Science app, though, and the lessons available are well worth the download.

A MEL Chemistry kit subscription is $35 per month for a single set of experiments or $50 per month for two sets each month. I don’t think the kits alone would be sufficient for a full year of middle school science on their own, but they sure are a fun complement to whatever chemistry curriculum you’re using. The glassware and other hardware is excellent quality, and I love that they include all of the chemical materials you need as well.

The only thing on my MEL wishlist (other than $500 for a VR license) is that it would be nice to be able to choose the order in which the experiments arrive so I could make sure they correspond to what the kids are learning that week. I’m going to subscribe even without that option, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what lab demos MEL Chemistry drops on my porch over the coming year!

I found the perfect gift for the sports fanatic in your life

Disclaimer: You Gotta Know sent Nichole a product to review here at Butterscotch Sundae and compensated her for her time. All opinions are Nichole’s own.

You know that person in your life who always wears their team’s colors on game day? The guy who can recite their favorite point guard’s stats from the 1987-88 season? The girl who can rattle off every minor league ballpark affiliation in the National League? You Gotta Know has the perfect gift for that person. (It is too early to talk about holiday gifts, friends, but sports fans also have birthdays.) I know several such people, and I also know they don’t read my blog so I feel pretty safe telling you I’ll be buying a couple of these later this year.

Pop quiz!

What three-word Ernie Banks catchphrase typically followed “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…”?1)“Let’s play two!”

What Wrigley Field staple was planted in 1937 by manager Bill Veeck?2)Ivy!

What team defeated the Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs three seasons in a row from 1988-1990?3)The Detroit Pistons!

In 2013, who started in net for all 23 Blackhawks playoff games?4)Corey Crawford!

You Gotta Know games sports triviaYou Gotta Know Games send me a copy of their Chicago Sports Trivia Game (The Ultimate Trivia Game for the Chicago Sports Fan!), and three of the questions above were some of the only ones I could answer. And you guys? There are 500 questions in the game. Uber-Cubs fan Rockford won pretty easily, but there were definitely some Blackhawks questions that tripped him up.

You don’t have to be a Chicago fan to play, though. There are more than 20 locations in their portfolio, so you and your favorite sports fan are covered all the way from Boston to Seattle!

I can see this being a lot of fun to play at a sports bar or during commercial breaks when you’re watching a game at home. Game play is really straight forward: You read the questions, and the first player to get 21 points wins. Easy-peasy — so long as you know everything about your area’s sports teams and their history, of course.

Please know, dear readers, that it took a lot of restraint for me to use neither “touchdown” nor “homerun” to describe these games. Whoops, so much for that restraint. One might also call them a 3-pointer at the buzzer or a reverse breakout ice razzamattazz. (One might be correct in assuming I don’t know anything about hockey.)

You Gotta Know sports trivia games are only $20 each, and you can get them at You Gotta Know Games or at Rally House.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. “Let’s play two!”
2. Ivy!
3. The Detroit Pistons!
4. Corey Crawford!

“Jazz Loves Disney,” and I like jazz, and I like Disney. This ought to work out just fine.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post from Disney Music and One2One Network. Nichole was compensated for this post. All opinions are her own.

We were at Disney World when I got the email from One2One Network asking if I’d like to review “Jazz Loves Disney” from Verve Records. I immediately said “Yes Please,” because I like jazz, I like Disney, and I knew I was going to need something to help me ease back into real life after our vacation. It was obviously meant to be. I’m going to tell you what I thought about the album in a minute, but first let’s talk about

Nichole’s Top Five Disney Movies

5. “The Little Mermaid”

Ursula is my second-favorite villain, and I will sing along to “Part of Your World” and/or “Under the Sea” every single time. And Sebastian? Always dropping truths.


4. “Beauty and the Beast”

Belle’s love of books and Beast’s library are enough to get this one on the list. But then there’s also Every Single Song in the movie. And it’s beautiful, and it stars the greatest duo of all time, Lumiere and Cogsworth.

Lumiere and Cogsworth

3. “101 Dalmatians”

I don’t think I can properly express how much I love the “dogs who look like their owners” scene in this movie. It cracked me up when I was a kid, and it cracks me up to this day. I love the jazzy soundtrack, and of course Cruella de Vil and her song are beloved as well. But the guy that clinches this spot for “101 Dalmatians” is Rolly, because I am him and he is me, forever and ever amen.


2. “Sleeping Beauty”

Maleficent is my favorite villain, because she scared the daylights out of me when I was a kid and she is also a dragon. I love the animation and the font and styling of the credits in “Sleeping Beauty.” The scene where the fairies are making the cake and the color-changing dress are still pure magic to me. And of course, there’s “Once Upon a Dream.” I sing it often enough to make “Sleeping Beauty” likely nowhere near the top of Rockford’s list of favorite Disney movies.


1. “Inside Out”

I was dubious when I first read about the premise of “Inside Out.” Then I saw it. It’s so beautiful and inventive, and Poppy was just starting to head into the age Riley is in the movie. And that abstract thought scene? My jaw dropped. “Inside Out” isn’t just one of my favorite Disney movies, it’s one of my favorite movies in general.


So about that album.


You might have noticed a common thread in most of my Disney favorites. If it has a great soundtrack, chances are I’m going to love it. I’m thrilled that my kids have inherited my love for a good Disney tune — even if they don’t appreciate it when I “cover” their favorite tunes. Pete frequently puts the “101 Dalmatians” soundtrack on while he’s playing, and sometimes he’ll even dance to “I Wanna Be Like You” with me in the living room. He draws the line at the “Frozen” soundtrack. I suspect that has something to do with the number of times Poppy has listened to “Let It Go” on repeat.

Regardless of whether Pete is telling me to stop singing “Let It Go” or Poppy is squashing my dreams of luring chipmunks in to fold the laundry for me by gently and whimsically humming “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the Butterscotch Sundae household is thoroughly saturated in aural ephemera of the Disney kind.

“Jazz Loves Disney” is a compilation of musicians giving classic Disney tunes a big band jazz twist, and it works very well. For the most part. There are a few songs on the album that don’t especially shine. The nonsense words in “Bibbidi Bobbodo Boo,” for example, don’t quite translate well as scat — especially in contrast with The Hot Sardines’ version of “I Wanna Be Like You” — and Anne Sila’s “Let It Go” doesn’t quite measure up to Idina Menzel’s original.

That said, the rest of the album is a delight. Grammy nominee Melody Gardot lends a smoky note to “He’s a Tramp” from “Lady and the Tramp,” and Italian singer and pianist Raphael Gualazzi brings a little extra zing to the already infectious “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book.” Jamie Cullum’s high-energy version of “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” had Pete and I dancing through the living room, I love Laika’s silky smooth and appropriately dreamy take on “Once Upon a Dream,” and Nikki Yanofsky’s “Un Jour Mon Prince Viendra (Someday My Prince Will Come)” is soaring and tender.

My favorite track on the album, though, is Gardot & Gualazzi’s “The Bare Necessities.” Their voices play off one another perfectly, and this version is so bouncy and fun you can’t help shimmying when it’s playing. (I’m chair-dancing as I type!)

“Jazz Loves Disney” would be a great gift for the Disney-phile in your life. It’s available November 18 from iTunes or Amazon, so you have plenty of time to order it for the holidays. Here’s the full track listing:

  1. Jamie Cullum, “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” from “The Aristocats”
  2. Melody Gardot, “He’s A Tramp” from “Lady And The Tramp”
  3. Stacey Kent, “Bibbidi Bobbodo Boo” (French version)” from “Cinderella”
  4. Gregory Porter, “When You Wish Upon A Star” from “Pinocchio”
  5. China Moses, “Why Don’t You Do Right” from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
  6. Raphaël Gualazzi, “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book”
  7. The Rob Mounsey Orchestra, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” from “Cinderella”
  8. Hugh Coltman, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from “Toy Story”
  9. Anne Sila, “Let It Go” from “Frozen”
  10. Melody Gardot & Raphaël Gualazzi, “The Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book”
  11. Laika, “Once Upon A Dream” from “Sleeping Beauty”
  12. Nikki Yanofsky, “Someday My Prince Will Come” from “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs”
  13. The Hot Sardines, “I Wanna Be Like You (French & English version)” from “The Jungle Book” (US release only)

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