Category Archives: partner campaign

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!

How the Ninja Coffee Bar won my heart

Disclaimer: SharkNinja sent Nichole products to review here at Butterscotch Sundae. No money changed hands, and all opinions are Nichole’s own.

I am a confirmed homebody, and as such I have a lengthy list of the Things I Miss When I’m Not at Home. Normally, the things at the top of that list are:

3. My bed.
2. My bathroom.
1. My fuzzy little angel and constant companion, Marsha T. Cat.

But things felt a little different when we were at my dad’s house for Christmas. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was until I saw Dad making a cup of coffee. And I realized that the things I was missing most were:

3. My bathroom.
2. Making a fancy frothy latte with our new coffeemaker.
1. The furry bright star of my firmament, Marsha T. Cat.

I don’t drink a lot of coffee, but I do love a great kitchen gadget. And I have had a great time playing around with the Ninja Coffee Bar ever since the SharkNinja people sent it to me a couple of months ago.

The Ninja has completely replaced our Keurig, which we bought because Rockford is the only permanent occupant of our house who drinks coffee, and he only drinks one cup in the morning before he heads off to work. So it made sense for us to have a one-cup coffee system. Most of the time. Unless we had visitors who practically live on coffee, which happened more often than one might expect and led to us going through far more of those little cups than I would’ve liked.

Enter the Ninja.

The Ninja Coffee Bar uses regular ol’ ground coffee, and it comes with a reusable filter. You can make a full 10-cup carafe when you have highly caffeinated guests, or you can use the one-cup setting if it’s just your slightly bleary-eyed self. There’s even an extra-large cup setting and a travel cup setting, in case you’re a little more than slightly bleary eyed.

“But how do you make just one cup of coffee in a full-size coffee maker?” you may be asking. “It’ll splash everywhere!” The Ninja people thought of that, and it’s one of my favorite thoughtful little touches on the machine. You flip down a little built-in platform and put your cup on it, and the coffee goes straight into the cup without leaving little coffee splatters everywhere. So smart, those Ninja people.

It’s like a tiny patio for your coffee cup!

The Coffee Bar also features a built-in cubby to store the measuring scoop that comes with it, and there’s a slider you can pop into place to stop errant coffee from dripping onto the heating plate. It also has an array of settings so you can customize the strength of your brew, from Classic to Rich to the rather potent Cafe Forte.

But my very favorite thing about the Ninja Coffee Bar is — drum roll please — the frother. It’s a tiny, motorized whisk that’s attached to an arm that swings out from the side of the machine, and it makes me want to add frothed milk to everything.

My drizzling skills need some work.
I like to add a little flavored syrup to the milk, heat it up for a minute and then froth it for 20-30 seconds before adding it to a cup of coffee — usually brewed on the 4-ounce specialty setting, which makes an espresso-like brew.

So far I’ve made iced coffee, caramel lattes, cinnamon lattes, vanilla lattes and a mocha. My father-in-law said the iced coffee I made using the (you guessed it) iced coffee setting tasted just like the one he gets at his favorite chain coffee shop. That’s high praise from a guy who may be the world’s leading consumer of iced coffee.

The Ninja Coffee retails for right around $200, and it makes a mighty fine cup o’ Joe.

Hitting the floor with Sharks. Sometimes literally.

Disclaimer: SharkNinja sent Nichole products to review here at Butterscotch Sundae. No money changed hands, and all opinions are Nichole’s own.

Our most recent vacuum purchase was on Black Friday about five years ago, when Amazon offered a crazy vacuum discount on the very same day that the vacuum that came with our house finally died. The New Vacuum lasted a couple of years before it started getting a little fussy. It would pick up a thing here and a thing there, so long as we dumped it if it was more than half full and we cleaned the brush off regularly. It gradually did less and less as we babied it more and more, and just as I was about to start searching Amazon for another amazing deal, I got an email from a Shark representative I’d met at the Type-A Conference. “Would you be interested in writing about the Shark Rocket and the Shark Genius?” she asked. Thus continuing my weird but welcome tradition of the vacuum stars aligning right when I need it.

The Shark Rocket shows Nichole that her house is grubby.

The New Vacuum and I had vacuumed the bedroom literally two days before the Shark Rocket arrived on my doorstep, and it still picked up at least half a Marsha T. Cat’s worth of dust. I took this as both a repudiation of my homemaking acumen and a recommendation of the Rocket’s worthiness. I was surprised at how powerful the pull was when I switched the Rocket on. Between the vacuum’s pull against the carpet and trying to navigate the swiveling head, it felt like walking a rather insistent chihuahua. Which has not been my experience with previous vacuum cleaners. It didn’t take long to adjust my expectations, so I wasn’t terribly taken aback once I bumped it up to second gear, which felt like walking a rather insistent and very muscular chihuahua.

We recently pulled the carpet up in the living room and dining room, but we have some area rugs out there. So the Rocket and I wandered that way. I kind of enjoy the zen of sweeping, so I’ll probably keep sweeping the hardwoods with my trusty broom. But I was astounded to realize that I didn’t need to change outlets to reach the hall, living room and dining room. Granted, our house isn’t very large. But the cord on the Rocket is ginormous — 30 feet long! — and will cut down on outlet-switching even if you live in the Biltmore Estate.

The accessories include a little motorized brush that’s meant to pick up pet hair and dander from furniture and a gizmo that lets you easily clean underneath furniture and appliances. I used the brush to vacuum the couch, and I used the under-appliance wand to vacuum under the couch. And now the general couch region is probably the cleanest area of the couch, which is definitely a first for general couch regions in my house.

I don’t love that the Rocket can’t stand up on its own — it’s top-heavy because of the engine placement — but that’s pretty much all I don’t like about it. Other than the fact that it showed me how much dirt I’ve been leaving in the carpets, of course.

The Shark Genius puts Rockford on the floor.

The marketing materials for the Shark Genius say it’s the company’s “smartest steam mop ever.” I’ve proven to be terrible with the latest in mopping technology, so I was a little wary of that. I bought a fancy mop with a self-wringing mechanism awhile back, and the whole thing falls apart literally every time I’ve tried to use it. I don’t know if I’m twisting when I’m supposed to pull or pulling when I’m supposed to twist or what, but if you’ve ever seen an infomercial, you have a pretty good idea of what it looks like when I try to mop.

It isn’t pretty.

So I approached the Shark Genius with very cautious optimism. It came with two washable “dirt grip” pads, and one of them was already attached to the machine so I didn’t have to worry about infomercial-failing that part of the equation. I used the included pitcher to fill the basin with water, and the Genius and I headed off to the bathroom.

Someone very helpfully tracked a good bit of mud into the bathroom a few days ago, and I decided to leave it there because I knew the Shark Genius was on the way. (Let’s all agree to believe that I wasn’t just willfully ignoring it, OK?) So the floor was pretty filthy. The head of the steam mop is too big to get around the toilet, but it did a great job on the parts of the floor I could reach.

Grimy as the bathroom floor was, it wasn’t bad enough to require the Shark Genius’s “Steam Blaster” feature. So I took the mop out to the kitchen. The linoleum in our kitchen is decades and decades old. The pattern is a floral-leafy design, and it’s sort of stamped on and has lots of little divots and ridges that make it tough to clean. I was hopeful that the Steam Blaster would be able to get into those little dirt-magnet areas and blast the grime out.

You activate the Steam Blaster by flipping the mop’s head over and angling the handle downward a little, and a blast of steam charges forth, just as advertised. It looks about as cool as a mop is allowed to look, like a miniature, land-bound, domestic version of a space shuttle about to achieve liftoff. And it works really well. Maybe even a little too well. I think it may have steamed away 50 years of grime, which led to a kitchen floor that was now too slick for Rockford to casually lean against the counter whilst wearing socks without crashing to the floor.

That’s right. I cleaned the kitchen floor, and as a result Rockford fell down.

The cleaning pad was, as you might guess, pretty grubby by the time I’d finished. I followed the instructions, pushed the appropriate buttons, and prepared myself for an epic battle. But instead of the mop imploding or flinging the dirty cloth across the floor, it unfolded like a beautiful, disgusting gift.

I wish the Shark Genius was a little easier to drain the water from it once you’re done mopping, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. It’s really easy to use, and it does its job very well. Maybe even too well, if you ask slippery socked amongst us.