Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wand-Making Made Easy

(c) 2012 by Tom King

Simple Wand with Scroll Markings
 What with the long winter evenings upon us, here's a little project you can start on in your spare time that is inexpensive, fun and will make you the hit of the neighborhood next Halloween.  With the end of the Harry Potter series, the movies move to television and begin their second life. J.K. Rowlings' brillliant series about the lives of children in a school for wizards actually has some very positive things to say to kids.  The series is not about magic being an easy bail-out the way so many kids movies have been.  It is rather about making choices and how if you choose to do right, things usually come out okay in the end.

Simple circular grooves with color variations.
One of the key characters in the series is Mr. Olivander, the Wandmaker.  He's an interesting character and provides most of the Hogwarts School children with their first wands. This past year I tried my hand at wandmaking and made some kids in my neighborhood very happy by sending them home, not with candy (my wife took care of that), but with their very own "first wands" complete with sales tags.

They are easy to make from hardwood dowels.  I use the thicker 5/8 to 3/4 inch dowels so that I have room to carve designs into them and so they aren't an eye-poking-out hazard.  You can find a description of how they are made on this Hubpages article.  The trick to really selling these wand is the individual tags for each wand. 

When I buy the dowels, I alway note the type of wood.  I've found dowels at Home Depot, Lowes and other lumber supply places made of poplar, oak and ash.  They aren't terribly expensive and you can get three or four 8 to 15 inch wands out of them.  You simply cut them into the lengths you want, Carve designs in them with a lathe if you have one or a Dremel-Moto Tool.  You can even make them interesting with a simple whittling knife if you have some skill at whittling.

Custom tags add authenticity

The key is to start early.  Carve the wands, then stain and varnish them.  There's a polyurethane wipe-on varnish that's great for this type of project.  You don't brush or spray it on, but wipe it on with a soft cloth. It's thin, so you'll need to add multiple coats, but it gets down into the carvings and adds nice colors and textures.

When you're done, you'll need to print up some tags for each want and attach them with a loop of string as shown in the article linked above.  The tags, like Mr. Olivander's wands will specify the length, type of wood used, the "core" used and the rigidity of the wand.  A typical tag might read:
Olivander & King
Poplar - 12 inches
Core: Phoenix Feather

By mixing up the tags and giving each it's own unique qualities and designs, you'll be creating a one of a kind keepsake for each child who comes to your door.

The only problem is that if word gets out, you may have to make a lot more wands next year.  The good news is, it's fun and you can find all sorts of wood for them just by keeping your eyes open.  If you have a lathe, it's even easier. Dowels off chairs, broom handles and even scavenged hardwood tree limbs can be pressed into service.  My dog, Daisy, and I found several likely branches on our rambles through the forest and the wands made out of natural tree branches had a mysterious and magical look to them that made them popular with the kids. 

If you take on the project, be sure and send me some pictures.  I'd love to see your work.

Have fun with it.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

How to Prepare Haystacks – Texas Style

(c) 2013 By Tom King

Photo borrowed from "It's Gotta be Gluten Free" website
First off, we’re not talking about cattle feed here, though if you’ve got a whole lotta people corralled, this traditional Adventist potluck favorite is one of the best ways to feed them all, fill them up and send them on their way in no time.  It’s suitable for feeding visiting choirs, Pathfinder clubs, youth groups of all sizes and any group that shows up needing to be fed on short notice. 

Every city, state, country and continent has its own version of the venerable haystack.  In Hawaii, they put pineapple and macadamia nuts and stuff in it.  Up north I saw a version made with baked beans.  I’m going to describe the way it’s done in parts of Texas.  If you have a local version, you are welcome to post it here for all of us to share.  A Seventh-day Adventist named Ella May Hartlein is credited with coming up with the recipe in the early 1950s, when she and her family craved Tostadas and could not find a Mexican restaurant close to their home according to Wikipedia.  Apparently the Amish and Mennonites have their own versions of the haystack too.  Here's the version I grew up with.

Here’s what you need for Texas-Style Haystacks:

  1. Lots of lettuce (chopped or shredded)
  2. Bags of Tortilla Chips (or Fritos Corn Chips)
  3. Tomatoes - diced
  4. Onions
  5. Mounds of Grated Cheddar Cheese
  6. Sour Cream
  7. Black Olives
  8. Jalepenos
  9. Ranch Dressing
  10. Avocados or Guacamole
  11. Pace™ Picante Sauce (accept no substitutes)
  12. Ranch Style Beans

Here’s How to Set the Serving Line:

  1. Place two long folding tables end to end
  2. Chop up the vegetables, put everything in bowls with the proper sized spoons.  The only thing that needs to be heated is the beans.
  3.  Set out the serving bowls in this order on the table.

a.      First stack the paper plates at the start of the serving line.  Use the heavy Chinette ones because a haystack can get pretty heavy.
b.      Second place a huge bowl of chips right after the plates.  Tortilla chips are traditional in Texas, but I’ve seen it done (more expensively) with Fritos Corn Chips – regular sized.
c.      Third, set a huge pot of Ranch Style™ Beans with a couple of big soup ladles in them.
d.      Fourth, a big bowl of chopped lettuce
e.      Fifth, a big bowl of diced tomatoes
f.       Sixth, smaller bowls of onions, black olives and jalapenos
g.      Seventh, a big bowl of grated cheddar cheese
h.      Eighth, a big bowl of guacamole or chopped avocados
i.       Ninth, bowls of sour cream, bottles of Ranch Dressing, bowls of picante sauce and a bottle of Catalina French Dressing for visiting Yankees and Californians.
j.       Flatware, napkins, drinks

Construction Techniques:

You build your haystack according to your own tastes, but for newbies, here’s the basic order of battle.  You can pretty much follow the order of setup, but everyone has their preferences.  Here are the directions for constructing the basic haystack:

  1. Lay down a bed of chips covering the bottom of your plate. Everything else is built on top of the chips.
  2. Scoop hot beans on top of the chips
  3. Lay down a bed of lettuce on top of the beans
  4. Spoon tomatoes generously over the lettuce
  5. Sprinkle onions, olives and/or jalapenos to taste over the salad ingredients
  6. Cover with grated cheese.
  7.  Add picante sauce to taste
  8. Decorate with spoonfuls of avocado/guacamole, and ranch dressing (or Catalina French if you must). 
  9. Top with a spoonful of sour cream.  Always save one olive to put on top of your little snowcap of sour cream to complete your mountain of deliciousness.


A haystack is not a “Taco Salad”.  It is a breach of etiquette to call it that or to put the chips on top of the beans.  Everything else can be laid down according to your own personal preference.  Take it easy on the jalapenos if you’re not used to them. 

Haystacks are pretty cheap to make and very filling.  Young people love them and because you make them yourself, little kids can even make their own versions which leave out anything “yucky”.  Haystacks are perfect if you need to feed a lot of people fast and you can leave extra unopened bags of chips and beans in the kitchen and add more to the feast if things start running low.  We always keep extra unopened jars of Pace, blocks of cheese, bottles of salad dressing, lettuce and tomatoes to chop up.  If you don’t need them, you can take them home or store the unopened jars for the next time you need to serve this imminently useful dish for your church potluck.