The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

Every now and then I get this irresistible urge to create something other than a blog post. I know. Hard to believe.

At the time of this particular urge, we were facing about five days where the temperature was not going to go above freezing, even at high noon. And there would be snow to start it off, so it was going to stick to the ground for days on end. It made me wish that adults got snow days like children do. (Be careful what you wish for.)

To make things even more interesting, this was unprecedented weather for the Seattle area, and a lot of places were closing up in a panic because of that. And my birthday fell right smack in the middle of this cold snap. I would basically be snowed in with nothing to do. It was time to come up with an interesting distraction.

Recently, I came across this photo of Ice Balloon Orbs on the internet. Aren’t they pretty? I thought, “Cool! Let’s try that!”

So, when Dear Husband asked me what I’d like to do on my birthday, I told him I wanted food coloring and balloons, so that I could make my very own colorful orbs that would look lovely against the snow. It seemed like a simple concept, so I didn’t bother trying to find instructions.

Ah, hubris.

Attempt One

First of all, you can’t just pour water into a balloon. You can’t just use a funnel. It has to be pushed in. So our fancy sink faucet had to be slightly disassembled. Next, I dripped some food coloring into the balloon, put the mouth of the balloon on the faucet, and filled it with water.

I quickly learned that this project makes one helluva mess. If you don’t support the balloon while it’s filling, it falls off the faucet and splashes everywhere. If you get overly ambitious and try to make a really big orb, the balloon bursts. If you fumble while tying the knot, disaster.

I’m telling you, have towels on hand. That some people are willing to try this with small children astounds me. It’s proof that those people are just gluttons for punishment, or at the very least, they don’t have nice wood floors.

I kept filling the sink with colored water balloons, and then I’d bundle up and bring the balloons outside to be placed in a snowbank in the back yard. I figured there was no place on earth colder than a snowbank, right?

With temperatures dropping into the teens overnight, I figured by morning I’d have my orbs. There was nothing to do but wait. So I built a fire and settled in for the evening. This was the most satisfying part of the project.

The next day I went out to the snowbank, all giddy with anticipation… only to find out that snowbanks make excellent insulators. The warmth radiating from the ground, combined with the room temperature water within the balloons, was all held in by that snowbank, and many of the balloons hadn’t frozen at all. As in, not at all. Others were frozen along the outside, but liquid in the middle.

I tried moving them to a shady part of the yard, to sit on top of the snow instead of beneath it, and I let them sit there for another freezing day and night, with mixed results.

The next morning, feeling rather defeated, I took the partially frozen orbs to the front yard. Sadly, some of them had holes in the sides, and all the colored water quickly poured out, leaving clear, fragile shells. Others collapsed in my hands as I attempted to peel the balloon off. There was a gorgeous blue one that held on for a few seconds before disintegrating. I wish I had gotten a picture of it.

Finally I wound up with one purple, one blue, several yellow and an orange, all half frozen. None of the red or green survived. And for future reference, I strongly advise you to avoid making yellow or orange orbs. As they melt, they look like yellow snow, and it’s not even remotely attractive.

Attempt Two

Since I was still left with four totally unfrozen water balloons, I decided not to entirely give up. I watched a few Youtube videos and got some ideas. First of all, to freeze them, it seemed that most people were setting them outside on a table, away from the heat of the ground, where cold air could attack from all sides. So I moved those long suffering balloons yet again, this time to an open plastic container on our picnic table.

The next morning, I discovered that one of the balloons had broken and coated the bottom of the container in yellow, and it froze around the other balloons. Way to make the project look as unappetizing as possible! But there were three remaining, and they were actually pretty frozen.

Eureka! After the balloons were peeled off, I was left with one purple one, one blue one, and one orange one. The orange one had apparently frozen a few times in an uneven manner, and wound up looking like a bowl of beer. It was kind of cool, though. These three had pride of place on our fence posts for a few days.

It was interesting to see how they slowly thawed. The beer one looked like someone had sneaked into our back yard for a few sips. (If so, I bet they were disappointed.) The purple one became a dark purple orb inside a clear orb. The blue one just gently faded in color until it had rendered itself practically invisible. Fascinating.

But none of my orbs wound up looking like the cool ones on the internet. I wanted them to look like bright, colorful, hard candy. I had one more balloon, and one more idea. Here goes nothing.

Attempt Three

I decided I wanted to try for a bright orange orb, because apparently I never learn. To make it, I had to use a mix of yellow and red food coloring, and I must not have gotten enough red in there. There was no way to know until the deed was done. (Are there transparent balloons readily available to the consumer? That would be helpful.)

This time, I put the orb into my deep freeze, and then promptly forgot about it for a few days. When I remembered it again, it was frozen solid. In fact, it was so frozen that it had cracked and yet still held it shape. So this, ladies and gentleman, was my final orb.

I think it came out pretty cool, but not exactly what I was expecting. Clearly, more experimentation will be required. But that will be for a future date when I’m feeling less frustrated.

Lessons Learned

  • Never assume that you know what you’re doing. Read the instructions.
  • Patience is not my strong suit.
  • While you may have high hopes for really large orbs, you’ll probably have more success with smaller ones.
  • Perhaps a different brand of food coloring is needed, and some experimentation with color combinations would not go amiss, either.
  • It’s always a good idea to avoid yellow snow.
  • When you forget to reassemble your faucet, your spouse will get really cranky next time she or he turns it on.
  • Snowbanks are not your friends.
  • For better freezing conditions, I need to move to North Dakota, or clean out my deep freeze.
  • If you are going to use a freezer, put the water balloon in a bowl in case it bursts. (I got off lucky this time, but you never know.)
  • Food coloring washes out of pajamas as long as you don’t procrastinate.
  • As with cakes frosted at home, nothing ever comes out looking like the picture.
  • Nothing beats sitting in front of a nice warm fire on a cold winter’s day.
  • Next time I’m snowed in, I think I’ll read a book.

Read any good books lately? Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

2 thoughts on “Ice Balloon Orbs: I Botch Them So You Don’t Have To.

  1. Carol says:

    LOL, I do hope you”ll try again. I love the idea, and will try next time we get a couple snow days. But I will have my 6 yr old very crafty Granddaughter do all the important steps. She rarely fails at anything, and I learn a lot from her. Like your “Travel Tips” that I keep in our suit case, I definitely keep this hilarious list handy. Thanks friend.

    1. If you guys do try it, take pictures! 🙂 And that travel list is woefully out of date. A lot of obsolete things are mentioned. I really should do an update at some point. Adding that to my “to blog about” list.

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