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Celebrating 11, a photo essay


To Calvin, on your eleventh birthday

Last Friday we were at a local park with our homeschooling friends. It’s a large park, mostly mown grass over low, rolling hills. The moms sit in the shade and visit, and you and I have an agreement that as long as you are with other kids from our group, you can go anywhere in the park. I trust you, and you have always been worthy of it. I hadn’t seen you in a while, and mentioned to another mom how great it was that I didn’t need to know exactly where you were anymore, but that I still would have liked to put eyes on you once in a while.

 “Isn’t that him right there?” she asked “Is he wearing a blue hat?”

And yes, there you were, not far away and completely in sight. I hadn’t seen you, because I was looking for a smaller child.

When does this growing occur? Surreptitiously over night? But it’s not that I didn’t know you had grown. I’ve watched your pants slowly rise up over you ankles through the year, and scrambled to find new shoes before the warm weather. I know you are growing, so when is it that the discord between my memories and reality set in? That I don’t know. I’ve always thought myself in touch with your maturing, and only occasionally felt nostalgic or scared. But as your level of independence has skyrocketed over the past year, while I won’t say I wasn’t ready, I will admit I wasn’t quite expecting it. 

This newfound independence has been a really wonderful thing. Your homeschool studies have been far more self-directed this year, your focus increasingly self-controlled. We have continued our march through the subjects, taking on some really challenging matter, and your curiosity and deep way of thinking continues to awe me. We tackled some literary “great books” this year, and your commentary on Moby Dick and All Quiet on the Western Front especially left me wowed. You are really getting it. You really understand. Your love of science and the natural world increases, and your respect for our one and only earth brings me great joy. Twentieth century history has you filled with a level of indignation fit for the pre-teen that you are, and the vicarious shame you feel for the ridiculous actors in your Spanish videos is right on point. Fun note: you can draw a map of the United States from memory, and are almost finished learning the same for Europe. But your favorite topic lately is math. It was geometry this year, and though the whole year wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, you are nearly acing the course, and have asked to continue with math through the summer so that you can move on to the next level sooner.

And just as you continue to thrive in your academic life, you are also moving along well in your arts life. You have always had a fondness for the arts. You inherited your father’s talent at the piano, if not always his practice integrity, and this year you graduated from lesson books into repertoire. It is lovely to hear you play on the days that you are not arguing about it. You are less bored with choir, I think, and this year that has really been a place for you to shine. You had two small solos that you really nailed earlier in the year, and just this week you auditioned for a difficult part and earned it with your ready ability and vibrant performance. You also took tap and ballet this year and we were delighted to see how much you learned in that time. Enough, as it turned out, to earn a chorus (dancing and singing) roll in the the Young People’s Theater production of Beauty and the Beast this spring. You amazed us on that stage, and behind it. Your integrity and maturity really showed.

Learning and performing aside, though, you are growing into a sensitive, kind, funny young man. Your friends and family enjoy you and your teachers appreciate you. Not every moment is perfect. You fight about studying things you find unimportant, and become frustrated to the point of tears sometimes at making mistakes or failing to understand something new, but far and wide your most defining trait is being easy going and happy. I know we are approaching the traditional age of malcontent, but you still find joy in so many things that I think we have some time yet. The other things you are doing are so age appropriate, though, that they bring back memories from our own childhoods. You are discovering music, developing what will probably be your life-long sound track, and if I remember correctly that is beginning of the creation of a true self. A unique other. That, and you are developing your own brand of humor, which we find hilariously, and often shockingly, witty. Your parents will take some credit for that, thank you.

What it all means is that you are really becoming yourself. You spend even more time with friends—as much as possible with the neighbors, and also time with our homeschooling families. You like to spend time alone. And even though you still sleep with your blanket and know all the names of your stuffed animals, that is really just like me all through…well, really continuing now, except maybe the blanket part. The truth is, you are growing up and becoming the individual that only you, regardless of your parents, will become all on your own. 

You are becoming you. And we couldn’t be more proud, and we couldn’t love you more.



Only 40 years to wait

We are just back continental side from an amazing birthday week in the Hawaiian sun. Whose birthday? That would be mine. The 40th. And I can think of no better way to have spent it than with my family, and no better place than Hawaii.

A few years ago I took stock of my lifetime of travel and decided to set a goal of seeing all 50 states by the time I reach 50. At the beginning of this year I had been to 44 of them, so it's a reasonable goal, but the states I have yet to see are strangely strewn across our continent. Alabama and Georgia in the Southeast, Maine in the northeast, Idaho in the Northwest, and the outliers, Hawaii and Alaska. And now, thanks to this amazing trip, I can move Hawaii to the done list.

There are lots of ways to do Hawaii, and I'd categorize our trip as thoroughly relaxing. Our goal was to spend as much time together as possible while soaking up sun and beautiful views, and we accomplished this by renting a house just outside Kailua-Kona, on the west side of the Big Island, through VRBO. I'll say first that the house we rented was amazing. While we've never had a bad VRBO experience, this one outdid all the others by actually surpassing our expectations. The home was updated, the kitchen well appointed, and the views breathtaking. For us the best part of renting a house is having the family living space. We spent nearly every afternoon playing in the private pool, nearly every evening enjoying the sunset on the Lanai before grilling a delicious dinner to enjoy together, and many a night introducing Calvin to the Hawaiian wonder of Magnum P.I.

While some people take on Hawaii with a "collect them all" attitude, coptering from island to island, since our goal was just to relax and be together, we picked one island and stuck with it. We opted for the Big Island in large part because it is less developed, less touristy, and for Volcanos National Park. We wanted to see lava, and boy did we. Our National Park excursion was a full day experience. Driving on the island is a tortuous experience, and nobody is moving very fast, but the scenery all the way there was brilliant, and the park well worth the effort. We arrived at midday and stopped for lunch in the Lodge overlooking the active caldera. Lava isn't visible from that vantage point, but having just arrived we were perfectly entertained by the trail of smoke that was. After eating we spent some time at the Visitors Center so Calvin could earn his Junior Ranger badge before heading to Jaggar Museum where we were treated to a great view of the active lava spouting and roiling. This was amazing. Our next stop was to hike the Lava Tubes, which I found disappointing, but we followed up with a hike across the cooling, inactive crater at Kilaeua Iki, and for those who can swing the incline and uneven terrain, this is a must do. Walking across the now hardened waves of lava and feeling the hot steam rising from still cooling vents was an amazing experience (made even more so by having watched the video in the Visitors Center earlier about the crater's earlier eruption). Our final stop, and one I wouldn't have missed for the world, was back up to Jaggar Museum to view the lava after dark. This, too, is a must do. 

A note about lava in Volcanos National Park. The viewing varies greatly, even from minute to minute. We arrived during daylight hours to see two large tongues of lava lapping at the sides of the caldera, bright orange cracks forming across the black, molten surface, but just a half hour later one of those tongues was no longer visible and the other greatly diminished. Of course the same is true at night, and we were lucky enough to be treated another great spectacle on our after-dark return, but be forewarned: it gets chilly on top of the volcano after the sun sets, and the crowds are something to contend with (think small town fireworks display), but it is totally worth it to see both day and nighttime lava.

Another note, there aren't many restaurants near the park, and the choices become even fewer that late, so it's good to go with a meal plan.

Another goal of our trip was to take in the varied terrain of the Big Island. Dry and almost desert-like on the west side, the east side of the island is a rainforest, and the two are separated by entirely undeveloped lava fields. We took a day, or really a long morning, to drive across the relatively new highway that runs through the middle of the island to see the waterfalls and vegetation that clutter the island's east side. The drive across was alone worth the trip. We saw lava flows of many different ages in various stages of reanimation. we also got a good look at the main peaks of the island, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and the observatory on top. Although you know that you are climbing in elevation much of the way, it is still a surprise to begin the descent into Hilo to find yourself above the clouds. On the day that we drove over, we descended into completely cloud cover that hid the road below us. The effect was at first disorienting, and then completely stunning. Our time in Hilo was spent on light hiking to visit three falls sites: Pe'epe'e Falls, Rainbow Falls, and 'Akaka Falls. The first two were very short walks on paved paths, with optional easy hikes on the side. Rainbow Falls was a longer walk with greater elevation changes, but still a paved path. All three were beautiful, and the vegetation and wildlife (lizards and birds) were an added pleasure.

A final goal for our trip was to attend a Luau. Now, we understood going in that luaus these days are but a dim reminder of what was once a culturally significant part of island life, but arguments about authenticity vs. kitsch aside, we knew we wanted this unique experience while we were there. My dad did his research and made reservations at the Mauna Kea Resort Luau to ensure our place at a highly rated luau on my actual birthday. It did not disappoint. The views alone were spectacular, and the food was great fun, but the dancing...oh the dancing. Authentic or no, it was amazing to watch, and it came with a bit of a history lesson, which I loved. 

Other things we did on our trip included a tour of the Kanaloa Octopus farm, and a tour of Kuaiwi Coffee Farm. I highly recommend the octopus farm if you have any interest in wild creatures at all: the tour was very informative, and the octopi highly entertaining. The visit needs to be booked ahead of time, although we booked ours only a week in advance. In other good news, your visit helps to fund this important program aimed at saving wild octopus populations. The coffee tour was also a complete joy. The plantation we visited was on old one, and today is a very small, family run affair, so our tour was private and unique. The air was cooler and cloudy up in the hills, and when we were there the coffee crop had already been brought in, but the land is planted with a wide variety of fruit and other trees and plants and we were treated to a taste test at nearly all of them. The owner/guide is immensely knowledgeable and very warm. We ended that tour with a sampling of coffee and chocolates on the family deck, that's how private and homey an operation it is. Highly recommended.

Then, like I said, the rest of our trip was an exercise in relaxation. Vibrant, welcoming mornings, long pool afternoons, delicious dinners, stunning sunsets, and restful evenings. It was everything I wanted, and I only had to wait 40 years for it.

The following photos were taken by several photographers, mainly myself and my wonderful sister-in-law, who was too gentle to rib me about my age even though she's nearly ten years younger and I gave her permission to do it all week.


10 (+30) things about me at 40

(1) I am not bothered by turning forty (2) When I was young I wanted a career—not a marriage and definitely not children (3) I am happily married and I love my son (4) I have homeschooled my son all his life (5) I did not have pets growing up (6) I think I will always have a pet as an adult (7) I wanted to be a veterinarian...until I'd worked in a vet's office (8) I am a follower, not a leader (9) I still sleep with stuffed animals (10) I love to read (11) I write book reviews for a magazine (12) They know me at our library, it is like my church (13) I love to hike and to be outside (14) I love living where we have all four seasons, (15) but I hate being cold (16) I am a hobby birder and naturalist (17) I studied evolution in college and still see the world through that lens (18) I am an atheist (19) I am a humanist and I believe in the inherent morality of humans (20) I am artistic but not creative (21) I love eat, and I especially love to snack (22) I love to garden (23) I'm not big on TV or movies (24) I love hot showers in the winter, cold showers in the summer (25) I love to get really dirty, especially in the summer (26) I am a runner—I run at least 3 miles 3-4 days every week (27) I cross and weight train on my off running days (28) I struggle with depression and anxiety (29) I use exercise and diet to manage these conditions (30) I love to write (31) I love taking pictures (32) I am an introvert (33) I am on the board of our homeschooling group (34) I am on the board of our library Friends group as the book sale manager (35) After any time with people I need a lot of time alone (36) I'm learning to play the piano (37) I love to sew and am getting better at it all the time (38) I don't get enough sleep (39) I love to cook (40) I love my family more than anything else in the world. 


A very Harry (Potter) birthday party (affordably)

Potions class, Herbology, Quidditch, and a trip down Diagon Alley is how we do ten years old around here. The minute we settled on an at-home birthday party this year (something I was pretty sure I'd never do), Calvin requested a Potter party. The series is a favorite amongst his homeschooling cohort; they play Hogwarts make-believe whenever the chance arises, rehash the stories in drawn out discussion on a regular basis, and are lobbying for the play to be their production this fall. Having just finished the series myself (yes, for the first time!), the subject was fresh in my own mind and the party seemed like a great idea.

There are innumerable ideas for Harry Potter parties on Pinterest, and they vary widely in cost, time expenditure, and required talents. Of course Calvin had lots of pie in the sky dreams for his ideal party, so we took his big list of ideas and narrowed it down to what was affordable and doable in the time and space we had. Making wands and jelly bean boxes got the green light, but creating a Whomping Willow in our front room got crossed right off, as did the making of scarves and robes for all the guests. The resulting party required some work, but was fun both in preparation and in realization.

Activities: a Quidditch tryout session in the backyard, Mandrake planting in Herbology, sundae making in Potions class, a Have You Seen This Wizard photo op, and a showing of the first movie. 

Take homes: Wands, monster books, feather pens, and Bertie Botts Beans, a "mandrake" if they potted one, and a Wanted Wizard sign if they took the photo op.

And now, here's some how-to.

The wands: 

The wands were by far the main stage attraction at the party, and they were cheap and easy, but time consuming. My only purchase for this was a bag of chopsticks, the rest of the materials I already had on hand.

I made the wands based on this tutorial. I purchased long cooking choptsicks from Amazon and used the high setting on my hot glue gun to make the handles. This involved a lot of rolling the chopstick in one hand while managing the gun with the other. Once the initial handle cooled completely, I used the low setting on the hot glue gun to add raised detail.  

I used three colors of Acrylic paint that I already had on hand. I started with a base coat in the darkest color. When that was dry I lightly added brush strokes in the lighter color to give it more depth. I finished by painting the raised detail in gold. I painted the entire wand but finished the handle completely first, then went back to paint the wand part.

I finished the wands with a coating of glossy Modge Podge followed by a coat of Fixatif.

The monster books:

The monster books were my own design, and they were easy and far less time consuming a project than the wands. I purchased packages of small notebooks at the dollar store and a package of pens from Amazon, while the remaining materials I already had on hand.

The monster books are actually monster book jackets made using gray felt cut to the the size of the open notebook plus 1.5 inches on each side and .25 inches each top and bottom. I folded the side edges over and hot glued them along the top and bottom edge to create pockets for the cover of the notebook, similar to a standard book jacket cover only more enclosed (they were not glued to the notebook so that they could be reused).

Once the felt jacket cover was made to fit a notebook, the rest was decoration. I cut teeth out of white felt and hot glued them the to the right edge of the "cover", then I cut fur to the size of the open book and glued it to the outside of the jack cover, overlapping the teeth. Lastly I glued eyes to the top right edge of the fur, near the teeth.

Bertie Botts (NOT) Every Flavor Beans

The Every Flavor Beans are available for purchase on Amazon, but they're pricey, the box is not authentic, and who really wants to stumble across a vomit flavored bean? Instead, we bought Jelly Bellies in bulk at our local grocery store and and printed off the template from this page to make our own authentic looking bean boxes. 

We printed the boxes on cardstock, and cut out the windows with a craft knife and the box itself with regular scissors. I did cut all the tabs a little larger than they are drawn on the template. I also added a tongue tab to the square bottom and cut a slit for it in the opposing tab so it could be opened and closed instead of just glued shut. That being said, when we put the beans in baggies and placed them inside the boxes, they were too heavy for the unglued bottoms, so we had to use a small piece of tape on each to keep them closed. If I had it to do over again I think I would glue the bottoms but figure out how to make the top work like an accordion so that it would be reusable from there.

Owl Bags

We placed the goodies in snowy owl bags, which was another of my own creations and made entirely from items I already had on hand: white craft (lunch) bags, white and black cardstock, a black Sharpie, and adhesives. 

I sketched an owl "mask" on white cardstock to use as a template. After cutting out all the masks, I used craft glue to add eyes and a beaks cut from black cardstock. I used Zots to attach the face upside down to the very top of the bag, and used a black Sharpie to draw wings, feathers, and clawed feet on the opposite side.

When the bag was filled and the top folded over, this created a snowy owl.

Herbology Mandrake potting

Pots from the dollar store and a single packet of miniature zinnia seeds from the local hardware store, plus dirt we had leftover from our potting this spring. We put the seeds in a jar which we labeled as Mandrake Seeds, and I added food coloring to water in another jar to make the dove's blood that Mandrakes all need (or so I've been told).

Decorations and such

We purchased a brick wall from Amazon to make our front door into the Station 9 3/4 entrance post. There was plenty of wall, so we also hung a portion of it inside to use as a backdrop for our Wanted Wizard photos (which we took using our Instax camera).

We printed signs for various locations in Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, as well as labels for potions and the Mandrake seeds, our Wanted Wizard mini posters, and an image of Moaning Myrtle for the bathroom. You can easily purchase these in bundles of printables on Etsy, but with a little more effort we found good stuff for free online (a simple Google search worked wonders), or made on our own. 

I decorated our Great Hall (dining room) with stars and glowsticks (candles) hanging from the ceiling. We got a red plastic table cloth to use as a runner on the table and gold plates, bowls, cups, and utensils to round out the Gryffindor color scheme.

Lastly, I used duct tape to join two old mop handles together and hang a hula hoop from one end, then tied the contraption to the deck railing with rope. This resulted in a hilariously serviceable Quidditch goal. We used ping pong balls for the team tryouts activiity.