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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.


Turning Ten, a photo essay


To Calvin, on your tenth birthday

Ten! Double digits!

You are so, so big. Nearly five feet tall, thin and athletic. You eat like a horse, play like an otter, and work like a little bee, though only when it suits you! It has been a wonderful year in many ways, and there is so much to remember and share.

We continued with your homeschooling this year. You are a quick and bright learner, but increasingly reluctant to put effort into things you don’t immediately see a benefit in. You love learning new things, but despise practicing once you believe you’ve mastered them. As our school year draws to a close you are fully parsing sentences, analyzing poetry, writing five paragraph essays with relative ease (if not relative interest), and reading voraciously at a nearly adult level. You have completed Algebra I, science 3-5, and world history up to the mid-nineteenth century. When you take an interest in something you attack with vigor, but a tendency toward easy boredom and apathy are your biggest challenges, and mine. It is hard to get you to work when you do not see the point.

You continued with both choir and piano this year and, to our great pleasure, seem to enjoy both greatly. This was your first year in the Boychoir of Ann Arbor Performing choir, and the schedule was the most rigorous you’d encountered to date, with long rehearsals two nights a week and practice at home. This January you auditioned for Young People’s Theater winter show, and learned a whole new dedication. It was a whim at the time, your audition, and though YPT is a local children’s theater organization, it turned out to be more selective, more professional, and more intense than we had expected. Hours and hours of rehearsals every week for three months culminating in four shows—two evening, two matinee—that were nearly Broadway quality. You loved it and worked very hard, and we were very proud of you, not just for your impressive performance in the show’s dance and chorus group, but also for meeting such a challenge head on.

Your involvement in the YPT show was just part of your continued growing up and away. You are developing life of your own, on your own. For the first time this year you expressed an interest in shopping for your clothing, and selected a specific hair style to wear as well. You almost unerringly choose to spend your free time with friends regardless of what other options we offer you. The kids in the neighborhood form your most frequent play group and you are always together when home. You love our Friday afternoons with our homeschooling group, too, and would spend any other days with those kids that are offered up. It gives us a warm feeling to see you develop in this way, and it is also freeing, as dad and I enjoy quiet evenings and afternoons together knowing that you are happy and having fun on your own. 

This is just a first step, and still a small one, toward our inevitable separating, and it is immeasurably wonderful to see you so well adjusted and socially prepared (see me thumb my nose at the naysayers who cautioned against homeschooling for its inadequacies in social training). You are a sensitive and caring child. You are patient with your friends’ younger siblings, and usually with your friends. You remove all creatures from the house with a cup and a piece of paper. We took you to a parks fishing event last summer but after spearing one innocent worm and watching the hook removed from the poor fish’s mouth you declared you’d had enough of that. You coo at almost everything living and feel no prejudice about young vs. old, carnivore vs. herbivore, fur vs. scales. This egalitarian attitude of yours tries my courage at times, but tugs at my heartstrings continually.

What a beautiful life we have, what a beautiful year it has been. And now you are ten. You have a whole day of fun planned for us that begins with hiking, continues with miniature golf, cookie baking, and our traditional evening downtown, picking out your birthday books and eating your birthday dinner of crab legs and key lime pie. 

We enjoy you. We enjoy spending time with you. We are proud of you. We love you. 

mom (& dad)



I am only a day older than I was yesterday, although all the paperwork the world has to offer will tell you I've aged a whole year in that day. According to tradition I have now reached the age of permanence—I can be 39 for the rest of my life. It would certainly make remembering my age much easier, but actually I plan on turning 40 next year; my sister-in-law has promised me a grand over-the-hill celebration. 

This year, though, a tip-of-the-hill celebration with my goofy family. Delicious and delightful.


October recap

Because there was more to the month than a couple of field trips. 

Fourth grade means the first weekend homework assignments

Nightmare Before Christmas love

Sewing for Halloween

Hallowe'en Nights at Greenfield Village

Run Scream Run race

Fall birthdays tailgate

Fall birthdays dinner out

school as usual

getting old, and celebrating it

Pumpkin beer tailgate