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Entries in make-believe (6)


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.


Dinosaurs, discovery, and make-believe

PaleoJoe was at the library today. If you're not familiar with PaleoJoe, which we weren't and likely neither are you, he's exactly what he sounds like: an energetic, entertaining, real, live paleontologist, complete with stereotypical hat. The beard suited him quite nicely, too.

PaleoJoe is a local author, and between book tours (or probably the other way) he's at a site in Utah, digging for dinosaurs. PaleoJoe had just the right amount of scientific information to share, mixed with just the right flavor of humor to make it lively and absorbable. We learned a lot. I, for one, had heard that new thought on the T-Rex paints him as a scavenger or opportunistic hunter, but PaleoJoe gave us all the great arguments for why that would be true. Just ask Calvin and he will likely tell you about that carnivore's poor eyesight, good sense of smell, and brain shape matching that of the scavenging vulture, the opposite of the super hunting eagle. There's a bit about the tiny arms, too, and the danger of running or lunging after the prey you are stalking if you have no arms with which to catch yourself if you fall. We also explored the theory of the great die off and the effects of the volcanic ash from a super eruption.

PaleoJoe brought with him replicas of fossils he'd found, and also so fun dinosaur puppets. A velociraptor with hair? Well, no, but very fine feathers that resemble hair, yes.

PaleoJoe also brought some of his books with him, because this was a book tour, and we are suckers for books.

After PaleoJoe Calvin has an enlivened interest in dinosaurs and digging. Later in the afternoon we visited the park by my parents' house and discovered great dig sites.

And femurs and teeth.

And then, because it's make-believe and can take us anywhere we want, he climbed into his futuristic lab and used the computer to create images of the dinosaurs whose bones he'd found, and shipped them off to schools world-wide for other kids to discover.


He'll be in Africa if you need him

Imagination is a brilliant, beautiful, colorful thing, full of life and joy and laughter. Calvin has become enamored with the Magic Tree House book series: kids traveling in time and place via tree house (magic, of course) and watched over by the kindly Morgan Le Fey (I thought Morgan Le Fey was evil in Arthurian legend?). This weekend he had the fantastic idea of building a tree house in which to act out or pretend-play some of these scenarios himself. He had it all worked out, except for the part where we don't have big trees. No problem, we already had a play house, thanks to some neighbors with bigger kids, and a deck that is a half story off the ground. Instant tree house. This morning he was in ancient Africa, and then later in ancient Rome. Tomorrow I suspect he'll be visiting the dinosaurs (but that's because we are planning a trip to the zoo to see the newly reopened dino exhibit).


Let's roast marshmallows

For as long as we've lived in this house the three-day holiday weekends that bookend the summer season have been entirely filled with time consuming, labor intensive projects, mostly yard related (the summary of which can be found here). We've taken out umpteen square feet of sod, planted scores of native wildlife enticing plants, and spread copious amounts of dirt in new gardens. We've dug trenches, moved rocks, altered drainage. And every holiday weekend left us dirty, tired and sore. Today we did the one and only thing on our yard to-do list: we put in a fire pit. It took a handful of hours and a relatively small amount of back-breaking work. Now we don't know what to do with ourselves. And so we sit, enjoying the view of our new fire pit but wholly unable to use it since it started raining only minutes after we finished and took pictures, and has not stopped since.

Calvin helped with measuring and leveling—tools are fun—but once we started working the yard was so muddy he chose to spend most of the time reading, sitting in his play house, or playing with Legos instead. He's performing a re-enactment of the Battle of Troy right now, a slightly more gentle version of the Battle of Troy in which a magical horse makes sure that all the fighting is fair and safe and dragons are ready at any moment to step in and enforce the rules.

Calvin and I have a project we've been working on for a few days now, too. An indoor project, with lots of colored paper and glue, to keep us busy on all these rainy days. I suspect we'll finish it up tomorrow morning and I'll get to share it then.

The weather reports are promising warmth and sun for the remainder of the weekend once we get past the morning tomorrow. I hope they are right. Not only is that more enjoyable than the chilly rains we've had for about a week, but our yard, our whole region, needs the chance to dry out.


Just like breathing

Last night I wanted to be able to say something special about Mother's Day. I sat down to do that before I went to bed and got started several times only to stop and delete everything. The truth is, I still feel a bit like a phony when I'm being celebrated on Mother's Day. Maybe that's due to my relative newness on the job (I've only been performing those duties for about five years now to my mom's 34), or maybe I'm just still skittish of the job title. If someone asked me about myself I'm not sure "mother" would be the first descriptor out of my mouth. I consider myself so many other things besides, so many other things that require work and dedication, like being a runner, or a reader, or a seamstress (because sewer definitely isn't right), or a cook. Which is not to say that being a mother isn't a matter of dedication and work, but motherhood was a choice I made those five years ago and now it is simply a part of me. It is like breathing. Maybe I feel funny about celebrating my motherhood the way I would feel funny about celebrating my breathing. Each breath is joyous, each day as a mother is joyous. To look at it any other way would be folly.

So that was yesterday. It was a beautiful, warmish, sunny day. We cleaned up and relaxed, we went to the store. My boys gave me a really special present (Proust, third edition uniform 12 volume set, 1949) and some really sweet cards. We had our own mothers over and my aunt and we all celebrated motherhood together. And breathing, too, because the spring air was so fresh and sweet it would be just the day to celebrate something like breathing.

And today I woke up and I was still breathing and I was still a mother, and both were precious. Even as we did laundry and shelved books at the library. Even as we watered new plants and cleaned up the yard. Even as we sat outside in the still vibrant sun reading our own books separately, and then the Aeneid together. Especially as we walked to the mailbox pretending to sidestep the Harpies (robins) and to run from the Cyclops (tall pines) only to be blown to Carthage (the park) in a violent storm summoned by Juno. Yes, especially then it was all precious. See? Just like breathing.