family fun

Diwali Oil Lanterns

Yesterday, as part of our study of Ancient India, we had a small Diwali celebration. We cleaned the house, cooked palak paneer and chicken tika masala for supper and made oil lanterns. The lanterns were easy and though this tutorial will be scantily papered with photographs, you can see that the end results was cute and, knock on wood, nothing exploded!

Use small jars with lids for the lanterns. Narrow jars hold less lantern fuel, which is a bonus, as the fuel comes in the smallest containers imaginable.
Gather your jars, hemp cord for wicking, lantern oil (can be bought from Michael’s or WalMart or your local, mom-and-pop hardware store), a hammer and either a long, narrow nail or small, thin screwdriver (for making holes in the lids).
The picnic table is the ideal place for most of this work if you don’t care if you make dents in the surface. Really, that is the important part: that you do this somewhere you can make dents in the surface. The ground will work in a pinch.
Place the jar lids, top down, on your work surface.
Using your hammer and screwdriver or nail, put a hole in the center of the lid by putting the point of your pointy implement in the center of the lid and hitting it sharply with your hammer. It is important that your holes are only marginally smaller than your hemp cording/wicking. If the holes are a lot larger, the wick will slide back into the jar. Not a good idea.
Pour lamp oil into your jars, filling the jars about 1/2 way. Cut your hemp cord so that you have about 1.5 inches more than the height of your jars. Ours were various sizes.
Put the cord up through the holes in the lids and press them into the sharp metal that’s going to be at the edge, on top. Be careful of your fingers and don’t get cut! Then feed the bottom of the wick into your jar/s and screw on the caps.
Let the jars sit for a little while, 15 minutes is good with the hemp. It is quite absorbent.
Then, light them! Voila! Cheap and easy. Just like you like it.

Categories: 5th grade, crafting, family fun, festivals, Fire, homeschool, social studies, Waldorf | 1 Comment

A Letter From Hogwarts (11th birthday, Harry Potter style)

My daughter had her 11th birthday at the end of August. She spent months agonizing over the potential arrival of a letter from Hogwarts, which, if you’re not in the know, arrives on a child’s 11th birthday. By owl.

I figured that this was the perfect opportunity for a Big Birthday Party, not something we do annually but more like twice in a lifetime for our kids. One of the motivating factors for me, the mama, was that this birthday was destined to be magical. My quest then was to figure out how I could add to the magic and not detract from it. Another thing, we are not wealthy. This is not some big-budget, Real Housewives of Coastal Virginia, multi-thousand dollar party.
So here are some of the things we did, on our budget, to make this party rock:

I rented costumes and ordered cheap accoutrement from Amazon. Snape? That’s just how he looks, plus some hair gel. Bellatrix? A $30 wig from our local costume shop and a homemade dress. Check out you tube for videos on how to do her makeup. The Bowtruckle! Isn’t she adorable? Brown clothing and a crown of silk leaves from our autumn decor stash. Dumbledore was, as usual, the most expensive. A rented robe, and cheapo hat and beard/hair from Amazon. Me/Prof McGonigle–honestly, I planned on this looking much better but was strapped for time and didn’t manifest what I had hoped for. Thinner being one of those things. 😉 The birthday girl wore a rented, very nice, Griffindor robe but you can find them on Meijer’s website. So, there we were all looking a little weird but excited because we love playing dress up.

The first order of business is this: the party was a surprise. I managed to make it thus while spending 100% of my time with the birthday girl. This included a trip to our local costume shop where I RENTED COSTUMES FOR THE PARTY with this kid in tow. The secret slipped slightly, but she was still not sure what was going on. She was very good about not peeking in the bags.

Amazon was another life saver. Party favors; costume extras; gifts! All came in brown boxes to our front porch.

Party favors? Yes. Generally, I think gift bags are crap. The birthday kid is supposed to receive gifts, not the guests. In fact, this just seems like one more way to be more of a consumer and we are under a lot of pressure to spend, spend, spend not only on the birthday child but all of the guests as well. When do kids learn to give without expectation? But I digress, I bought party favors and we made a bunch of them. My son, aka Professor Snape, made 20 wands. Plain wood with the bark left on the handles. I bought inexpensive owls and other animals for the menagerie, and this was, by far, my largest purchase. I also bought cool candy for the candy shop. Yes, yes, we had Diagon Alley right here in our living room! My husband even dressed up like a goblin and handed out the gold to the kids who had keys to their vaults…(I put a blue bow on a skeleton key and we placed it right beside the counter where they had to withdraw funds for their shopping spree. The taller children had a hard time finding the key. The little people got it more quickly, it being closer to their line(s) of vision. There was a small bag of gold coins for each guest and they had to buy a wand, a pet or owl and a broom if they wanted to play quidditch before they were allowed in the candy shop. All of the stores were staffed by family and friends.

This picture does not do it justice. My son’s girlfriend spent the afternoon painting signs for Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Magical Menagerie, and the other shops. My husband made brooms for quidditch and an ENTIRE QUIDDITCH FIELD. I just sat and pointed. Hah. Or you know, I suggested pine branches would make great brooms and planned the whole thing, orchestrated, ordered and cleaned and set up with a TON of help from my beautiful elves, one of whom was Bellatrix LeStrange. You see, Bellatrix came and kidnapped the birthday girl early to take her on a birthday date. There was a little bobble when Bellatrix and Lucius came to the door because the outfit was so convincing on Martina’s blonde, older sister that she ran away into my bedroom and locked the door. She actually thought Bellatrix was coming after her. I think the singing of, “I killed Sirius Black. I killed Sirius Black,” made it extra convincing.

Bellatrix talking the birthday girl down.

Eventually the kid came out of the room, put on her robes and left with the bad guys.

Then we got to work making the front room and kitchen into the Leaky Cauldron, the living room into Diagon Alley and our downstairs into the dining hall at Hogwarts. Oh, and Mark made the riding arena into a Quidditch field. Obviously the brooms didn’t fly but that darned Snitch sure did. It was awesome.

My husband rigged fishing line and a fishing pole to the snitch so that he could run up and down the field with it and raise it up and down. Only a couple of the kids noticed how it was working. This was one of the most totally amazing things that happened that day.
Once the kids were properly worn completely out, we dragged them inside and away from the West Nile carrying mosquitoes for cake and magic.

My friend, Shelley, made this amazing cake. She also did cupcakes which you can see in the slideshow. This was her family’s gift to Martina. There’s not enough money in the world to buy a gift like this! We have a lot of friends with food allergies and she made certain that there were cupcakes for everyone to eat. I made Butterbeer using cream soda and imitation butter flavoring. Healthy? No. It’s Butterbeer, it’s not supposed to be healthy. I also ordered mason jar mugs from Amazon and printed Butterbeer labels from Avery’s label maker site for the mugs. They were cute.

Shelley’s son, Caleb performed magic tricks for the kids and parents. He was very good, well-practiced and adorable. He even dressed up as a Weasley! I think I was too exhausted by this point to take photos of Caleb or George or Fred or whoever he was, while he was performing. Take my word for it, he was great. (Note, added later: There *is* a pic of Caleb in the slideshow.)
And then we ate and I didn’t make enough food. But we ate and the guests left and we all collapsed and felt really good about it, especially our 11 year old witch. She loved her party. Magical? Indeed.

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Please enjoy the long, long slideshow!

Categories: family fun, festivals, homeschool | 2 Comments

Enforced Unschooling


Child is bucked off of horse, hits head on fence, gets concussion. A few days later same child dives into bed and hits the headboard, loses vision for several hours, worsens concussion symptoms.

Current treatment for concussion symptoms means that there is to be: no school work; no exercise; no television; no computer; no learning anything new. Well then. Most of us plunk sick kids down in front of the tv, give them liquids and let them rot their brains while their bodies heal. Time to work out a new approach. She’s not supposed to be reading much, either, but I’ve allowed her reread all of her favorite novels because, dude, what’s left?

For the first week my daughter lived under the trestle table in our living room. We padded it up with comforters and pillows and she listened to audio books and put beads onto pipe cleaners. Then she crawled out and painted a little bit.

The following week she read, probably too much. Percy Jackson, The Red Pyramid, Harry Potter… No horse back riding, no climbing trees, no multiplication, what in the heck did we do? Housework. We bought chickens and took care of the rest of our animals better than we usually do–spotless cages, well-bedded stalls, extra hay. We watched a little bit of tv and I allowed her to check her email twice that week.

We have gone to the zoo, had a few play dates, went to a spring break retreat in the mountains, ‘learned’ Reiki, told stories, watched Daddy capture a swarm of bees, practiced showmanship (yes, technically exercise but we have to do *something*). We have relaxed, shopped, thrifted, cooked and eaten a lot of yummy food, built fairy houses, stomped in a mountain creek and found an old mix CD I made years ago with the best songs ever on it.

I’m something of a fatalist and believe that life is carrying us along in the direction we are meant to go. We can fight it, swim upstream as hard as we can, but the current is still going to drag us along to our destination. So it seems to me that this concussion episode was a series of events that have turned into stepping stones that have helped us to relax, detox, let go of some of the pressure of keeping up with the Jones’ (the homeschooling ones) and allowed us to enjoy tubing the currents in our own river. We waved on our way past.

Categories: 4th grade, about us, animals, livestock, animals, pets, extracurricular, family fun, homeschool | 2 Comments

Spring Chicks

We are taking a break from school work thanks to my daughter’s recent proclivity for head impact injuries. Instead we are stepping up our animal husbandry skills. Knowing how badly my husband wanted more chickens and how unlikely he was to build them a coop unless the pressure of growing chicks made it an immediate need, I drove to the next state over and imported eleven day-old chicks.

Mostly Black Copper Marans, these little guys are fluffy, adorable, stinky and loud. We loved them immediately but after a few days of having them inside our house, the charm wore off. They really do stink. In fact, chickens stink far more than pigs ever have. Pigs are just bigger and muscled their into the title of ‘stinkiest’.

When the chicks first came they lived in a Rubbermaid tote that Mark, my husband, made into a brooder box. It worked fine for keeping the chicks warm and safe from our cats but it didn’t do a thing for the stench.

So I set to cleaning up the old rabbit hutch that Mark swore just needed to be burned.

It has worked out just fine as a new, outdoors and well-ventilated abode for the wee chickies. We close them into the nest box at night with their light and let them roam around during the day.

So far as we can tell, it’s raccoon-proof, fox-proof and possum-proof and we have no little bit of experience in these matters.

Our house smells much better now, thank you very much.

And the chickens? Well, they’re doing fine but they better start laying soon! I mean, they are two weeks old now.

(and I’m only kidding about the laying for those of you who don’t speak sarcasm.)

Categories: 4th grade, animals, livestock, extracurricular, family fun, field trips, food | 2 Comments

Christmas Crafting

Yes, we are still doing our school work! Still, we have been quite busy in the afternoons and evenings making Christmas crafts. We started out with soap and bath bombs.

Thanks to Martha Stewart’s fabulous website, we used up a lot of our melt and pour glycerin soap making these candy cane striped and peppermint scented loaf-pan soaps.

We had a little glycerin left over so I added lavender and chamomile scent, some lavender blossoms and blue coloring to it then poured into our snowflake mold. Aren’t they adorable?


Now, got to go start that blueberry cordial! What are you crafting this year?

Categories: crafting, family fun, festivals | Leave a comment

Harry Potter’s London

We spent 3 days in London over the summer. We also did some other interesting things but one of the most fun was the day Martina and I spent on our own, touring the Tower, Platform 9 3/4 and Diagon Alley (or, Cecil Court).

Sadly, they are doing renos on the metro at St Pancras and Kings Cross, so we couldn’t get down to the actual platform where the train is embedded in the wall. We had to make due with this, on the sidewalk out front.

This was so cool we had to go back the next day and actually purchase things from the Witch Ball and from the bookstore.

Martina got Harry Potter MONEY from this store. It’s awesome. Unspendable but awesome.

Categories: extracurricular, family fun, field trips, homeschool, travel with kids | Leave a comment

What We’ve Been Up To

Well, for one thing *someone* turned 10. This someone insists that she cannot be called a ‘double digit migit’ because she’s way too tall for that. And so she is.

We took her out to a Japanese Steak House with all of our closest kin. Two big brothers, one big sister, one big-brother’s-girlfriend and one, much older cousin (well, a year and seven months older cousin…). And we meant to go for Mexican but thanks to a hurricane that knocked power out for many people, the mexican restaurants were all packed and had waits that rival tickets lines for the Rolling Stones. So we spent more and waited less.

The onion volcano!

It was a nice time and while the sleepover was cancelled due to the arrival of Irene, how many people get a hurricane for their birthday?

Categories: family fun, Tidewater | 2 Comments

What ‘Style’ of Homeschooler Are You?

I’ve come to detest this question. The ones about how do you do it? What curriculum do you use? They don’t bug me. The one about what schooling style is an irritating one, I must admit.

Why? Because I prefer the enigmatic to the strictly defined. I prefer wavering boundaries to tall, firm fences. I want to use wet-on-wet watercolors to back up the living book we read, the movie we watched, the video game we played and the field trip we took to learn specific material. I don’t want to be defined by someone else’s idea of perfect.

Years ago I wrote a post about ‘Frankenstinian’ homeschoolers, joking about how we were a combination of many different styles. Surely we still are but I don’t even want to joke about it any more. Steiner, Mason, the SOLs and CATs can kiss my lily white you-know-what. From now on we’re just learning, the best, most interesting, hands-on way we can. How about you?

Categories: about us, extracurricular, family fun, homeschool, social studies | 1 Comment


This is a picture of a nine year old girl riding a five year old pony at a horse show.

This is a story of a mother’s frustration at how unfairly people, not just horse show judges, can treat children who are tall for their age.

Look at this face, the neck, the cheek, the expression...

Maybe this will cause someone, someday, to stop and ask herself, “How old is this kid? Let me actually look at this child and see her for herself and not judge her by some preset size standard.” Maybe someone will make a small adjustment and cause a little less hurt because of it. Also allow me to preface my complaints by saying I understand that in the world of problems, a child whose braids are too long for the taste of one horse show judge is miniscule, but since this is my blog and the post is about my child, I’m going to talk about it a little bit.

You see, Martina shows in a class designed for kids 10 and under. She is 9. In most of the divisions she rides in, she is the largest child in the class. Generally she is in the middle of the pack age-wise, but she is always the tallest and because she’s so tall some of the judges treat her differently, as if her height has some deeper soul-meaning. As if, because she is tall, she is also smarter, more capable, more competent than other children of the same chronological age. I remember going through exactly this with my 24 year old son. It made me angry then, too.

This post is also about honoring the girl’s ability to ride a green pony into a ring full of other ponies ridden by other inexperienced riders. I want to tell the world that she works about five times as hard as any other rider out there because her pony is young and has little idea what he’s doing and so she has to be the voice of experience for him while learning what’s going on herself. As a team the two of them really are amazing, even when this doesn’t show in the ribbons they win.

After a recent show, our trainer spoke to the judge and found out that the judge for the Walk Trot Equitation’s main reason for marking my daughter down was because of her braids. She doesn’t seem to believe that this 9 year old child should be wearing them because she’s TOO BIG and it makes her look like a poser*. Only in this case, it’s a kid being just exactly what she is: a little kid riding her pony in a class designed for little kids and ponies.

The judge also had other things to say, like that the pony was too forward (and I agree that he was for the first two classes of the division) and that my daughter’s position is beautiful and that she did everything she should have and did it quite well. Good feedback and some positive, which is always nice.

I told Martina some of what was said. She knew I took the call, she eavesdropped the entire time and she was the subject of conversation. Her decision is to continue to wear braids. She has no desire to put her hair into a hair net just yet. My advice to her was that we set goals independent of winning ribbons and focus on those goals, with any ribbons being bonuses. She agrees that she will try that approach, even though letting go of her deeply competitive nature is going to be difficult.

We’ll see how it goes. This is an opportunity for growth for us, in the way we focus our attention at shows as well as how petty we allow ourselves to become when she doesn’t place as well as we think she should have. We are growing and evolving and trying really hard but sometimes my protective mama bear nature gets the best of me, especially in situations where my child is being treated unfairly. We were only disheartened for a little while though. Now we are determined to work harder, be more committed and to remember that this is, above all, supposed to be fun.

 *my word, not hers

Note: In English (Hunt Seat) equitation classes, little girls typically wear braids with bows, jodhpurs and paddock boots until they are 12 or 13 years old. This is what is right and proper. I guess it’s only actually true of petite children (apologies, I do tend to use the descriptive ‘girl’ though this applies to boys as well.) Though a boy would probably not be so proper in braids and bows in the English show ring.

Categories: extracurricular, family fun, pony | Leave a comment

A Bee Talk

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/During the Spring semester at our homeschool cooperative, HSObX, I taught a Science through Story class for 6-8 year olds. Our last class was preempted by amazing talent and performances done by our choir, drama and dance classes. I didn’t mind but had planned a Beekeeping talk for that day. My husband brought all of his stuff, including a jar of bees.

Since we didn’t have time to get to it on the last day, we invited everyone over for a Saturday morning Bee Talk. Mark may have gone a little over the heads of the littlest kids with his talk but it was great for the older kids and parents. When we got to the hive, the little kids were all but INSIDE it. A couple were suited up, they took turns poofing the smoker and gathered closely for a view of the queen.

I think that in addition to learning a bit about bees, most everyone learned not to be afraid of them.

Categories: Class information, extracurricular, family fun, homeschool, ObX | Leave a comment

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