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


We are currently working on Ancient India in our one kid schoolhouse. This is one of the most interesting units we’ve done so far. And today is Diwali! The Festival of Lights. We will be making lanterns, of course.

My daughter’s main lesson book contains, thus far, pages on Manu and the Fish, the castes of India and some information on various gods. We are looking at the aum symbol in Hindi script and she uses it in her border decoration. We are reading the Mahabharata–a children’s version, not the real thing and we will read some of the Baghavad Gita.

We are in love with the connections we are finding to our daily lives–both of us are level 1 Reiki practitioners, we love yoga–and the colors and photographs and illustrations from this culture are all so rich and beautiful that we spend too much time gawking at them.

We have the rest of this week and one more to move through Ancient India and I think we will be sad to leave this rich culture behind.

Categories: 5th grade, festivals | Leave a 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

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?

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Derby Day Salon

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These photos are from our 2nd annual Derby Day Salon. The idea of a musical salon is certainly not original to me and some of my homeschooling friends were doing these long before we started doing ours. Thanks to them, I had some guidance on how to put things together.

There was a printed program with all the names, pieces and instruments so that everyone knew when they would perform. The list of performances was based on trying to distribute the instruments throughout the program so that violin, piano, voice, cello and etc were in a rotation rather than a section. Sometimes the beginners go first, sometimes the younger children start, these two categories are not necessarily the same. As always, the musical ability of our friends is jaw-dropping. There’s a four year old who plays a violin the size of my shoe and an eleven year old who plays…everything!

Genres? Ran the gamut from Mozart to the Grateful Dead. Yeah we rock…and we also classical 😉

For the closer there was a rousing rendition of Galway Races, just to get everyone into the spirit of gambling on the Kentucky Derby. Yes, there were mint juleps later but don’t worry, no one drank and then drove off with the kids.

Categories: about us, extracurricular, family fun, festivals, homeschool | Leave a comment

Spring Work

Well…it hasn’t sprung yet but this is still the beginning of our Spring school semester. What are we up to besides freezing our bums off at the barn? Well…it’s not so Waldorfy but it’s what we have to do for now.

Mavis Beacon typing program. M does this each morning first thing and then moves on to History at Our House’s free art program. Next week she will begin the Music History course.

At home we’ll be covering measurement, this time volume and weight, as well as continuing the +, -, X, / worksheets for practice. We will also be doing MLBs on Norse mythology and Magic. Magic you ask? Yep. Today we begin study of the four pagan quarter festivals. I think it will be great fun!

At co-op, where I’m teaching a class for the 6-8 year olds, she will take Journalism, Choir, Drama and Chess.

Away from home M will take piano lessons, riding lessons and will begin meetings with a local 4H equestrian group.

Busy, busy and excited about it! The decision to do so much outschooling and the online classes was based in my own need for more time to manage the several smaller and one fairly demanding business I’m running from home.

It may be cold outside but looking forward to this semester, we definitely have a ‘Spring’ in our step!

Categories: 3rd Grade, festivals, pony | Leave a comment

Stories of Light: Week 1

This month I am taking a break from lesson planning and following Marsha Johnson’s ‘Stories of Light,’ lesson plan. What a joyous outline this is!

Week 1 was a study of Chanukah traditions. We made a menorah out of salt shakers from the dollar store. Minerva painted them all, including the one for the shamash which is a different color and shape than the others. We’ve been lighting this each night and saying our prayer as best we can when we really don’t know what we’re doing.

Our form for the week was a crossing-the-midline form in the shape of a menorah or chanukiah. Minerva copied it into her lesson book as part of her border for her rewriting the Story of Chanukah. The story includes all but two of her spelling words for week. I think that’s quite impressive!

To keep up with math she is doing worksheets from a book I bought at TAPS. Each day her worksheet focuses on a different process which works wonderfully with our 4 day school week. We’ve put the gnomes away for now and are just doing practice and solidifying the skills, no active math block is going on now.

We’re learning a lot by exploring the festivals celebrated by other cultures this year, especially the Jewish festivals which we are focusing on.

Categories: 3rd Grade, festivals, form drawing, Weekly Summary | 1 Comment

Creating a Family

Minerva with her new aunts and uncles

We adopted 2 couples into our family to be aunts and uncles to Minerva.

One has been my good friend since high school. Tracy and Todd were our matron and man of honor when Mark and I got married. Honestly, our wedding would have been a mess without them organizing and cooking. We got married in a huge mountain meadow and we all horse camped for the duration. They don’t have kids and thus have the energy and creativity remaining to be fun and interesting on those days when I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep.

Terry is also a friend from school. We were adults-in-college together and became friends. We have a lot of life-parallels that I’ve never known with anyone else. She and her husband are fun, funky and kind and they love herding dogs.

I put candle lanterns all over the dam and bridge behind our house and just after dusk Mark, our 3 children and I all went across to the far side and the potential aunts and uncles waited on the bridge. Minerva led us all across the dam to the bridge where she told them what she had to offer them: songs, paintings, and when they’re old she’ll read to them in the nursing home. (This statement received a little titter). Then one member of each of our friend’s family told Minerva what they had to offer her in her already abundantly familied life.

Terry offered reading, sitting, food and a shoulder in such a beautifully eloquent and loving way that I got all teary eyed.. Todd offered the same but with the conditions that Minerva must always honor Mark and I; do her best in school; and that she give to/help those in need.  Terry and Sidney nodded their heads as Todd spoke and added that to their own list.

A toast to our new family!

Then Minerva led us off the bridge surrounded by her new aunts and uncles and we all came inside and toasted our new family.  Then we ate garlic encrusted venison with fruit compote; ratatouille on romaine lettuce leaves; salmon spread; feta and olive dip; and other small bites.

It was fun. It was also a life changing event for all of us, I believe. Minerva was so unbelievably excited to have these wonderful friends accept her into their families and make them, officially, a part of ours.

This all started as a desire for godparents but since we are not traditionally religious, asking our likewise not-religious friends to take on our child’s religious upbringing would have been ridiculous. Having them as family means they can influence her, love her and that she can love them and enjoy their company without a whole lot of confusion about what we’re all supposed to be doing. This is about companionship, strong and positive adult role models and, because they’re all enough like my family to be hungry all of the time, it’s about food…for our bodies, our hearts and our souls.

Categories: about us, extracurricular, festivals | Leave a comment

The Schultute

During an exchange about back to school traditions someone on a homeschool list mentioned the Schultute. Giving a child one of these cones filled with back to school necessities is a German tradition. Partly because I try to find ways to honor my half-German daughter’s heritage and partly because this sounded like a really cool way to give her her school supplies, I decided to make one.

The schultutes can be purchased but I wanted to make one so with one piece of gold poster board, a bit of hot glue and a bunch of fun stickers–I came up with a 3rd grade schultute and filled it with colored pencils, music and other necessary-to-our-homeschool items.

Probably, this should have been given to her at the beginning of a class but I couldn’t wait a moment! When she woke up I handed her the schultute and she had a ball digging through it and finding all the little treasures inside.

I’m not sure I’ll go to this amount of trouble every September, especially because we don’t always require a great number of new materials each year, but it was fun surprising her, explaining the reason for it and watching her excitement about the new school year grow.

Categories: 3rd Grade, extracurricular, family fun, festivals, German | Leave a comment

Rosh Hashana for Gentiles (and Heathens)

Third grade is, in our homeschool, a year for studying Jewish traditions. It’s kind of cool that Rosh Hashana was right at the beginning of our school year and so we opened our 3rd grade year with a small and probably less-than-traditional, Rosh Hashana celebration.

for a sweet year

We had a ‘feast’ of broccoli and chicken tenders with a squeeze of lemon over each. Our challah was actually naan bread which, I am certain, was a cultural fauz pas of epic proportions. We began the meal by blessing the wine and saying a prayer over our food, then we all held hands and offered apologies to one another for whatever it seemed necessary to apologize for. Martina, for example, apologized not only to Mark and I but to herself for keeping some emotionally abusive behavior by one of her sisters from us for a long time. (Nothing epic but damaging nonetheless.) I apologized to Mark for the way I just can’t shut up when I go off on a rant and to Martina for all the times I’ve snapped at her for nothing, really, just because I’m stressed out or in a bad mood.

Once we had cleansed our souls, it was time for the party! Which was pretty low key after all but we ate and drank the blessed wine, which was port so that even Martina could have a few sips. Her excitement over the prospect was quickly dimmed by the taste and she only wet her lips a bit in honor of the occasion. After the meal we shared the apple and honey and wished one another a sweet new year.

Later, we wandered down to the covered bridge behind our house and dropped bread crumbs into the water to symbolize the letting go of our sins from the past year.

So, we started fresh and unburdened, in theory and are looking forward to Yom Kippur soon.

Categories: 3rd Grade, festivals, Waldorf | Leave a comment

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