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12th Birthday Party

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Remodel, before and after


Make shift kitchen in the garage

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I guess everyone knew it was going to be harder for me when Zoe went to sleep-away summer camp for two weeks than it was going to be for her. Not that Zoe isn’t adorably attached to me, we are still as we have ever been, the closest companions. But going away on an exciting adventure is fun and diverting in a way that being left behind usually isn’t. Except it was.

The initial five days were easy. Brian and I had our first alone-for-longer-than-a-weekend vacation  in years and years. We slept in every morning. We spent some part of each day outside, hiking up to waterfalls, riding zip lines, or ski-dooing around the lake. Every evening we ate and drank at a fine French restaurant. It was decadent.

And the next week, all alone during the day, my time was my own. I could go when and where I wanted, eat where and when I wanted, watch British movies on Netflix, read, write, and nap. And that felt even more decadent!

I was totally prepared to miss Zoe fiercely and painfully. Her summer camp doesn’t allow cellphones or email. I thought I might only hear from her two or three times and, in between, I would be worried and wondering if she was happy and safe. But her camp has this cool system where I can send her an email and they print it out and give it to her and she hand writes me a letter and they fax it to me. My dear girl sent me nine letters in two weeks. They were short but long enough to let me know she was happy and having loads of fun. So there was nothing to worry about.

So, this little experiment of mine, has been a success, at least on my side, and by all accounts, for Zoe as well. I decided to celebrate this last afternoon of my vacation with a slice of cake. I’m not celebrating Zoe’s absence or her return, but the not small triumph of things turning out better than you thought they would.

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For Zoe’s 11th birthday she got an acceptance letter to Hogwarts and a Hogwarts/Harry Potter birthday party. Zoe has loved the Harry Potter series since she was three, and we listened to the first book on tape. Soon she was reading them, over and over and over again. Then she was asking for the soundtracks for her birthday, and DVD’s of the movies, not to mention dressing up as Hermione and Bellatrix for Halloween, going to at least 3 midnight releases of the books, and participating in several other Harry Potter themed activities over the last 8 years.

This series has really been a defining presence in her life, as it has been for many other kids her age. Now the book series is over and all the movies have come out, but it doesn’t have to be the end. The World of Harry Potter lives on, and not just in Orlando.  You can throw a Harry Potter theme birthday party anytime, but the age of 11, when wizards and witches get their acceptance letter to Hogwarts is a particularly good time.

So, first thing to do if you want to throw a Harry Potter party is to get all your Halloween/ Harry Potter stuff out of storage.











What do you mean you haven’t been collecting Halloween decorations for the last four years and Harry Potter things for twice that long?? Well, check and make sure, we are talking about candles, cool shaped bottles with “magical” labels that you can print from the ‘net., cauldrons, spooky looking books, dragons, etc. I got 90% of this stuff at Goodwill, especially in October.



















































I had this cool suitcase which I outfitted with some things from our Harry Potter gear, like her wand, Griffindor badge, S.P.E.W. badge, bag of galleons, and some magic books.

















For the party we had two crafts and two activities.  Our first craft was making wands. I bought some wooden sticks at Michaels, and a dark wood stain pen. I stained the rods and then, just to test the concept, I decorated a couple with glitter glue. At the party the girl got creative with the glitter glue and each decorated their own wands. Some used their “house colors”, they all made neat designs, and the sparkling glitter definitely gave them a magical look.




























The next craft I did, for our first activity, was to make some “quills.” I bought some colored feathers, at Michaels, and some small gel pens. I cut the tip off the feathers, took apart the pens, and inserted the tip with attached internal ink into the feather. It worked just like I thought it would and the kids LOVED them. In this picture is a reg. pen, which was too long for the feather.

Staples has mini pens that worked.









I also bought them small inexpensive notebooks from Target, to be their spells books. The quills and spell books were used in our Charms class. I gathered some Latin roots from wikipedia and made a list like:

lumin-            light                    luminary, luminous
lūn-                Moon                lunar, lunate, lunatic
lup-                wolf                    lupine

The “students” put the latin words together to make their own spells and then we had a contest for the Most Ridiculous Spell, The Most Powerful, The Most Day-to-Day Useful Spell. The kids were really into this game. Some even described the wrist movements needed for the spell.








My favorite craft, and decorations was The Owlry. In Harry Potter World mail is delivered by Owl.  Harry’s owl Hedwig is a much beloved snowy owl. Zoe’s acceptance letter was delivered by the soft furry Great Horn owl, that she named Porridge.








I found tons of awesome owl crafts online. You can find them too by googling “toilet paper roll owl,” “paperbag owl,” and “Paper Lantern Owl.” Here are some I made to populate The Owlry and a small collection of owls I got from Zoe’s stuffed animals and thrift stores:








The paper lantern owl was SUCH a fun project, and, since it is just an owl, you could pretty much do it anytime. Owls are really popular now too. I wanted to include a DIY  for how to make these cute owls.

What you need:
Small Paper Lanterns
Yellow scrapbook paper for feet and nose

Glue Dots to attach nose

Tape to attach legs/feet

More patterned scrapbook paper for wings

Tiny brads to attach wings


Round sticky-backed scrapbook embellishments (2 for each owl) for eyes.

First I drew nose and feet on the yellow paper and cut them out. I didn’t want the girls to have to spend time cutting during the craft.

















Again I wanted to do a proof of concept, so I made an owl for myself. I stuck some big flowery eyes to the outside of the lantern and used a glue dot to attach the nose.


















I bought a small book of patterned scrapbook paper.










I cut one sheet of the paper in half and cut my wings out of that. And attached them with tiny colorful brads.




















It was a little tricky to open the brads inside the lantern because the lanterns were small and my hands not so much. I did manage but I had to do it for the girls. If you didn’t care about the wings being able to move you could just use another glue dot or two.










Then I folded the feet like “nyah” and taped them onto the metal bar at the bottom of the lantern.




















The girls seemed really excited about this craft. Seriously, they were like vultures for that scrapbooking stuff. It was scary.








Here is the finished craft. Aren’t they adorable??








Our last activity was a Divination Class with a tea leaf reading. I found some info about how to perform Tasseomancy online.

I covered a round coffee table with red fabric, bought a clear glass round light cover (50 cents at the thrift store), and draped some scarves over our folding screen to decorate the Divination class room.








I bought some loose leaf tea and performed the “ritual,” upended the cup, and then we tried to see our fortunes in the leaves. Of course, someone saw The Grim!










For some reason the kids were REALLY excited about this activity. Of course, I was TOTALLY making things up, but  I interpreted hearts, birds, pyramids, snakes, and letters of the alphabet.

Then it was time for cake. Look! It’s a Zoe Witch Cake. 😀










Chased down with some butterbeer. ❤ Yum!








And, if that wasn’t enough sugar the girls each got a trip to Honeydukes.








It was a fun party. Zoe has some really great friends, every one of them. And, the birthday girl had an amazing time. 😀

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I’ve lived a lot of places, really really a lot. Not all of them have been homes, some of them I can hardly remember. But whether I lived there for a short time or a long time, each location, neighborhood and even the layout of the house somehow shaped my life.

Like my first house, across the street from the elementary school, I learned to ride a two-wheeler in the parking lot and got blisters upon blisters on the monkey bars.

Once we moved to Florida there was telling myself ghost stories  in an attic bedroom, then with grandma, then in a house with a palm tree and sidewalk that I drove my big wheel up and down, and a triplex where a friend’s mom banished me for being a “lesbian.”

Then there was the duplex in the neighborhood with all the kids and the empty lot where I climbed trees, built a clubhouse, and stepped on a rusty nail, leading to my first tetanus shot.

In 5th and 6th grade we lived in a townhouse near a lake and some woods and Scott Tullman, who put me in a full nelson the day I learned that I wasn’t always going to succeed at everything I put my mind to.

Then I was back to grandma’s, then the one bedroom “house” in the ghetto – a real ghetto where someone was selling crack on the street. And finally into another townhouse, the house I ran away from. Actually I didn’t run away from the house, more like the booze, the turmoil and the instability.

But hey… where was a going with this trip down memory lane? I didn’t intend to end up on skidrow. So, let’s skip a few houses and… a few more.

Now I am a grown-up, in the first house I am living alone in. It’s not really a house. It is more of a “house,” a pool house to be exact. But it is the first time I lived alone. It’s small but doesn’t seem too small to me. There is only a hot plate but who wants to cook food anyway? I live on cereal, pepperoni sticks, and soda and I absolutely love it. I had dreamed and yearned of a place all to myself and I was happy there.

In a couple years I somehow end up in Fort Lauderdale, within biking distance to it’s famous Spring Break beaches. Life is nice there. We find a HUGE tv on the street that says “Works Sometimes” and haul it home. That was my life then, it worked sometimes, until it didn’t.

Then I was living in a version of Friends: Ft. Lauderdale style. I had a bunch of mates. We all worked together and lived in the same apartment complex. Sometimes we all hung out in the hot tub after work. I was stressed and Brian offered to give me a back rub. That was some back rub. (and I am really talking about a back rub.)

Virginia was where our baby was born. But that apartment was no home. And soon Brian took me “home” to L.A.. But we moved around a lot there too, priced out of the housing market, we rented one place after another. I didn’t give my heart to those places. They were like unsuitable boyfriends that you know you are just wasting time with, except I never did that.

So, that is how we ended up in South Bend in the perfect house, in the perfect neighborhood, in city that was really just too damn cold. I loved that house. I really did. And the town was uncommonly beautiful. It inspired me to write Dream Girl and Brian to build Zoe a castle, a CASTLE for god’s sake! Zoe had friends and a type of “old-fashioned” childhood, chasing fireflies, skipping rocks on the river bank, decorating her bike for the neighborhood 4th of July parade. We found and rescued a dog. I became the “Halloween Party lady.” Brian and I both started running and pounded the pavement in the Northshore Triangle. We lived a good life. We had good neighbors. We made good friends. That house was a healing place, literally and figuratively. I healed from my cancer treatment there. I also healed from some childhood wounds. We had some special magical moments there, and I am so grateful for them.

Now we have a new house on the horizon. What kind of home will it be? What adventures will we have there? How will it shape my life? How will it shape Zoe’s? What will I do that I will have only done because of that house? How will the landscape influence the path of my life? It is all very exciting. I am looking forward to making that house our home.


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We have been getting ready for Hanukkah/Solstice/Winter here. This year I am going with a “candle light” theme. I like the idea of Hanukkah as a Festival of Lights. I am also decorating with green branches of Holly, White Pine, and Juniper. I bought three more menorot/hannukiot so we have six now, which really helps light up the darkness during the long nights of winter.

We have been having a really lovely holiday season in Philadelphia. B’s work holiday party was extravagantly fabulous. They even had a Candy Bar, which I hear is the new rage at parties. It was cool. I mean, who hasn’t wanted, at some point in their lives, to be given a bag and be allowed to take whatever they want from a candy shop? It really makes you feel like a kid again.

Here are some pics of our holiday festivities so far.

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This year was the first that I can remember that we celebrated Thanksgiving with just the three of us. And, while we missed our family that couldn’t be here with us, we had a very special celebration.

We cooked and ate all our traditional foods – turkey, sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, etc. During our early meal we talked about all the things we were Thankful for and made several toasts, including toasting to Brian’s parents and our lost cat Merry.

Then we walked down to the woods and took a hike. I was trying to find a cool stone staircase I had seen once on a bike ride, but we weren’t on the bike path. Brian thought maybe I was taking them deeper and deeper into the woods for nefarious reasons, but I pointed out that we were actually walking parallel to the Sckuylkill River the whole time. The path we took is my new favorite path, it was so rough and wild. I want to go back there asap with my drawing pad and maybe a basket to collect nuts and stones.

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After the walk we had turkey sandwiches and then went to see The Muppets. I love The Muppets. When I was a kid it was my favorite show. Then, when it went off the air, Fraggle Rock was. I love all the Jim Henson movies, like The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth and Farscape. Jim Henson is one of my all time heroes and I think The Muppet Show was classic and worked on so many levels.

I had heard good reviews about the new movie and I can say that I wasn’t disappointed. It wasn’t the best of the newer Muppet movie (I really like Muppet Treasure Island with Tim Curry) but it was great to see the gang back together. And the new songs by Bret McKenzie, from the band Flight of the Conchords,  were very Bret-ish, which means they were hilarious.  Still… something was niggling at me, something that I didn’t like about the movie that I couldn’t put my finger on. Then it came to me just before I fell asleep. Kermit had no comic timing.

I remember Jim Henson’s Kermit very well, and not just because I own The Muppet Show seasons on DVD. Kermit /Jim had excellent comic timing and a kind of subtle sarcastic humor. This new Kermit was all schmaltzy all the time. Everything Kermit said was just so earnest and heartfelt, which isn’t really what Kermit is all about.

Oh well, it was a still a good movie and I had this suspicion that maybe Disney is testing the waters to see if a new Muppet television show would be popular. I could dig that man. Can you imagine “It’s the Muppet Show, with our very special guest Lady Gaga!”


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