Harry Potter Birthday Magic – Chapter Two

So, as mentioned in Chapter One, when the kiddos finished up with Quidditch, we still had half of the party to go. What followed was the activity I’d spent the most time planning (and the part that Ella knew the least about, so she could still be surprised): Potions.
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After rather exhaustively searching the internet, I’d decided on six different experiments for the kids to complete. Everything was assigned a Harry Potter-ish name (white vinegar was Phoenix Tears, Basilisk Venom was blue dish soap, etc.) and the experiments were typed up, step-by-step (as part of the spell books). The ingredients and tools were set out, science-lab style, and the kiddos got to work.

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One of the tables, from above, ready to go…

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They were divided into two groups (mostly for crowd control) and we went through the experiments together, to ensure that the steps were followed exactly (in order for some of them to work properly, they had to be completed just so).

We started with “Exploding Filibusters” (combine vinegar and baking soda in a small container with a cap; shake vigorously; stand back) because I knew it would grab their attention. (I knew this because when I’d tried the experiment myself, the top exploded so violently off the vial, it hit the kitchen ceiling. That woke me up, let me tell you.) The kids had similar results; they were hooked!
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Spider Expulsion” and “Unicorn Milk Diffusion” – both involving dish soap as repellents – were met mostly with success… although if you’re going to do an experiment that calls for food coloring, I don’t recommend that you use the super-thick, “good” stuff you might have purchased when you fancied yourself a budding Cake Boss. Globs of food coloring are swell for fondant but not so swell for Potions. Trust me on this.
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HPparty36See above: large blobs of food coloring in the milk. Don’t do this.

For “Effervescent Elixir,” each kiddo had his/her own “cauldron” in which to mix their potion, with explicit instructions to follow – including placing their cauldron on a tray and giving some space.
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As the solutions frothed and bubbled deliciously, Ella and her pals understood why it was wise to keep their distance.
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The penultimate experiment – “Mandrake Restorative Draught” – was quick and fun, with some “magic” color changes occurring at its finish.HPparty43

We ended with the experiment I knew would be the most sensational, if only because it involved flame. I called it “Incendiated Basilisk Skin” and made up some story about defeating a basilisk with fire; they ate it up (not literally. That would have been a problem). If you try this one at home, be aware that you really only need a *tiny* bit of rubbing alcohol… anything else might, say, burn for over an hour in your kitchen (which will make you grateful that you tried the experiment in advance, but also annoyed because FIRE and KITCHEN are bad).
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When at last the fires had died out, leaving the basilisk “shells” in their wake, we took the kids to the backyard for their final activity: Defense Against The Dark Arts. Nick and Chris worked up a tale involving spells and charms, then sent them off to duel with their newly-acquired weapons: cans of silly string.

This was Nick’s idea, and it was brilliant. Although Ella and her guests had thoroughly enjoyed the Potions class, they’d had to focus and follow precise instructions for a good 45 minutes – so they were thrilled to have the opportunity to run themselves ragged.

And use silly string. ‘Cause that’s always a hit.
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While they went bananas in the yard, Sarah and I took the opportunity to put away the Potions lab, rinse out their cauldrons (which were party favors), and get the dining room Great Hall set up for the end-of-term feast. When, at last, the yard resembled a Jackson Pollock creation (and the kids ran out of string), we called them inside to begin the feast.

HPparty48After looking up faux castle wall backdrops, I decided – as with the Platform 9 3/4 brick wall – to just make one myself. I found grey shower curtains at the Dollar Store (sweet!) and felt pretty good about my genius design… until I began to actually hang the curtains in the dining room and the paint flaked off, piece by piece, piling up on the floor.
Turns out? Shower curtains don’t only repel water; they also repel paint. 

At least it looked kinda cool.

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Some additional feast food and drinks…

Ella had requested angel food cake as her birthday goodie (yum!). She also requested it entirely plain (um…). I was able to convince her to have one entirely plain cake (see above: the ridiculously-named “Meringue Gateau”) and one whipped-cream-frosted cake (with strawberries on the side).

As mentioned in the first post, Sarah was in charge of the cake-frosting, with instructions to make the lettering look like Harry’s 11th birthday cake from the Sorcerer’s Stone movie.HPparty49
Making Hagrid proud!

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Following the feast, we invited everyone to  fill up at Honeydukes Sweet Shop.HPparty51

Each kiddo got to take home an awesome butterbeer that Sarah and Chris had driven up from Westchester…HPparty52

… as well as an assortment of Muggle candy, all named after Wizarding sweets.HPparty53
From left: Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum (gum balls), Chocolate Frogs (made with a frog mold and chocolate discs), Pepper Imps (big, chalk-y peppermint candies), Chocoballs (malted chocolate balls), Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Toothflossing Stringmints (coils of red and black licorice), and Acid Pops (lollypops dipped in Pop Rocks).

HPparty54The Acid Pops were a cool idea, but the execution – dipping the lollies in water, then pressing them into the Pop Rocks – left a lot to be desired… Sarah helped out as best she could…

Before everyone departed – wands, spellbooks, cauldrons, butterbeer, and candy in hand (or bag) – we made sure to get a couple of photos by the (crumbling, peeling…) Great Hall backdrop.

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Yes, it was a nutty six days leading up to the party. But I would do it all again to see our wonderfully Harry-obsessed eleven year-old feel – for a couple of hours – like she was maybe, just a little bit, at Hogwarts with her friends. Giving her that magical experience was really our birthday present to her; seeing her celebrating, wizard-style, with her friends was so very worth it.

Plus also we had leftover candy and butterbeer.
I’m calling it a win.

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I bought customizable labels for the Potions at this neat Etsy shop.
I found ideas – and the sign – for the Potions class herehere, and here.
The Honedukes and Defense Against the Dark Arts signs were from here.

 

 

 

 

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Harry Potter Birthday Magic – Chapter One

In mid-November, Ella made up her mind: she wanted a Harry Potter birthday party (obvs). Because she had her heart set on a handful of friends attending, she sent an email to the invitees offering up several possibilities, hoping that most could make it on at least one of the offerings. Miraculously, everyone was available on exactly one of the possible dates…

… which, of course, happened to be six days from when she sent the email.
So we had six days to prepare for Ella’s Harry Potter birthday party – her ELEVENTH birthday, no less (the age when Hogwarts letters arrive). Six days to leave our Muggle lives behind and create something magical.

No pressure!

Given that this was November and not summer break (when we have usually held birthday parties), those six days were already jam-packed with Regular Life. Still, I was not about to let Life get in the way of giving Ella the Harry Potter birthday party that I she had always dreamed of.

It was crazy, but I won’t even pretend to complain. ‘Cause, let’s be real: I loved it.

The very afternoon Ella received the go ahead on her party date, she set to work designing the invitations.HPparty1
Using her quill pen and ink (duh), she dutifully wrote out Hogwarts letters for each friend.

HPparty2These took FOREVER, but she was determined…

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Official Hogwarts wax seal!

Next, the invitations had to be delivered… But Muggle mail would not do. They would arrive by owl.HPparty4
Ella convinced her sister and next door BFF to create owl balloons for her — which we then dropped off at the invitees’ houses.

For the next six days, we gathered supplies, scoured the internet, decided on menus and games and activities and take-home goodies, made decorations, created spell-books, designed an “order” of events, and got very little sleep. It was kind of incredible.
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After strategizing how the Quidditch match should go, Ella was in charge of spraypainting the hoops.

In addition to Ella, I had the invaluable assistance of my BFF, Sarah, who – last minute – was bringing her family (including her sons, J and Z — some of my girls’ best buds) to visit for the weekend, meaning they’d be here for the party. Sarah listened patiently to my incessant rambling about activities, decorations, and food. She found butterbeer at a local grocery store and had her husband, Chris, drive it up from Westchester. She insisted that, not only would she help get everything set up on Saturday morning – she was excited about helping set everything up.

Sarah gets me and my craziness and joins me in the crazy.

She also made me promise her I wouldn’t get too carried away.
Sarah knows me very, very well.

The morning of the party, we sent the kids off with Nick and Chris so we could prepare. Sarah instinctively knew where things should go and how they should look; I just had to tell her what was next. She’d arrange an activity, text me a photo (so I wouldn’t have to stop what I was doing to check things out… but also because she knew that I’d eventually want photos of everything. THIS IS A GOOD FRIEND), and then move onto the next thing. She talked me down from the ledge at least twice and convinced me that it was okay to let go of certain expectations (the candles hanging from the Great Hall ceiling were just not happening; I saved them for Ella’s actual birthday). She even frosted Ella’s birthday cake – a task I would have entrusted to approximately two other people in the universe (and one of them is not Nick).

In short, the party could not have happened without Sarah. (Nick and Chris, were tremendous helpers, too… but it was Sarah who really made it work.) When it was all said and done, Sarah was also the one who made me promise that I would blog about it. It’s taken me 3.5 months, but I’m finally keeping my promise.

—————

NOW PRESENTING:  Ella’s Harry Potter Party (part one)!

Naturally, when the guests arrived, they had to go through Platform 9 3/4 to get to Diagon Alley.
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I researched pre-made faux brick “walls” – like theater sets – but they wound up being so expensive, I decided to “just” sponge-paint an old curtain.
Turns out you don’t “just” sponge-paint an old curtain, but whatever. It worked… eventually.

As the guests came in, they were invited to drop off donations for our local Humane Society at Eeylops Owl Emporium.
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They could also flush their way to the Ministry of Magic, should they choose…
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Other Diagon Alley decorations included some recognizable Harry Potter posters – with the kids’ photos replacing Harry and Sirius Black.

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Designing these cracked me up maybe a little too much…

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I hadn’t been sure where I wanted the posters; Sarah quickly hung them above the fireplace, which was where we’d planned on taking photos, which turned out to be perfect. (Notice also the three extra Quidditch rings for dramatic effect.)
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Traveling by fireplace? You’ll need floo powder, obviously…

Ella wanted to start out with the standard Diagon Alley activities: wand-getting, wizard robe-trying-on, and procuring school supplies at Flouish and Blotts. After asking for her guests’ wand color preferences at school in the days preceding the party, Ella dutifully cut, sanded, and painted wands for everyone – and then attached labels with their lengths. Nick dramatically doled out the wands, making sure they “chose” correctly, and then the kids finished them off with hot glue and paint.HPparty11You can vaguely see the descriptions attached to each wand…

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In the end, the Ollivander’s decorating table was more detailed than this, but we were so busy helping the kids navigate Diagon Alley, no one got a photo…

While some students visited Ollivander’s, others stopped by Flourish and Blotts to grab their spell-books. (These were more than just decorations; we used them throughout the party.)
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The cover of the book, as it looked on the computer…

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Z and Annie showing off their wands and spell-books. And their semi-evil looks.

We didn’t have enough time (or resources) to procure everyone a robe, so we set up a try-on station at Madame Malkin’s and invited kiddos to take photos with their costumes.HPparty15

 

They took posing – individually, in pairs, groups, you name it.
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Annie, in her Gryffindor robes, looking appropriately brave and clever…

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Z, in his Slytherin robes, looking appropriately naughty and bold.

Ella and her buddies were in on the action, too.
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Group shot!HPparty20

Once everyone was sufficiently outfitted for Hogwarts, they took their places in the Great Hall (no Hogwarts Express, pity) for the Sorting ceremony.
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I’m not sure that Hogwarts used plastic, gold Dollar Store tablecloths, but at least our scuffed wooden benches are authentic…

The best part of Sorting was that the hat actually talked. Well, to be more precise, Chris talked… into a cell phone (from a different part of the house)… that was dialed into a cell phone we’d placed in the tip of the hat. I’d theatrically announce each kid as loudly as possible (so Chris would hear me) as s/he put on the hat.”AND NOW, WE WILL FIND OUT WHICH HOUSE MISS ELEANOR WILL BE IN!” Chris would then – using a British accent and rhyming couplets (no joke) – “sort” the kids, which we would hear coming from the hat… as though it were talking.

It was kind of insane. And also kind of epic.HPparty22
Fingers crossed for Gryffindor (she was a Hufflepuff instead)…

Once everyone was sorted, the activities could officially begin! First up: attending a History of Magic review/study session, which took place in the Gryffindor common room. Naturally, they had to give the portrait of the Fat Lady the password to enter…
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Ella designed the study/review game herself. Step one: close your eyes and reach into a bowl containing strips of paper, on which were the names of different Harry Potter characters. Step two: lick (!) and adhere the paper to your forehead. Step three: face the other kiddos and, based on their clues, guess the character attached to your forehead.

I created the paper strips so Ella could play, too.
The game itself? Pretty freakin’ hilarious.HPparty23
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Trying to get J to guess that he was the Fat Lady had everyone in hysterics.

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No term at Hogwarts would be complete without a Quidditch match! After much consideration on how to tackle this imaginary sport, we went for simple: if the Snitch (aka gold-painted golfball) made it through all three hoops and landed in a cup without knocking it over, your team got a point.HPparty26HPparty27

Turns out, landing a (heavy) golfball into a (light) Solo cup is actually kind of challenging, which made it more fun. The kids played House against House, round robin-style, until we had a winner. HPparty28

Score!

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By this point, the party was only halfway over.
There was still Potions…HPparty40HPparty44

… Defense Against the Dark Arts…HPparty46

… the end-of-term feast…HPparty48a

… and a trip to Honeydukes…HPparty53

… but that will have to wait until the next chapter.

(CLIFFHANGER, I know.)

 

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I found several of the party signs here and here.

We saw the Quidditch idea here.

 

 

 

How Is This Still A Thing?

On Saturday, Nick and I saw a local theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. It was a wonderful performance, beautifully staged and marvelously acted.

Seeing the stage production, I was struck by how powerful Harper Lee’s novel had been when I first read it and how powerful it remains now – not because it brings to mind the struggles of a bygone era, but because of how real those struggles remain today.

The story’s message is simple: black people are not treated the same as white people; they are not given the same chances or opportunities, they are killed for unjust reasons, their very existence is seen as a threat… but we all have the power to make it different and better.

The craziest thing is, half a century later, we haven’t heeded that message. Today, minorities are still not given the same chances or opportunities as white folks, they are still killed for unjust reasons, and their very existence is still seen as a threat – albeit less overtly than before. That so many (white) people are offended by the Black Lives Matter campaign (which, of course, does not proclaim black lives to be more important than other lives but merely asks that they matter equally to white lives) and that they feel the need to counter this movement with All Lives Matter underscores how little progress we have made.

It’s been a long damned time.
How is this still a thing?
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The Geva Theatre production is really outstanding.

For concrete examples of how people of color are not valued equally to white folks, you need look no further than the movies. The overwhelming majority of “regular” people in cinema are portrayed by white actors; black (and other minority) actors are typically relegated to the role of Sidekick, Gang Member, Slave, Athlete. Just a normal ol’ suburban family? Pretty much always white.

This is not because there aren’t enough talented black/minority actors to fill the roles. Rather, producers (the vaaaast majority of whom are white) don’t usually cast black people in “regular” roles… because they feel that we  – the white audience – don’t want to watch movies with people of color playing the starring, everyguy role.

Minority lives matter less. Even on screen!

To Kill A Mockingbird was fresh on my mind as I sat down to watch The Academy Awards on Sunday night. More to the point, I sat down to watch Chris Rock host, to see what he – a black actor – would bring to this year’s all-white celebration.

Simply put: I loved it! I thought Chris’s commentary was biting, real, thought-provoking, and hilarious.

Yes, sometimes it fell flat or didn’t work. That whole Stacey Dash thing was just wrong. The Asians-are-always-nerdy-number-crunching-types joke didn’t belong, period, especially in a night that was (supposedly, according to the host) dedicated to diversity.

And, personally, I didn’t like Chris’s jab at Jada Pinkett Smith. If you want to protest something, boycotting can be a very effective way to do so. Participating anyway and then attempting to change how things are done is also an effective form of protest.  Jada chose the former; Chris, the latter. I understand his desire to explain his choice, and his decision to address Jada directly, but it could have been done without taking a swipe at her.

So, no. His hosting wasn’t flawless. But overall? I think he rocked it. (Sorry.)

I was still a little rattled from hearing the words “lynch” and “rape” in To Kill A Mockingbird when I found myself confronting them only one day later – in Chris’s opening monologue. Only this time, raping and lynching were made into jokes.

I laughed and then covered my mouth, slightly horrified. Was I supposed to be laughing at jokes about raping and lynching? It was very uncomfortable.
Which was clearly his intent:
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That’s what I enjoyed so much about Chris’s hosting: he made me laugh and think at the same time. He made me uncomfortable. Which is okay – good, even – because so often, it’s only when we’re made uncomfortable – when we’re faced with the reality of a situation and asked to view it head-on instead of turning away – that change can occur.

Rape and lynching are not remotely funny. But they were the (horrible) reality for black people in the United States; they are part of our country’s history – a part that, quite frankly, I’d rather not think too much about because I’m ashamed of how minorities were treated by people who look like me. But that’s exactly why I should be thinking about them and why I should be reminded: Hey! Times were REALLY BAD. After that whole Civil Rights thing, y’all said that racism was over… And it’s better, it is. But it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

Yes, those lines were over the top. They might have been inappropriate. But they sure as hell got my attention and made me contemplate. If Chris hadn’t gone there – if he had just made expected, appropriate jokes about how black people are treated by Hollywood – I can basically guarantee you that most (white) viewers wouldn’t have given him a second thought. “Look – a black person talking about racism. Again. At least he’s funny!”

No. By making me cringe, I thought about what he was getting at, about why I was uncomfortable. When Chris told the audience that black actors in the 60s didn’t boycott the Oscars because they had “better things to protest… When your grandma is swinging from a tree, it’s kind of hard to get worked up about best foreign film,” I thought looong and hard on that.

By Chris’s reasoning, black actors who boycotted the Oscars in 2016 could have been protesting other, bigger things. I agree with him: there are clearly other, bigger things to protest. I also disagree with him, because all of the other racial inequities and atrocities don’t make it unimportant to speak out against – or boycott – one of the biggest nights in entertainment when minorities have been entirely ignored.

Another take on that statement is that black actors today don’t have better things to protest (unlike their 1960s counterparts) — I mean, public lynchings and rape boasting are no longer acceptable. We’ve come a long way! Yay for tolerance and equality! Except if that were really the case — if today is different from the 1960s — why, just like then, were there still no minority nominations?

How is this still a thing?

Well – for the same reason we don’t see black (and other minority) professionals in numbers that correspond with their percentage of the US population: they aren’t given the chance, because their contributions, their efforts, and – ultimately – their lives are less important than those of white people. We don’t have black or Asian or hispanic or Latino or Native American doctors or lawyers or teachers or stock brokers (or actors ) equal to their percentage of the population; things are skewed ridiculously in favor of white folks, regardless of education or performance or ability or productivity or intelligence.

It isn’t that people of color don’t want those jobs. It’s that, from the time they are born, they are not given the same opportunities as their white counterparts.

That is what absolutely has to change.

I’m just going to quote Chris here because he says it far better than I could:

“It’s not about boycotting anything. We want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it.”

I understand that there is still fear. I understand, somewhere inside, in a place that many of us cannot even fully imagine because it is so deeply ingrained, that (white) people are nervous that there is not enough for all of us – that if we truly shared everything, if we were all equal (like for real), somebody would miss out. Having been the ones benefitting from this centuries’ old system, this is freakin’ scary, so we – subconsciously (much of the time) – continue to allow discrimination to continue, to perpetuate it, because it benefits us.

So, I guess I get how this is still a thing.

The thing is, though: there is enough. There always was. We can create those opportunities for everyone – and, instead of some of us losing, we’ll all win.

I’m confident we’ll get there someday. Not this year (the racism coming to the fore in the American election is appalling, to say the least)… but someday. I really believe that – if only because my daughters genuinely do not understand how this is still a thing.

“But mom. Everyone is the same inside. Do people honestly not know that??”

Until that someday, I’ll be grateful for To Kill A Mockingbird and Chris Rock opening Oscars-watchers’ eyes and the ensuing discussion of his effectiveness as host. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need to keep talking. We need to keep thinking. We need to create opportunities. We need to stop being afraid.

We need to make this a thing of the past.