Jul 312016
Scene: The Byrd Theater, Richmond, Virginia, midnight.

Scene: The Byrd Theater, Richmond, Virginia, midnight.

After watching her children fill their summer reading logs with Harry Potter, the Briggs Mother scours the closets for Harry Potter-ish clothing, having a bit of luck that last year’s Halloween costumes included 2 Harry Potter characters.





The Briggs children reluctantly slip into their costumes and are excited by the prospect of being out so late at night. The family loads into the minivan and drives south to Richmond, Virginia during an exciting thunderstorm. Heavy rain falls as thunder and lightning enliven the night sky. Along a country backroad, they encounter a black and white owl (Hedwig perhaps?), frogs are hopping in the puddles and deer hide in the meadows.

They arrive in Richmond just before midnight. The storm has stopped. At the Byrd Theater, a line of people stretches around the block. The crowd is full of Harry Potter fans, some in costume and some wearing more subtle costumes like Quidditch team T-shirts. As the children take their place in line, someone calls out from the crowd, “You are winning at parenting!” People walking by stop to chat with us and admire the costumes.


A few people have these realistic looking stuffed owls.

A few people have these realistic looking stuffed owls.

If they are nice, they might even let you hold it for a minute.

If they are nice, they might even let you hold it for a minute.


As midnight approaches, the Chop Suey bookshop owner appears in wizard robe and hat and counts down. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 .. . . the crowd erupts in cheers and bookstore workers cut open the boxes and start distributing books. Everyone starts reading in line.



After a while, the Byrd Theater opens its doors and people stream in. The theater is a gorgeous historic gem, complete with velvet seats, curtains, paintings and carvings on the walls, a balcony and a piano and harp in the wings.


The crowd settles in and after a short wait, a rotation of attendees begin reading from the first act of the book. The Briggs daughters listen to the performance, following along in the book. The youngest Briggs is too excited by the theater and runs through the empty back seats the entire time. The Briggs Mother follows closely behind.


As the reading ends, people begin streaming out of the theater. The youngest Briggs daughter asks to purchase one of the delicious cupcakes being sold in the lobby. The Briggs Mother agrees to get one to share and as the daughter is selecting her cupcake, the cupcake purveyor inquires, “Would you like to try our sorting hat cupcake?” “Oh yes!” the Briggs daughter replies and is rewarded with a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting.


The family piles back into the minivan for the drive home with the oldest brother sulking that he wants his own cupcake. Everyone tastes the rich, gooey confection and discovers that the center appears to be peanut butter filled.

“Hufflepuff!” comes a cry from the backseat.


 Posted by on July 31, 2016 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Nov 012015
Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

As I hope to explain soon, it has been an eventful last few weeks around here. As is our tradition, it was time to make the Halloween costumes. This year it was pretty much a miracle that they got done. Despite having my flu shot earlier this month, I came down with full blown flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. In moments of wakefulness, I got done what I could and in the end it all pulled together but it was looking pretty uncertain there for a while.

This year’s costumes:

The children started putting in their costume requests around July. My eldest daughter, who always likes to be something pretty, said she wanted to be a peacock. “That could be cool,” I thought. Then a few days later she said she changed her mind and wanted to be a phoenix. A phoenix! The use of this word made my homeschool heart beat proudly. She is a new Harry Potter fan and this may have been part of the inspiration.

I had just finished a massive cleanout of the kids closets and knew that the old cherry costume from our Mario brothers costumes was ready to be cut up and reused. So we did. It was starting to look a bit like a baseball mascot. My daughter informed me that we needed feathers. I came up with a streamer like feather design using scraps of orange, yellow and red fabric. The feathers really made the look and made the costume so much fun to wear as well.

The finished Phoenix!

The finished Phoenix!

We tried to set up the costumes in pairs, so for the baby, we decided he would be Harry Potter to go with the phoenix. Fortunately for me, the site MyFroggyStuff just happened to post a Harry Potter costume tutorial for a Barbie doll. I used the ideas to make the cape, scaling them up for an infant. All the other pieces we found in the closet. And the glasses are the baby glasses my daughter had to wear. (We just used them for the picture and then took them off.)

Baby Harry Potter

Baby Harry Potter

This was a nice costume pairing as this sister would truly do anything for her little brother, even being his protective phoenix.


When it came to the next pair of costumes, my daughter informed me that she wanted to be an “snow pea” from the Plants Versus Zombies video game. She has a tendency to pick humorous botanical-themed costumes. If you haven’t seen it, Plants Versus Zombies is really quite clever. The characters are very imaginative and they all have different powers. You have to choose your plant defense line carefully, kind of like a game of chess.

I knew I would need to do something special for the large head. For some reason, papier mache was my first thought. I built a frame from strips from a Little Caesar’s pizza box and then got to the mache part with magazine strips and a final coat of paper towels (a tip I saw online). I told my husband, “You know you live in suburban Washington when your papier mache frame is made of Little Caesar’s pizza boxes and The Economist magazine.

This costume was the one that didn’t look quite right until the very very end. I wasn’t sure I really liked my mask at all …. until I painted the eyes on, and that made all the difference! The snow pea was a hit everywhere we went.


Once my daughter indicated she would be a snow pea, her brother indicated he was going to be a gargantuar, one of the biggest, scariest zombies. The gargantuar looks a bit like Frankenstein. He carries a “bonker” sort of weapon and usually has a small imp riding on his back. This was a big challenge. I made him a papier mache Frankenstein hat, painting it for a red headed Frankenstein. We transformed one of our stuffed animals into the imp and made a “bonker” from one of his plastic golf club toys.

When it was all done, my son informed me that he didn’t want to wear his costume! We came to a compromise that he had to wear it for some pictures and that he could just wear parts of it for trick or treating. My son’s photo shoot was hilarious. He has internalized every motion of the gargantuar including how slowly it moves, when it bonks and then it walks forward. It was a perfect imitation!

The gargantuar!

The gargantuar!

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

It was so fitting that these two chose to be enemies of each other. Their relationship can sometimes be tense and here it was playing out in the Halloween costumes!

As for me, I ran completely out of time for my costume. I wanted to do a good job as “Phryne Fisher” of the Miss Fisher mystery stories. Sadly, I ran out of time and just got the wig done. My neighbors always find it amusing when I dress up too and they all said I was pretty unrecognizable! If I had more time, I would have done a better job accessorizing and styling but illness was limiting my energy.

My sad Miss Fisher.  May have to try this again some year.

My sad Miss Fisher. May have to try this again some year.

All of our Halloween costumes were scrounged from things we already had on hand. I didn’t buy anything. So the costumes effectively cost us nothing!

I realized that our tradition of making our own Halloween costumes has a lot to do with a deep part of my parenting philosophy for my children. Specifically, there are two key messages I am trying to get across to my children:

We want you to dream unique dreams for yourself.

Once you have a dream, your dad and I will do whatever it takes to help you make that dream come true.

Even though my girls know who Elsa is and other popular characters, those aren’t the first ideas they think of. They don’t ask for a prepackaged costume from the store. They seem to enjoy being part of the creative process of making our own. I am so proud of them for this. It makes me feel like I am doing at least one part of my job right.

Hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

 Posted by on November 1, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Nov 022014


Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I have been married to my sewing machine for the past few weeks. My children began applying the pressure two weeks ago. “Mom, there are exactly 11 days until Halloween and you need to sew our costumes!” We have been so busy that it all came together in a last-minute crush of sewing.

While in years past, we have generally had a sort of theme for our family costumes, this year, everyone chose their own costume and we were a motley mix of things.

My 6-year-old’s costume was the first one finished. She insisted that she needed to be a jack ‘o lantern this year–one that she could pop out of and surprise people. I created the costume out of inexpensive lining fabric and polyester batting material. It came out rather well with some nice dimension to it. We also changed the design at the last stages so that the leg area remained open for greater leg movement. We paired it with my favorite black and orange tights we had on hand as well as a black dance leotard from her closet and black heeled shoes. It was a great fit for her exuberant personality.





A pumpkin in fifth position.

A pumpkin in fifth position.


My eldest daughter always likes to be something beautiful on Halloween. This year, we were inspired by a book on vintage Barbies that was a Christmas present a few years back. I thought it would be fun to choose a mod-style Barbie from the 1960’s but my daughter preferred a more 1950’s Jackie O-style look in “midnight pink.” I sewed all but the gloves and faux fur stole, which we purchased. We look forward to her re-wearing this costume when we attend the ballet.

The look we used for Halloween trick-or-treating.

The look we used for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Having a little fun with hair and makeup and a photo shoot a few days later trying to make her look as much like the Barbie picture as we could.

Having a little fun with hair and makeup and a photo shoot a few days later trying to make her look as much like the Barbie picture as we could.




Will the real Barbie please stand up?

Will the real Barbie please stand up?

For my son, we tried to recreate one of his favorite toys of the moment, the Transformers Rescue Bot. While he much prefers the transformers in their vehicle format, he will tolerate them transforming into robots for brief occasions. This costume took quite a lot of sewing effort. There are many details in superhero costumes. I simplified it as much as I could. Unfortunately, my son cried and cried as we put this costume on. “Take it off!” he cried. After a little convincing, her was willing to wear it trick-or-treating.




Our Transformers inspiration.

Our Transformers inspiration.

With all the sewing for the children, there was no time for my own costume. I wanted to use my costume to announce to our neighbors our upcoming new addition. I found an orange dress in my closet that suited perfectly as a Halloween maternity tunic when paired with a black turtleneck. Then in 5 minutes, I cut out some pieces of black fabric and glued them on. Voila! It was a fun way to spread the news.

The Halloween themed pregnancy announcement.  Baby's first costume.

The Halloween themed pregnancy announcement. Baby’s first costume.

We had a perfect evening for Halloween trick or treating. It was not so chilly that we needed to cover up our costumes with coats. We received many wonderful treats from our neighbors and had fun seeing all the costumes of our friends. It seems Elsa from Frozen was the most popular costume for girls this year and that Mexican-inspired Day of the Dead costumes were the trendiest.

Our treat sacks this year included Halloween hand soap, fruit snacks, Halloween-themed Pop Tarts and a few chocolates.

Our treat sacks this year included Halloween hand soap, fruit snacks, Halloween-themed Pop Tarts and a few chocolates.

It is the very end of fall here in Virginia. There are not many leaves left on the trees but the ones that remain have turned brilliant shades of red and orange. The woods seem ablaze in gorgeous color.

Fall brilliance.

Fall brilliance.

The dogwood leaves are some of the most colorful right now, paired with their red fall berries.

The dogwood leaves are some of the most colorful right now, paired with their red fall berries.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

 Posted by on November 2, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 012012

William and Kate with Queen Elizabeth coming between them.

In our household, Halloween is not just for children. What a great time of year to take a fashion risk or experiment with a new look!

As for my Halloween costume this year, I continued the “world leaders” theme. My husband is not a huge fan of Halloween costumes so I look for costume ideas based on characters or people that he already resembles. I have always thought my husband looks like a close relative of Prince William. So, the not very original, but fun, costume idea of William & Kate was born.

Since my husband didn’t want to look dressed up, I chose for him the Prince William engagement sweater photo. It was subtle enough that he could wear it to work if needed without drawing any attention to himself. I was able to find a used cashmere sweater on eBay so it fit right in with our costume budget. Plus, it could be worn again either to work or for more formal occasions.

Other than the fact that we both have long brown hair, I don’t really resemble Kate Middleton. So, I tried to pick a distinctive outfit of hers to bridge the gap. For my Kate Middleton look, I chose her green dress look. I looked and looked for a similar used green dress but struck out. There was nothing in that style or color. So, I ended up sewing. I found an inexpensive fabric in the right shade of green and just winged it on the pattern. I modified the design into a shrug and sleeveless dress combo. Paired with some nude heels, it was a pretty good imitation.

Nobody had any idea who I was supposed to be but I did get a lot of compliments about what a nice dress I was wearing! The Duchess has excellent taste. That shade of green is really flattering, especially on a brunette.

Do you dress up for Halloween or do you think Halloween is more for children? What costumes were you wearing this Halloween? Please share in the comments.

P.S. Some readers may be amazed that I cut my hair. Nope! Just a good fake by pinning it to the front of my dress.

Back to first costume: Cleopatra

 Posted by on November 1, 2012 General Tagged with: ,
Nov 012012

Now that we had two world leaders under our belt, Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth, it was time to figure out a costume for my son. There are so many male leaders to choose from. The one I had been thinking about lately, however, was George Washington, so, voila, George Washington it was.

One of the best children’s books we have read on George Washington is called George Washington’s Teeth. It gives a picture of George Washington through his dental history. George Washington comes across as superhuman in this book. While he is leading armies and serving as President and doing all kinds of incredible things, he is in agony from his dental concerns. He is always losing teeth! It makes you wonder what else he might have done had he not been distracted by tooth pain all the time.

My son’s costume was the least expensive of the bunch. All the materials were in my stash, or borrowed from his existing closet. His vest and trousers were cut from an old Amazon gift sack (a huge blue bag Amazon uses to wrap oversized gifts) that we received from someone one Christmas.

The only thing I purchased for him was a Colonial-style wig, which he refused to wear. It turns out, however, that the young George Washington is thought to have been a redhead, much like my son, so perhaps it was a more authentic costume without the wig!

My son seemed to prefer putting the wig on one of our pumpkins instead.

The colonial pumpkin.

Here is Little George, joined by Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth. I’m sure these world leaders would have plenty to discuss!

Next costume: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

 Posted by on November 1, 2012 General Tagged with: ,