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 072013
My one Halloween-clothing purchase this year was a pair of hilarious glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas for my son.

My one Halloween-clothing purchase this year was a pair of hilarious glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas for my son.

It’s a new month and a new time change to boot! Before I launch into some new topics for November, it’s time to recap the posts on homeschool organization from September and October.


This post earned a “retweet” from Carolina Pad, one of the most innovative producers of school supplies. I was honored.



Continuing the education theme by enhancing my own education on organization and writing.

It is also part of my ongoing education to witness how kind and generous these successful authors are in recognizing all of their reviewers. What an example to follow!




It is time to get ready for cold and flu season. If you haven’t had your flu shot yet, there’s still time but get on this now before Thanksgiving travel season brings with it traveling germs.


I shared with you our Halloween costumes this year but there were other celebrations going on behind the scenes as well.


We’ll start off with the positive, there were many treats of October

Diplomatic Skeletons

A coloring sheet at the Dem Bones event.

A coloring sheet at the Dem Bones event.

Our local library held a wonderful event for October. In Fredericksburg, Halloween is a polarizing holiday. Some people celebrate it with relish (like us) and others find it demonic and against their religion. Our local library wading carefully into this fray, created an event called “Dem Bones.” While having applications to Halloween, they kept it strictly an informational event about skeletons and the bones in the human body. I thought it was a brilliant idea and an excellent example of Virginia’s “purple” state diplomacy. The children built skeletons out of Q-tips and filled in a diagram with the names of various bones.

The last activity, however, was the best. The children laid down on a long sheet of butcher paper and had their bodies traced. They then cut out various bones and pasted them where they went. It was a little creepy at first to see my children reduced to their bones but also a chance to appreciate the beautiful complexity that is the human body. The skeletons made terrific Halloween decorations and also give me a record of my children’s height. It will be fun to unroll them next year and see how much everyone has grown.

My skeletonized children.

My skeletonized children.

Dancing Skeletons

We made a trip to Richmond to celebrate Latin Ballet of Virginia‘s Dia de los Muertos festival. My children have greatly enjoyed their summer camp and I thought it would be a great enhancement to my children’s Spanish lessons.

I know almost nothing about Dia de los Muertos, which means “Day of the Dead.” From what I observed, it is sort of like a cross between Halloween and All Saints Day. It is a chance to remember those who have died but also have a little bit of fun with skeletons and costumes. The costumes and decorations are elegant and poetic, almost tragic, remembering loves lost. There are altars with colorful flowers and photographs of loved ones who have passed on. It was an interesting twist on Halloween and I quite liked it. One author predicts that Dia de los Muertos festivities will become more and more infused into American Halloween traditions over time.

Lawanda Raines Giunti, stunning in her Dia de los Muertos costume.

Lawanda Raines Giunti, stunning in her Dia de los Muertos costume.

Making lollipop spiders.

Making lollipop spiders.

A tiny skeleton shadow box on one of the altars.

A tiny skeleton shadow box on one of the altars.

More skeletons with flowers.

More skeletons with flowers.

The elegant Ana Ines King in her Dia de los Muertos costume and my daughter, the Spanish "prodigy."

The elegant Ana Ines King in her Dia de los Muertos costume and my daughter, the Spanish “prodigy.”

Some of the dancers remembered us from summer camp. The best moment, however, was when my 5-year old proudly announced to the always elegantly dressed Ana Ines King, director of Latin Ballet of Virginia, “I speak Spanish too!”

“Oh dear,” I thought, since our Spanish is still a meager collection of words at this point.

“Oh, really?” Ms. King replied, amused at such a statement. “Como estas?”

My daughter looked at her and smiled, having no idea that she had just been asked, “How are you?”

“Yes, we know a few words . . . ” I interjected. The only phrase that was immediately coming to mind, however, was the title of the story we were reading that week, ” . . like palomitas de maiz.”

“Oh,” Ms. King said with a smile. “Palomitas de maiz are delicious.” To my great joy, I had pronounced it correctly enough that she understood what I said.

“Popcorn!” my little one clarified and was so proud of herself for demonstrating her expert knowledge of Spanish. I was proud of her too for having such confidence.


Semi-professional photos

My copyright "violation" notice.

My copyright “violation” notice.

I took some “school” photos of my children in our backyard amongst the fall leaves and had them printed at Wal-Mart. When I went to pick them up, the clerk told me that there was a copyright issue with the photos. Copyright was a particular interest of mine in law school so I knew there was absolutely no copyright issue. “I don’t understand,” I said. “I took these photos myself in my backyard.” At this point, two other clerks came over to examine my photos. They pulled out each one and started discussing the merits of my photography. “Yeah, I guess these aren’t professional pictures.” While it was at first an honor to have my personal photography confused for professional portraits, it then became more like a forum for open criticism as they pointed out the various flaws of my pictures. One was too fuzzy for their taste and in another I didn’t airbrush out a small wound on my son’s forehead from his latest escapade. I left with mixed emotions about my pictures.

The Meaning of “Fundamental”

My challenge for October was to complete the free course Google was offering called “Digital Analytics Fundamentals.” This was pitched as a course where you would gain a greater understanding of Google Analytics, which is the tool most websites, including mine, use to track data such as how many visitors you are receiving, which posts are the most popular and what keyword searches people are doing to find your website. I liked the word “Fundamentals” in the title of this course and hoped it would be a very basic introduction. There were 6 lessons to complete and Google estimated this would take a around 4-6 hours to complete.

Lessons 1-3 were fairly simple and were basically a business overview of why you strategically would use a program like Google Analytics and how you would structure it at a high level. Then in Lesson 4, we dove right into using the software. You had to set up a test account and figure out how to do the tasks described in the lesson. There were no easy step-by-step directions. You just had to figure it out yourself. If you are a programmer or a system administrator, this would probably be easy but it took me quite some time. Clearly Google sets a higher bar for “fundamental.” Lessons 5 and 6 built on these concepts and were equally challenging. There was a time deadline to finish all the lessons and I ended up trying to cram them in on the last day. I ran short on time and decided that I would try my luck on the exam even though I hadn’t finished every single one of the lessons.

I was fortunate that most of the exam seemed focused on the first 5 lessons. You had to score at least 80% to pass. How did I do?

Results of my Google Digital Analytics Fundamentals exam.

Results of my Google Digital Analytics Fundamentals exam.

I did pick up several key pieces of information from the training . . . nothing that sheds light on the Holy Grail of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) mind you, but some things that will help me personally with my data analysis.


The Fredericksburg area lost access to its Civil War battlefield parks during the shutdown.

The Fredericksburg area lost access to its Civil War battlefield parks during the shutdown.

Honestly, the biggest and only “trick” of October was the government shutdown. While we weren’t directly impacted by the shutdown, it gave us all a good scare and made us a bit more cautious in our planning.

Have an tricks or treats or lessons learned from October that you wish to share? Please do so in the comments.

 Posted by on November 7, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: ,
Nov 032012

While there are many blog posts out lately about the awfulness of Halloween candy, personally, we love it!  We don’t hide it or ration it.  We just eat it.  It’s a candy fest around our house lately.

As we eat our way into a sugar coma, here are some of the clever and creative candies we have come across.


My youngest daughter loves marshmallows at the moment.  When we were picking out our Halloween candy, she asked for marshmallows and I told her that I wasn’t sure there were any marshmallow candies for Halloween.  Wrong!  Just then we came across a sack of Kraft “Boo-Mallows” in moon, pumpkin and ghost shapes.  Halloween was saved!

At home, unpacking the groceries, I noticed someone tossed in some clever peach marshmallows filled with peach jelly.  They were delicious too!

I also liked this gummy candy twist on traditional candy corns.  The flavor wasn’t quite as good as the real thing but the texture was good.

While trick or treating, my daughter got a Peep!  At first I thought someone might be recycling Easter treats but when my daughter showed me the package, sure enough, there are now Peeps for Halloween!  “Mom, it has orange goo inside!” she exclaimed excitedly.


During our Halloween adventures, our generous neighbors provided an assortment of Halloween goodies.  The most clever chocolate transformation for Halloween was the Snickers pumpkin.  A full-size Snickers bar was re-molded into two pumpkin shaped chocolates.  Cute!  And tastes the same as the original.

Most Creative

My daughter started playing with one of the candies from her Halloween bucket and I stopped to stare.  “What is that?”  It looked like a necklace.  “Oh, it’s a candy.” she said.  I looked at the wrapper and it is something called “Nerds Rope.”  Colorful, crunchy nerds candy coat a sticky, red rope that tastes kind of like a gooey fruit snack.  It’s not bad tasting and certainly original.

Reducing Candy Consumption

Some people get really irritated having candy in their house because they don’t want to be tempted to eat it before Halloween.  One trick we found to keep ourselves from eating the candy we bought for trick or treaters was to bag it into little gift bags.  This way, we knew how many servings we had for trick or treaters, our kids knew not to unwrap gifts for other people and it was a slight disincentive to eating the leftovers since you had to take the extra effort to unwrap the bag to get the candies out.

In some ways candy eating has been helpful for our eating habits.  My oldest child is a very picky eater and is reluctant to try new foods.  Candy was a great vehicle for tasting new foods.  She learned to identify tastes and textures she liked and try new combinations.  We do hope though that some day this will morph into experimenting with vegetables!

Did you spot any clever Halloween candies this year?  Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on November 3, 2012 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: ,