Happy Birthday, Harry Potter

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It’s Harry Potter’s birthday! We’ve been cooking up some fun projects since reading the first book in the series (Sorcerer’s Stone) last month. A big thank you for my cousin Tiffany for sending us her collection. I’ve been waiting to introduce my kids to J.K. Rowling’s writings for years. And it was worth it. She managed to win the kids over with the magical world she’s created!

Here are some of the stuff we worked on in more detail.

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Hogwarts acceptance letters and tickets to Platform 9 3/4, delivered by owl post, of course.

I found these printable Hogwart’s acceptance letters through the mighty internet. The ticket for Platform 9 3/4 was found here. When the kids went to bed, I popped their addressed envelopes, complete with red wax seal, into the mailbox. The next morning I told them I saw an owl messing about with our mailbox and they hurried over to check it out. After receiving their acceptance letters, which were a hit, we kept going down the rabbit hole.

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The Ollivander’s wand boxes came from this tutorial. I helped the kids with the measuring and cutting. They painted the boxes and applied the labels. Inside the boxes are their very own wands.

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For the wands themselves, I found a simple tutorial that uses a dowel, hot glue gun and paint. But first we went to Pottermore and got the kids sorted into their respective houses. Then they discovered their wands. After the wand “chose” the kid, Tig secured a dowel and cut it down to proper size. The kids whittled shaped the wands using a pocket knife, applied the hot glue gun patterns and painted it themselves.

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O’s wand is an alder wand with a dragon heart string core.

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V’s wand is a beech wand with a unicorn hair core. The white dots on her wand are glow-in-the dark paint. She also put some around the base of the clear marble, which makes it glow at night.

Next up are their very own tiny felt messenger owls.

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We found these free felt owl patterns and instructions from Downeast Thunder Farm that were just amazing. The kids worked on their respective owls over the weeks, adding detailing and embroidery.

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O chose the white-faced scops owl.

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V chose the tiny elf owl.

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Here are their completed owls, with wire “feet” to perch on their fingers. We researched a little about their specific owls. The northern scops owl, by the way, is known as the “transformer” owl. It was a lot of fun seeing this little guy in action on YouTube.

Lastly, we made Honeyduke’s chocolate frogs, a couple of boxes, and a few wizard cards.

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The boxes came from this template, and the cards from here.  If I had to do it over again, I’d use these ones from Instructables. The kiddos complained that they couldn’t read the back of the cards, the printing isn’t super clear. We made 16 chocolate frogs in total, using these instructions. I had a few hiccups making them, since I never ever make chocolates. Still, they turned out pretty well.

More importantly, today we get to eat them…possibly while watching the first Harry Potter movie.

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Children of a non-quilter

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There is a saying, Blessed are the children of quilters, for they shall inherit the quilts. Well, my children won’t have have to deal with that problem, haha. I’ve blessed them with exactly one quilt each.

You see, I’ve made zero quilts before, so these are my first newbie experiments.

V’s quilt is made from the Alphabet Flower Fairies panel, surrounded by a yellow floral border and beyond that, batik fabric from Bali. I started piecing it together shortly after our Bali trip. The alphabet panel itself is one piece, with hand quilted stitches in between. It was completed in time for her birthday last year.

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O’s quilt is made from a batik jelly roll bought in Indonesia. He was rather indignant that his sister got the first quilt and made sure to let me know that I needed to work on his, pronto!

He helped me pick out the fabric and arrange each of the six rainbow blocks. I used a sheet for the white border and back, with a yellow bias tape binding. I completed his quilt this spring, shortly after the road trip.

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And the response?

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Well, I think they love them. Every night, they arrange their quilts on top of their blankets before going to sleep. I hope they feel blessed.

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Road trip, closing out

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We haven’t seen Steve in since 2012, I think (?)  He appears in quite a few posts during our early sailing days. Since then, he’s gotten himself a lovely partner and a super cute kid.

I loved seeing his home, which is under major renovations — hooray, someone just as nutty as we are! We had such a great time catching up over dinner. There even was a short five minute discussion of homeschooling after which Steve, in his typical Type 3 fashion, said to his partner, “I got the download on homeschooling, honey. I’m all over it. You can call me Professor.”

Bye Steve and family, I hope it won’t be six years before we see you guys again.

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We stopped off in Portland, Maine for some yummy dim sum treats. There, we also got to meet Forgeover (aka sv Convivia) and their buddy boat, sv Eva for the first time. Tucker and Victoria have been–and still are–super nice to us since the beginning. They Skyped with us back in the day before we even bought a boat.  Soon both crews will take off on another adventure on Eva. Wishing them fair winds.

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And now we’re home, settling back in. The kids have plenty of patches they want me to sew onto their backpacks. And lots of good memories to hold.

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Also known as “The Cousins Trip”

I grew up with many (many) cousins. We played, fought, got in trouble and argued with each other over the years.  I have fond memories of family gatherings, sleepovers and trips together. Having a large extended family, with all the stuff that comes with it, was a helpful buffer against my suburban white middle/high school existence.  I had people who sort of got me, even if we didn’t always get along.

Within one generation, thanks to family planning and birth control, my kids don’t have any first cousin’s now. So in a way, this trip might be called the “cousin’s trip” since we tried to visit as many cousins on both sides as we could. Both V and O have not spent any significant amount of time with these awesome human beings, so we were excited to have some quality family time.

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We visited my cousin Derek in New Orleans. We hung out, rode the trolley and ate alligator and crawdad hot dogs at a joint called Dat Dog.

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My cousin Mike is in the Army JAG corp, so we got to pepper him with all sorts of questions about military life. He showed my curious kids his uniform and gave us a tour of his army base in Virginia.

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Of course we got to visit Tig’s cousins Julie and Bobby in Texas, as well as his Uncle George and Aunt Shirley. We haven’t seen them in years, so it was a mini-reunion.

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We visited Tig’s cousin Julie and her family in NJ. The kids had fun playing with their second cousins. We had a very raucous game of Monopoly. O enjoyed riding in their toy sports car.

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We also got to see the grandparents and had a fun time at Benihana (I’ve never been, so it was entertaining).

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And I’ll end it here at “onion volcano.”

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Tennesee to the mid-Atlantic states

We had to stop off at Nick and Stacy’s again in Tennessee before hitting the east coast. Usually we see them once a year when they come up to their family cabin in Western Maine each summer. But it’s nice to connect more than once a year. Stacy is the one who created our logo and the talented designer behind Bluebird Creative. Later this year, they will begin their Airstream journey. I have to thank them for giving us a welcoming place to park, lending us tools for some of our small van projects, feeding us, and providing all around good company.

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In the picture above everyone is wearing Anna’s Bandanas.

Next stop, North Carolina to visit sv Piper, who we last saw in the Bahamas. We got to see Tripp and Lisa’s gut reno (commiserate with them) and admire their handiwork. Luckily, the kids got a “snow day” from school, so we got to go on a hike together.

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Notice that there’s no snow in the picture above? We were also confused, but apparently there were icy roads up in the higher elevations.

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I had to snap a picture of this amazing rockclimbing wall for my honey-do list. We so enjoyed catching up with them. Like any good ex-cruiser/adventure junkie, Tig was kindling Tripp’s interest in Sprinter vans, giving van tours and letting him drive it once. Maybe we’ll see them on the road someday?

I should call this stretch of the road trip “visiting cruising friends”. After all, they’re the best kind, right? So when we reached Virginia, we had to visit sv Fairchild, our buddy boat during the last cruise. The kids had a blast reconnecting.

Sometimes it looked like this:

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And sometimes it looked like this (notice the mahi-mahi pillow? Squee!):

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I think Tig also enjoyed seeing his spear-fishing buddy and Coconut Challenge teammates. I know I did.

During this time we also got to visit Jamestown Settlement during it’s Military Through the Ages weekend. Some of it dovetailed nicely with the Story of the World Volume 2: Middle Ages audiobook we were listening to on the road. Other parts of the reenactment were from the revolutionary war to modern times.

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We also went to see Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. After listening to Hamilton The Musical non-stop (get it?) during this trip, it was nice to bring the Revolutionary War to a close.

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It was already springtime in Virginia. We wouldn’t see this weather for another two months in Maine.

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And of course, no trip through the mid-Atlantic states would be complete without a stop at Cindy’s boat. That’s where the kids play Legos and the mamas get to  chat.

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Carlsbad Caverns, NM to Hot Springs National Park, AR

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Making our way back east, we hit Carlsbad Caverns, which turned out to be the highlight of our trip in my mind. I felt like a hobbit who wandered into the dwarven caves of Tolkien’s imagination. We hiked down through the bat cave the first day, winding through 1.25 miles of stalactites, stalagmites, under soda straws and past curtains. The second day, we took a guided tour of the Kings Palace, the Queens Chamber and the Papoose room. My favorite part was when the ranger put out all the lights and we were blanketed in total darkness.

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After Carlsbad, we headed for Dallas, TX area where Tig’s cousin and her family hosted us for a few days. Tig’s uncle took us to the Stockades to enjoy some cowboy fun. The highlight for O was a ride in cousin Bobby’s self-driving Tesla. The extended family gathered for some delicious fried chicken and we managed to take a picture with all of us.

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After Texas, we decided to try our luck at Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas. When V was a toddler, I would find her wandering around the playground, looking down most of the time. When I asked her what she was doing, she showed me the rhinestones she picked out from the wood chips, rhinestones that fell off of kids clothing. “Do you think they’re real diamonds?” she would ask hopefully. Sadly, I had to break it to her that they weren’t. Still, she held onto the dream that someday she would find a diamond. So when we were planning our roadtrip, Crater of Diamonds was on our must-visit list. Here she could dig her heart out.

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I was secretly hoping the kids would find a one large enough to fund their college education, but we struck out. They found some jasper and quartz, but no diamonds.

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Next stop, Hot Springs National Park, where we toured the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and got some wild water.

After that we were headed for the East Coast.

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Arizona

When we were enduring high temperatures in the 50s along the coast of Texas, weather in the desert of Arizona was hovering in the 80s. By the time we got there, daytime temps were in the 50s & 60s and night time lows in the 30s. Just our luck.

As we are running out of time in winter, Arizona was our furthest destination from home. We splurged for a hotel with outdoor heated pool using credit card points. During this time, we mostly just hung out swimming and watching the winter Olympics. But we also managed to meet up with new friends and check out a Renaissance Faire.

New friends and yummy food
Come on. How can anyone resist mermaids.
O & his bullwhip hero, Adam Winrich

Next we headed back to the wilderness and to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Now that’s a big cactus.
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Having fun making cactus shadows

And then back east towards Tucson & Saguaro National Park. Tucson seemed like an interesting city I would have liked to explore more (like the Pima Air & Space museum & the Tanque Verde swap meet).

Too funny not to take a picture

Oh well. Some other time. Eastward and onward.

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New Mexico

It was hard leaving Big Bend, but the lone wilting piece of scallion and moldy piece of cheese in our fridge did not look appetizing. We headed west towards El Paso, TX and New Mexico.

After a resupply trip, we headed for White Sands National Monument. It’s been 18 years since we’ve been there. We were excited to show the kids the gypsum sand dunes. They were not disappointed.


Sunset at Halloman Lake campsite

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The kids loved sledding down the dunes on waxed sleds. Now only if they would clean up all the sand in our van.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings were next on our list. Along the way, we stumbled upon a gem of a state park in Faywood, NM called City of Rocks. The kids liked it so much we stayed two nights.

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Campsite among the rocks

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They spent hours running around and rock scrambling. Nature makes the best playgrounds.

After that detour, off to Gila and the Cliff Dwellings. The kids worked on their Junior Ranger Badges and marveled at the the remnants of the Mogollon culture. Here are a few more pictures.

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Exploring the caves

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Pictographs along Trail of the Past.

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Big Bend National Park

We spent a week in Big Bend and barely scratched the surface of the park. It’s huge with five separate visitor centers.

Most of the nights were spent at back country sites located 2-4 miles down dirt roads of varying degrees of rutted-ness, but with great solitude and beautiful night skies.

One of our campsites
Dinosaur & fossil exhibit
Hot springs along the Rio Grande river

We visited Boquillas in Mexico, hiked to a “crystal cave” and had lunch.

Hiking to the”crystal” caves
The crystal cave, basically a huge geode of calcite crystals.

Lunch south of the border

We also kayaked up the Rio Grande in the Santa Elena canyon.

In the Chisos Mountains basin, we hiked The Window trail, which was five miles round-trip.

At the end of the trail and past some slippery smooth rocks was the “Window.” We only dared to venture out into the little pocket.

The kids did admirably and have become our little hiking companions. V, who we were concerned would grow up sitting on benches and eating snacks at one time, was practically trail running. Being in cougar territory, Tig had to keep up with the pace car.

Last but not least, the kids successfully earned their Junior Ranger badges and some bonus patches. And after exhausting our fresh food, off we went to find a town with a respectable grocery store.

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Van tour

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Our van, or Rewildie, as we sometimes call her, is a 2006 Dodge Sprinter, 140″ wheel base, passenger van. Tig wrote a detailed post about his search and selection criteria here. Although we bought the van back in 2015, it took us a couple of years before we got around to building it. This gave Tig time to carefully consider the design and patiently collect bargains. The result is, in my opinion, an adorable hobbit van that’s still a work in progress, but perfect for our needs. Here’s a little tour of the inside. (Note: there are no affiliate links in this post)

Looking aft

The back is where the kids sit. There are restraints seatbelts for the kids and a folding table with slots for water bottles and insulated mugs.

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For all the cushions in the van, I bought one 3″ thick king-sized natural latex block from foamorder.com and Tig helped me cut it down with an electric turkey knife. I sewed all the cushion covers using leftover sunbrella fabric from our previous boat upholstery project.

The seat pulls out at night to become a slightly-larger-than-twin-sized bed for Tig and I (we like to snuggle). Behind the two-seater is a another bed.

There is floor to ceiling storage to the right, held in by netting. It holds clothing, linen and other supplies.

For meals, we put the table up and pull out two extra camp stools.

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Or we go outside to eat in good weather.

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The back bed has a section that can lift up in order to access the composting toilet, which we re-used from our sailboat, Wildest Dream.

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This particular brand is called the AirHead. Although it didn’t quite work for us as the ONLY toilet on our boat (it’s a long story), the Airhead works great in the campervan in that it’s only used for emergencies.

To the left of the seats is some more storage.

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Tig rescued the hanging fruit hammock from a boat that was going to be trashed. We eat a lot of produce so this came in real handy.

There’s a camp clothesline we bought from REI with beads that secure the hanging items.

Above is a ledge for more stuff, mainly food.

We squeezed in a fishing pole and a ukulele right below the wooden ledge. To be honest, all that might be too much. Sometimes the fruit hammock swings and bangs against the fishing rod, creating a ruckus.

The Galley

On the port side (left side of van) is our galley. It’s still a work-in-progress (still needs cabinet doors), but I love how compact and efficient it is.

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All the cabinets are made of formaldehyde-free birch plywood. There are two upper cabinets with doors that swing up.

The counters are oak butcher block from IKEA; the folding dining table is also made of the same butcher block.

We have a Force 10 marine propane stove top and a stainless steel under-mount sink, both rescued from a boat that was going to be scrapped. It was a nice boat. Too bad it sunk.

Tig cut out covers for the stove and sink so that they are flush to the counter. We cook 2-3 meals a day so it’s nice to have a long stretch of work surface.

The lower cabinets are not done yet. We’re currently using a tupperware bin in the bottom to hold loose contents, and sometimes things fall out when we’re driving.

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Our faucet is fed by the Whale Gusher Galley pump, the MK III model (bottom right) which gives good water pressure on both the down stroke and up.

The foot pump also pumps water to our Berkey water filter (left), which we use for potable water.

We have two five-gallon water jugs from the boat, and one five-gallon waste jug.

Our Engel fridge–also from the boat–pulls out from the cabinet on the right. Underneath it is a cabinet for the house batteries.

Looking Forward

In the front Tig installed swivel seats and also a drop down bed (in this picture it is in the dropped-down position).

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The drop-down bed was probably the most challenging part of the design. It’s a little clunky and takes a lot of effort to put up and down daily. We’ll have to think about this one a bit more.

The small fan next to the bed is a Caframo fan–also from our boat–for hot days.

The top vent fan is from MaxxAir, though we don’t love the quality.

The upper cabinet that’s closest to the drop-down bed houses the electrical panel and solar charge controller. We have two 85 watt solar panels, also from our boat. They charge the two house batteries.

Some finishing thoughts

It’s a running joke that it’s a hobbit van, built for halflings. Our van layout isn’t for everyone; we squeezed in a lot for the small footprint. The average American male probably wouldn’t be able to squeeze into the back toilet, or sleep comfortably on our bed with a partner. The kids berths are on the small side. As they get bigger, we will need to re-evaluate and adjust. However, the layout gives us a nice open space right when you open the sliding door, and that space is golden when you have four bodies to fit in.

On the build-out part, we have some thoughts. In our humble opinion, marine parts, fittings and appliances are much better quality than their RV counterparts. They are more durable, but also cost more. Because of that, we were very lucky to be able to use a lot of stuff from our boat, including the composting head, the Engel refrigerator, the solar panels and charger, the Caframo fans, and even a cute brass clock. That saved us some money, although it will lower the resale value of our boat.

We were also very lucky to get some good parts from a nice yacht that sank and was destined for the junkyard. The Force 10 marine cook top would have cost us several hundred dollars, but Tig put in some elbow grease and only spent $55 on a new burner for it (pretty good for a stove that’s been submerged in oily saltwater).

Lastly, having a DIY homebuilt van is extremely satisfying. Our eyes light up when we come across another homebuilt Sprinter or other type of campervan on the road and often the feelings are reciprocated. We DIY’ers love to look at each others vans, to chat and compare notes. This is in stark contrast to seeing manufactured Sprinters campers on the road. There’s a friendly wave and nod, but often not the same camaraderie and enthusiasm.

All in all, it’s been a great experience and we hope to continue refining Rewildie over time.

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