Alternate Thanksgiving

Posted in Celebrations, Molly on February 20th, 2019 by c-had – Be the first to comment

For Thanksgiving, we gathered at Grams’s house along with Aunt Caroline and Uncle Charles. We decided to forego the traditional turkey in favor of salmon. And we got a picture together with all humans and canines present.

Thanksgiving crew

We also had pies from Molly’s pie sale. Her school music program had the kids sell pies as a fundraiser. To get the top prize, you had to sell 40 pies. This sounded like an unattainable goal, but Molly did it! She sold 40 pies, making a lot of money for her music program and earning her lots of prizes. They included a pass to Launch Trampoline Park, 1 hour in a video game truck during school, and 30 seconds in a money machine where money blows around and you get to keep whatever you can catch (she caught $27). While I might have preferred Jen’s homemade pumpkin pie, I was very proud of Molly for raising so much for her orchestra.

Happy Birthday Leah

Posted in Celebrations, Leah on February 11th, 2019 by c-had – Be the first to comment

We celebrated Leah's 9th birthday with a Double Dare party. Jen and Leah were in agreement that a non-messy version was the way to go! Jen did the planning of all the fun "Minute to Win It" type games, and I created a display for the game show. It’s a QLab workspace for showing the scoreboard, displaying the graphics just like the TV show, countdown timers, and sound effects.

Double Dare display

After watching an episode of Double Dare so everyone knew how to play, Round 1 Opening Challenge was a Hula Hoop Relay between all three teams.

Hula Hoop Relay

The teams then rotated answering trivia questions. Because there were three teams, we threw in an extra "triple dare." The kids loved playing all of the physical challenges. Below are a few that we played.

Into the Hanger: Players attempted to fly 2 paper airplanes into the hanger. (Jen made use of the strawberry we made for a bean bag toss for one of Leah's previous parties.)

Into the Hanger

Elephant Head: Players stretched panty hose with a tennis ball placed in the toe end over their heads. They then tried to swing the balls around on their heads until they knocked down a dozen coke cans in 45 seconds.

Elephant Head

Snowball Shake Down: With a dab of Vaseline on their nose, and without using their hands, players must transfer 10 cotton balls from one end of the table to the other.

Snowball Shake Down

Cool Shot: Players used the squirt guns to try to knock all of the balls off of the tees.

Cool Shot

Final team challenge: Hanky Panky. The first team to empty their box got an extra 200 points!

Hanky Panky

The game was tight, but the Caticorns managed to barely defeat The Savage Kittens in the end, and headed to the final Obstacle Course!

Final score

The final Obstacle Course consisted of stations in which a small orange flag needed to be found and passed along to their teammate. First up, Duck Hunt.

Duck Hunt

While the two remaining teams caused a pillow fight, a flag had to be carried down the stairs to a teammate.

Pillow fight

Someone then had to pop the balloons to find a flag.

Balloon Pop

Opening all the Easter eggs to find the small flag was little challenging because Jen put so many eggs in the basket. Oops!

Easter Egg Hunt

After the winning team ran the course, we reset the stations to allow the remaining teams a chance to run it. They were all so excited to run through the house!

Finally, it was time for cake and ice cream. Jen and Leah designed an ice cream slime cake. This was the only slime allowed at the party, and it was delicious!

Ice cream slime cake

We sang to the birthday girl.

When the house was again calm and quiet, Leah opened her gifts. Leah has wanted a giant cat (a Beanie Boo) since Molly got hers. So, Molly got her one for her birthday.

Giant cat

Leah's best friend introduced her to Lost Kitties.

Lost Kitties

Panda + Unicorn = Pandacorn slippers!

Pandacorn sleepwear

The toy that has made the largest impact has to be Winston, a Squishmallow. He seems to constantly be with Leah. So soft, so squishy…


Happy birthday Leah!

Greek goddesses

Posted in Celebrations, Leah, Molly on October 31st, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

The girls decided to be Athena and Artemis for Halloween. Thanks to Rick Riordan/Percy Jackson for inspiring them to learn about Greek mythology.


Jen made the toga dresses, belts, bracers, bracelets, and quiver. She originally thought she might get away with a simple T-shirt toga, but then found this awesome post (thanks Make It & Love It). So, the costumes ended up much more extravagant than originally thought.

Athena and Artemis


I was excited to make a bow for the first time for Molly. At first, I tried to make one using scrap pine from studs, ignoring the advice of the Internet that pine was not strong enough. And after a lot of work, it snapped. So this is actually the second bow I made, and it is made of oak. Some stain, a few coats of lacquer, and it looks quite nice.


The arrows are made from dowels spray painted gold with feathers glued on for fins. The tips are actually foam earplugs (thanks Jen for the idea).


I made Leah a spear (modeled after this statue of Athena) from a thick dowel and some scrap wood. This was much easier than Molly’s bow. It just took some work on the band saw, some sanding, some lacquer, and gold spray paint for the spear head.


Goddess fight

Walking in the woods

5th grade promotion

Posted in Celebrations, Molly, School on July 10th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Molly was called on again to play in an ensemble at school. This time, it was to play Pomp and Circumstance (and some other songs) at the 5th Grade Promotion Ceremony.

Promotion ensemble

Promotion music

Molly walked across the stage and shook hands with the principal, signifying the completion of her elementary school journey. She’s ready for middle school.

Shaking hands with the principal

Easter and more birthday

Posted in Celebrations, Leah, Molly on June 29th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Back in April, we had a lovely Easter. The girls put out baskets for the Easter Bunny. Leah decided she needed to leave a note for the Easter Bunny with a very specific request. I think it was too specific, as the Easter Bunny did not grant it.

Easter Bunny note

Their Easter baskets may not have had a narwhal squishy, but they both did get squishes (and lots of other goodies).

Easter morning

Leah’s gotten into string tricks, and loved this book and string to learn more.

String tricks

After church, we went over to Grams’s house for some family time. This included the whole Sellers side, as well as G’Mom and Grampa who had come in town for Molly’s birthday. It was a beautiful day, so the girls and I headed outside for a little fun on a flat road.

Leah has had her Heelys for months, but struggled to use them and stopped trying soon after getting them. However, now that Molly had some too, Leah was determined to master the skill. She got it in no time, and the two of them rolled all over the place.

Sister skating

Molly praised the Lord for her new Heelys when she got to use them on Easter. At the end of Grams’s street, there’s a quiet, flat circle that was perfect for rolling around.

Hallelujah for Heelys

Leah warmed up enough to take off her jacket.

Leah rolling

The girls were excited to wear the new dresses that Jen made them for Easter.

Heely sisters

Tongue out balancing

Not only did we celebrate Easter, we celebrated Molly’s birthday again. This began with presents.


Happy birthday girl

No birthday celebration would be complete with a cupcake and an evil grin.


Also, Grams got a new dog. Her name is Roxanne.


And here’s the Sellers family.

Sellers family Easter photo

And the Batson family.

Batson family Easter photo

Molly’s actual birthday

Posted in Celebrations, Molly on June 28th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

The past few months have been very busy, and I’ve failed to post anything to our blog. So, now I’m going to catch up. Over the next couple weeks I’ll catch you guys up on everything we’ve had going on with hopefully a couple of posts per day. So, let’s pretend it’s April, and pick up from Molly’s birthday party.

Molly’s actual birthday was the week after her party, and she was very excited to be 11 (and to receive a bunch of awesome presents).

Actual birthday

Molly’s gotten very into drawing, and was happy to get a sketchbook and some nice colored pencils.


After her Harry Potter party, these Harry Potter earrings were a hit.

Harry Potter Earrings

Leah got Heelys for her birthday back in September, and Molly’s wanted some ever since. Thanks to G’Mom and Grampa, she’s now got some too.


After presents, we went out for lunch to Eggspectation. She was excited about this delicious birthday dessert.

Birthday lunch

Hogwarts Party Special Effects

Posted in Celebrations on April 5th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

In addition to my behind-the-scenes post about making wands, I thought I’d do a post on how I created the special effects in Molly’s party. This will be a technical post with details on what I did. Please feel free to ask questions if something isn’t clear.


Most of the show was run from QLab. It’s awesome show control software used for everything from Broadway to high school theater, concerts and the Olympics. It’s also the software that I help create in my day job. So, much of the show was run from QLab running on my MacBook Pro. This allowed me to control video, audio, and lights.


For audio and video, my computer was connected to:


For lighting, I put down the shades and turned off all the house lights to give myself the most control I could. For lights I used:

  • 5 Lamps. I then gathered all the lamps I could find in the house, replaced their LED bulbs with incandescent or halogen, and plugged them into a couple of Leviton D4DMX-MD5 dimmer packs I borrowed from work.
  • 2 Chauvet COLORband PiX-M light bars I borrowed from work.
  • 1 old desktop oscillating fan. While not a light, I plugged it into one of the dimmers as well so I could trigger it too.

These were plugged into two Art-Net adapters (a DMXKing eDMX1 Pro and a DMXKing ultraDMX2 Pro) I borrowed from work. One was placed on each side of the room (to reduce cable runs). On one side, I already had Ethernet for it to plug into. On the other side, I used a couple of old Wifi routers in bridge mode (one upstairs, one under a table where I needed it) to give me an Ethernet port to plug my Art-Net adapter into. QLab on my computer sent out Art-Net over Wifi to these adapters which convert it to DMX to send to the lights/dimmers.

Floating lights

Remote Control

I hid my computer with the screen off for the party, so I needed ways to remotely control it. This was accomplished with two things:

  • QLab Remote on my phone. I used this to pick effects to trigger. When I was in the background, I would also trigger cues from my phone. But, when I was up front, I didn’t want to make it obvious that I was using a phone to trigger things. This led me to my other remote.
  • Wand remote. As I was making my own wands, I decided I could make a wand for myself with a remote inside it. I already had a cheap wireless PowerPoint remote, so I made myself a wand with an extra large handle that could contain the remote. I cut a hole in the side of the wand so I could access the buttons and inserted the remote into the wand. Then I changed the keymap in QLab up to Go off the remote instead of space bar. I set my phone off to the side (e.g. on the wand table) and picked an effect on it, then fired the effect in character from my wand during the action.
Wand Remote


I created the effects with a mix of media I found and media I created. I programmed almost all of them in QLab. You can download my QLab workspace if you’re interested (made with QLab 4.2). It includes much of the media, but does not include anything too large (e.g. most videos) or anything that wasn’t freely available. If you’re putting on a party and are interested in the stuff that was too large to post, get in touch and I’ll send it to you.

QLab workspace

Individual effects

Here’s a list of most of the effects used. The title for most is a link to a YouTube video of that effect if you want to see it in action. Most are also named the same as you’ll find them in the QLab workspace.

  • Moving portraits - videos shot by me on my Panasonic GX85 with a Zoom H1 microphone, edited in Final Cut Pro. Acted by Jen and me. Not included in download due to size.
  • Falling books - audio downloaded from freesound.org. I reversed this in Audacity to create the repair effect. Located in the speaker back right of the girls.
  • TV/frame breaking - found an image in google search for the broken glass, audio downloaded from freesound.org. I reversed this in Audacity to create the repair effect. I used a mask image in QLab to have the cracks expand/contract.
  • Fire alarm - audio downloaded from freesound.org. Lights were a chase preset, red color, and kept moving the tilt of the bars up and down. More details in the QLab workspace.
  • Dishes breaking - audio downloaded from freesound.org. I reversed this in Audacity to create the repair effect. Located in the speaker back left of the girls.
  • Piano noise - Done entirely with MIDI cues. QLab isn’t really geared toward this, so I had to create separate cues for each note, and use post waits to space those notes out.
  • Loud music - audio downloaded from freesound.org. As basic as it gets.
  • Power outage - simply turned the lights off.
  • Power fluctuation - Used a bunch of light cues to create my own chase of light flying around the room. Played a 50Hz buzz (also from freesound.org) which also moved around the room along with the lights. Ended up being a pretty cool effect.
  • Wand success - When the wand found its witch, a success effect included:
    • Angelic voices audio (also from freesound.org)
    • Warm yellowish light - all the lamps turned off, the color bars till toward the witch, and turn on with a warm yellowish light
    • Wind. In the movie, Harry’s hair starts blowing back when he finds his wand. So I put a fan under the table angled up at the wand seeker, and turned on the fan in this effect.
  • Portkey - The Portkey effect included funky lights cycling through colors and funky music (from freesound.org). On the screen, I showed a picture of the real King’s Cross Station (from an image search) with the Kaleidoscope video effect. As we traveled, I scaled back the effect until it eventually went away, revealing our destination on the screen.
  • Platform Nine and Three Quarters - The image of the Hogwarts Express was a screen grab from the final scene of the last movie. The train audio was from freesound.org. The video of Hogwarts Castle was from Youtube, and had a simple fade on the video geometry. The arrival music was from the soundtrack to Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • Sorting hat - The Sorting hat audio was all recorded by me using a funny voice. The song is actually from the first book (with tune made up on the spot by me). The things it says for each student were all made up by me. And all that audio is in the workspace you can download.
  • Locomotor piano - This is basically the same idea as Piano noise above. Lots of MIDI cues, but this time they had to be right to play Hedwig’s Theme. I used Leah’s piano sheet music of the song to find the notes, then programmed them each in one by one.
  • Accio - Things to be summoned were on the screen. I found an image of a pencil and a mug on an image search, then used Photoshop to make their backgrounds transparent. For the chickens, I found a video of them on a green screen, then put them on a transparent background in Final Cut Pro and exported as ProRes 4444. In QLab, I just looped the chickens and used geometry fades to summon them and send them away.
  • Stupefy - Stupefy used the same videos shot for the Moving portraits above. The spell light was an image I made in Photoshop using a custom brush from sparklestock.com. I animated revealing the light in Final Cut Pro.
  • Meteolojinx Recanto - For this effect, I turned on the lamps and looped some rain. Whenever I wanted to, I triggered thunder which included sound and flickering the lights timed together. On spell success, I simply stopped all the sounds.

The show

Thankfully, everything worked very well in the party. QLab Remote worked great to standby a cue, and the wand worked great to trigger them. It was really fun to be able to perform magic with a wand. Most of the girls never figured out how I was making triggering effects. It seemed I could stand in the middle of a room and wave my wand, and things would just happen.

Harry Potter wand making

Posted in Celebrations, Crafts on April 4th, 2018 by c-had – 3 Comments

There are lots of tutorials on the web for how to make simple wands quickly and easily. This is not one of those posts. I wanted to go all out in making wands for Molly’s party, and I got very into it. If you’re into woodworking and looking to go all out on something like this, hopefully you’ll find this post helpful. And if you’re not interested in woodworking, and you read this anyway, hopefully you are entertained by someone going all out on something they love.

In this project, I wanted to:

  1. Use different kinds of real wood, just like Ollivander
  2. Turn them round with varying unique designs
  3. Include cores in them, like those in the Harry Potter universe
  4. Stain them to make them look good and distinct
  5. Seal them with polyurethane to make them smooth, shiny, and durable


After Christmas, I used some money I was given to order myself a lathe and some cutting tools to use with it. The cutting tools showed up quickly. The lathe itself ended up backordered, and they said it wouldn’t arrive until the end of March. This, of course, did not work for my plan.

So, I built a makeshift DIY lathe. I built a box to hold my drill steady, then built a simple support with a nail sticking out to hold the other side. Then I built a tool rest and put a clamps on top to give a hard place to rest the lathe tools.

Makeshift lathe
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All-out Hogwarts Party

Posted in Celebrations, Molly on April 3rd, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

In case you haven’t picked up on it, we’re huge Harry Potter fans in this house. This year Molly turned 11, which is a major milestone in the wizarding world as it is the age at which a witch or wizard goes off to school (Hogwarts). So, Molly was very excited to have a Hogwarts birthday party. Jen always puts on fantastic parties, but this year I joined in the creation to make the biggest party we’ve ever done.

In future posts I’ll go into some of the creation of this party, but this post will take you through all the fun from start to finish. It may be more than you have time to read/watch, but it was so awesome I can’t leave any of it out. I highly recommend watching the videos, as you’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t.

The guests arrived and were ushered into our dining room by the front door. Each of them had their mug shot taken. (All other mug shots available on Flickr.)

Azkaban wanted poster

Jen created a Harry Potter themed Would You Rather? Jenga for the girls to play until everyone was there. We kept them there, shielded from the back of the house, so they wouldn't see anything until the proper time.

Would you rather? Jenga

Once everyone arrived, they were ushered through a brick wall (more on that later) into Diagon Alley of Maryland (set up in our den). There they found my wand shop for the party. Jen made boxes from poster board with her Silhouette Cameo. I wrote the labels to make sure the girls knew what they were getting. The extra wand to the right was given to Aunt Caroline for her to use throughout the party (and keep).

Wand shop
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Ice skating

Posted in Celebrations, Family outings, Leah, Molly on February 8th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

The girls were invited to an ice skating birthday party, and had a great time. It was during free skate at the rink nearby, which we get into free as part of our Columbia Association gym/tennis membership. So, I decided to go as well since we don’t go ice skating that much. A fun time was had by all.

Ice skating