Biking the Monuments with My Child


View from Arlington National Cemetery across Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial

OK, this is not about adoption and not about Asian culture.  The only tiny connection I can make is that there were a lot of international tourists (many Asian) on the National Mall the day we did this tour.  But I am writing it to encourage other families to bike the mall. It is so much easier to bike it than to walk between all the places.

I wanted to take my child (now 7) to see some of the monuments on the western part of the National Mall.  He has been asking to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  But I was sure he would enjoy a couple of memorials which are close by.

I tried to figure out how we were going to do it without making it a really tiring day.  A couple ideas included taking a hop on, hop off bus tour,  a pedicab around the mall or just taking taxis from place to place.  But the bus tours are $70 – $118 for an adult and a child.  An hour pedicab ride for two costs $72.   And on top of this there is the cost to take the Metro to some destination to catch the bus, pedicab or taxi plus the cost to park in a garage at the Metro station.

IMG_4921I came up with the idea that we would bike the monuments.  I don’t know why I never thought of it or why no one mentioned it.  First off, my child did not take his bike to bike the monuments.  I took my bike and attached a trail-a-bike, also known as a tag-along bike.  This is a half bike that attaches to the seat post of an adult bike.  The child can pedal (or not).  My child, Danny, really likes to go on the trail-a-bike.  I would not take a 7 year old on his own bike to do this tour, but it is probably doable for 11 or 12 year olds who are good at biking.

Here are some things you need to know:

  • Biking IS allowed on the National Mall sidewalks and walkways.
  • Biking is NOT allowed IN the memorials, which means you need to park your bike or walk your bike through the memorials (FDR, MLK).
  • You can bike across Memorial Bridge on the sidewalk (either side).
  • I biked the whole route by biking on walkways and crossing streets.
  • I never biked on a street (that I was not crossing).

My route cost $7.75, which was the cost of parking at Arlington National Cemetery for 4 hours of parking.  Plus whatever it cost in gas to drive to that location.  I knew that Danny really only wanted to see each place for a few minutes, not get an in depth look at any one place.

Here is the list of things I brought:

  • water bottles for both of us (3-4 total), but 2 would have been fine as there were lots of working water fountains along the way in August. I can’t vouch for other times of the year.
  • first aid kit  (two days earlier while hiking on the tow path, we needed a band-aid and I didn’t have one, this time I was prepared)
  • bike tools and small pump
  • lunch and snacks in a small lunchbox
  • print out of Google maps of the area in question
  • various bike locks and keys
  • camera
  • bike helmets

That which did not attach to my bicycle or that we wore, I stuffed in my backpack.

I parked at Arlington National Cemetery parking garage.  On the Wednesday I did it, there was plenty of parking when we arrived around 10:45 am.


IMG_4899I biked out of the garage and over the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The Lincoln Memorial is at the end of the bridge.  We stopped first to see the Lincoln Memorial.  We parked our bikes in the bike parking and walked up the stairs.  We looked at the statue for a short while before heading to the basement to see the small museum.  Danny was actually more interested in the movie playing about all the protests and marches at the memorial than the memorial itself.

We ate an early lunch on some shady benches between the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

Our second stop was over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We parked our bikes and walked a short way.  I knew this was going to be the least interesting for my son.  I put it on the itinerary because he was adopted from Vietnam.  I had to explain that this was to honor the American soldiers killed in the war, not the Vietnamese soldiers killed in that war. He of course wanted to know if his side won.  I determined that his side both won and lost that war. Since he was born in Vietnam many years after the end of the war, he was born under the Communist Regime, the winners.  But because he was adopted by an American family and the South Vietnamese with help from the Americans lost that war.  He therefore is on the side of the losers too.

IMG_4914Next stop was to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. We biked on over and parked again. As I expected, he loved this memorial.  Who could not love a bunch of soldier statues hiking across the lowlands?  Danny’s paternal grandfather served in the Korean War, so there is a personal connection to that memorial.

Next stop, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  This is the new memorial that I had not seen.  It is across Independence Ave, but there are numerous safe crossing spots.  I suppose you can park you bike outside the memorial on that side of the road, but there is no where to lock your bike to.  So we crossed West Basin Drive, SW to where there is a place to park and lock your bike.  This is next to the MLK bookstore and  a restroom.

mlkThis is the second place which Danny wanted to see.  The statue was bigger than expected, but very sunny, so he wanted to leave as soon as we got there.  Danny had read all about this memorial in a book he has.  It says the granite used to make the statue looks like one color far back and many colors up close.  I guess the problem is in the glare of bright sunlight, we could not see the many colors.

Last stop, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  We entered it from the MLK Memorial side, which is actually the end of the memorial.  There is bike parking before you get to the memorial.  The memorial is a series of four “rooms”, which represent different periods of FDR’s presidency.  Danny loved the people standing in the bread line and the little dog next to FDR in one of the rooms.

IMG_4930Next stop after the FDR Memorial, was back to the Lincoln Memorial area where there is a refreshment booth.  We sat and had some water ice.  Add $6 for two cups of water ice to our total.  So for less than $14, Danny and I have a great day of visiting the monuments of the western National Mall.

We biked back to the Arlington National Cemetery garage via right-hand side of the bridge sidewalk.  To get to that side, I had to bike all the way around the Lincoln Memorial and make sure not to get on Rock Creek Parkway.  Fewer people walk across Memorial Bridge on the right side heading out of Washington, DC., which made the biking on that side easier.  We got back to the garage and called it a day.

If you use a credit card to pay for the parking, you can pay at the exit.  If you need to pay by cash, you need to enter the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Center and pay there.   Although I started at the garage at Arlington National Cemetery, another place to park and start this tour would be on Theodore Roosevelt Island. There is parking there, but is only accessible from the northbound lane of the GW Parkway.    The Mount Vernon Trail goes right past the Memorial Bridge so you don’t have to bike on the road there either.

Other places we didn’t go.

We did not bike to the Jefferson Memorial.  Danny studied Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. in first grade, but never studied Jefferson, hence his lack of interest in this memorial.  But the Jefferson Memorial is easily doable on this trip.

We did not bike to the Washington Monument because I could not get tickets for the monument two weeks before we took this trip.  In fact when I was looking, it was not until after students went back to school were any tickets available.  If I could have gotten tickets, this would have been on our tour.

Danny’s favorite was the Lincoln Memorial, second favorite was the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  His least favorite was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  We had a great day and I can see doing this or a little different trip another day.


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An Adoption Family Secret

doll75-closeAdoption affects families in different ways and sometimes it is unexpected.

It is only as an adoptive parent that I am thinking about how adoption has been in my family for decades. It is not something I thought about much growing up, but something that has inserted itself here and there.

My first recollection of adoption was when I was six, my older sister told me I wasn’t born, I was adopted. As if someone who was adopted was not born. But in fact I was not adopted into the family, but born into the family. It was just her way of being mean and making me feel left out.

But there were adopted children in my extended family and I didn’t think too much about it. My dad’s older brother married late (he was in his mid 50’s) and he married a woman with a ready-made family. I was a little confused about this when I was young, but when I was older I could understand what adoption was.  He married a woman with four children and then adopted them and they became his children.

The youngest one was the one closest to my age, I think a couple of years younger. He would not have remembered his birth father. My understanding is his mom was divorced. I wonder what a man would do to give up all rights to his children. I never asked and my cousins may not even know. But it was clear that my uncle was definitely their dad. They took his last name and they were a family. I’m glad my uncle found love and a family even if he found it a little later in life.

But out of the blue there is another adoption story in my family’s history which became known to my cousins and me over Easter weekend.  It is a story from long ago and sort of both surprising that it both never came up earlier and that it came up at all.

There was a secret in my mother’s family that goes back 80 years.  It was such a secret that the whole family must have promised never to reveal anything about it to anyone, and it almost worked.

About 15 years ago, my (now deceased) mom let slip a family secret she had kept her whole life.  My mom’s sister (Aunt S.), who had never married, had had two children out of wedlock. My mom had had a stroke. A stroke does strange things to the brain; it lets you say things that you didn’t want to say. As soon as she said it, she regretted it and would never answer our questions when we asked, so we just dropped the subject with her.

But my mom came from a pretty big family and I have quite a few cousins. So of course I called a couple of them up to tell them what I had heard and see if they knew anything.

My cousin Ann asked her mother (my mom’s sister, Aunt Sue) about the births. Aunt Sue was furious with my mom for spilling the beans. But she said “I don’t know anything about it… and besides I was only nine”. Hmm, well that was (an unintentional) confirmation. Aunt Sue also refused to ever say anything about it. So we were left wondering about two cousins (the first grandchildren) whom we never knew and wouldn’t know us.

I think back to a time when everything was different.  There was no “family planning” for girls.  If there was any family planning, it was only available to married women.  It was just 100 years ago that Margaret Sanger started campaigning for family planning to be available to women, but she was trying to help married women space out their children, not help single women avoid getting pregnant.

I have lived my whole life where there has been plenty of different birth control options and abortion has been legal during most of my life.  How different all of our lives would have been before birth control was readily available.

Back when my mom and her siblings were teens, it was a great dishonor on a family if a girl were to get pregnant out of wedlock. Even others knowing would have brought a lot of shame on the family.  I guess that is how this secret was kept for so many years. I think they might have sent Aunt S. away to a maternity home or maybe to an out of state relative to live during her pregnancy.

A couple of years ago, I read The Girls Who Went Away:The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. Even though the book only covered the years 1950-1970’s, I thought of my Aunt S. often as I learned about the impact of giving up a child had on the women interviewed. These girls had no choices. Society didn’t give them choices and families didn’t give them choices.

I also thought of my aunt when I saw the movie Philomena. This movie came out in 2013 in the theaters, but is now available on Netflix. It is the story of an Irish birth mother trying to find the son that was taken from her at the Magdalene Laundries, housing for “unfit women” and their young children. And if you are interested in this topic, the movie Magdalene Sisters is available on Netflix and is a story about life at the Magdalene Laundries.

In fact one of these Irish maternity homes has just made the news in the last month.  The names of almost 800 children’s who died between 1925- 1961 were found.  They may be buried in a mass grave in a former home for unwed mothers. The girls/women who came to these maternity homes were considered “unfit” women.  But I wonder about the fitness of the people who ran these homes to have 796 unmarked, unrecorded burials of children.

Large families have a way of spanning different generations.  My oldest first cousin on my dad’s side is just 6 years younger than my mother-in-law.  My oldest first cousin (known) on my mom’s side is 10 years younger than my mother-in-law.  I am the second youngest of a generation on both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family.  I grew up going to many of my cousin’s weddings as a child.  Some of my cousins I didn’t even know who they were until I was an adult because they were in high school when I was born.

Over Easter, my cousin, Jane on my mom’s side, got a call from someone who said she was the granddaughter of Aunt S. using her first and last name. She had a birth certificate with that name on it and had spent years trying to find someone related to her mother (and thus herself). The caller’s mother was born in 1940 and had died two years previously.  The birth certificate did not list a father.

We figured out that given what Aunt Sue said about her age when the first birth happened, then the first child was probably born in 1932 (and Aunt S. would have been 16). That sounded about right. We had always assumed that another child would have been born a year or two later. But 1940 was 8 years later. Aunt S. would have been 24. That was entirely possible, but not what we had expected. Then cousin Ann said her mother and Aunt S. enrolled in secretarial college the same year (1941). There was quite an age gap, but it sort of makes sense that my Aunt S. needed to turn her life around so taking the courses with her younger sister would have made sense. One would have been 18 and the other 25.

If what we have speculated is true, these births out of wedlock may have caused the trajectory of Aunt S’s life. She joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in WWII. The WAVES were a part of the US Navy for women. Did she join because she was estranged from her family or just needed to make a new start? She was in the Navy until she retired and worked at the Pentagon when I was in high school.

Aunt S., never married. And when I was a child, in my infinite naivety, I thought that anyone who wasn’t married, was gay. So for years I thought she was a lesbian.  This says nothing about my aunt but more about when I grew up and what we talked about as children.  We didn’t see her very often. During high school, we would see her for one holiday meal a year. She kept her personal life to herself. Then she retired and moved to Florida. I got the lowdown from my cousin Ann who visited Aunt S. in Florida with her mom every year. We heard toward the end of her life she had a common law husband.

I never remember seeing my grandmother and Aunt S. in the same room. It may mean something or it may have just been proximity. My cousins, who are older and have better memories, do remember our grandmother and Aunt S. together.  My grandmother’s last child was born in mid 1932. I can see how having a teenage daughter pregnant, and possibly being pregnant at the same time as her daughter might have created a very stressful time for the whole family.  Two of my cousins agree that Aunt S. would not have been estranged from her family.  Since I am younger, I didn’t know my grandparents as well, but I’m glad to hear that, as so many girls and women became estranged from their families due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

My cousins had already thought about whether this last child of my grandmother’s was actually the child of Aunt S., but dismissed that as one of my cousins got hold of the birth certificate of the uncle born in 1932 (now deceased) and see that indeed my grandmother and grandfather were listed as parents.  My grandmother was 40 when the 8th child was born.  This is not really that unusual for the time before birth control.  My dad’s mom was 42 when my dad was born.

I found out about the children born out of wedlock before my Aunt S. died. But no one could ask such a personal question of my aunt, so our family will never really know the story. But it was not a unique story. It happened to many families. And in those days it was a secret that many took to their graves.  Mary’s mother went on to be adopted by a loving couple.  She did not know she was adopted until her twenties.  But that is how things with adoption played out many years ago.

Fifteen years ago my cousins and I speculated about whether we would ever meet these two cousins. I guess we now know the answer is no, we will never meet these two cousins. The older one would be around 80 years old and the younger one died two years ago. But is was a nice surprise for us to get to meet and correspond to the granddaughter of what we presume is the second child.

We have talked on the phone and emailed the granddaughter of the second child, Mary.  She has done a lot of research. She started before her own mother died, but she didn’t get our contact information until after her mother’s death.

In 2009 (and this was before her mother died), Mary was pretty sure she knew exactly who her mom’s birth mother was.  She wrote to her county to get the adoption records and presented lots of evidence.  But the workers there admitted that she had great evidence, but they were not able to find any adoption record, when there should have been one in the county of the adoption.

We don’t know what happened to the adoption record.  Could it be my granddad’s uncle, who was a lawyer, did the adoption, but didn’t file the paperwork?  It was not until right before Easter that some random Googling by Mary that she found a recent obituary which listed Aunt S. as a deceased relative that Mary was able to get some contact information via Google and then Facebook.  She chose my cousin Jane to contact first, because she was able to get the phone number on-line.  But she ended up talking with at least three of us around Easter.  I was happy to reconnect with my two cousins Ann and Jane over the Easter weekend and talk about everything we knew and what we speculated.

And last week, I got to meet my cousin, Mary.  She is my first cousin once removed and her mom was my first cousin.  She stopped by on her way to a local airport to pick up her daughter from an off-campus college trip.

This unknown cousin, Mary and my cousin Jane had corresponded and Jane thought she might know who our new cousins’ grandfather was.  Mary was able to contact the family of the suspected father (a friend of the family and who married someone else later).  Through a DNA test Mary found out that this suspected father was not related to her (oh well, it would have been a great story).  But from the DNA test, she found someone who was registered on who was either a first cousin or a second cousin.  She was able to contact the person and it is my cousin Tom.  So from the DNA test to find out if Mary was related to the suspected father, she found out she is definitely related to our side of the family through her mother and my Aunt S.

My new cousin, Mary has been in contact with several of my cousins, through Facebook, phone calls, mail and email.  She lives very close to two of them (within 40 minutes).  I thought she would have met one of two in the last couple of months. But I was the first cousin she met.  It sort of makes a full circle to have met me first.  Her mother was adopted out of our family and I am the one in our family who adopted a child into our family.

doll73I showed Mary a present Aunt S. had given me as a child, a Japanese doll sits in a place of honor in my living room.  Aunt S. served in Japan in the 1960’s and always remembered her nieces and nephews with gifts.   Cousin Ann had some of Aunt’s S’s pins and a cigarette lighter from her days in the Navy and had sent them to Mary.   I had meant to check my attic for something from my aunt before she stopped for a visit, but I forgot.  The one thing I did remember I had were dress-up clothes that we got from Aunt S.  She had fabulous clothes to dress up in, but she also had some Navy stuff that we could dress up in.  I found her Navy cap and inside was a name tag inscribed with her (birth) grandmother’s name.  I sent it to her and will email some pictures I have of my aunt at a family gathering.  The funny thing is I had taken these clothes out of a trunk last year and washed all of them.  They still smell a little funky, and I hadn’t decided what to do with them.  I hated to throw them away, (it is a fabulous collection), but I’m not sure who would want them.  Luckily, I didn’t do anything with them and just stored them in my attic, so that Mary got a hat that her (birth) grandmother once wore.  I think this pack rat tendency comes from my mom’s side as well.

It is nice to have a new cousin.  I know my son, Danny (age 6) wants to meet cousin Mary and her husband.  Unfortunately Danny was in school, when they dropped by.  He is all about having relatives.  He has met cousin Jane once, but still asks about her and wants me to post pictures of him on Facebook so she can see them.  And he was gladdened to hear that she keeps Christmas pictures of him on her fridge.

So the secret is out, 80 years later.  And it came out in a time when being born out of wedlock is not such a shame, at least to the younger generations.  Family is family, whether you are adopted into or out of the family.  Things like this don’t happen everyday. So it made for a pretty exciting Easter.  Welcome to your new found family, cousin Mary.



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Celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month (May)

Here are some events celebrating Asian-Pacific Heritage Month and one that is just celebrating different cultures.

Around the World Embassy Tour

Saturday May 3, 2014  (all around the city)

Embassy Tour

Embassy Tour

This event is not actually celebrating Asian-Pacific Heritage month, but celebrates numerous cultures.  We are lucky to live in the Washington, DC area where hundreds of countries have embassies in the city.  Some of them open their doors for this event. It is free and open to the public.  What a better way to celebrate different cultures on a May day.  Cultural Tourism DC says more than fifty embassies are participating in 2014.  Find out more here.

Parking can be a problem, and some embassies required photo ID to enter.  Our family went last year and had a fun time.  We downloaded the map and decided where to go.  We decided to drive to DC with bikes and a trail-a-bike.  We parked near a bike store, since we needed a few things and biked from embassy to embassy.  They were crowded and we didn’t get to see as many as we had wanted.  Some of the smaller embassies had shorter lines than larger more famous embassies.  I remember we went to the Indonesian Embassy and then had Indonesian food from the food truck parked outside the embassy.  We also saw the Kyrgyz Embassy.  I think we saw one other embassy, but didn’t get into the Korean Embassy due to the long line.

Fiesta Asia @ Silver Spring

Sunday May 4, 2014  (10:00 am – 6:00 pm) in Downtown Silver Spring

Dancer at Fiesta Asia @ Silver Spring

Dancer at Fiesta Asia @ Silver Spring

Lots is happening on the first weekend of May.  This festival is the first of four events put on by Asia Heritage Foundation.  We have been there at least 3 or 4 times.  It is a small festival in downtown Silver Spring. It is one stage and a block of vendors, which includes food vendors.

One of the nice things about this festival is that it is small and you can get closeup to the performers.   These are some of the same performers which perform two weeks later in the Fiesta Asia Street Festival.

We have biked to this one too.  You can bike along Sligo Creek Hiker-Biker Trail and then wind your way to downtown Silver Spring on Ellsworth Dr or Pershing Dr.

Heritage India Festival

Saturday and Sunday May 10-11, 2014  (Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, VA)

The Star Heritage India Festival is the greater Washington metropolitan area’s premier South Asian cultural, arts and commerce festival. The festival is an idea place to spend a special Mother’s Day weekend!  I have not been to this one, but I can only imagine it has the best food around at this festival.  It costs $5 per person, kids 5 and under free.

Fiesta Asia Planet Family

Sunday May 11, 2014  (1:00 – 3:00 pm)  at the National Zoo.

I have not been to this one, but it seems like a nice thing to do on a May afternoon, which is also Mother’s Day.

But this would be a perfect trip for bikers too.  You can bike down (or up) Beach Drive and enter the Zoo on Beach Drive.  Sections of Beach Drive are closed on weekend.  Here is the information on road closures. Of course you can’t bike IN the zoo, but you can walk your bike or park your bike at the entrances.

Fiesta Asia Street Fair

Saturday May 17, 2014 (Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC)

This is the big Asian Festival, put on by the Asia Heritage Foundation.  I have seen videos but I have not been yet.  I think now that my child is older, this is a fair that we must get to this year.

Washington, DC Dragon Boat Festival

Saturday and Sunday May 17 and 18, 2014 (Thompson’s Boat House, Washington, DC)

We went to this one year on a Sunday.  It is along the Potomac River.  It was sort of exciting seeing all the dragon boat racers, but more than anything I wanted to try it myself.  I understand that on Saturday, they let beginners like me try it.  So when I go back I will have to go on a Saturday.

There were people with information about Asian Culture, but I don’t remember there being any or much food to buy.  So come prepared with your own picnic.

Hawaii Festival – American Indian Museum

Friday May 16 thru Sunday May 18, 2014

This three-day festival is the museum’s eighth annual celebration of Hawaiian arts and culture and coincides with Asian Pacific Heritage Month. The festival includes hands-on activities for families, including kapa (bark cloth) stamping, Hawaiian kite-making, and traditional games. Bill Char instructs visitors in making flower and leaf leis, and Keone Nunes demonstrates the art of Hawaiian traditional tattoos. Performances feature kuma hula Patrick Makuakane’s famed halau, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, and an evening concert with Kūpaoa, an award-winning husband-and-wife musical duo. A special exhibition features items donated to the museum by the family of the late Senator Daniel Inouye.

Port Discovery Asian Pacific Heritage Celebration

Sunday May 25, 2014

It looks like they have events from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.  I have not been to any events at Port Discovery. But this is one over Memorial Day weekend, so if you want to celebrate Asian culture, you can still do it late in the month.

I’m sure there are more festivals to celebrate Asian Heritage.  The Freer and Sackler Galleries have family craft events in May . They are on weekend afternoons in May.



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Lunar New Year Events – Review

I have been to many Lunar New Year events at this point.  Here is my impression about some of the events listed on my Lunar New Year Events page.  I updated this on Jan 26, 2014.

IMG_1024Lion Dance Events at the Montgomery County Libraries.  We have been to many of these events at Montgomery County Libraries.  There used to be more events than there have been in the last couple of years due to budget cuts.   The Chinese Youth Club of Washington does Lion Dance performances at several libraries throughout Montgomery County (check the schedule). In 2014, these Lion Dance events are happening at Praisner Library on January 18, 2014, Germantown Library on January 25, 2014 and Chevy Chase Library on February 22, 2014.

The lion dance events were the first events we went to with Danny.  The Chinese Youth Club of Washington consists of drummers and lion dancers and a laughing Buddha.  They do the dances in a meeting room and then they may do the dance around the library in a sort of parade.  This is very nice small and intimate event to go to.  I’m pretty sure we have been to almost a dozen in 5 years (more than one a year).  The best thing about this is that you are so close and you really get to see the lion dancers.  And then if you are with small children and they don’t enjoy it, you can easily get up and leave.  One year we met members of our adoption group to see the CYC Lion Dancers.  Many of the children dressed in their ao dai’s (Vietnamese national costume).  The CYC leaders were very nice to us and even invited us to march with them in the parade in Chinatown that year.

IMG_1139Chinatown Parade in Washington, DC.  In 2014, the parade is February 2.  We have been to this parade twice in 5 years.  For us, it is always dependent on the weather.  Both years is was relatively warm (above 45 degrees).  The event started at 1:00 or  2:00 pm, but this is a perfect time to go early and have lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.  We picked a small Chinese restaurant and got there before the crowd came in town.  If you have not been there, Chinatown is very small, about 2 blocks long.  There are two stores down there I like to shop at while in town for the parade, you can find the names and addresses of the shops I like on

After lunch there was a little time for shopping.  The second time we went, we were quite prepared.  We brought chairs for us to sit in on the curb and a stroller for Danny to sit in.  We positioned ourselves at the beginning of the parade, which was on I street between 6th and 7th Streets, (nearer to 6th St.) .  For a couple of years, there had been a website highlighting the parade as a way to get more business to the area, but unfortunately the website is gone.  There had been a parade map on that website.  Now I guess the best way to get a map of the parade route is to look on the Washington Post website or paper the morning of the Chinatown parade which is February 2, 2014.  The paraders gathered in Seaton Park, located on a trapezoid of land, south of Mass. Ave NW, east of 6th St. NW, north of I  (Eye) St. NW , and west of 5th St. NW.   So that is a place to go watch the bands and the lion and dragon dancers prepare.

The parade itself is very short.  I timed it at 18 minutes from the start of where we saw the first parader to the last parader. (But this was at the beginning of the parade, it may have been longer and more spread out by the end of the parade.    In fact we got up and went to watch the parade at a second location and see if all again.  That was our mistake because we got caught in the crowds and had a hard time getting to the Metro.  “I” Street was much less crowded for standing and watching the parade than H Street.  There were lion dancers, and a dragon dance.  Vendors sold those little fire crackers that you throw on the ground to make noise.  It is a must buy for any parent.

IMG_1081Lunar New Year Festival at Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, VA – In 2014, this is a 2-day event, February 2 and 3.  The times are not posted as I am writing this, but my guess is that it will start at noon.  I believe it is customary to have a Lion Dance at the start of the performances.  We were there a few years ago, also to meet families with children adopted from Asia.  The mall is a big space and you can watch either on the lower level or on the upper level.  It was not a great place to meet a large group because there are so many places to stand.  We got there in time to see the beginning Lion Dance (a must for our children).  But we also stayed and saw a Dragon Dance, which is not to be confused with the Lion Dance.  There are 2 people per Lion Dance costume.  There may be 15- 30 dancers in a dragon. They hold sticks holding up the dragon.  We saw martial arts performances, Hawaiian dancers and a few more groups before we called it a day and went for ice cream.  Of all the many performances I have seen for Lunar New Year, I would say the caliber of these performers were tops!  But it was crowded and maybe a little bit overwhelming for the youngest.

For the last couple of years this has been a two weekend celebration, I see they have changed it to one weekend this year, so there are fewer chances to see these fabulous performers.  I think each group got 15-20 minutes to show their stuff.  This is definitely a place to see really great performances.  Get there early to get a better seat/standing position.

Lunar New Year Celebration at Lake Forest Mall, Gaithersburg, MD – This event spans 2 weeks and includes displays and two weekends of performances.  I am actually going to do a mini review of this even though I have not gotten to this event yet.  This takes place on February 2-3, and February 8-9, 2014. Both Fair Oaks Mall and Lake Forest Mall are run by the same corporation.  And it is sponsored by the mall and the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center.  I venture to guess that this celebration is as good as the one in Fair Oaks.  There is a huge Chinese Community in Gaithersburg, North Potomac, Rockville and suburbs like that. I have only heard good things about this celebration.

IMG_0025Eden Center Tet Celebration.  Eden Center posted on their Facebook page that their celebration is February 2, 2014.  At this writing it is not on their website.  This is the celebration of Lunar New Year, known as Tet in Vietnam by the Vietnamese community.  You really get the Vietnam flavor by coming to this.  It is primarily Vietnamese at this celebration.  Some of the celebration takes place outside in the parking lot and some of it takes place in the mall area.  There are lion dances every 30 minutes or so in the parking lot.  Warning: there are a lot of fire crackers and they are LOUD.  And because there are fire crackers, there is lots of smoke.

We have been to this celebration twice.  The last time, we met friends and had a meal in one of the restaurants inside the mall area of Eden Center.  There are Lion Dancers outside in the parking lot, but there are also Lion Dancers in the mall.  I believe the restaurants pay the Lion Dancers to perform the dance inside of their restaurants to bring good luck throughout the year.  We were in a restaurant when the Lion Dancers came it.  So this was the authentic experience.  This is the time to eat in restaurants.  When we were in the restaurant, US Senator Mark Warner (Virginia) made an appearance at the same time as the Lion Dancers.  Some of the stores are closed because they don’t want a million people coming in during the Tet celebration.

Parking is a problem, especially because part of the parking lot is used for the celebration.  There is parking behind the center and we had to park in the neighborhood one year.   The announcements are mostly in Vietnamese. There are South Vietnamese flags all over the place and even (Vietnamese) veterans in their uniforms.  I’m not talking American veterans of the Vietnam war, but Vietnam veterans of the American war in Vietnam.  This is the place to go for an authentic experience.

IMG_0978Tet Celebrations at different Schools.  So far I have a few of these events listed, just as I am getting ready to post this. We have been to ones in Northern Virginia and in Silver Spring.  These are events put on by different Vietnamese organizations for the Vietnamese community.  Each one has its own flavor.  They sell food and other things.  The food is more Vietnamese than I am used to, as I tend to like the Vietnamese food that Americans usually like. The food offered here is different.  At some of the events there is a stage for performances.  Others, there is no stage.  There always seems to be at least one or two lion dancers that perform at each event.  There was a event at Montgomery Blair High School one year and the next it was at Northwood High School, both in Silver Spring.  Often the music is too loud no matter what event you go to. Most of the announcements are in Vietnamese.  We saw one of the staff at my child’s school at one of these events last year and she was sooooo excited to see him at a Tet event.  I guess it was really unexpected that non-Vietnamese (his parents) would be at this type of event. Vendors sell different things at each event.  The one at Northwood last year, I got an ao dai (Vietnamese national costume) from a charity.  The selection was pretty good and the prices were great.  I have also bought some Vietnamese embroidery paintings from an event in Northern Virginia.  These events are extremely crowded.  Some are free and some are a couple of dollars to get in.  There is one event that is put on by the Vietnamese Boy and Girl Scouts, another put on by Vietnamese Senior Citizens, another by Boat People SOS.  I think we have been to 4 or 5 of these events in the last 5 years.   I don’t feel unwelcome, but I don’t feel welcome either.

I do want to say I always see local politicians at these events.  In Montgomery County, I’ve seen county executive, Ike Leggett,  and in Fairfax County, there are usually a couple of the members of the board of supervisors who attend these events.

Virginia: Saturday Jan 18 at Ernst Community Center in Annandale – I have not been to this one.  Sunday January 26, Tet Festival at JEB Stuart High School in Falls Church.  I have been to this one. This is the one with lots of Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops participating.  Lots of food for sale here.
Maryland: Sunday Jan 19 at Northwood High School in Silver Spring.  I have been to this one, this is where I got the ao dai for my kid.  They had a stage here.

IMG_2714Li Ming Chinese Academy at Aspen Hill Library, Rockville, MD.   It is on February 1, 2014. The date was changed for this performance.  They  had added a second performance on Saturday February 8, 2014 at Gaithersburg Library.  We went to this last year. I don’t know if this year’s performance will be the same. This performance was my all-time favorite of all performances that we have seen to celebrate Lunar New Year.  The Li Ming Chinese Academy did several performances between which teenage spokes persons talked about different Chinese traditions.  This is the only place I have been that did a really good job explaining to non-Chinese about the traditions of Chinese New Year. There were Lion Dancers, martial arts, zither players, shadow puppets, crafts, demonstration of food found at a New Year dinner with explanations, and Chinese Yo-Yo demonstrations.

It is a small room, come early to get a seat. I was especially impressed with the teenage students who talked about the Chinese traditions.  Many students from this academy were involved in this performance.  If you don’t get a chance to go, you can see some of it on YouTube.

Chinese New Year Festival at Luther Jackson Middle School This is February 1, 2014.  This is another event I have not been to.  But it is a big event put on by the Asian Community Service Center.  I suspect it is well-organized.  They always have a website and I will have to get there one year.  It is a one-day all day event and it is free.  I have found the events organized by the Chinese community to be well run.  Is it welcoming to non-Chinese?  That, I don’t know.  Is the food good? I don’t know.

Chinese New Year Celebration at Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore is Saturday February 8, 2014.

I have not been to this either, but I do want to point this out that this is a non-Chinese organization which is attempting to educate children about a Chinese (and other groups) tradition.  I’m sure it is very family friendly and a great place to start and dip your toe in celebrating Chinese New Year.

City of Rockville Lunar New Year Parade and Festival

No Date has been announced for this as of Jan 26, 2014 – Will it even take place?  — not looking too good for 2014.

IMG_2920I am writing this before I have a date for this event.  We went to this last year for the first time.  This has happened for less than 5 years, but is already 5 times bigger than the parade in Chinatown in Washington, DC.  There were lots of marchers and it took at least an hour.   This event included a parade, some performances that occurred at night, which I did not attend and children’s crafts.  The parade had Lion Dancers, Dragon Dancers, people in the costumes of the 12 animals of the zodiac, all sorts of other Chinese and Asian performers.  A car with Miss Vietnam, martial artists, Chinese Qigong (or something similar) performers.  People dressed as dragon boats (see photo).

It also included crafts and children’s activities at VisArts in Rockville.  You buy tickets to do the children’s activities.  We waited over 1 hour for a face painter and decided not to do any other children’s activities.  We ate lunch at

Linda Fang Storyteller

Linda Fang is a Chinese storyteller who works with local schools.  She is one of the Asian acts available from companies who manage school entertainment and education as part of the arts in the schools.  I have not seen her but hope to hire her for a cultural arts assembly in a future year.  This is your chance to see her for free at a local library. She will be at Little Falls Library telling tales for Lunar New Year on Tuesday January 21, 2014.  That is a professional day for teachers in Montgomery County; there is no school. Young Audiences of Maryland represents her and has put this video on YouTube.

There is still a performance at Little Falls Library, but Linda Fang is no longer listed on the web site. 

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Getting Ready for Lunar New Year: Making Lots of Paper Lantern Kits

lanternwebAs part of my presentation of Lunar New Year at my child’s class, I have the teacher make paper lanterns with the class a couple days before I do the presentation.  But I also supply the teacher with the “lantern kits” so it doesn’t make too much work for her or for the kids.

This is a lesson on how to make lots of lantern kits quickly.  I make the number of students in the class plus one prototype.  I also supply the handles and the sponge stamps for decorating.  I deliver all of the kits  in a cardboard portfolio I made out of a large box.

First off, I can only buy the construction paper which is 9″x12″ (Target, Michaels) and that is smaller than I want for the lanterns, so I ask the teacher to supply the construction paper to me to make the kits and prototype.  In the past I have made 18″x24″ lanterns, but this year and am making 18″x12″ lanterns.  I have noticed that in the last year the construction paper that they get at school is thinner than it was previously.  This is not the construction paper of my childhood.  For a long time the construction paper I have bought at Michaels has been very thin and unsatisfactory but now the good stuff the school is getting is thinner, not as thin as the stuff at Michaels, but noticeably thinner which makes the lanterns not as nice unless I make some changes.

Here is what I have asked for from the teacher for 16 kids, that will be 16 lanterns kits for the kids to make and 1 lantern prototype, so the kids will know what they are making when they are working on the project.

folded_paperFirst off, forget scissors, pencils, and rulers like the websites I linked to in other posts have suggested was needed.  Plan on using a paper cutter.  If you don’t have one at home, use the one at your child’s school.  I’m sure they have a big one somewhere.

I have a guillotine paper cutter 18″ square that is left over from my childhood.  I love it, but it is very dangerous; I keep it hidden under the sofa.  If you don’t have at least an 18″ paper cutter (or access to one) then you will have to do some marking with pencil and ruler.  With and 18″ paper cutter, no pencil or ruler is needed.

paintI asked for 10 red and 10 yellow construction paper which is 18″x24″.  I won’t need all of it, but better to have more than less.  The teacher already indicated she had sponges for making prints on the lanterns. But if this is not the case.  You will need a couple of cellulose  sponges.  Cut up the sponges into different shapes.  For making the prototype, you will need a cut up sponge, some paint (I chose yellow plus white, to make a lighter yellow.) and a plastic or paper plate to use as a palette.

1) Cut the red paper in half, so you have two sheets which are each 12″x 18″.  I cut 9 sheets in half and got 18 sheets to use for the lantern kits.

2) Fold the red paper lengthwise, that means when you fold it, you will have a folded sheet which is 18″x6″.

3) If your paper cutter is less than 18″, then take a pencil and mark with a dot, every inch at the fold.   Skip this step if your paper cutter is 18″ or longer.

many_cuts4) Put the fold of the paper at the top of the paper cutter, you will be cutting through the fold. Move the left hand side of the paper to 17″ on the paper cutter and cut through the folder paper until you get to about 1 inch.  Now move the edge to 16″ and cut the same cut.  Keep moving the folded paper over until you have cut a line for every inch from 1 to 17 inches.  For those using a small paper cutter.  I would start at 1 inch and go the opposite way. But eventually you will get to 17 inches and have a completed lantern which is cut. After you have completed one of these, see if you can do 2 or three at a time.  I eventually ended up with 3 pieces of folded paper and cut 3 at a time with my cutter.  Whether you can do this or not depends on the paper cutter you have to use.  (I put the 3 folder pieces of paper on top one another, not inside each other.)

5) Make 17 or 18 of these lanterns and put in a pile.


Left: Using 9″ yellow paper on the inside; Right: Using 8″ yellow paper on the inside.

6) Take the yellow paper and cut two pieces in every 18″x24″ piece of paper.  Each piece of paper should be 9″x 18″.  This will be the inside of the lantern.  There will be some leftover paper, we can cut that up for handles.   In the case of the 9″ lantern, I had extra yellow paper, which I used to decorate around the top and bottom of the lantern.  You will need 17 or 18 of these too plus any extra for decoration.

6a) OK, I know that 8 divides evenly into 24 and makes 3 pieces of yellow core paper.  I have done that and here is what it looks like.  If it looks OK to you, then go ahead and save paper and make 8″ x 18″ pieces of paper for the center of the lantern.   I liked the 9″ so I am sticking with the 9″ high lantern.

flat_lantern7) Now is the time to make the prototype.  The prototype is both for the teacher to see what to make and for the students to know what they are stamping and what the final project will look like.  Take one of the cut-up red paper and spread it out.  Make or find some sponge stamps.  Pour the paint onto the paper plate and use the sponge to mix it around until it is flat.  Press the sponge into the paint and stamp on the lantern.  Let dry.

8)  Lantern making.  Take one of the 9″x18″ yellow pieces of paper and using a stapler, staple it into a cylinder.  I overlapped the paper by about 3 inches just to get the shape of the lantern to my aesthetic.

9) Take the cut up red paper which you stamped in an earlier step and staple it around the yellow tube.  Staple the top, then do the bottom, so it ends up looking like a lantern with a yellow light inside.  This tube inside helps keep the shape of the lantern, now that the construction paper I received is thinner than I would like.

10) Use some of the left over yellow paper and make 1 inch handles and staple them on.  I actually had so much left over yellow paper, I enhanced my prototype with extra yellow strips to add additional decoration around the bottom and the top of the lantern.

OK this is the end of my how-to make lots of lantern kits to provide to your child’s teacher.  We use the lanterns in class to have a little lantern parade around the classroom.   The Lantern Parade is usually the last day of Lunar New Year.

Here is the link to my K-1st Lunar New Year Lesson Plan.

Here is the link to my preschool Lunar New Year Lesson Plan.

Here is the link to Lunar New Year Events in the Washington DC area.

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Cultural Arts Assemblies in School

Most schools have a PTA which allocates money for cultural arts assemblies.  I did not realize this last year until I became the Asian Culture Chair at my son’s school.  And then I found out there are dozens of performers in the area who perform at schools.

Last spring I contacted the committee chairs of the Cultural Arts and Assemblies committee and offered up my money for next school year (this year now) if I could persuade the committee to have an Asian performer.   They were agreeable to it (yeah!). One of the co-chairs had a child graduating from elementary school and the one who still had a child in school asked me if I would like to be on the committee.  Yes, Yes, that sounds great.  So for this school season I am now Co-Chairman of the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee. And my co-chair has a child graduating in May 2014, so I will need to find another parent interested in cultural arts to do this with me.  I’m not sure I like the idea of making decisions to spend money on cultural arts without a co-chair to help decide on acts to hire.

I then asked the webmaster of the PTA site if I could get an account so I could update our Cultural Arts and Assemblies website with the names of the performers for the last 5 years, which my co-chair provided to me.  They work in WordPress, (which this blog is written in) so it was easy to just make a page that contains all the information.  So now and going forward our school has a list of performers to help us make decisions about future performers.

There are a couple different places that Montgomery County Schools get performers.  On days throughout September and October MCPS has “Cultural Arts Showcases” in which between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm different performers are scheduled to perform every 15 minutes.  They don’t get long, but they give you and idea of what their performance would be like.  I attended a couple of hours of one of the showcases.  But best of all the whole thing is filmed and Montgomery County puts up the video of that 15 minute performance.  So if you weren’t there, you can see the video of the performance.

In the last 5 years, our school had had African American/ African performers three times and zero times an Asian performer or program.  I have to say there are many more African programs on the list of performances than any other ethnic group and they look like fantastic performances.

But after looking at the list of shows the school had had in the last 5 years, I suggested we needed to have Latin American and Asian performers since we had not had either.  But there are so many shows to choose from, we may only get back to having another Asian performer in 3 years.

But the benefit from being on the Cultural Arts Committee is having some sway in saying which performances come to the school.   We can’t always have an ethnic performance.  I saw three really good performances of American Music, one was folk, another was old time folk and another was jazz at the Culture Arts Showcase.  My son’s elementary school did not have any performances of American music in the last 5 years, so next year I will push for an American music performer.

Class Acts Arts and Young Audiences of Maryland along with Washington Performing Arts Society provide most of the entertainers for Montgomery County schools.   The Young Audiences of Maryland website has a really easy interface to find Asian performers or Asian themes from non-Asian performers.  Class Acts doesn’t have as easy of interface, so you can browse through their catalog, but I have found it easier to call and ask about Asian themed performances.

Montgomery County Public Schools has a whole process of selecting and showcasing the talent.  They put out a catalog.  Some of the performers are local and some of them travel and have specific dates to perform in the area.  The showcases have been during the day, but many of them are viewable online and next year they plan to have some evening showcases.  One of the showcases was on a school holiday and I brought my 6 year old.  We couldn’t stay all day, but some of the performances he liked.  All of the performances are 15 minutes so you only get the gist of the performance.

At Back to School Night, no one signed up to be on the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee except me (and I was recruited)  and the person who has been on it for years.  It may be the same at your child’s school.  I was surprised that I had two parents who signed up to be on the Asian Culture Committee this year.  This is the second year of the Asian Culture Committee.  Anyway the Cultural Arts and Assemblies PTA committee is a way to influence culture in schools.   I only wish we had twice or four times as much money as we do, but alas, our school can only afford 2 – 3 back-to back performances a year.

I offered up some of the money that is allocated to Asian and Pacific culture committee to the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee as a way to persuade that committee to choose an Asian themed performance before I was even on that committee.  With that contribution along with some funding from the state, our school will be able to have a third back-to-back performance.  And this time we had a limited palette of performers who are eligible for state funding and within our price point.  But we have selected a storyteller who tells Ancient Greek stories.

So all in all I will have influenced who the school sees for three assemblies.  Had I not decided to be on this committee, I’m pretty sure that an Asian performer would not have been chosen to perform.

So if you are looking for a way to influence performances at your child’s school, then maybe being on the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee is something to consider.  Besides reviewing acts and deciding on performers, it is mostly emailing to the school coordinator of the master calendar and the vendors who manage the performers and getting the appropriate PTA members to sign contracts and write a check.  And for the one assembly we are getting state funding on, I will need to attend and write an evaluation of the performance.

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A Spooky Scary Birthday Party – Halloween in June

zombiehouse_closeI try to keep my posts related to adoption or Asian culture, but I am straying from that for this post because of the love of a certain Halloween obsessed boy.  I spent an incredible amount of time and energy to create a birthday party for this not so little boy and I thought I would write about it.

Danny had been saying he has wanted a haunted house in the backyard for a couple of years. He wanted to invite his friends over at Halloween and lead them through his haunted house.   Well it didn’t happen at Halloween, but in June instead.

I wanted a birthday party at a local nature center, which gives great parties with different themes at each center for a not so scary price.  I had envisioned all parties would take place at one of the three nature centers for several more years.  I like that they do a great job, kids have fun, but they also learn something at the same time.  And they are out in nature. What is not to like?  We had one last year with a Stream and Pond Exploring theme.

But Danny wanted a party at “Pump It Up”, which is a place in the exurbs which has bounce houses and slides and the like. He has been to many parties at “Pump It Up” and Bounce U.  But his birthday is in June and there are all sorts of places you can have a birthday party in June.  And I didn’t want to pay $500 for a inside birthday party on a probably nice day in June.

So that is where compromise comes in.  I suggested we have a Halloween Party for his birthday.  But since it is not actually Halloween, we would have a spooky scary birthday party in June.   And of course I promised we would make a haunted house in the backyard, like he has wanted for a couple of years.  So that is how we ended up with a Spooky Scary Birthday Party in June.

The Haunted House

I promised the haunted house before I had any idea how to do this or how much work it would take.  I knew it would take more than one Saturday afternoon to create the haunted house so it would have to be something we could do in phases and make it to be put up and taken down as we were creating it.

We have a two story playhouse that we got off of craigslist a couple of years ago.  It has a sandbox on the bottom and a playhouse on the top.  We decided that we would start with the bottom and make the haunted house in the bottom and if time permitted then we would do the top too.


I shopped at Value Village, a thrift shop for material I could use to make the walls of the house.  I refused to pay over $5 per piece of material and hoped to get each piece for much less.  In the end, I purchased 3 dark tablecloths, 2 dark sheets and 1 huge drapery with a rubber lining.   The tablecloths were the best, they were cranberry and dark green and they kept out a lot of light and didn’t take any additional work.  The drapery probably would have worked by itself, had the color been dark, but the drapery I got was gold and just didn’t keep out enough light for the haunted house. The dark sheets were not so good. I had to use 2 – 3 layers of sheets to keep the light out.  That was OK, because I had that in the end.  I had to end up painting the rubber side of the drapery with dark paint.

IMG_3501To make this easy to put up and take down, I decided I would use grommets and cup hooks.  We drilled holes into the play house and put up cup hooks every 8 inches around the house.  For the bottom, there would be overlapping tablecloths for the entrance/exit.  There was only one way in and out on the bottom.  It turns out that most of the people at Home Depot do not even know what a grommet is.  It took quite a bit of work to find someone who not only knew what a grommet was, but could tell me where to find them.  We labeled the grommets with letters or numbers and the corresponding cup hook with the same label.

IMG_3442The bottom of the play house/ haunted house took 3 table cloths.  The top took the painted curtain (cut in half – horizontally to make 2 curtains) and a sheet.  The entrance to the top was up the ladder in the back and the exit was down the slide in the front.  We blocked off the gangplank for either entrance or exit.  We added cardboard cutouts for the roof gables too and stuffed newspaper in any other places which let in light.

manaquinsWe took out all of our Halloween stuff from the attic.  This was Danny’s sixth birthday party and I think he has only been Halloween obsessed for 3 years.  So that means I’ve only been collecting Halloween stuff for that long.  I have tried to buy as much as possible after Halloween. But I have also found very little selection after Halloween, so I have also bought stuff at full price before Halloween.  I try and hit CVS on the morning of November 1 and get a moving scary Halloween decoration.  We have the grim reaper and a zombie, both sound or motion activated for about $20.  I have found CVS is much better after Halloween than Target.  Target sells out of everything before Halloween.  I always check out our local thrift stores Value Village and Unique Thrift and get masks and wigs and whatever I can find that piques my interest.  My best buy was about 10 Styrofoam mannequin heads I got one year and painted.  I only wish I had bought 20.

On the second floor, because there was an entrance and an exit, we could not put as much stuff in there.  I got this inflatable skeleton which looks really lame, but I really liked it and it was just the thing to put in a dark haunted house.  About a month before the party we had bought something that came in a box the size of a child’s coffin – maybe 3-4 feet long.  I kept it and made a lid that opens like a coffin. Danny insisted we write “R.I.P” on the coffin lid.  We put the inflatable skeleton in there with a bunch of glow sticks so you could see that is was something to open up.  You could see the glowing through the crack in the lid which made you want to open it and find out what was in there.

A friend has a dry ice smoker which he brought over, but it stopped working before the party started, but that would have been ever better.  The plan was to pump the dry ice smoke into the bottom level of the haunted house.   We had scary music to put on around the haunted house, but there was so much commotion and running around, we really never got around to putting it on.  We had some blinking (eye ) lights on the second floor.  Each floor was unique and the kids could not get enough of it.

A general note about the haunted house is it was a HUGE hit.  At first some of the kids thought it was too scary to go in, so they would peek a little at a time.  But then as time when on all they wanted to do was keep going back into the haunted house over and over and taking their friends in.   We could have put slimy things to touch in the dark, like cold spaghetti or grapes for eyeballs, but I didn’t want a bunch of messy kids running around so I nixed anything you touch and get dirty.  No one seemed to miss the touchy feeling slimy things.  There were enough things in the haunted house to keep it interesting and “scary”.  On each floor there was something that had a motion detector that lit up and started moving. One was a zombie and  the other was a gravedigger.  They say something, move and light up. What more could you ask?


IMG_3472Cake – I bought a chocolate cake from Costco and asked for chocolate icing and decoration around the outside and to write a birthday message in red at the bottom.  That gave me a clean slate for creating a graveyard.  I bought two packages of Pepperidge Farm Milanos to act as gravestones and tombs.  I didn’t need that many, but no harm in having extras if mistakes are made. We can always eat the extras! I got the idea from Pinterest.  I added crushed up Famous Chocolate Wafers to make dirt around the gravestones.  I used black icing to write words, dates and a cross to my grave markers.  That is where I was glad I had extra Milanos since my first attempts were not particularly readable.  Those are 2 skeletons which I had gotten at the dollar store at Halloween which are leaning against the gravestones.

Other Food:


  • Zombie Fingers (red pepper slices)
  • Vampire Fingers (baby carrots)
  • Monster Fingers (sugar snaps)
  • dip and hummus
  • Zombie Flesh (cut up watermelon)
  • Zombie Eyes (black seedless grapes)
  • tortilla chips and Zombie Blood (salsa)
  • Monster Brains (cold sesame noodle)
  • and Zombie Brains (pesto and noodles).

For drinks there was water for everyone, (decaf) iced tea for the parents and a black Halloween punch made out of Kool-Aid for the kids. I actually had the frozen hand and dry ice for the punch, but didn’t get around to putting it in since that all has to happen at the last minute, just when guests are arriving. There were juice boxes to go with the cake.

I made bone cookies with a Wilton pan, I picked up in the spring, for cheap, my only homemade creation besides the noodle dishes. I made half the batch with store bought sugar cookie dough, which later I realized didn’t work well because it had leavening in. The recipe which came with the pan had a sugar/almond cookie recipe with no leavening. That worked a whole lot better.   I can tell you a bunch of 6 year old boys are not going to ooo  and ahh at homemade food.  Let me tell you about this pan before you go out an buy it.  You can make 5 bones at once, you have to cook them for 10 or so minutes and then they have to cool completely to get them out.  So each batch of 5 cookies takes 20 – 30 minutes.  Had I known this to begin with, I think I would have skipped this.  But there were so many cool looking things on Pinterest I thought this was the least I could do.  I’m not sure why I never took any pictures of the cookies, but they were tasty.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hired a face painter and balloon man (a combo).  The face painter sat over in a section of the garden and painted faces on demand and I asked the balloon man to run games with me.  He also made lots of balloon swords which the kids played with.  We played games in our yard for an hour.  Here are the games we played.

Skull Smash I did not make up this game, I just changed the name.  I found it once on a web site and then couldn’t find it again, so I don’t even know what the real name was.  This game took quite a bit of planning of trials to get it right.  The game is to tie a balloon onto the ankle of the child with a 3 foot ribbon.  Each child tries to stomp on and pop other people’s balloon (skull) while at the same time protecting his own balloon.

In practicing for this game I found, first off use NEW balloons, the old balloons I had sitting around popped almost immediately.  Then only blow up the balloons halfway, so they don’t pop as soon as they hit the grass.

I took some elastic tape (the stuff you find at a sewing store) and tied it into a circle so it could easily slip onto children’s ankles.  I used elastic tape instead of just tying a ribbon onto the child’s leg, so no one would get hurt and it would be more comfortable around their ankle.  I tied the 3 feet of ribbon on to each circle of elastic. And I blew up 100 balloons and kept them separate. (I remember from another birthday party, trying to untangle balloons on strings, so that is why I kept them separate.)  When it was time to start, I asked all the parents to help out.  We tied the balloons onto the ribbon right before the game.  And because this is such a fun activity, I didn’t want it to end with just one balloon per child.  So there were at least a half dozen or more parents who tied new balloons onto the end of the ribbon after the balloon popped and they got back in the game.   So there were about 5 balloons per child, so they got to have quite a bit of fun with this.  We didn’t concentrate on winners, just fun and we didn’t keep track of how many balloons each child got. I used white balloons (skulls) and then purple balloons (monsters).   You need to buy big enough balloons so that when you blow them up half way, they still have some size.  This game could have gone on much longer if we had more balloons.

IMG_3452Plants vs. Zombies Relay Race was a game I made up.  Those kids familiar with the ipad/iphone app got it, others not so much.  We had 2 teams and two toddler lawn mowers. Each course had 3 zombies that needed to be mowed down and they had to go over one bump (mulch bag) and a bucket at the end of the course that they had to go around.   I had 2 helpers who put back mowed down zombies.  Children only mowed down zombies in one direction.  The “zombies” were actually a zombie head painted on black buckets that someone had given me.  I wanted to do something really current, that is why I came up with this game.

Three-legged Monster Race was the typical three-legged race. I bought some spandex material and sewed tubes for the kids to put their legs in.  I figured this would be more comfortable than just tying legs together.  A brother sister pair came in first.  There was a big difference in ability in this game.  I tried to pair up children the same height together. We had enough tubes so that this was not a relay race, each pair competed as a team.

Zombie Relay Race – This is another game I made up.  I was able to get three size 12 or 13 old men’s tennis shoes.  I painted them with red paint to look like streaks of blood.  There were three teams.  Kids could either take their shoes off or put their shoes in the big shoes.  This worked very well. The kids did a great job.  Danny had already practiced this quite a bit, so it wasn’t as funny as the first time he tried it. Our rule was if the shoes came off in the race the child had to sit down and put the shoe on before continuing in the race.  No one was allowed to just carry the shoes to the relay line.

What Time is it Mr. Skeleton?  Others know this game as “What Time is it Mr. Fox?”. I learned it as an adult as “What Time is it Mr. Alligator?” as they played it in a swim lesson in a pool whose mascot is the alligator.   Someone stands on one side of the play area.  That is Mr. Skeleton.  The other children stand on the other side along a line.  I had actually spray painted lines on my lawn for this party.  The children yell “What time is it Mr. Skeleton?” and the “it”, Mr. Skeleton, says a time, like 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock anything between 1 and 11.   Each time Mr. Skeleton says what time it is, the children take that number of steps toward Mr. Skeleton.  If the it says “6 o’clock”, the children take 6 steps toward Mr. Skeleton, they keep asking what time it is as they get closer and closer to Mr. Skeleton.  Then at some point (before any child has gotten to Mr. Skeleton)  the “it” says “Midnight” and then all the children run back to the base line and Mr. Skeleton chases the children.  The first person to get tagged gets to be the next “it”.  There are variations of this game you can read about, but this is how we played it.   My balloon guy and I started out leading this game for a couple of rounds, but then it took on a life of its own.  The children just kept it going and going and going.  I had other games in my pocket we could have played, if we had extra time, but this is last of the games I planned to have them play.  And this one only ended because it was time to do something else.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASword Play Since I hired a balloon man/ face painter combination, I had asked the balloon man to make balloon swords on demand.  So when kids were playing in the haunted house and at other times we were not playing games, Balloon Man was making balloon sculptures of which just about everybody wanted a balloon sword.  So we had kids running around the yard and the haunted house playing pirate with their balloon swords.

We had cake, sang happy birthday and then it was time to do a pinata. I had one children’s picnic table, borrowed another children’s table from a neighbor and then got a third children’s picnic table at a yard sale about 2 weeks before the party.  This was great because there was room for everyone to sit down.

IMG_3480I had gotten a Frankenstein pinata. This has a very small area to fill up, all the appendages are all empty. I had bought a bunch of candy from Costco (non chocolate — this was June). And I pre-filled little sandwich bags with 3 pieces so each child would get some candy regardless of the candy scramble after the pinata was broken. The bags for the kids to collect the candy it. We hung the pinata up on our swingset with the swings removed. Everyone lined up in birthday order, so except for the birthday boy, the youngest children went first. It took a long time to get that pinata popped. So each kid had at least 2 – 3 turns at the pinata. In retrospect I would have made more of an effort to throw the candy around in a larger area so more children could get to it. As it was some kids got a lot and others not so much. No one was blindfolded for this event.  This was our first time with a pinata, which I got because it was so cheap when I wanted to order it in May.  You can get real deals on Halloween stuff if you order out of season.

Face Painting:  I had a special place in the yard under a tree for the face painter to sit.  There was definitely a theme to what the kids wanted painted. We had a lot of zombies, a couple werewolves, some ghosts and a couple other things.

Tattoos:  I had gotten a bunch of small temporary tattoos at the dollar store. I cut them up into individual tattoos and an friend of mine put them on kids at their request.

IMG_3439Photos:  I had ordered 2 cardboard things you stand behind and take pictures of the children. I though it would be fun to take a picture of each child and use that for a thank you note.  I had a Frankenstein and a witch.  I tried to add thicker cardboard behind them to make them stand up, but with the wind, this did not work.  With a little more effort and some person assigned to taking these pictures, this could have worked.

Timing: This party was scheduled for 2:oo – 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon.  There was always something happening.  Most of the families arrived on time and left on time and we got all this in in 2.5 hours.

IMG_3503I made this little sign and put it over by the face painter to let everyone know the timing of the different parts of the party. I invited parents to stay. Many parents stayed because they had traveled from Virginia (many of our adopted Asian playgroup).  We invited Danny’s friends from his kindergarten class and neighbor children who are all close by and some parents stayed and some dropped off.

I did actually encourage those parents I knew to stay so I would have extra hands to help with games.

  • 2:00 – Guests arrive
  • 2:00 – 2:30 – face painting, explore haunted house, sword play, photos, tattoos
  • 2:30 – 3:30 – games on the lawn, face painting. No one was required to play games, so some children got their faces painted while others played games and still others decided they wanted to play on the swingset or visit the haunted house. But most children wanted to participate in the games.
  • 3:30 – 4:00 – face painting, food served, photos, tattoos, haunted house
  • 4:00 – goodbye balloon man and face painter
  • 4:00 – cake and sing happy birthday
  • 4:20 – pinata
  • 4:30 – hand out treat bags and say goodbye to guests

Other things: 

A zombie bucket used in Plants vs. Zombies

A zombie bucket used in Plants vs. Zombies

Everything moved fast fast fast and there was never a dull moment at this party.  Danny had only been to one at home party where they played games, which he attended with his father, so I didn’t see how things went.  The whole idea of playing the games for this generation was more unusual as most parties he has been to have been at a party venue with bounce houses or MyGym or the like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe scheduled the party for one week earlier than we usually schedule parties so that we could have a rain date if needed.  We put the rain date on the invitation. We do not have a big enough space indoors to play all these games and entertain 20 children and a dozen parents.  But the date of the party was a most beautiful day in June with low humidity, a little wind and not too hot. We could not have asked for better weather.

But by moving the date of the party up to the second weekend in June instead of the third weekend in June got us 33% more acceptances to our party.  Usually I plan on 1/3 of the children invited not being able to attend, which is what it had been in the past.  This time just about everyone invited attended.  I had not realized that a party a week after school ends is so different than a day after school ends.

This was a strictly NO COSTUMES party.  It is not that I don’t love costumes, but we were having an outside party in June and wanted kids to come dressed for playing outside and not in hot costumes meant to be worn in October.   We got the dressed up effect by having a face painter who painted all those zombies, ghosts and werewolves, so instead of a costume we had face paint, which is much cooler when playing outdoors.

I also labeled a water bottle with each child’s name on it to encourage children to drink water while playing.  That was only somewhat successful.  I had signs to the bathrooms and told each parent who was staying that I would be using them to take a child to the bathroom when needed.  This worked out great, so each time a child asked me to take him to the bathroom, I was able to hand the child off to another parent, so I could manage the party and the games.

The upshot of this party is that Danny wants to do it all over again next year.  We’ll see.

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