Potter After Hours

potter after hours at the franklin instituteKatie is once again off on wild adventures. Remember that time she spent a year in Europe? Or how about when she dropped by Antiques Roadshow? This time, Katie journeyed to the Franklin Institute for a veeeeeery special Harry Potter event. Take it away, Katie!


It’s universally understood the Harry Potter series has captured the hearts of children, but adults are just as passionate about Harry and his adventures at Hogwarts. I count myself as one of those adults who is a Harry Potter fanatic, so naturally I leapt at the opportunity to attend Wizard School, an after-hours adult only program held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

katie at the franklin insitute science after hoursThe Franklin Institute is one of the oldest museums in the United States dedicated to science education and research, and it is absolutely one of my favorite places to take my son when we have a free day. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute has four floors of amazing science exhibitions, a planetarium, IMAX theatre, and even a telescope observatory on the roof.

Science After Hours is a series of events the Franklin Institute holds for adults 21+ and is designed around a specific theme, like Wizard School, with demonstrations, live speakers, music and dancing, activities, a chance to explore the entire museum at night, and…a cash bar.

As soon as I arrived, I snagged a cup of Butter Beer and started wandering through the museum to various activity tables. Wizard’s Chess anyone?

wizarding chess at the franklin instituteIn the Giant Heart exhibit, I tested to see if I was a pure blood by pouring a glass of clear liquid into a second glass of clear liquid. If the mixture turned red, you were a pure blood. If it didn’t, you were a Muggle. The magic is a pH indicator, phenolphthalein, being mixed with water and reacting to sodium carbonate, which is present in the second glass. The sodium carbonate and phenolphthalein react and turn the liquid red. If one glass didn’t have the chemical, the liquid remained clear. My glass turned red – I’m a pure blood witch!

pure blood testing at the franklin instituteI made my way past a very long line of people waiting to make a magical amulet so I could watch part of the Raptores Maximus show. Mike Dupuy, a local falconer and educator, introduced several of his birds of prey. Including Mr. Big Owl, a Eurasian owl who had the most stunning orange eyes.

mike dupuy with mr. big owl franklin instituteNext, I journeyed on to Pepper Hall, where I was greeted by 2 very long lines: 1) Make your own wand; and 2) Visit the Slimy Serpent, Critter, and Creature Magic Supply Shoppe. The Supply Shoppe was a tremendous display of potions ingredients and various critters you may discover as a student at Hogwarts, including snakes, spiders, frogs and even a jar of leeches. But I opted for wand making because I was curious to see how the Franklin Institute would handle a wand craft for well over a thousand people after our experience with our much smaller Wand Works event.

The wand craft was impressively simple, but quite impactful. As you approached the front of the line, you selected a colored light bulb with wire legs (identical to the bulbs we tested in the Circuit Clay kit). You moved forward and were given a small button cell battery and a paper straw that had been cut on one end to provide a slit for the battery to rest. Volunteers demonstrated how to slide the two legs of the bulb onto each side of the battery, illuminating the bulb, and then gave you two pieces of tape to secure the bulb onto the battery and secure the battery into the slit at the top of your straw.

The final step was a wood clothespin, which is where you insert the paper straw. The clothespin is wrapped with more tape to keep the straw from falling out and becomes the handle of the wand. After the wand is complete, there were tables with markers, star stickers and tiny jewels to bedazzle your wand. No two wands were alike!

wand making at the franklin instituteI tried to attend a presentation called The Absolutely True Fake Story of the Philosopher’s Stone. I should have used an Apparition spell to get me to the theater faster because the seats were full by the time I arrived. Not deterred, I walked through Platform 3.14 to see the Hogwarts Express (cleverly disguised as a Baldwin 60000 locomotive engine, which is on permanent display in the Train Factory exhibit).

platform 3.14 at franklin instituteMany of the demonstration tables had student volunteers from nearby colleges, including Drexel University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The students were enthusiastically full of scientific information – such as the possibility of real-life invisibility cloaks (i.e. lasers and thermal imaging cameras). They were ready to be peppered with questions from everyone. Including Voldemort.

voldemort at the franklin instituteThe OwlCapella group from Temple University was serenading those in the ticketing atrium who had paused to rest their feet or have a snack, and I got a good laugh when I noticed Harry Potter conducting, unbeknownst to the choir. Total Potterbomb.

owlcappella at franklin instituteThe grand finale was held in the Franklin Memorial Hall, in front of a giant statue of Benjamin Franklin. Everyone was asked to raise their newly made wands and chant the Incendio spell. The result was a mighty green fireball explosion, courtesy of about a dozen large balloons filled with hydrogen. Very cool.


And just in case you’re wondering, Dr. Dana has ignited giant fireballs in the name of wizardry as well. You’ll find that here.

Wizard School was so popular, the Franklin Institute added a second date at the end of November! Dr. Dana and I are eagerly awaiting the Science After Hours schedule for 2019 with hopes there will be another literary related evening for us to enjoy. Stay tuned!

Doors Within Doors

doors within doors

Art museums, science centers, parks, zoos, aquariums – these places share a common thread in that they are fully immersive environments that encourage individuals to follow his/ her/ their own path, exploring, discovering, and learning.

Then, Meow Wolf.

Take the concept of immersive learning and infuse it with powerful storytelling, artistic expression, unbound creativity, and fierce playfulness. Then crank it to eleven. THAT is Meow Wolf. Katie and her son recently discovered Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Take it away, Katie!


Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return. Crazy name for an art exhibit, right? Turns out it’s not only crazy, it is a hands-on, completely captivating, artist inspired, mystery to be solved, fantastical world, storytelling experience that’s *really* hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. With that said, I’m going to try to explain it, because I was absolutely blown away by this place.

meow wolf exhibit sign

Some history about Meow Wolf: it was formed in 2008 by a group of 12 artists living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who chose their name by literally pulling words out of a hat. Now operating as an art collective of nearly 200 people, they create unique art experiences for audiences of all ages, or as they so wonderfully describe their vision on their website: “Meow Wolf champions otherness, weirdness, challenging norms, radical inclusion, and the power of creativity to change the world.”

With support from Game of Thrones author and Santa Fe resident George R. R. Martin, who purchased a defunct bowling alley and leased it to the group, Meow Wolf turned the once forgotten building into a permanent art exhibit, House of Eternal Return, which opened in March 2016.

meow wolf sculptureEmployees working the House of Eternal Return ticket counter encourage you to touch everything, explore everywhere, and fully engage yourself within the over 20,000 square foot exhibit.

When you enter, you are immediately greeted by a massive two-story Victorian mansion owned by the fictional Selig family, who vanished after conducting forbidden experiments inside the home. If you look closely at the house, you’ll see small credits given to George R. R. Martin. Wolves and dragons appear in the scrawling woodwork. The front doormat reads “Beyond Here There Be Dragons.”

meow wolf houseYou start investigating the mystery of the Selig family disappearance by finding a mailbox and reading messages written on the cards inside. The cards provide hints and clues to search for while you wander through the maze of rooms and hallways.

meow wolf mailboxDeeper inside the exhibit, there’s a mechanical raven (another Game of Thrones nod, perhaps?), which occasionally flaps its wings and chatters at the visitors below.

meow wolf ravenMy son and I spent nearly four hours wandering through the House of Eternal Return. The exhibit has dozens of hidden doors and portals to unique and fascinating places, which through the story strangely connect in some weird way to each other. Crawling through the fireplace brings you to a cave where you can play music on the rib bones of a giant glowing mastodon.

meow wolf illunimated skeletonWalking through the open door of an ice machine takes you into a room full of lights and mirrors, where you push buttons to change the lights and play different notes of music.

meow wolf blue lightsGoing through the refrigerator leads you down a sterile white hallway into what appears to be a rocket ship, ready to take you to futuristic tropical destinations.

doors within doorsThere are also strange space monsters that blink their eyes at you when you walk by.

meow wolf furry alienWalls of fabric that reveal an ever-changing light show when you touch it (or floss dance between the wavy cloth).


You can also try stuffing yourself down the slide portal inside the dryer, which ends in a small room with walls completely covered in laundry. For those of you wondering, yes, I did manage to squeeze my way into the dryer, much to my son’s amusement. There is another door into (or out of) the laundry room, but my son and I couldn’t figure out where it was after leaving the room.

meow wolf dryer portalThe entire exhibit is a mystery you have to attempt to solve, but honestly, I don’t believe there is one definite solution. Visitors interpret art differently, so what one person thinks is the answer, another may believe something completely different.

I can’t say enough about the House of Eternal Return: it is a must-see place. This post barely scratches the surface with all there is to see and experience. Pictures really don’t do it justice because everywhere you look, there’s something distinctly different and jaw-dropping. It’s funky and fun, inspiring and incredible. If you are in Santa Fe and visit Meow Wolf, plan on spending many hours exploring and getting lost within this one-of-a-kind immersive art labyrinth.

I can’t WAIT to go back.

Love Potion No. 9

love potion no 9

Magic abounds as you create your very own “Love-Never-Lies” potion and examine the mystical properties of liquid nitrogen. Katie recently unleashed her science wizardry at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for 6-8 year-olds!

We read The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell (Little, Brown, 2017). Back in the Dark Ages, in a dangerous woods, two children from warring tribes unexpectedly meet. Xar is from the Wizard tribe, even though he possesses no magic, and Wish is from the Warrior tribe, even though she is clumsy. Both feel out of place in their homes. Both are a tremendous disappointment to their royal parents. And both are currently doing something they definitely should NOT be doing. Their meeting sparks an epic adventure involving magic, dangerous creatures, daring escapes, clever double-crosses, a fainting assistant bodyguard, and the discovery of what friendship truly means. The Wizards of Once is hilarious, fantastical, and face-paced read-aloud. Our story time absolutely kids loved it.

One potion that plays a pivotal role in the book is “Love-Never-Lies.” It has two properties:. 1) If you eat, drink, or smell it, you fall in love with the next person (or animal!) you see; and 2) If you are holding the potion and tell a lie, it changes from red to blue. The bigger the lie, the darker the blue.

So with color changing potions in mind, Katie put together an awesome little demonstration with acids and bases using household items and red cabbage juice.

katie experiements with pHThe red cabbage indicator demo is simple, inexpensive, but impactful. The experiment involves adding red cabbage juice to various household acid and bases, and then observing how the acids and bases change color according to their pH level. Katie used these instructions from ZLIFE Education’s website, and lectured about pH, acidity, and anthocyanin. Then, she upped the science magic with liquid nitrogen.

scientist katieWearing gloves, wielding protective eye gear, and armed with her knowledge of nitrogen-infused particles, Katie froze balloons, carnation flowers, and made clouds. It was AWESOME.

nitrogen balloonfrozen carnationsnitrogen cloudsThe grand finale was mixing your very own bottle of “Love-Never-Lies” potion to take home. Katie purchased some 5″ vintage replica bottles with corks from Amazon (10 bottles cost $20). These are the same bottles we used with much success for our Sherlock Holmes escape room.

three potion bottlesKatie filled the bottles with water, and then kids came forward to choose the color and amount of food dye for Katie to drip into the bottle. As the colors mixed, the kids predicted the final color of the potion.

potion color predictionCressida Cowell is also the author of the How to Train Your Dragon series. If you’d like to see what we did with that book, you’ll find the post here. And holy clouds, if you haven’t seen the trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 3, get thee to the internet!