We had a day out in Philly on Saturday to celebrate my birthday. Last year I chose to visit a historic cemetery and this year I decided we should consume more local history. I thought it was entirely ridiculous that I had been living in the suburbs of Philadelphia for four years now (as of 17 October) yet had never been to see the Liberty Bell or been inside Independence Hall. That, therefore, was my selection for the first part of my birthday trip.
The lines to get in to see the Liberty Bell – part of the Independence Historic Site – were long but not as ridiculously long as they have been on other occasions when we have considered viewing it. We, therefore, joined the line and found that it moved at a reasonable pace. We all had to remove layers of clothing and place our possessions in boxes to be scanned for security purposes but, even so, it only took about half an hour between joining the queue and being allowed to go and view the bell. There were displays outlining the bell’s history, its symbolism, and how it has been cared for and restored. The boys had zero interest in lingering long enough to read so Mr Pict and I had to skim and scan.
The bell is, of course, famous for its crack. This appeared as soon as it was rung for the first time in Philadelphia. Poor workmanship it seems. It was recast a couple of times by men whose names – Pass and Stow – appear on the bell and then the bell cracked to the extent it appears now in the 19th Century. It was probably one of the bells that was rung when the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time on 8 July 1776 but really the rest of its history was pretty insignificant. Its real importance emerges from its symbolism, particularly for the abolitionist movement. Its use as a symbol is really why I wanted to see it: the bell is used all over the place locally and nationally so I thought I had really better see the real thing.
After our visit to the Liberty Bell, the plan was to go and explore Independence Hall. However, all of the tickets for the day were already gone. Completely bad planning on our part. Tsk tsk. We will have to return another time. We, therefore, had to content ourselves with the adjacent Old City Hall. Its significance rests in the fact that it housed the Supreme Court until the nation’s capital was relocated to Washington DC. We had a quick gander and then we moved on.
Sticking with the theme of America’s founding, our next pit stop was to see the grave of Benjamin Franklin. There was a charge, however, to enter Christ Church Burial Ground. Despite the modest fee, we decided not to pay so I had to content myself with a glimpse through the railings. Oh dear. Our planning for the day was really not going too well at all. Happily none of this was the main event for my birthday day out.
The Art Journal Adventure prompt for last week was “Eyes”. I knew instantly what I wanted to do – it just took me almost an entire week to find the time to do it. When I was a wee girl, I became fascinated with glass eyes. I saw some in a junk shop I was in with my Gran and thought they looked amazing. I was a massive fan of marbles so to me they were like really cool marbles. I wanted them but my request was denied, whether for price or for taste reasons I do not know. I would repeatedly tell my parents that I wanted to start collecting glass eyes. It never happened. This journal page, however, is inspired by that lifelong fascination with glass eyes and depicts an imagined collection of them.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “outward from the centre”. I initially had a much more complex and time consuming idea in mind but it took me over a week to even get the chance to open my art journal so I decided to ditch that idea and produce a simple illustration in ink and watercolour instead. I drew a figure – somewhat inspired by Lady Rainicorn from ‘Adventure Time’ – by taking the prompt literally and starting at the centre and working my way outwards in a spiral. Then it was simply a case of filling in the figure with watercolour and drawing in the details using black ink.
I have not found time to tackle a Life Book lesson in a good few weeks now. I decided, therefore, to break my drought with a lesson by Wendy Brightbill that involved creating an abstract piece using liquid media and mark making. I am happy that I took time out of my massively busy life to work on this lesson as I did enjoy the process. I have been heavily involved in illustrations for months now, including my contribution to the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project and Inktober, so it was a nice break and pretty liberating to do something completely different, just sploshing watercolour around without a great deal of thought. I have to state, however, that I don’t especially like the finished outcome. Hate is too strong a word but it really is not a piece I want to look at again. This piece was definitely about the journey rather than the destination.
One of the first American things we did upon emigrating just over four years ago was visit a pumpkin patch. It, therefore, became an important part of our annual traditions, so much so that the kids insist that we return to the exact same farm each year. This year, however, only five of us visited the pumpkin patch. At 14.5, our oldest son has outgrown the tradition and opted out. Sniffle.
We started with the horror barn. At night, there are live actors inside the barn who jump out at visitors and there are also moving parts and more special effects. I am a horror movie fan and totally cool with gore but I don’t imagine I would cope with the evening version of the horror barn. Mr Pict and I once visited the London Dungeon early in the morning which made us the first visitors. Mr Pict nipped to the restroom, leaving me alone in a dark room. When one of the models moved, I screamed very loudly and almost punched the poor employee. Anyway, the day time version of the horror barn contains the fixed props, some of which are very gory, and some sound effects. My kids love it but we did see a couple of kids crying, one hysterically.
The Alien barn is another favourite of the boys. It is all 3D paint effects, black light glowing, and disorienting strobe effects. And it definitely can be disorienting: in the pitch black, I walked smack into a wall that I thought was a door.
We also did a lot of the “country fair” type stuff that the farm runs during its Halloween festival. We shared a funnel cake, which is a must, and the boys used canon to fire vegetables at targets. A new thing this year was a range of sports ball activities. My very unsporty boys had a whale of a time measuring the speed of their baseball throws, getting balls through targets, shooting hoops, and scoring goals.
We also made another attempt at the farm’s corn maze. My children know nothing of the story and movie ‘Children of the Corn’ beyond the title but still decided to act out being spooky little ghouls among the corn stalks. The idea of the maze is to visit each of five stations within it in order to paint the fingers of one hand a different colour. For a bit of fun, the pattern of the colours on each individual’s hand then determines a funny little action each person takes – such as playing air fiddle or shaking your tail feathers. We have never yet managed to find all five stations. I think we are officially hopeless at mazes – though we did find our way back out again.
We hopped on the wagon which took us out to the pumpkin patch. The boys had wanted to select a small or medium pumpkin each but there were only large ones left so they agreed they would team up to pick and carve one communal pumpkin. Getting them to agree on a pumpkin was a whole other matter. Pumpkins were considered and rejected, argued over, discussed and dismissed. Finally they found one they could all agree upon. Now we just have to agree on a design and carve the thing.
On Saturday we went along to Chestnut Hill’s annual Harry Potter Festival. This was a make-or-break year for us: we had loved the first two years that we had gone but last year the crowds were just far too intense for us to enjoy the experience. We had decided then that we would give it one more go to see if the organisers could make the required adaptations to accommodate the growing popularity of the festival and, if not, then it would be our last time going. I do very much feel for the organisers. They had come up with the brilliant idea of a themed local festival but its popularity had evidently snowballed faster than their ability to creatively problem solve. I am, therefore, happy to report that they had done a sterling job of resolving last year’s aggravating problems. There were far more portapotties than last year (though happily none of us ever had to use them); they had extended the stretch of Germantown Avenue that was pedestrianised; there were more police officers on duty to enforce the road closures; there was pre-paid wristband entry to specified activities; and there were designated parking lots around the area, including some with shuttle buses. As a result, it was a much smoother and pleasant experience than last year.
We parked on the campus of a church and from there it was just a gentle stroll to the centre of Chestnut Hill and all of the Harry Potter themed activities. We decided to start at the top of the Festival, the furthest point from where we had parked, and then work our way back down Germantown Avenue. We arrived there just as Professor Dumbledore took the stage to officially open the day’s event though we could not get close enough for anyone other than Mr Pict to be able to see over the heads of the crowd gathered around the stage. We did, however, bump into Lupin, Tonks, and Sirius Black who happily posed with my kids for photos. That is one of the things we enjoy most about the Festival, seeing all the cosplayers, the visitors dressed in costumes, or the Potterphiles wearing themed clothing. We saw even more dogs in costume than last year, including one dressed up as an acromantula and one dressed up as a golden snitch. The common nerdiness generates a warm family friendly atmosphere and a feeling of camaraderie.
We had decided not to buy the wristbands that would have given us access to certain activities. Partly it was down to expense but it was also because my kids had “been there and done that” in previous festivals. That did free up funds for indulging in butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and every flavour beans. Mostly, however, we just enjoyed absorbing the atmosphere, browsing fun stalls full of Potterphile wares – my 10 year old was sorely tempted by pocket watches – looking at displays in shop windows, and enjoying all of the costumes. The three younger boys did participate in some free activities too and came away with some goodie bags filled with freebies. My 14 year old was accompanying us under an Imperius Curse so was refusing to engage with any activity beyond strolling and inadvertent people watching.
There were on-street performances to watch too. We arrived too late to get within eyeballing distance of some of them but we did stop to watch a man carve a block of ice into Dobby the House Elf, we watched some great breakdancers (the Potter connection being unclear), and an acrobat performing in Hogwarts uniform. There was ample to see and do and this year we were not fighting through crowds or feeling like we were drowning in a sea of people. After a few hours of ambling, perusing, and taking photographs, however, it was time to return to the car. Aside from anything else, the younger boys were getting a bit crotchety from the heat and we needed a break from the glare of the sun. Once we got back to the church campus, however, the younger boys got a second wind and decided to play in the shade of the trees. They decided that the buildings could be Hogwarts and a wooden platform on the grass could be used as a stage for wizard dueling. It was a chilled way to end a day of Harry Pottering. The whole event passed our litmus test. They had made enough changes to make the growth of the Festival function effectively again and we are very pleased as it means we can return again next year.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “puzzled’. It took me the entire week to find time to sit down with my art journal as all my free art time has been spent on Inktober and my contribution to the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook project (which you can see on my other blog). By that time, however, my creative cogs had been turning for long enough for me to have arrived at an idea. I decided that I would create a self-portrait because sometimes I am a puzzle to myself and, like a jigsaw puzzle, I am made up of many different pieces. Taking that idea further, I decided that my substrate should be a collaged layer of pieces of paper. And taking that idea further still, I thought it might be fun to break my face down into elements of shapes and forms rather like a Picasso portrait. I remember as a child that the thing I found most engaging about Picasso’s art was the way that my eye could take in all of the information and my brain would then reconfigure everything so that I could understand what I was seeing, what was being portrayed. It was like resolving a visual puzzle.
Isn't this frustrating?
Help keep the internet free of slow lanes by supporting net neutrality.