Birthdays in Lockdown

Two thirds of the Pict family birthdays are in Spring – two of them within the same week.  It’s a busy time of year.  Usually birthdays involve a treat meal at a restaurant and a family excursion somewhere.  However, given we are all in lockdown as part of the containment measures during the Covid 19 pandemic, the celebrations have been a bit different so far this year.

Mr Pict’s birthday was first up.  It fell within the first 48 hours of the lockdown so we had already made plans we had to abandon and I quickly had to come up with an alternative plan.  I like to be organized because I get angsty about chaos undermining the joy of any celebration.  There were no eggs in stores at that point so I bought a premade cake from the supermarket bakery.  Mr Pict had no complaints about that and happily we managed to pull the rest of the festivities off and his birthday was a success.

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Next up was our third son turning 13.  He will certainly never forget the birthday that marked his official entry into teenagehood.  I obviously had prior warning that this was going to be an entirely domestic celebration so it all went much smoother.  Like his father, our 13 year old is obsessed with Ancient Rome.  His favourite Emperor is Trajan so his main gift was a map showing the Roman empire during Trajan’s reign and he also got a hoodie of Trajan’s World Tour.  This established the theme for the cake.  I used food colouring to paint the outline of a bust of Trajan.  If I thought drawing in ink without pencil guidelines was challenging, that was nothing compared to painting with food colouring on top of a cake.  Some edible gold added a bit of razzle dazzle and distracted from the wonkiness of Trajan’s face.

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Six days later, it was the turn of our oldest son to celebrate his birthday.  He is 17.  That seems crazy to me.  17 is how old I was when I permanently left home.  Our oldest son is addicted to pepper sauce and hot sauce and super spicy salsas.  He and his 14 year old brother actually eat ghost pepper salsa, scream from the pain, and then eat more.  He, of course, received some hot sauces he had never tried before as one of his gifts but that also gave me the theme for his cake.  Tabasco is his everyday hot sauce – and I do mean everyday because he adds it to everything – so I made him a Tabasco cake – though I assure you pepper sauce was not one of the ingredients.

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The next Pict family birthday is at the end of May.  It is likely to be another lockdown birthday.  Then we have two birthdays in the Autumn.  Goodness knows what life will be like by then.  We’ll just keep rolling with it, taking things day by day, and reminding ourselves of all the things for which we are grateful, including family and birthdays and cake.

The Three-Legged Cat is Three

Last week was Satchi the cat’s third birthday.  To be more precise, it was his honorary birthday which the boys decided should be held on his “Gotcha Day’, the anniversary of the date we adopted him a year ago.  He celebrated with tuna for dinner and even more cuddles than usual.

He has changed so much in a year.  When we adopted him, he had just had his leg amputated and was very unstable in his movement.  He was also underweight and, while friendly, wasn’t that sociable.  Now he is a healthy weight, possibly even a little plump, and super fluffy and manages just fine with three legs.  While Satchi is still not a lap cat, he has become much more sociable, seeking us out for cuddles and affection, and cuddling up on one of our beds each night.  He also has an adorable relationship with Peanut.

We really lucked out adopting two cats who are the best of friends.  Our cats are just the best.


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Peanut’s First Birthday

When we adopted Peanut in February, we were told he was three months old.  This gave him a November birthday.  The boys – particularly my youngest two – were very keen to celebrate Peanut’s very first birthday so they organised a little celebration party for him.  Peanut and Satchi shared a can of tuna, a special treat for them, and the humans got to eat some carrot cake.  It was sweet to see the kids making such a fuss for their cat’s birthday.  I cannot believe how much Peanut has grown in the nine months since we adopted him.  He is almost big enough to fit his ears now.



Celebrate Diversity

This week’s Colour Me Positive art journal theme was “Celebrate”.  I think the idea of the prompt was for it to be personal and reflective, asking participants to celebrate something about themselves.  However, my immediate idea was for a wider scope.  I wanted to create a page inspired by a celebration of diversity.

Apologies for getting political for a moment but I have been rather despondent this past week following the Brexit referendum back home in the UK, despondent and livid actually.  I have always felt Scottish first and European second – never British oddly enough – so I was dismayed by the rejection of Europe as an institution.  I have been even more disheartened by many reports of a seemingly related increase in racial and xenophobic incidents.  It seems that for some all of the chatter about “taking back Britain” is about going all the way back to Anglo-Saxon homogeneity.  I feel that Britain is and always has been the richer for all of its cultural absorption and assimilation, its thriving immigrant communities, its diversity, and I think Britain will be impoverished should it be permitted to become more insular, less tolerant, less welcoming, less inclusive.  Of course, here in America too we are facing an election that has been dominated by a lot of loud talk about exclusion and intolerance.  The politics of fear and hate are festering on both shores of the Atlantic.

That was very much on my mind as I sat down to work in my journal this week.  I, therefore, chose to celebrate diversity, multiculturalism, difference, the spectrum of human existence, the things that elevate human existence from dull monochrome and make it vibrant and bright and interesting.  Since there are Pride celebrations happening all over the globe this month too it was not a stretch to think  of the symbolism of the rainbow to symbolise that celebration of diversity.  My art journal page, therefore, is an ink and watercolour illustration of a girl twirling in a rainbow coloured ribbon, so many complicated thoughts and feelings distilled into one simple image.

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Celebrate Every Day

The week 3 art journal prompt for Colour Me Positive was about living life to the fullest and the quotation to accompany that was “Make today so awesome that yesterday gets jealous”.  Although I am a natural pessimist and prone to cynicism, that also means I am very well aware of how short life can be.  I do, therefore, very much believe in living each day purposefully, making each day matter.  It doesn’t have to be about living life to the full each day, of course.  That would be impractical and near impossible to sustain.  To me, it is more about seeing the significance of small decisions that make bigger differences overall: choosing to do something with my kids instead of doing housework; making time for my art instead of dusting more than once a week.  See a pattern here?  I keep my house clean and tidy but keeping it neat as a shiny new pin would come at too great an expense for me.  I doubt anyone ever has, as they gasp their last breath, ever wished they had spent more time dusting.  Small choices add up to a more fulfilled life.

Anyway, just to contradict myself, I have been struggling for spare time for art this week so I decided to challenge myself to create a journal page in fifteen minutes from beginning to end.  That way I could multi-task while having a cup of tea and overseeing cookies I had baking in the oven.  Limiting myself in such a way also helps me to just be playful and relaxed while working in my art journal instead of seeing it as a task or something I have to accomplish.  It is a short burst of creative fun that way.

After all that preamble, the page is self-explanatory, a simple ink and wash drawing, featuring some of my favourite animals to draw – a rabbit and a pig – and the newest member of the Pict family, our three-legged cat.

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Let Us Eat Cake

This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Patti Ballard and essentially it was a lesson in painting over collage.  Ballard had delivered a lesson earlier in the Life Book course and I had made a pig’s ear out of it.  I refer to that painting as the “monstrous mermaid”.  I did produce a replacement for that lesson, a replacement mermaid, but that experience meant that I determined I would actually stick with the instructions in the tutorial and not go so far off piste this time with Ballard’s second lesson.

Ballard’s exemplar was of a whimsical female figure with a celebratory cake.  I decided to follow her composition so as to reduce my risk of the lesson going pear-shaped – ever mindful of my mermaid mistakes – and I also stuck with making the figure whimsical.  The idea of a celebratory cake made me think of the famous line attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake”, so I used the French Queen as the inspiration for my figure, giving her a high stacked hairdo, a wide framed skirt and a fan.  I stamped the phrase “Let us eat cake” onto the painting to convey the idea of celebration, in keeping with the theme of the lesson.  The cake decided me upon using lots of saccharine pink in my palette.

I am quite pleased with how this painting turned out, partly because I feel like I have redeemed myself after my response to Ballard’s previous lesson.

Week 43 - Let Us Eat Cake

Fourth of July

Friday was only my second ever Independence Day spent in America and was the first for the children.  We have celebrated Independence Day in Britain because Mr Pict is half-American and frankly because it is a good excuse to barbecue and feast.  However, without the festival atmosphere, the red, white and blue everywhere and the fireworks, it could never be quite the same.

This Independence Day, therefore, was special because it was our first one spent in America as a family and also because my parents are here visiting.  The fact that three of us are fully non-American did not deter us.  We might be British but we all believe in a nation’s right to self-determination anyway so even politically we would have supported the Revolution.  And, of course, we get to barbecue and feast.  All celebrations end up revolving around food so this was no exception.  Mr Pict grilled up everything from hot dogs and sausages to pork chops, steak and chicken and I made up salads and potato salads.  Because we were not quite bloated enough, we then had chocolate cream pie or a patriotically decorated sponge cake.



The only other time I have been in America for Independence Day was 19 years ago.  Mr Pict and I sat on the hard, cold, bum-numbing steps of the Lincoln Memorial for hours to snag a prime spot for viewing the fireworks over the National Mall.  That was a pretty spectacular experience but our rumps did pay the price.  This time we decided to keep it simple by staying locally so we headed out to one of the local High Schools to view their fireworks display.  Woefully ill-prepared, we had entirely failed to move our new lawn chairs into the boot (trunk) of the bigger car and we didn’t even have a blanket to sit on.  We were going to plonk ourselves on the grass when we spotted a long bench tipped over so we were able to right it and perch on it.  A chap running for Congress was offering people free water ice (which is a bit like a UK slushy) so the boys even got to have a snack despite having parents who had not adequately forward-planned.

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Daylight swiftly became dusk and settled into darkness and the sense of anticipation and expectation was palpable as the sky darkened to an inky blue.  Finally the fireworks started.  My kids are used to fireworks being in November (for Guy Fawkes night) and have usually watched displays while standing on the side of a loch, freezing cold and with their welly boots sinking further into sodden grass.  The only exception was watching fireworks during the last Summer Olympics.  It was, therefore, a welcome and lovely experience to be sitting on a balmy night watching the sky lit up with colourful, sparkling gunpowder.  It was a really good fireworks display with a fantastic finale.  We would definitely go to the same event in future years.

Overall it was a very successful Independence Day.

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Burn’s Night

Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet.  I have celebrated Burns’ Night every year of my life as far as I can recollect.  When I was at Primary School, we used to get haggis, neeps and tatties and a glass of Irn Bru for school dinners.  When I was in Halls of Residence at University, I recited ‘Tam O’Shanter’ as part of the evening’s celebrations.  In a later year at University, I helped organise a Burns’ Night supper.  It is part of my culture as a Scot to celebrate Burns’ night and I also happen to love Burns’ poetry quite independently of any patriotism.  Around the globe, the Scots diaspora will today be piping, slicing into steaming haggis, reciting poetry and singing songs and quaffing whisky.  Unfortunately I will not be among them.  I totally brain-farted and left it too late to research where I might get my mitts on some haggis and some vegetarian haggis here in America.  So tonight  I will still read some Burns poems to the kids but Mr Pict and the boys will be having spaghetti bolognese and I will be having some other type of pasta.  I’m sure Rabbie would have approved.

I have lots of favourite Burns’ poems, depending on which mood I am in, but right now as I type this blog this one is top of the heap.  It is actually a beautiful song as well as being a lovely poem so if you are not familiar with it I recommend you go and find someone singing it on YouTube.



Green Grow The Rashes

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There’s nought but care on ev’ry han’ ,

In ev’ry hour that passes, O:

What signifies the life o’ man,

An’ ’twere na for the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

The war’ly race may riches chase, –

An’ riches still may fly them, O;

An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast,

Their hearts can ne’er enjoy them, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

But gie me a cannie hour at e’en ,

My arms about my dearie, O;

An’ war’ly cares, an’ war’ly men,

May a’ gae tapsalteerie , O!

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

For you sae douce , ye sneer at this;

Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O:

The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw ,

He dearly lov’d the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears

Her noblest work she classes, O:

Her prentice han’ she try’d on man,

An’ then she made the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.