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.

Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia

The main focus of my birthday trip to Philadelphia was to visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house in the city.  We decided to walk there from the Independence Hall area since it was a lovely Autumn day and it was only about a half hour walk.  The only snag was that we had to cross a major road but we did so safely since the traffic was moving slowly.  Still, we returned by a different route.  When Poe had lived in that property, it had actually been outside the city limits so it was interesting to think how much the city has sprawled since then.


Poe’s house is one of three in which he lived in Philly but the only one still standing.  The property has been administered by the National Park Service as a National Historic Site since the 1970s and has been expanded to include two adjacent properties – which I think post-date Poe having lived there – so that one provides space for the museum and one for an additional staircase with fire doors.  Nevertheless, this Poe house was modest but much bigger than his Baltimore home, which we had visited in August.  A Ranger explained that he had been able to afford a year’s rent there after winning a literary prize.  The rooms were much more light and spacious than they had been in the dark and cramped Baltimore home and the staircases, while steep and narrow, were not as claustrophobic as in that property either.



The house is kept in a state of “arrested decay”.  The spaces, therefore, give an impression of how Poe, his wife-cousin, and aunt-mother-in-law would have lived but they have not been furnished and there are no personal Poe family possessions on display.  I liked all of the walls covered in layers of peeled paint and the boys loved all of the closets.





A highlight of the house was the cellar.  Since Poe is associated with all things eerie and creepy, it was fun to be in a dark and dingy cellar in one of his houses.  The Ranger had also sparked the boys’ imaginations by asking them where in the cellar they would stash a corpse.  Worryingly, they identified several possibilities.  Perhaps I should just be glad they are problem-solvers.  It is apparently possible that the cellar inspired the one described in ‘The Black Cat’ which appealed to my cat-obsessed 8 year old.




In the museum area of the site, in one of the houses that would have neighboured Poe’s one, there was a room set up as a reading room and a book case full of Poe’s works, books directly inspired by his works, and some volumes of Poe criticism.  My youngest son settled at a table and read a picture book.  Outside the property, there was a metal raven statue that we all liked and we also spotted a Poe mural on the gable end of a row of houses nearby.  So that was Poe’s Philly house and now I only have his cottage in the Bronx left to visit.  It is on my travel bucket list.




We departed Poe’s house and walked back towards the centre of the city.  We stopped in at Reading Terminal Market.  The only other time I have gone in there was also for my birthday trip, back in 2013 just after we had emigrated to America.  That was a bit of a disaster of a day and we had literally walked into one door of the market and immediately out of another because the kids were fizzing out due to the crowds.  It was definitely less crowded on that Saturday evening but the narrow rows between food stalls still made it feel a bit too bustling for me.  I really don’t do crowds.  My kids are mini foodies so their eyes lit up at the possibility of buying some special treat foods.  We came away with Cajun bacon, some fancy type of jerky, and some root beer – none of which are things I consume.  Then – because we were not done being foodies – we went to a restaurant named Indeblue that serves Indian cuisine.  All of we Picts love curries and Indian flavours so we ordered a selection of items from the menu to share as a smorgasbord.  It was all perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious and was the perfect way to end my celebratory day.





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 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.

3 - Living Life Fully - Celebrate Every Day - Art Journal Page

Holiday Traditions

One week into December and our holiday traditions are underway.  Despite not being Christians, we celebrate a secular version of Christmas as both Mr Pict and I were brought up with Christmas and wanted to keep those traditions going when we had kids of our own.  Of course, some of the traditions we had back in Britain have had to be mothballed since we emigrated to America.  Pantomimes, for instance, do happen here but are far too expensive for us to attend so no more pantomimes for us for the time being.  We have, however, started new traditions since moving here.  It seems those are already ingrained since the kids were determined that we were going to do the exact same things this year that we have done before.

First among these was the Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm.  We first went in 2013 for our first American Christmas and then again last year.  I offered a suggestion that we do something different this year, another light show even, but the kids shot my suggestions down.  They want repetition and tradition.  So off to Shady Brook Farm we went.  I think the kids like that we drive through all the illuminations, cosy in the car, not having to wander around in the chill night.  They had fun seeing old favourites among the lights and spotting some new additions.  Then we parked up and got out to see the tree and buy some kettle corn and visit the farm shop.  The place was jam packed with people, however, so we didn’t stay too long.









December also means the return of advent traditions to help the kids count down to Christmas Day.  We have a small wooden chest full of drawers that gets open every day plus a Playmobil advent calendar, both traditions we have had since the kids were tiny wee, but now we also have Noel, our Elf on the Shelf.  Now there is a tradition I regret starting.  We don’t do the whole “magical” bit.  The kids know fine well it is me who moves the Elf each night and they know that the Elf is not reporting back to Santa.  For them, finding Noel each morning is just a fun wee treasure hunt.  They look forward to seeing what Elf s up to, either some kind of antics or else a message for them regarding a festive activity.  All harmless fun except that I have to remember to move the ruddy Elf every evening.  Already, a mere week in, I have had to get back out of bed in order to go and move him somewhere, having been jolted out of the land of Nod by the sudden remembrance that Noel is exactly where he was the 24 hours before.  I am also struggling to be very creative with him.  Some people do these amazingly elaborate set ups with their Elves.  Not me.  I just hide Noel somewhere.  If I do a set up, it’s usually something that makes the kids chuckle rather than create magic.  Noel pooped chocolate into a jar the other day.  On the first day, he was found under the Christmas tree with a bottle of liqueur.  That was just as well since I failed to move him that night and I had the excuse of an Elf hangover for why he hadn’t moved.

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One day, Noel the Elf was found with a gingerbread house ready to be decorated.  I once baked a gingerbread house from scratch but I had a conniption trying to get the walls to stick together with icing and it ended up looking like a total hovel.  I discovered prefabricated gingerbread houses when we emigrated and, therefore, they can become part of our family’s holiday traditions without me losing the plot.  The three younger boys had a lot of sticky fun decorating the house and eating the surplus construction supplies.


We decorated the house for Christmas right after Thanksgiving.  Mr Pict would rather wait until later into December but all the hassle involved in decorating makes me want to have it last for a good few weeks, more return for my investment.  I don’t go overboard.  We don’t decorate the exterior of the house.  Yet.  Mr Pict wants to get stuff for outside but I don’t know that I could deal with the additional hassle.  Bah humbug.  Sorting out the twinkly lights for the Christmas tree was quite enough stress, thanks very much.  It was worth it though: the formal living room has a lovely glow to it now.



The sweetest thing, however, is that my 6 and 8 year old boys made their own advent calendar.  Playing outside in the garden one evening, they gathered up 12 rocks and decorated them with a sharpie in order to depict the Twelve Days of Christmas.  They then brought it indoors and arranged it on the kitchen floor as a surprise.  Which it was.  A delightful surprise.  I do love it when my kids are creative, experience a spark of inspiration.  We now have the rocks arranged on the windowsill.  Just to add to the cuteness, my youngest keeps singing that the third day is “three henchmen”.  I am now changing the lyrics in our household.  That’s another new holiday tradition.

Advent Stones



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

Celebrating Double Digits in the Poconos


My second oldest son turned ten this weekend.  Double digits is a really big deal so we decided to make a big deal out of it.  Since his birthday fell on a weekend, we decided to whisk the kids off for an overnight stay in a hotel.  We got a cheap – double digits indeed – room in a hotel just outside Scranton that had a swimming pool and breakfast included.

After a morning of card and gift opening, we piled into the car and headed off into the Poconos.  Saturday was a grey day of drizzle and chill winds so we focused on indoor activities.  First up was Country Junction, the general store we seem compelled to visit every time we are in the area.  It is a bizarre and entirely bonkers place and I highly recommend that you stop by should you ever be in the area.  The kids always have a blast wandering around and looking at all the weird and wonderful items of decor, popping in to watch a bit of a movie in the cinema room, pressing all the interactive buttons, collecting eggs for a treat at the end, and visiting the animals in the pet shop area – all by following the yellow brick road.  An indication of the randomness of Country Junction is the contents of my shopping trolley: I bought two non-stick loaf tins, four pots of cheap pick’n’mix and a squeaky rubber pig.  More indoor fun was had when we reached the hotel as the boys jumped and splashed around in the pool until they had built up an appetite for dinner.  There was a restaurant next door to the hotel so we did not even have to get back in the car to go out for the birthday meal.  We were all so stuffed by our main courses and salad bar visits that we did not even make it to dessert.

Sunday was thankfully much brighter and warmer so we were able to take the boys for some outdoor excursions.  First up was the outdoor section of the Steamtown  rail museum in Scranton, which can be accessed via the Mall.  This is a collection – gathered by one man in the 1950s I believe – of steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars.  Mr Pict and I had visited there in April 2014 as part of a day photographing dilapidated and decayed sites but this was the boys’ first time there.  They moaned that they were not allowed to clamber onto every train and that they were not allowed to wander into the carriages but they had fun nevertheless.  They climbed onto trains, scrambled over piles of gravel, got grubby picking up lumps of coal, and raced each other while balancing on railway lines.











From industry to nature, our concluding excursion was to the Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park.  Mr Pict and I first went there alone but then took the kids there on Father’s Day in 2014 and it is fast becoming a favourite spot.  The theory is that this unique geological landscape was formed in the valley by successive freezing and thawing processes that cracked the rock and turned it into large boulders.  My kids just love leaping from rock to rock and seeing how quickly they can get from the car park end of the site to the other end, quite a decent distance.  I meanwhile do not feel so confident on my feet.  The instability triggers the wobbliness I normally get from my fear of heights and I am frankly not as swift and nimble as my kids either.  I, therefore, chose to only wander so far out into the field and then find a nice flat rock to sit on while watching my kids becoming brightly coloured dots on the horizon line.




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Our weekend away was full of relaxed fun and worked well as a celebration of being ten years old.

The Littlest Pict is Six

Our youngest son turned six on Tuesday.  The gifts were an explosion of Minions.  He’s fanatical about those crazy wee yellow guys so present after present was minion themed.  Even the cards that his brothers made for him featured minions.  There were minion sets to build, minion bubble bath, a minion shaped pillow, a minion blanket an minion googles.  The three gifts he received that strayed from that theme were a jumper covered in bugs and creepy crawlies, the Paddington movie on DVD and a dancing baby Groot Pop.


After a day at school, during which time he distributed candy treats to his classmates, he was allowed to choose the birthday meal.  He chose McDonalds.  Ugh.  My older kids have always chosen a home-cooked meal, curry being a particular favourite, but no, this kid wanted to eat junk for his birthday dinner.  As we trekked to McDonalds and munched our greasy food, I felt like a failed parent.  We maybe need to look again at our birthday dinner rule.  Then it was home for a cake with frosting so sweet it made my teeth curl.  But the Littlest Pict had a terrific day and that was the important thing.



A Very Bacon Birthday

Yesterday our oldest son turned 12.  It is astonishing to us as his parents how a dozen years could have passed already but they have and we now have a mere year in which to brace ourselves for becoming the parents of a teenager.  His presents included some Funko Pop figures to add to his collection, an ‘Adventure Time’ version of monopoly, a pop-up book of Poe stories, some video recording software and a whole bunch of bacon themed items because he has recently become fanatical about bacon.

Unfortunately he not only had to attend school on his birthday but had state tests to take.  Exams are not an ideal way to celebrate a birthday but we tried to make up for it by letting him choose what we would eat for dinner.  He asked if we could go to Wawa to order hoagies.  Wawa is like a roadside convenience store, a rival of 7/11, and they have these little touchscreens where you can select the ingredients of a hoagie – or order other food – and then it is made up for you.  My kids are definitely small town, rural kids because they still get excited by lifts (elevators) and escalators – you would think they were fairground rides – and the technology involved in getting to construct a sandwich seems to be entertainment for them too.  They have only been allowed to do it twice before so we went with it as a birthday treat.  This meal of hoagies was then followed by a celebratory ice cream cake.  The ice cream cake did not contain bacon.