Kids and Cats in Quarantine

Since we obviously have not been on any family day trips or outings, I am not generating much blog fodder.  I thought, therefore, I would just share some of the things we have been up to at home in these last 6 weeks.

Distance learning has become a big part of our weekdays.  The homeschool day does not last as long as the actual school day but it is still pretty demanding and somewhat intense.  This is especially the case with adapting to all of the technology and software.  The older three boys are more used to using their chromebooks for school work but it has been a complete switch in modes of learning for our youngest son and he and I have been on a steep learning curve.  My oldest son has to rescue us at least once per day, usually more.  We are gradually settling into a routine and rhythm, however, and everyone has found their preferred space for working.

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My 14 year old is definitely the Pict family member who is making the most of lockdown.  He has almost finished making everyone’s Christmas presents already, he created some Mad Max inspired cars, and he made a large batch of beef jerky that should have lasted him and his brothers a lot longer than it did.

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We’ve been doing some goofy stuff, like messing around with the google animal photos feature, but we have also participated in some fun neighbourhood activities aimed at entertaining the youngest members of the community when they are on their daily walks.  We had love hearts for them to spot, an Easter/Spring themed hunt, set out teddy bears for “Going on a Bear Hunt”, and several other themes so far.

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I had to process the fact that my year with my preschool students had come to an abrupt end.  Then I set about making them “learning at home” packets and my oldest son helped me make videos of storybook readings.

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The cats seem to be enjoying having us all home 24/7.  Peanut, the ginger cat, is very much a people person and lap cat (or anywhere on your body cat) so he is in his element being permanently attached to someone.  Satchi, the fluffy, grey, three-legged cat, still picks and chooses when he wants to interact with us but he seems to be enjoying having more options throughout the day.  As you can see, he loves to squeeze himself into tiny boxes.

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We’ve played lots of board games, eaten a lot of home baking, the older boys have been indulging in movie marathons, and we are generally just keeping ourselves busy and balancing out time apart with time together.  We certainly haven’t grasped this as an opportunity for self-improvement (not so far anyway) but we are muddling along just fine.  Life is weird and strange right now, certainly somewhat unsettling, but life is also good and it is useful to stop and reflect on that now and again.

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.

Final Escapades of 2019

Trigger Warning: This blog post contains photos of spiders and other bugs.

Happy New Year!

This brief blog post is a precis of the last Pict family escapades of 2019, what we got up to over winter break.  We were not overly ambitious or adventurous, choosing to stick fairly close to home and keeping each outing brief, because our focus was on quality family time, enjoying each other’s company, and relaxing after what has been a stressful, chaotic, and busy few months.

The first family event of winter break was a cinema trip to see ‘Rise of Skywalker’.  We are a family of Star Wars nerds.  Mr Pict and I have loved it since we were kids and so we introduced it to each of the boys when they were babies. We, therefore, had to see the latest installment in the saga as soon as we possibly could.

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Mr Pict and I took our youngest son into Philly to see the Christmas lights and wander around the market that sets up near city hall every holiday season.  The light show that projects images onto the facade of city hall is well done, though the accompanying music could have been louder.  I really detest crowds but at least the throngs were all people in good spirits and nobody was in a particular rush.  It did, however, make me appreciate the relative peace and quiet of the adjacent garden space with its antler clad figures and twinkling fairy lights.  We had a wander around the market stalls, just taking in the sights, sounds, and smells.  We were not making any purchases so didn’t have to get involved with any jostling and thankfully we didn’t need any refreshments because the queues for food were astounding.  The whole area of the city had a good buzz to it.  I think maybe sparkling lights make everything feel better.

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We had a lovely Christmas Day, full of fun and feasting.  My personal highlight was receiving a Little Baby Yoda made for me by my 14 year old son.

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Mr Pict took our 12 year old skiing in the Poconos.  I have never had an interest in skiing but Mr Pict introduced all of the boys to the sport a few years ago.  Our current 12 year old is the only one who took to it so a day of skiing has become an annual event for the two of them.

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Finally, we had some tickets for the Insectarium so we took a trip there just before the new year.  Our only previous visit there had been in our first winter in Pennsylvania, almost exactly six years ago.  It was the subject of one of my early blog posts.  Much of the Insectarium was the same but the building has also expanded so it includes a butterfly pavilion.  We enjoyed wandering among the large butterflies, most of which were the same species.  I cannot remember the name of them but they were large with brown patterned wings which opened up to reveal a stunning, shiny blue.  They also seemed to be fond of eating oranges.  The absolute highlight of our time there for my youngest son and me, however, was being permitted to hold a tarantula.  We loved it.  I was completely smitten.

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That concludes my round up of the last embers of 2019.  Let’s see what is in store for us in 2020.

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Happy Holidays!

Thank you for finding and reading my blog and interacting with me for another year.  I shall not be sorry to say goodbye to 2019 – something I feel like I think every single year.  Is that why we look forward to the new year, because every single year of adulthood is just mentally taxing and emotionally exhausting?  Anyway, let’s see what 2020 has to offer.

From my family to yours, enjoy the festive season – whether or however you celebrate – I hope you dust off the cobwebs of 2019 and I wish you all the very best for 2020.

Laura

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PS  Is 2020 the year in which I become the shortest member of my family?

1916 Shark Attacks Trip

Our 12 year old has an obsession with sharks.  This is partly because he fears them and partly because he thinks they are fantastic creatures.  This obsession has led him to becoming a bit of a mini-expert on the (in)famous 1916 shark attacks.  I appreciate that some readers might think this is a bit of a tasteless topic to allow a tween boy to become obsessed with but a) we are nerds rearing other nerds and b) we encourage our sons’ curiosity and support their interests.  After all, our kids are being raised by parents who are – among other things – interested in the American Civil War, zombies, pandemics, the history of sideshows, and true crime.  It’s how we roll.  Anyway, at the (shark) tail end of Shark Week, we decided to facilitate our little shark nerd by taking a trip to the Jersey Shore to visit sites relevant to the attacks that occurred in 1916.

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While it would have been neater to visit the sites in chronological order, other factors dictated that we actually undertake the trip in reverse order.  We, therefore, started our trip in the town of Matawan.  The final attack actually occurred at Cliffwood when 12 year old Joseph Dunn was attacked as he was clambering out of the water.  Thankfully he survived.  Matawan was the site, therefore, not of the final attack but of the final fatal attack.  One of the reasons the 1916 shark attacks are so notorious is because of the bizarre fact that the final attacks occurred in an inland creek and not in saltwater.  It was 12 July and some boys had just gotten off work from the factory where they were employed and headed to the creek to swim.  Obviously there was no way these poor kids could possibly anticipate that a shark would be present in the water and unfortunately one little boy, Lester Stillwell, was killed.  The other boys alerted the folks of Matawan and tailor Stanley Fisher leapt to action.  He dived into the creek to recover little Lester and was himself attacked.  Heroic Stanley was quickly lifted from the water, placed onto a train to get him to hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries.  My research had made it apparent that there was no way for us to access the swimming hole without committing an act of trespass and probably doing battle with poisonous plants.  Our 12 year old, therefore, made do with visiting a part of Matawan Creek that had safe public access.

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We then visited Rose Hill Cemetery, a lovely, peaceful, shady spot where both Lester Stillwell and Stanley Fisher are buried.  Little Lester’s grave is sited near a pond that was absolutely covered in blooming lily pads.  It was a pretty and serene spot.  Previous visitors had left little toys and trinkets for Lester so evidently we were not the only people who had undertaken this trip.  On a little grassy promontory, we located the grave of Stanley Fisher.  It seemed apt that his grave overlooked that of Lester just as, in life, he had been looking out for the boy.  We also stopped by to see a memorial that was placed in a park to commemorate the centenary of the tragedy.

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After Matawan, we went slightly off-theme.  It would be entirely off-theme except that the location is on Raritan Bay and it was in that body of water that the alleged man-eater shark was caught.  I write alleged because we cannot know for sure that they captured the correct shark or indeed that only one shark was responsible for all of the attacks that happened over the course of those 12 days in July 1916.  Anyway, since we were in the vicinity, we thought we would go and check out the National Park at Sandy Hook to see if it was worth making that the focus of a day trip at some point in the future.  The answer is “Yes” so I won’t go into too much detail in this blog post since we plan to return and visit properly at some point.  I love lighthouses so it has one of those for me and it has Fort Hancock so has some military history for Mr Pict.  For the kids, it has wide open space for them to be feral and access to beaches.

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Back on topic, our next location was in Spring Lake.  This was where, on 6 July 1916, Charles Bruder was attacked.  The poor man was so severely injured that he died on the lifeboat as it made its way back to shore.  Bruder had been employed as a bellhop at the Essex & Sussex Hotel.  The building is still standing, though it is now a condominium block, so our 12 year old was able to see where Bruder lived and worked as well as the section of shoreline where the tragedy occurred.

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Our final location for the day was Beach Haven, on Long Beach Island.  We had been to Long Beach Island previously – and even found a dead shark on the beach – but that was before our son had researched the 1916 attacks and knew of its relevance.  Beach Haven was the site of the first attack, on 1 July, when a young man from Philadelphia named Charles Vansant was attacked.  His rescuers pulled him from the water and carried him into the hotel where he was a guest but tragically he died.  The Engleside Hotel was demolished in the 1940s but we could visit the place where it once stood as it became a Veterans Memorial Park.  We then headed down to the beach.  It being the conclusion of our trip and getting near the end of the day, we opted to spend some time relaxing and having fun there.  Amazingly  – given the theme of the day – the 12 year old with the mild phobia of water went swimming in the sea and had a wonderful time.

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Next time we go to the Shore, we will commit to doing what more regular folks do.

Canada Trip #16 – Fort Henry and Kingston

Our only “big” trip out during our week staying at the lake house was to Kingston.  Kingston is a historic city, since it was united Canada’s first capital.  For three years.  Still, its historic significance means it has lots of quaint streets and interesting architecture.  The focus of our trip, however, was a visit to Fort Henry.

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Fort Henry was built during the War of 1812 and the site was important because it was at the head of the St Lawrence River.  I don’t get defensive  strategy but I’ve had enough exposure to military history to know that ports, major waterways, and railway intersections are important.  And also peach orchards if it’s the Civil War.  It didn’t last long as an actual fort in the whole scheme of things, however, as it has been a tourist attraction since the 1930s.

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The upper fort comprises what I guess were once storage warehouses that have been turned into shops and cafes.  We, therefore, headed down to the lower fort  – which was the “museum” bit of the Fort – and into a couple of rooms built into the gateway wall.  One contained an array of uniforms for the kids – and adults – to try on.  I preferred the opposite room which contained a cabinet filled with chunky vintage keys.  We also visited the cells – and, man, they had a lot of cells so those soldiers either must have been up no good a lot of the time or else they had too many petty offences on the books such as loudly burping in public or shoes being adequately shiny.  The cells, however, might have been preferable to the privies.  I personally would have preferred a stint in the cells than having to go about my business in a row of other people doing the same.

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We were also able to visit a few kitchens, some more rustic and some more formal, and we even saw some women baking pretzels in the original ovens.  They made the whole place smell delicious.  They were not the only staff in costume either.  Indeed, the whole fort was manned by folks dressed up in period clothing.  One of these was a teacher and we sat in her classroom for a mathematics lesson.  The experience taught the kids in the room about the differences between the ways in which each gender was educated, what some of the expectations of classroom behaviour were, and what some of the punishments were for disobeying those rules.

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Along the length of one corridor, we could view the finely decorated rooms in the officers’ quarters.  We had also seen a furnished barrack room for the non-commissioned men and the differences were pretty stark.  We passed through a room full of barrels – lots of alcohol consumption in the military, of course, and that led us into a room where we could choose to stay on the same level or take a detour down to the cellar level.  We love exploring dank, dark, and potentially spooky places so it was a no-brainer plus a warning sign about bats was read by us as a promise.  We all love bats.  Alas, and much to the chagrin of the Pictlings, we did not encounter a single bat nor did I see or smell any signs of them.  False advertising.

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Up on the ramparts, we could poke among the canons and gain a better appreciation of the shape of the fort.  We could also watch a troop of faux soldiers rehearsing their drill.  We didn’t want to catch too much of what they were up to, however, because we did not want a spoiler of the actual performance so we skedaddled.

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It was definitely time to eat by this point in the day, our schedule meaning we were having to combine lunch and dinner (dunch? linner?), so we headed into the centre of Kingston.  Mr Pict had been up to some googling so we ended up at a German restaurant.  I don’t eat meat which often completely rules out German cuisine and, as such, I don’t think the boys have ever eaten German food.  What better time to introduce them to new foods than when they are hangry and have been dragged around a fort in the searing heat against their will?  It actually proved to be an unexpected success – especially for our 16 year old who, like his father, is an enthusiastic carnivore.  Filled up and refreshed from some time spent with air conditioning, we had a bit of an explore of central Kingston.  Our youngest son – the one obsessed with cats – was delighted to pass many window displays with a feline theme.  For my part, I enjoyed seeing Kingston Penitentiary.  I would have liked to have visit but time did not permit.  Among the (in)famous prisoners who served their sentences within its walls was Grace Marks, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘Alias Grace’.

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After wandering around Kingston for a bit, we still had some time to “waste” so we headed over to Kingston’s section of the Rideau Canal.  The Rideau Canal stretches all the way from Ottawa to the St Lawrence.  Having visited one end of the canal when I was in Ottawa back in 2001, it was apt that I visit its other end in Kingston, where the canal system meets the Cataraqui River.  Just as with Fort Henry, the catalyst for construction was the War of 1812 (a conflict I know a woeful amount about while having little intention of deliberately learning more) because the British wanted to ensure a supply route.  It’s possible that as many as a thousand people died while building the canal, often from malaria.  This was a factoid I learned while, yet again, being bitten by swarms of flying insects.

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After whiling away some time around the canal locks, it was time to return to Fort Henry.  We had tickets for the Sunset Ceremony so we headed back into the lower fort, clambered up onto some bleachers, and gobbled up some beaver tails while waiting for the evening’s entertainment to start.  The ceremony was a demonstration of military drills, music, artillery, and fireworks – and a walk on part by the goat mascot.  The whole performance was very polished, with lots of precise movements, great visuals, and an informative narration.  The kids had been very skeptical about the value of returning to the fort but they all thoroughly enjoyed the show.

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Canada Trip #15 – Gananoque

Gananoque is the main town in the proximity of Lake Charleston.  We needed to grab a few provisions so we headed into town and thought we would take some time to explore as well as do the practical job of grocery shopping.  I had thought we would visit the local museum in order to learn something of the history of the Thousand Islands – Gananoque being the launching point for day cruises around and to the islands – but the kids did their peasant revolt thing and Mr Pict was not feeling it either.  They had all really got into the vibe of an inactive vacation whereas I was still in the mindset of needing to fill time with activity.

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Gananoque’s main street – King Street – looked like a pleasant place for a wander so we decided to park up the car and get out for a stroll.  We had a nose around a few of the stores.  The one we spent a lot of time in was a book store.  It sold a mixture of new and second hand books and all were arranged on shelves by genre.  The usual methods of categorisation were present – such as classics and crime fiction – but there were also fun ways of organising the books such as books that are much better to read than their movie adaptation might suggest.  I have a slight addiction to buying second hand books – often leaving our local library with a bargain from their discard shelves – but I managed to resist temptation.  Mr Pict bought a couple of history books.

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We bought some drinks and ice creams from a lovely little cafe and were super-excited to see that, among the baked goods it had for sale, they had millionaires shortbread.  This is just blocks of shortbread with a topping of thick, oozy caramel, and a slab of chocolate as its lid.  What we were excited about was the fact they called it millionaires shortbread which is a label we have not seen since we left Scotland.  A little taste of home does the soul good so we bought some to have for dessert that night.

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Last stop in Gananoque was to see a statue of a fish that sits in the grounds of a motel complex.  It celebrates the world’s largest muskie (which I did not even know was a type of fish) that was caught locally.  The fish weighed something like 70lbs, which I guess is quite a lot of fish.  I don’t fish, have no interest in ever doing so, and clearly know nothing about it since I did not even know a muskie was a thing.  I do, however, love random roadside monuments, especially anything carrying the label of “world’s largest”, so I had to go check it out.  It was just a massive concrete sculpture of a leaping fish but I was happy to achieve something touristy.

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