Rainbow Art Journal – Lighthouse

I feel like I have been working on my Rainbow Art Journal for an eternity. I definitely work on this project in fits and starts with long periods of neglect. Deciding it was time I got those mixed media muscles working again, I cracked open my Rainbow Art Journal and play around with some acrylic – a medium I have not used in months.

I am still malingering in the blue section of the Art Journal. I don’t think I am even half way through the pages yet but finally getting to the end of the blue section will, I suspect, feel like movement*. Blue often makes me think of sea and sky so that is what inspired this illustration of a lighthouse. It did not take me long to recognise the extent to which my painting skills have atrophied due to an extended period of not practicing. The results are ugly. It’s a very rough and patchy page and my lines are very wonky and wobbly, even by my own standards. It was tempting to give everything an additional coat of paint and start over but a) I did not have the time available and b) I figured it would be a place marker in my Art Journal, demarcating where I returned to the project and started over, and therefore provide a measure of the progress I can make from this point forward.

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*A check of my blog reveals that I embarked on the blue section in September of last year. Even more staggering is the fact that I started the whole Rainbow Art Journal in January of 2017. I really am tortoising my way through this project!

First Day of Virtual School

Can I just state that I deserve all of the acting awards for insisting to my kids that everything about online education would be functional (I made sure not to oversell with superlatives I could not deliver on) while behind the facade I was pivoting between screaming panic and weeping skepticism.  As a parent, I am obliged to create an atmosphere of calm for my offspring but there was one day earlier this month where I hid out in a closet so I could weep tears of rage and frustration.  Weird fact about me:  I really don’t cry very often but, when I do, it is usually because I am a human pressure cooker and it is a release of frustration.  I have had to contend with a sudden influx of a gazillion emails per child, some of which has content so opaque that I needed to be an espionage level code breaker to figure it out.  And some of those emails also contradict each other and contain broken links.  So that’s great.  Meanwhile my gigantic kitchen pin board is so chock full of print outs of schedules and associated material that it looks like a crime solving board from a police procedural show.  All I need is the red string.

However, the boys each have a designated study area – or areas in the case of one child – and their own chromebooks so everything looks organized and ordered.  Calm space for a calm mind, right?

I now have a Senior:

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A High School Freshman:

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An 8th Grader:

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And a 6th Grader embarking on Middle School:

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And apparently Peanut decided it was his first day as Cheerleading School Mascot:

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Luckily I was home for the first day of school.  Going forwards, however, I am back in my preschool classroom so the boys will be flying solo at online school.  This should not pose too much of a difficulty for my older children but it is a bit of a stressor when it comes to my youngest.  He is not only transitioning to Middle School – having to navigate different subjects and teachers and stay on top of a schedule – but he is also a student with an IEP used to having support.  Since he has both autism and ADD (of the inattentive kind), learning through the medium of a screen is far from ideal.  I have reduced my hours at work for the short term (thanks to some understanding colleagues) so that I can be home in the afternoons to function as his aide.  Hopefully he picks up the routine and operating systems quickly.  I am also thankful to have sons who have agreed to check in with him when they have breaks between classes or study hall.

It is certainly going to be a memorable school year!

Basement Makeover

As you may recall, our basement flooded in late June.  We lost a great number of possessions, the damage was pretty catastrophic, and my stress levels were elevated for several months as we dealt with the aftermath, including a lengthy renovation process.

A week after the initial flood, our basement was a shell.  Most of the walls had been ripped out, the carpeting was gone, fried electrical equipment had been disconnected, but things were dry, our insurance company paid out pretty quickly (though the funds covered a small fraction of the costs), and we had accepted that we had a long road ahead of us.  Incidentally, we had to pay a fine for not having pulled a permit giving us permission to conduct the demolition – even though the insurance company, health and safety, and common sense required that we complete the demolition on far too tight a timeline for that to have been feasible.

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Fighting through layers upon layers of red tape was a persistent, aggravating, and stressful theme of this whole restoration process.  As with so much of our contact with bureaucracy, we found that we were caught in this perpetual Catch 22 of submitting paperwork which we were then told could not be accepted and filed because it was missing some components or that more detail was required but they could not inform us as to what we needed to do to successfully amend it.  Over and over this was our experience.  Thankfully the inspectors that came to the house were always pleasant and helpful but, man, there were a lot of inspections for us to get through at various stages of the work.  This, therefore, extended the timeline for the whole project as work would have to shut down in order for us to be inspected, submit the next permit, and be given permission to proceed to the next stage of work.  It was frustrating and mentally exhausting.

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As I wrote before, we were grateful that, while our basement was finished, it was overdue for a makeover.  I think the basement had been finished in the late 1970s with a bit of remediation work done some point in the 1980s.  We, therefore, decided to focus on the silver lining of having this opportunity to really turn this useful but dark and dated space into a light and appealing living space.  Having the space reduced to its bare bones even provided us with the ability to spruce up the electrics and the airflow for heating.  We installed two egress windows so that we could turn the basement into living space, including a bedroom, and those let in a whole lot more light than the hideous windows there before.

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Anyway, after all of the hassle, expense, stress, and frustration, we now have two lovely rooms in the basement.  One is a teenage hangout space for our four boys (which they are especially loving during this social distancing time) and one is a bedroom that means all four of our boys can now have their own bedrooms.  Our soon-to-be 13 year old has the basement bedroom and is loving it.

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We still have some decorating to do in the basement – pictures up on the wall and that type of thing – but that is all on hold right now because of the Covid 19 pandemic.  However, I am sure you can see from the photos how much the space has been transformed.

As a reminder, this is what the basement looked like not long after we moved into the house.

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And this is what it looks like now.

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Rainbow Art Journal – Valley Cottage

I had this page that was covered in smears and spatters of leftover green paint, washi tape, and offcuts of origami paper.  I had placed the collage elements with the intention of them eventually becoming some sort of landscape.  Once I began to draw lines around the patches, the drawing started to take form and I had the idea of where the cottage should be placed within the scene.  The finished piece is reminiscent of a journal page I created in 2017 and a page from the orange section of this rainbow art journal.  I guess this is my style and approach to landscapes.

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Basement Flood and Absence

Apologies for being so quiet in recent weeks, not only on my own blog but more so on the blogs of those I follow.  Free time has been in extremely short supply and it has not been possible to find time to read blog posts or do any art or really do anything in my spare time other than flop on the sofa in front of the TV or collapse into bed and read until the book wallops my in my snoozing face.  Summer should be a more chill time for me since I am off work and the kids aren’t in school.  However, our summer did not get off to the best start.

As followers of my blog may know from a previous mention, our basement flooded.  We had a week of almost perpetual torrential rain during which our sump pump failed.  Consequently, the basement of our house flooded, something we discovered only when one of the boys decided to go down there for a video game he wanted to play.  This was not just some dampness either.  Nope.  We had probably five or six inches of water.  Thankfully I was not at work and the kids were off school because immediately it was “all hands on deck” to try and rescue what we could.  Our house has no attic storage so the basement is used for storing almost everything you can imagine and as a place for the kids to keep all of their toys, board games, craft supplies, and video games, a sort of playroom/hang out.

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Having rescued what we could, the next step was to try and remove as much water as possible.  Kind neighbours loaned us their shop vac and large fans.  I set to with the pumping and kept a measure of my progress by drawing a level with a marker on the now kaput dehumidifier – the irony – to keep myself motivated.  It took many, many cold and wet hours but by 2am the following morning, all of the water (at least of the properly liquid variety) was gone.  The next stage was to get absolutely everything else out of the basement.  The rooms of our house had fast become filled with the possessions we had saved or were attempting to save – my husband had his memorabilia drying out all over the living room and kitchen floors – so the patio and front porch became the dumping ground for all the possessions that could not be salvaged, including the furniture.

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As an aside, what in the world would possess a doorstepping, cold-calling sales person to approach a house with a porch covered in flood damaged furniture and try to sell the occupants windows?  I ask because it happened to me during this whole ordeal.  As he gave me his opening pitch, I looked dumbfounded at the guy –  my large forehead covered in sweat beads, my clothes filthy, objects being lugged in my arms and disgorged onto the porch – my jaw fell open, my brow furrowed so much I could see my own eyebrows, and I gestured to all of the ruined possessions that surrounded us.  I actually have no idea what I said to him but I know I mentally high-fived myself for not deploying curse words.  Whatever it was I said, the chap literally walked backwards and then scurried away.  Seriously, dude: know your audience.

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Anyway, the week proceeded with ripping off walls and ripping up carpet and thoroughly drying the space out.  We also had to have a new sump pump installed (obviously) and also a new water heater because the flood had led the one we had – which was less than two years old – being condemned.  Super.  We also tried to salvage as many possessions as we could, though the success rate was not superb.  The thing is, when you emigrate, you part with most of your worldly goods.  The only non-essential things that crossed the Atlantic with us were things that were irreplaceable, things that had sentimental value or meaning to us.  Therefore, when I mention that we tried to save what we could, that is because it wasn’t just a bunch of stuff we probably should have donated or recycled years ago, it was the stuff we had considered important enough to pack into a shipping crate and pay to transport across an ocean.

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So it has been a pretty dispiriting time and there is, of course, all the chaos and hassle, not to mention the stress over financing the restoration.  However, we have been trying to maintain perspective because truly we are in the privileged position that we only lost stuff and only in one level of our house.  People endure far worse during fires and natural disasters.  We have also endured the deaths of loved ones so we have appropriate perspective on losing things that are merely material.  I appreciate we are lucky to have what we do and that really I have such little cause to whine in the grand scheme of things.  Additionally, we are lucky that the basement has not been decorated since the 1970s so it is not as if we are having to rip out lovely new carpet and beautifully painted walls.  It was due for a refresh at some stage but it would have been so much nicer to save up to do it on our own timeline.  So we definitely have perspective and know things could be so much worse.  However, I would be lying if I claimed I was not stressed out of my mind by the current state of things.

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And did I mention that my dishwasher decided to shuffle off its electrical coil in the aftermath of the flood?  I mean, having to hand wash everything is the least of my problems right now but I seriously could have done without that timing.

And – on top of all of this – we were scheduled to go on vacation at the end of the week of flood recovery.  We were committed to going  – as it was too late to cancel and get refunded – and we knew we would benefit from escaping from the house mess but still the timing was stressful to handle.

So the explanation for my online absence is two-fold: flood recovery and travelling.  I will blog about the latter as time permits.  Hopefully normal blog interaction service will resume soon.

Hallway Makeover

Home projects have a way of snowballing and spiraling.  As I have explained before, much of our house had not been renovated or even redecorated since it was built in 1968.  The staircase banister was starting to show its age in a terrifying manner as it was rickety and wobbly and threatening to pull away from the wall any time any of my boys leaned on it.  Pretty terrifying.  It, therefore, jumped up to the very top of the list of home improvement priorities.  But removing and replacing a banister was going to damage the carpeting and the walls.  And if we were going to repaint all the walls then we were best to replace the tiles in the downstairs hall.  And if we were going to replace the floor tiles then we should do that at the same time as pulling out the old downstairs loo.  So that one problem with the wobbly banister Hulked out and became a major project.

I forgot to take Before photos.  However, these images show what the hallway and downstairs WC looked like when we moved in to our house in August 2014.  Not much had changed since then.  I was not going to miss those “crazy paving” vinyl tiles.

Before Downstairs Hall 1

Before Downstairs Hall 2

Before Downstairs WC

I don’t do well with chaos so the period of the project was something I endured rather than enjoyed.  As much as I knew the final outcome would make it all worthwhile, constantly having other people in my house when I got home from work, having building materials stowed in our living room, and just the mess and disruption made it all quite stressful.  There were three peak incidents of stress: the contractor ripped out the old banister early on in the project but did not install the new one until the very end which meant living for weeks without any barrier whatsoever on the staircase – and you can imagine that my sons took full advantage of that opportunity to freak out their mother; the second was that the same period coincided with some of our worst weather of the winter which led to snow days and the kids being home while the work was underway and, on one such day, the floor was retiled while the kids were trapped upstairs – with the bathrooms – while I was trapped downstairs – with no bathroom – for several hours; the third peak stress moment was the absolute worst and involved the stair carpet still being installed after 10pm – installation having started at 1.30pm – partly because the carpet fitter stapled his own finger and had to be taken to the ER by an extremely jet-lagged Mr Pict.

During Hall 1

During Hall 2

In the end, however, we are happy with the results.  We now have a much sturdier and much more secure banister, dove grey walls, dark grey floor tiles, very plush and soft carpet for the stairs and upstairs hall, and a fresh and more modern looking downstairs WC.  Now we can start to personalise the space by pulling out framed art that hasn’t been on display since we emigrated and some pieces that need to be framed and getting those up on the walls.

After Hall 2

After Hall 1

After Downstairs WC 2

Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center

Our Labour Day weekend trip – our last hurrah of Summer break – was to the Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center.  It’s this little portion of Japan in the midst of Philadelphia.  It is also authentically Japanese as the buildings were built in Nagoya, using traditional materials and techniques, and were then transported to America.  I read that even the rocks in the garden were imported from Japan.  Originally, it was part of an exhibition in New York before being disassembled and reconstructed in Philadelphia.  It has been in Philly since the late 1950s.

We started our visit with the house.  We slipped off our shoes and entered the house in our socks.  It was everything you think about when you think about traditional Japanese architecture: elevated off the ground, connections between the interior and the exterior, between the man-made and the natural, verandas, lots of wood, sliding doors, and gently curved roofs.  There is something inherently relaxing about being in those spaces but I know myself well enough to know I could never actually live in such a space.  I am far too fond of objects to be capable of minimalism and maintaining clean lines.  And my pelvis is too wrecked to cope with floor sitting.  But I like to imagine I could live in such a space.  I especially loved the kitchen.  I feel like you learn a lot about a culture by looking at kitchens (and supermarkets actually) because so much of culture revolves around food.  My kids had zero patience for me reading the information about each room of the house but I insisted on reading all the detail about the kitchen.  It was pretty fascinating stuff.  I thought the little tea house would be the most intriguing and engaging part of the house but for me it was actually the kitchen.

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The garden surrounding the house was similarly gorgeous.  It is such an obvious and probably uninteresting thing to state but it was so green and so harmonious.  Apparently the landscaping was designed to echo 17th Century styles.  The boys absolutely loved the pond which was stocked with carp.  They had some fish food and, within seconds of throwing the first pellet into the water, there was a scrum of koi torpedoing towards them.  There was a line of them wiggling through the water from the bridge and making a beeline to the area where my kids were waiting to feed them.  Their dorsal fins cut through the surface of the water and created wakes.  I couldn’t help but hum the soundtrack from ‘Jaws’.  Despite the fact these carp must surely get so fed up of eating the same pellets all the time, there was a serious feeding frenzy.

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This is such a cliche that I initially resisted typing it out but the whole space really was so peaceful.  I could have chilled there for ages.  A good book and a glass of cold lemonade and it would have been so easy to just sit there for hours enjoying the garden.  But I had four kids with me who had run out of patience and wanted to get home to do their own thing for the final days of Summer so no chance of zen for me.

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Bathroom Makeovers

For the past couple of months, the Pict home has been upside down because of a major renovation project.  Our bathrooms were original to the house and, while I could live with the 1960s stylings, we could no longer deal with the stressful ramifications of maintenance.  When a toilet seat broke (thanks to a sleep addled child) we had to source a vintage one and even things like the washers were non-standard sizes so we had to seek those out online.  We decided, therefore, that it was only a matter of time before some aspect of the plumbing failed in spectacular fashion and that it was better to get ahead of it than to have to deal with the whole process on an emergency basis.  There was a point about five weeks into the project where I definitely thought and felt like we were deranged for having done so but we determined that we should have both bathrooms ripped out and reconstructed at the same time.  The time efficiencies and budget savings made it worth doing but it definitely was super stressful having six of us trying to live among that degree of chaos for a couple of months.

Just to add to the mess and chaos and clutter, our formal living room was the designated set down space for all of the construction equipment and materials so a huge percentage of our home felt like a builders’ yard.  And then there was all the noise and the dust and the dirt.  I eventually just gave up properly cleaning the house because it was a Sisyphean task.  The dust was breeding quicker than I could ever clean and it was depressing.  I had no peaceful, tidy, clean space to retreat into.  It was actually really stressful but – now that it is all over – I think the end results were worth it.

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I did not take great before pictures.  I actually entirely forgot to take some so the photos are from our moving in day three years ago.  The pink bathroom was our hall bathroom, primarily used by our four sons and occasionally by guests.  The turquoise bathroom was the en suite for the master bedroom.  I am sure they will give some readers flashbacks.

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12a Main Bathroom

3a Master En Suite

I hope you will agree that both bathrooms were transformed.  We wanted to keep things pretty neutral because we want these bathrooms to last a long time.  I pretty much never want to have to rip out a bathroom ever again.  The hall bathroom is the beige/brown one and the en suite is the grey one.  Also my after photos suck almost as much as my before ones because the spaces are small and I wobble when taking panoramic shots.

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Incidentally it turned out to be very fortunate that we chose the bathrooms as our next renovation project because, once the tiles were gone, it revealed that the floor was disintegrating in one spot and would have eventually collapsed through the ceiling and caused major damage.  Of course, now that we have brand, spanking new bathrooms, it makes the hallways look even more in need of resuscitation than before and my bedroom – always the worst space in the house – looks even more wretched.  Definitely way more work to be done in this do-upper of a house but I think we might take a pause before we launch into another major project.  I need time to recuperate from this first.

House on the Green Hill

The Art Journal Adventure prompt for last week was to use horizontal and vertical elements.  Perhaps it was because I had recently been reading Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Fern Hill’ to my 11 year old son but the idea of horizontal and vertical lines automatically made me think of fields in a verdant green landscape and a little house nestled beneath a hill.  The idea seemed simple enough but it literally took me a full week to take the page from inception to completion.  Each colour of acrylic in the patchwork landscape represents a quick burst of art action in my daily schedule.  Worked on in such short bursts here and there throughout the week, it took an awfully long time for the page to fill with colour.  Thankfully, once all the painting was done and dry, the finishing touches were completed quickly.  That was just the case of doodling with paint pens while watching the news and drinking a cup of tea one morning.  It was those little details that pulled the page together and made it a coherent, stitched together quilt of a landscape rather than a chaotic mish-mash.

13 Green Hill Landscape

Wonky Home

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Home”.  That can be interpreted in many different ways, physical, emotional, geographical, and it is a theme that has cropped up a few times in my art journal since I started keeping one a few years ago.  This time, however, I decided to keep it super easy and just draw a house, just a quick and simple illustration without putting too much thought into it.  Partly this was so that it would be a challenge to me to work more intuitively and not get so trapped into my head trying to get an idea in my mind’s eye to appear on paper; partly it was because I was so short on time and so this drawing was done, from start to finish, in a mere twenty minutes courtesy of two pre-inked fountain pens (the inks being Noodler’s Bulletproof and Lamy Pacific Blue in case you are interested).  Since I knew I could not even attempt precision, I thought I would accentuate the inevitable weird angles and wobbly lines and produce an entirely wonky house.

12 Wonky Home