Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sad or S.A.D.?

Has it really been over a month since I last posted?  Well, of course it has.  I know it has, because my dear friend Meg called me on it.  She knew, through the silence, that something wasn't right.  That something has been the winter blues.

Last year was my first year in many that I had to face winter weather, and I think the novelty of it kept me smiling or at least prevented me from feeling the worst of it.  Pittsburgh winter is very grey, very grey indeed.  Did you know that technically Seattle gets more sunny days per year than Pittsburgh does?  Seattle is famous for its grey!  Pittsburgh doesn't warn you about its weather.  Oh my.  Combine the grey with the darkness of winter, and man.  I was feeling so flat, so worn down, so unmotivated, uncreative, unexcited about prospects…so much so that a few weeks ago, Hubby ran an intervention.  He knew I stopped being myself right around the time winter weather set in for real.  These days, sunrise is around 7:40am and sunset is close to 5pm.  In between those hours, the sun doesn't grace us with her glory very often (but when she does, what a difference!).  I so clearly struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately S.A.D.).  I always joked that I run on solar power.  Now I know it's true!

So, what to do?  Well, Hubby's intervention was the start.  It was a relief to realize my problem was lack of sunlight rather than some more serious depressive streak.  We can't change the weather, but we can get me moving.  I now try to get exercise every single day.  With unpredictable and often very wet and cold weather, exercise means the gym.  I hate the gym--so lame--but how I was feeling was far more lame than that, so off to the gym I go!  It works best when I go before school, which makes the days start early but start strong.  Getting the blood flowing helps a lot.  I also take Vitamin D supplements now, as well as probiotic (unrelated to S.A.D. but still helps me feel good!).  A greater help has been the school holidays for Christmas, which allowed us all to go blessedly off-schedule.  Whew.  I have felt snowed under for months, but just being able to wake up in the morning when it isn't pitch black outside has been a gift.

The Farmers' Almanac has predicted a particularly gruelling winter ahead, and it has certainly been colder than last year thus far.  I just have to take it one day at a time and know to soak up the sunlight whenever I can.  Today, it rained all day and the temperature hovered around 42F.  Tomorrow, the high is 24F with snow in the forecast (again).  Yesterday was bizarrely wonderful--sunny and warmish.  I was out all day in it and had a glorious time.  I grabbed the sun when I could!


I'm not sure these days how I want to use this space, but please don't give up on me!  I have faith the creative juices will return, and I will want to write and share here once more.  Day by day, I'll get there.    I have big writing dreams that I'm not planning to let go.  Returning here will be a good start on that path.  In the meantime, I wish you a wonderful holiday season and hope you make the most of your sunny days!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sweet baby hat

Fresh off the needles, I present a silk-wool blend baby hat in orange for sweet baby James.  His mama said he needs an orange hat, but she couldn't find one she liked.  I took this as a personal challenge, and I hope it fits they love the result.  It certainly looks cute on Ruthie.

Ruthie in a pompom cap

(project ravelled here)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

first snow

We awoke to a snow-covered world.  Some autumn colour lingers on the trees, and the sun came out to play mid-morning, making for the most beautiful of days.  I abandoned the to-do list for a long, meandering walk with my camera in hand.  11/12/13 is such a fun day on the calendar, and Mother Nature decided to make it extra gorgeous for us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Art inspiration: Ed Emberley

fingerprint art a la Ed Emberley

fingerprint art a la Ed Emberley

fingerprint art a la Ed Emberley

fingerprint art a la Ed Emberley

Art and crafts used to be part of our everyday doings, but somehow that has tapered off of late.  I've been wanting to get that going again, ideally by planning simple things for the girls to dive into during the tired, cranky period after school and before dinner.  During my stint reshelving books in the school library Tuesday morning, I spied two Ed Emberley books: Ed Emberley's Fingerprint Drawing Book and Ed Emberley's Great Thumbprint Drawing Book.  This afternoon, I put out some heavy-duty paper, 7 coloured stamp pads, a smock (watch out for those ink pads!) and thin markers.  The girls were fully absorbed in the fun for nearly two hours.  Highly recommended project!

Monday, November 4, 2013


A couple of weekends ago, we disappeared off to a fabulous vacation that almost wasn't.  Hubby had to go on a work trip to Banff in Alberta, Canada, and asked if the girls and I wanted to come along.  "Obviously!" was my response.  From the grey skies and hills of Pittsburgh to the huge open skies and flat plains of Calgary and the Canadian Rockies in the sense of awe felt tremendous.  I gained such peace, relaxation and joy just from the sheer majesty of the landscape.  Before long, words deserted me and I became prone to throwing my arms up at regular intervals in an overcome gesture of "Will you just look at this?!!!" (so please excuse me in the photos to follow where I adopt the "go big or go home" approach)

We stayed in the Rimrock Resort (the location for the conference that brought Hubby there).  We soon took to enjoying most of our meals in the lounge, where the views from the windows was this:

A few minutes walk took us to the gondola ride up Sulfur Mountain.  I am no fan of instability at height, and I admit that gondola ride--while stable and very well-maintained--was a wee bit scary for me (which amused my children to no end).  The sights from the top, however, were worth every bead of nervous sweat.  360° views of the Rockies and an unobstructed view down to the town of Banff nestled in the valley.  

In order to keep the effusiveness relatively sane, I'll toss out there that we also visited Lake Minnewanka and the Cave and Basin Museum (which was the birthplace of the Canadian National Park system, in case you like trivia).  The food in Banff was delicious (the French Toast at the Bison Restaurant was revolutionary).  We even managed to test out the health care system during our trip, and we are happy to report it seems top-notch!

Another wonderful benefit to our trip was meeting up with an old friend who now works in Calgary.  Although we are in touch, we hadn't seen him in many years so it was a fabulous reunion with him and a chance to meet his sweetheart.

The trip was amazing and felt much longer than its three short days.  We came back renewed from the crazy weeks past and ready to move on to the new challenges ahead.  Thank you, Banff!  We'll be back.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween costumes

bat in flight

bat wings

cutest tiger

tiger tail

The homemade Halloween costumes was so much fun, and the girls could not have been happier with the results.  The fact that they were made from fleece worked out rather well, as the weather dripped an icy, misty rain all through Halloween night, but my little tiger and bat were snuggly warm and happy as can be.

  ready to trick-or-treat

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sewing Halloween costumes

There is something vastly pleasurable in the sensation of sewing fleece fabric on a brisk autumn morning.  The fabric is so soft and cozy beneath my fingers, and I smile knowing how warm it will keep my munchkin in the days ahead.  The print is a bit wild, though.  I am sewing a tiger costume for my wee girl.

sewing assistant

Unfortunately, my girls seem to have inherited my procrastination gene.  They only decided last Friday (under duress) what their Halloween costumes will be.  Of course, we cannot buy them.  For one, everything good has been sold out for weeks anyway.  For another, making them is so much more satisfying.  Thankfully, we have three whole days left before the deadline (ha!).

After much debate, our sweet Eleanor decided she wants to be a black bat.  She wants the costume to be as simple as simple can be "because my teacher doesn't like Halloween and I don't want my costume to upset her."  As thoughtful and sensitive as that reasoning is, I couldn't accept it and insisted she at least look at some grander ideas, still on the simple theme.  I want her to like it, not just her teacher.  Luckily for me, her friend was over when I pulled up this bat costume tutorial on MADE, and her friend gleefully proclaimed we had found the perfect costume.  Ellie scaled it back (wearing a hood or sewing shiny material on the inside were out), but then proudly participated in the making.  She helped draw the pattern onto the felt with chalk, cut as carefully as she could and then loved her first experience sitting at the sewing machine with me standing by (rather than her in my lap) as she sewed the detail lines in dark grey.

sewing the costume herself

I added the arm loops and attached bat ears to a headband with a hot glue gun, and voila!  Now, I just need to track down a black long-sleeved shirt and pants for her.  I have two more days, right?

bat costume

Stephanie wants to be a tiger.  Of course, not only are there no tiger costumes to be found, but there are no tiger costume patterns to be found either!  All sold out weeks ago, the sniggering lady at the fabric store assured me.  No matter.  I'm winging it.  I bought some tiger-print fleece from JoAnn's and am sewing a tunic, pants, a hood (similar to the MADE bat hood) and possibly mittens, if I can get it all done in time.  The pants are my favorite basic pant from Happy Handmade Vol 2, and the tunic is a basic peasant dress adapted from this tutorial.  Everything is cut and the pants are sewn.  If I plow through the school day today, I might just get it done!

tiger costume in progress

My favorite part of Stephanie's as-yet-unfinised costume is her creativity applied to the idea.  When I brought home fancy fabric hoping to inspire Eleanor to bat wing enhancement, Ellie rejected it...but Stephanie loved it!  She immediately declared she wanted to be a flying tiger and promptly drew me a picture.  I love love love this.  I can't wait to see the result!

flying tiger costume drawing

Will your family be dressing up for Halloween?  What costumes did you choose?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Away we go

these boots are made for cycling...?

Nothing helps relieve the mania like a little holiday, no?  We'll be back on Monday night.  I expect to have many gorgeous photos to share!  Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The power of vulnerability

creek walk

At over 11.5 million views, I seem to be one of the few people who hadn't seen Dr. Brene Brown's TEDx talk on vulnerability.  The talk is long, as TED talks tend to be, but make the time for yourself to watch if you can.  She is a great presenter and peppers in humour to a very powerful, moving talk on a tender subject.

I admit, there were moments when I felt a bit uncomfortable listening to this talk, because these issues are at the core of all of us.  Vulnerability is uncomfortable at best, but her point is that it is critical to being a whole-hearted, fulfilled person.  Denying the experience of vulnerability and negative emotion takes away the potential for fully experiencing positive emotion as well.

My favorite take-away from her message was when she talked about parental tendency to perfect their children, where what was truly needed was to raise children to believe:

"You're imperfect and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."

It seems so simple, but how completely amazing and life-altering if a person truly believed that and acted accordingly.  If you'd like to see the whole talk, check it out here.

p.s.  if you're interested in another amazing TED talk, watch this.  The spoken-word poem for the first three and a half minutes moves me to happy tears.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Malala Yousafzai

Do you know about this girl?  Have you seen this?  What an incredible young woman.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

That scores a big U for "unsatisfactory"

I just read my last post, and even I couldn't help saying, "What the?!  I mean, seriously, lady.  Why even post with no info like that?"  Sheesh.  Sorry.

We are all good here, I assure you.  Last week, Stephanie was the Star of the Week in her kindergarten class.  That meant every day brought new opportunities for this mama to be involved in her such an extent that by Friday morning, Hubby suggested I request a salary.
Do I love it?  Yes!
Is this a big part of why I am a stay-at-home mom?  Yes!
Is it still a whole lot of crazy?  Oh, yes indeed-y!

So, what were all those things that kept me so busy?  Simple things, really.  We completed an interview and shared pictures.  I helped three groups of kindergarteners make no-bake pumpkin oatmeal cookies.  Stephanie and I performed a science experiment of making Sticky-Icky* (which is pretty much the way to any little boy's--and most kindergartener's--heart, let me tell you).  Somewhere in there, I had a 3rd grade parents' meeting with the Head of the Lower School.  Oh, and on Friday, I was slated to provide faculty treats for all Lower School teachers...and my oven crapped out (I discovered after 2 debacles that the oven thermometer was suddenly 30 degrees off).  I have a reputation to uphold (and delivery was expected first thing in the morning), so I couldn't just buy something.  I ended up providing strawberries, grapes...and at least part of all three baking attempts:  jacked-up banana bread, chocolate chip cream cheese coffee cake and our favorite pumpkin muffins**.  I now have no flour in the house.  For the record, the secretary told me that I could have just brought the jacked-up banana bread, because once the teachers knew there was Jack Daniels in it, that was the first to go (ha!).  As it is, they only left 2 grapes, which cracked me up completely.  Someone really didn't want to be the last one to eat everything, so...

In case you still aren't buying my busy excuse (who would?), I'll toss in the mix that our girl's asthma issues have returned.  After six months of no medication whatsoever, we are now back on all kinds of meds plus my little homeopathic remedies...and she still wakes up a few times a night coughing despite all of that defence.  It isn't nice.  I have no idea why this is happening.  I'm just thankful her issues are of the coughing variety rather than the horrible-terrifying-gasping-for-air-cannot-breathe variety as some families face.  But I still have not slept through the night in weeks, so there you go.

Anyhoo, life is good.  I can say that with a straight face, because it is true (also, I just watched this and boy oh boy are we blessed just by the grace of where we were born).  I really do intend to get back in the writing habit soon.  You know as well as I do what they say about good intentions, but I will try.  Just for you!

*I promise to post the recipe for this when I figure out where I put it...

** I omit the pecans, cinnamon-sugar and reduce the sugar in the muffin to 1/2 cup.  This seems adequately compensated by the milk chocolate chips we prefer to the carob, and I don't bother restricting us to 1/2 cup there, if you get my meaning.

Just ducky

In case you were wondering what happened to me this time, everything is just ducky here in Pittsburgh!  The crazy simply hasn't let up yet, though the manic-stress part of it has.  I need to make space again for writing.  I'm working my way back to it.  In the meantime, here's a picture of a giant rubber duck:

quack PGH

This duck sculpture has traveled around the world, and Pittsburgh is the first US city to get it.  It arrived at the end of September, and today we finally made the trek into town to see it.  Pretty cute, huh?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Recommended reading: Code Name Verity

I have a confession to make: I love reading kid lit.  I always loved it, but my brief years teaching reading to pre-teens--which coincided with publication of the first book of Harry Potter--sealed the deal.  Recent happy finds have included The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The Invention of Hugo CabretWonderstruck, Wildwood and The Mysterious Benedict Society.

At our small local bookshop works a wonderful woman named Tess.  Among her myriad talents, she is the buyer for the children's department and an avid reader of kid lit.  We have decided to form our own kid lit book club of two.  First up, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  It is classed as "young adult" (too intense for kid lit but not targeted for adult readers), but I didn't find anything too young about it.  This book knocked my socks off.

Code Name Verity is very well-written historical fiction set during World War II.  It tells the story of two friends, both young women, one of whom has been captured as a spy in France and the other was the pilot who flew her there.  The woman who has been captured has succumbed to the horrific interrogation and has agreed to write out everything she knows, which she does in detailed, dramatic style rather than flat reporting.  Her story forms the main text of the book.  While the author doesn't go for shock factor by providing too much detail on the horrors of war and captivity, the shock and horror is felt.  This book stressed me out, but I couldn't put it down.  I had to abandon my preferred reading-before-bedtime with this one several chapters in (it gave me bad dreams!), but I stole time during the day to keep it going.

True to that "young adult" classification, I cannot recommend this book to anyone under 15, but I do strongly recommend it for women ages 15 and up.  It is an intense, emotionally- and mentally-engaging story of two strong female characters whose unlikely friendship provides the backbone of the book.  The worth of these women is not defined by men, though they are constantly surrounded by men given the nature of the story and the time period.  There is no sappy romance to portray them as feminine cliches.  They are powerful characters in a compelling story.  If you pick it up, please let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sheila goes to kindergarten

Sheila visited Stephanie's kindergarten class today.

Sheila goes to kindergarten

Despite making two rather large and smelly poos in the cat carrier, she was a perfect lady while on display.  She pecked at the carrot shavings I offered her, politely observed the children as they asked questions, preened and stretched so they could properly admire her feathers and wings, and then inspected everyone's shoelaces.
The kids were fascinated.
It was awesome.

Monday, September 30, 2013

An epic month

This morning, I drove to the airport after Monday morning assembly at school to wave good-bye to our visitors.  We have had extended family houseguests for the past 10 days (10! in the first month of school!).  Did I mention that meant 9 people--5 adults, 4 kids--in our 3 bedroom house?  Whew!  Blessedly, our guests were of the pleasant, thoughtful and non-stressing variety (i.e., they helped deal with laundry mountain and cleaned my kitchen daily--danke!).


Dirk with Jonna, mid-tantrum

When I mention the duration of their stay to the average American, the listener tends to faint on my behalf.  In truth, longer visits are (in some ways) a bit easier.  Sure, it takes days to find a groove, but once the groove is found, that is the new normal.  It really was nice coming back from the crazy school-morning-scramble to a clean kitchen (not typical here).  I liked getting to know these people who I had really only met once at a very overwhelming family dinner party a decade long past.  We all loved having a baby around again, even finding her frequent outbursts of baby fury* and frustration pretty hilarious (it's a good thing babies are so cute!).  And while our very verbal Stephanie never got past the stress of the language barrier, our sweet Eleanor stepped up and did her best to engage our 4 year old visitor as much and as often as she could.

*photographic evidence of baby fury above.  He wanted her in the picture; she wanted me to hold her.

Jonna applies death grip to his hair
(with his new buddy. how much do I love watching Hubby with a baby?) 

Now, my biggest job is re-establishing some kind of normalcy around here.  September was a hard month.  A full month.  A busy month.  Back to school.  An 8-year-old's birthday party.   The Sewickley Chicken Walk.  A whirlwind week of home reorganization  to prepare for 5 extra people, and then the presence of 5 extra (albeit lovely) people.  Somewhere in there was my birthday too.  In its way, September was epic.  I think we're all ready for some seriously non-epic slowness.

Tomorrow is October.
I wonder what that month will bring?

Monday, September 16, 2013

You are not alone

Hello!  Remember me?  I'm the mom who posted about the night before back to school and then disappeared into the black hole that is back to school.  The mayhem.  The mania.  The headless-chickeness of it all!

It came to a head at my wonderful doctor's office this morning.  I went in for a big check-up (and a bonus tetanus booster! yippee!), and I responded to her casual "How are you?" by simultaneously smiling a big smile and bursting into tears as I said, "Oh, I'm fine!  Totally fine!  I mean, physically you know.  Nothing wrong!"  Sheesh.

Mamas, if the back-to-school mania monster is getting to you, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Yes, I did just write that in all caps.  It deserves it.  I'm over the whole Stepford wife, perfect appearance, taking on the world and liking it facade.  This is coming from the woman who realized at 8am this morning that we forgot to attend a sweet child's birthday party yesterday afternoon.  Major big oops.  Blessedly, her mother (and the sweet child herself!) was very gracious and understanding when I pounced them with a crazed look and my wild apologies.  If only I were more gracious and understanding of myself.

I'm going to call that the tipping point.  After a relaxed, open-ended and largely happy summer for us, this was a major shift.  It's time to acknowledge that this is indeed a time of mayhem and mania, but it will pass.  We will all adapt to the new routine, the new demands on our time.   It's okay to be off-kilter but trying.  It's okay to say "NO!" to the unending opportunities to be busier.  And it is necessary to make time for self-care.  Make even just a tiny hole in the day for you.  I bet you can find it if you look.  Even 5 minutes of deep  breathing, counting your breath in and out up to 10 and starting over again, is tremendously beneficial.
Beer o'clock might be helpful too.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to school tomorrow

'Twas the night before school starts
And all through the house
Little creatures were wondering
(As was my spouse)

What would this new year bring
Though keeping our cool
We were all quite excited
To go back to school

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

50 years later, the dream lives on

Today marks 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his historic speech during the march on Washington.  Most of us know it as the "I Have a Dream" speech.  What I didn't know was the most famous part of that speech is only the last third, and it was ad-libbed.  The first two-thirds of his speech discussed racism and segregation as an American issue, one that was out of sync with the core American values put forth in the Declaration of Independence.  Dr. King took it beyond black-and-white to our cultural identity as Americans.  This was genius.  I'm surprised it is relatively unknown today.  If you are interested in watching, here is the entire speech:

We hold these truths to be self-evident.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Acadia National Park

Last Wednesday, we disappeared off on our last hurrah before school starts again to Acadia National Park in Maine.  For years, Hubby and I have wanted to go.  The promise of sea and mountains in Maine in late August was too much to resist, so we headed up to explore for a few days.

It was just as beautiful as we had hoped, and the weather could not have been nicer.

We puttered around the top of Cadillac Mountain, swam in Echo Lake, wandered the low-tide sand bar in Bar Harbor, hiked to the summit of North Bubble, enjoyed a scenic lunch spot at Jordan Pond where the girls devoured the signature pop-overs and jam, and played at Sand Beach.

chillin' on Cadillac Mountain

looking down from Cadillac Mountain summit

big sea star left behind by the tide

Sand Beach

view from the summit of North Bubble

viewing the Bubbles from across Jordan Pond

For the girls, the unbeatable highlight was the sea creature tour with Diver Ed.  Diver Ed and his wife, Captain Evil, run a family-friendly boat tour out of Bar Harbor.  The boat motors out to one of the nearby islands (we went near Burnt Porcupine, I think), and then Diver Ed suits up in a dry suit (the water is cold!).  He invited all the kids to come help give him and his heavy equipment a big push off the back of the boat, and then down he goes to the sea floor to find and collect small sea creatures to bring back up to show everyone.  He carries a video camera that is connected live to a huge screen on the boat so we can all see what he is seeing.  His audio equipment crapped out, so Captain Evil seamlessly (and hilariously) narrated his discoveries for us.  The kids especially loved his safety dive buddy, Mini-Ed, a Playmobil diver he brought along for size reference and fun.

giving Diver Ed a push

Diver Ed

We had three full days in Bar Harbor, where we rented a little vacation home through HomeAway.  What we hadn't realized is that several hundred other people also thought Bar Harbor in late August would be irresistible (the place was completely overrun for the first two days).  On the weekend, it cleared out as families went home to prepare for Back to School.

We are already talking about going back, but we know we'll try to make it off-season next time.  As Ellie said, "We just have to come back to Maine!  It's too good."

the summit of North Bubble

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The build-up and the wind-down

I felt like I was running around all day with way too much caffeine in my system, a kind of hyper-mania productivity that involved a lot of fast-paced picking up and moving around of things without actually accomplishing a great deal.  And this was without the caffeine.

I was nervous.

I had agreed to be interviewed by the local paper about keeping backyard chickens.  They were sending a photographer at 3 and an interviewer at 4.

I swear extroverts have an easier time in life.

two in the run, one on the nest

escaping the paparazzi

Is it safe to come out yet?

I wore myself out with all the manic activity today, but the actual reason I felt nervous...well, it turned out that wasn't such a big deal.  After all, I'm perfectly happy to talk to people about our funny chickens.  I wasn't even phased when Penny, our most vocal chook, peed on my shirt during the photographs and then squawked about it for almost an hour afterwards (thank you, Penny).  It was a bit of a bummer that the girls (my daughters, not my chickens) hit their afternoon slump as the interviewer turned to them for "the kid's perspective", but whatcha gonna do?

Now, I don't feel nervous at all.  What if the pictures zoom in on the shirt pee and the dreaded double-chin?  Oh well.  What if the interview makes me seem a bit crazy?  That won't surprise those who know me.  The way the interviewer scribbled away, I'm really not sure what I'll be quoted as saying.  At the end of the day, having backyard chickens is a fun adventure.  The kids (ours and most kids who visit our home) love it.  That's why we do it.  Maybe after reading the article about our crazy little family homestead, someone else will be intrigued enough to try it too.

As for the chickens, they are playing it safe and sticking close to their coop this evening.  Their moment of fame was glorious...and rather tiring, it seems.