Tag Archives: mamablog

Field Trip: Philly

We don’t travel much (for various reasons), but at least we have always lived close by to interesting places we can visit for a night or two or even a day trip easily. We planned two nights in Philadelphia over the kids’ spring break week. Even that didn’t go to plan! Two of the kids were sick so we needed to delay it, but we got there eventually. It’s only about 2 1/2 hours away by car, and we arrived midday on a weekday (versus a Sunday, like we’d originally planned). We’d thought we could visit a museum first, since hotel check in was much later. Ahahaha, no. There is no place to park in Philadelphia! We finally found a parking garage that wasn’t full and it was this little tiny space where you left the keys and they stack the cars and we immediately left because three of us felt like we couldn’t breathe just driving in. Anyway, once we went to the hotel and left the car I didn’t hate Philadelphia so much. We walked everywhere and didn’t drive again until we left.

We tried to touch on everyone’s interests in three days, so we visited the Constitution Center, the Franklin Institute, and the Museum of Art. That is a lot of museum-ing in three days. We also walked a lot, and ate quite a bit, because we found some good gluten free options, like Sabrina’s Cafe and Waffles & Wedges. That was actually a pretty long walk from the hotel, but gluten-free waffles! That’s a rarity. Plus cute streets like this.

Philly street at amyhoodarts.com

We also stopped at Rittenhouse Square on the way back to rest on the bench by the goat, which was, at 5 pm on a Thursday, the place to be for toddlers and dogs. We all enjoyed interacting with both. And while we took other pictures in other places, I’m just sharing art museum photos because that was by far my favorite part.

We decided to pay the extra to see the American Watercolor exhibit. It was definitely worth it. The admission desk had told me photography was fine as long as no flash, but neglected to say no photography at all in this exhibit, and if there was a sign I missed it, so oops, here are two photos (I did apologize when notified–I didn’t know!).

This is Isabella Stewart Gardner’s sketchbook.

Isabella Stewart Gardner's sketchbook

I really love her museum so I snapped a pic. And hmm, this signage just spoke to me, if you know what I mean.

The women behind the men at amyhoodarts.com

The exhibit explained how watercolor was looked down upon at first because it was just what children played with and ladies dabbled in. But then! Then the men embraced it and rebranded it as so American in its carefree-ness…or something like that. I’m glad the curators made sure to point that out. Plenty of women were already quite skilled in what was available to them. Sigh.

Moving on! The kids wanted to go to Arms & Armor after that, so my husband stayed with them while I got to go hunt down the Mondrians all by myself. I found them. This photo’s perspective is a bit skewed because I took it while sitting on the floor, because I needed to stare at them a while.

Mondrians at amyhoodarts.com

There were two more in the room behind me! I find the minimal approach and geometry very calming. When I get really anxious, my tendency is to try to order everything, because order and predictability feels calmer. Looking at a Mondrian, I feel, Ah, somebody has already done that for me. The gift shop had a print of the one on the right so I took it home and framed it.

Mondrian at amyhoodarts.com

Then I worked my way back through the modern art into impressionism and it was all lovely and I was all by myself the whole time, which is a gift, because I could just sit and stare at things as long as I wanted. Like this Degas dancer.

Degas dancer at amyhoodarts.com

I got myself a membership, so I can go back and see the things I missed.

Springing

It’s springing all over the place in this yard, and we love it. I can hear frogs at night. Frogs! From my own driveway. From my own bed. It’s lovely music. Last weekend my husband spotted a “very large bird” on a tree branch in the yard. It was a hawk, sitting very very still. We all passed around binoculars; my eldest got a good look at the tail so we could identify it as a Cooper’s Hawk. Then, the hawk dove down into the underbrush and hopped up on a log with a snake hanging from its beak, writhing. One less snake out there. (We love snakes, but we’re now living some place with poisonous ones, so I’ve had to impress upon my younger kids that not all snakes are your friend. It took showing them pictures of injuries caused by copperhead bites.)

And then there are the nests.

house finch nest at amyhoodarts.com

I discovered this one first. See it there, in the bottom of the wreath? This wreath came with the house, and I’d been planning on replacing it in spring. I guess I’ll wait a while. I wasn’t quite sure what bird built this nest; I’d only caught a glimpse of a streaky bird flying away. Then she laid an egg.

house finch nest with egg at amyhoodarts.com

She’s now laid four. They are the sweetest wee eggs, and bluish. Not many birds lay blue eggs, turn out, so a bit of Googling and it was easy to identify this as a house finch’s nest. Turns out, they often build nests in wreaths. I’d seen the male house finches at the feeder in the front of the house, too. Now we’re trying to avoid the porch so as not to disturb her.

Then, a few days later, my husband noticed this mess of a nest in the garage.

carolina wren nest at amyhoodarts.com

It’s built up high. I had to stand on a table and reach my phone up to get that view; you can’t see the eggs from below. You can’t see the mama when she’s there, either; this nest is like a cave, with a hole to get into it and a domed roof. This was easy to confirm as a Carolina Wren nest, especially as we had one trapped in the garage overnight one night. Luckily our garage has windows we can leave open, since it’s not really practical to leave the garage door open overnight (although obviously she was managing fine when we were closing it nightly, as she laid all those eggs before we discovered what she was up to).

We feel quite attached to our bird families and excited for eggs to hatch. The last time we tracked a nest we were in Rhode Island, and it was a phoebe nest that was parasitized by cowbird eggs; the cowbird chicks thrived but the phoebe chicks were smothered. It was kind of awful. Hopefully these nests fare better.

Next post will have artsy content. But bird nests! Needed to be shared.

Hello? It’s me.

violet at amyhoodarts.com

It’s a whole season since last I blogged…

Is this thing still on?

I didn’t mean to take such a long break. It just happened. We moved, and that’s time-consuming, and I was sick the entire time, too. Then the new regime was inaugurated and I went a bit wobbly for a while, to the extent of forgetting to eat and take meds for a bit there. Some days I still am wobbly, although not to that extent. But it’s been hard to concentrate–to read, to write, to order my thoughts at all, to sleep well. I know I’m not alone. Many of us feel, like I do, that everything we value is under attack. Those of us who have experienced any kind of abuse or trauma are having a very hard time dealing with how this administration conducts itself. We call and email and gather and organize in whatever way we are able anyway. Some days are better than others.

Thankfully, even when the concentration is scattered and I can’t read more than a page, I’ve still been creating–sewing and, now, dyeing, because we installed a utility sink in the basement and put my old washing machine down there. (Our new house came with a washer/dryer closet in the carpeted upstairs so I’m not keen on carrying drippy dyed fabric in need of a final washing-out up there.) It took a few weeks to get back into the swing of sewing, but I started slicing and sewing and slicing again, and it was therapeutic, so I kept on going. I hung a birdfeeder outside my sewing room window, and I get such a great view while I work.

rooted at amyhoodarts.com

I am definitely rooting into this patch of land. So many bird species! I’m looking forward to seeing what visits in the spring and summer. I added a birdfeeder to the backyard too. We’ve all enjoyed watching the birds. This past week I can hear peepers in the evening. When I get home from driving my oldest to the bus stop every morning I pause before going inside, to listen to the cacophony of bird song. With the extra light, we can walk down to the river after dinner. It is a feeling of relief to be here in the deepest sense–it relieves.

I’m not sure I’ll ever feel at home in Maryland, but I do feel at home in this house. So that is a good thing. Onward.

2017: Grounded

A patch of land to connect to, once again

Sometimes I’m drawn to a guiding word for the year. Last year I wasn’t, and instead of pushing against that, I just let it be. In retrospect I’m not surprised I couldn’t pin anything down. I knew I would miss Rhode Island’s nature when we moved, but I didn’t anticipate how much losing a strong sense of place would affect me. I knew where I was in Rhode Island, always, and I don’t just mean that I could find my way around in a car. When I stood on the beach–any beach–with my kids, I knew what lay over the horizon in all directions. I knew my place on the map. We lived 15 minutes from where I went to college, and I spent much of my time as a wildlife biology student taking trips all around the area to learn the flora and fauna. I knew which birds visited our yard and when, where the snakes and salamanders liked to hide, and when to look out for wild turkey families. I knew where to look for the moon in each phase, and that it flooded my bedroom with light every time it was full. My cycle was in sync with the moon and I was in sync with the land around me. I was grounded.

Then I moved here and couldn’t find a thing. Six months later I was still unsure which direction to drive in to get where I wanted to go. (In my defense, there are rivers and bridges in all directions.) We’re in a neighborhood. I miss nature. I miss the ocean. Streetlights and house lights outshine the moon. No offense against mockingbirds but I’m tired of hearing them and only them. I couldn’t place myself on the map at all and it turns out I’m a person who needs that sense of place.

Now we’ve bought a home, and I’m looking forward to settling in to my patch of ground. Just like in Rhode Island, our yard abuts open space, but unlike there, this open space has trails. I can head out my front door and walk in the woods. I feel such peace there. I will get to know this land, its rhythms, the plants and animals that live there. I will feel that connection again.

Grounded has another meaning for me as well. When PTSD symptoms flare, when I feel anxiety spiking, one strategy is grounding exercises that my RI therapist taught me. The goal is to get back into your body and into your current surroundings. I think, as we head into the 45th President’s term, it will be important to remain grounded and aware–not just to deal with anxiety but also in the sense of being realistic and clear-eyed about what’s going on. Head-in-the-sand is attractive, but ultimately dangerous.

So, for many reasons and with multiple meanings, my 2017 word is grounded.

Sewn: Pioneer Girl Outfit

My daughter’s new school doesn’t exactly celebrate Halloween; instead, kids come dressed up as a historical figure of their choosing and share information about that person. It’s a little bit of dress up, a little bit of research, a little bit of sharing information with the younger kids. My daughter decided she wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. We’ve read the series of books, as well as some biographies (and yes, we’ve discussed the problematic depictions of Native Americans in the books and how, exactly, did the white “settlers” end up there anyway). I’d originally offered to sew her an outfit, then school let us know we weren’t supposed to sew or buy, and the kids were to assemble their own costumes. I passed that on to G, who asked her teacher, who said if parents wanted to sew, it was fine, they just didn’t want anyone to feel pressured. Oh.

G, of course, was sure I absolutely wanted to sew her a pioneer outfit and wouldn’t feel pressured at all. And you know what? I kind of did want to sew her an outfit, despite the other projects and deadlines that got crunched as a result. I remember wanting to be like Laura when I was my daughter’s age. So I found a pattern at Joann’s (McCall’s 7231) and we went to our local quilt store, which has a selection of 19th century prints (apparently Civil War quilts are a thing, I’m not really sure), and she chose the fabric.

Pioneer girl outfit at amyhoodarts.com

I’m a bit in love with this outfit. And despite the short time frame (I think it was 10 days from buying the pattern to having it complete), it all went well. My skills have grown tremendously as I’ve sewn for her, and so has my confidence. I looked over the pattern in the store and saw nothing I hadn’t encountered before–facings, gathering, ruffles, buttonholes, I’ve gained confidence in them all. I remember the first items I ever sewed from a pattern, pajama pants for my boys (right before G was born). I knew nothing. I didn’t even know about finishing seams, and the pattern didn’t tell me to! I have learned so, so much, by doing, and especially by taking on things that were a stretch.

Pioneer girl outfit at amyhoodarts.com

I love the pinafore. I want one in my size! And the bonnet has a bow at the back, although it’s hard to see. The pattern is a size 7-8, but my 8yo is a peanut. It’s a little roomy on her, and I shortened both the dress and the pinafore, but it should still fit her for a good long time. If I were her, I’d be tempted to wear this every day, and string buttons, and make maple sugar candy, and practice my sewing while I dreamed about horses and let my bonnet slip down so the sun hit my face, even if Ma scolded me.

Sewn: After-School Pants

after-school pants at amyhoodarts.com

I usually sew my daughter leggings, but occasionally she wants to wear a shirt and pants without a skirt, so I picked up the Oliver + S After-School Pants pattern. I thought a lightweight corduroy would work nicely, and G picked out the fabric, which is very her. What I like most about this pattern is the details. (It’s designed to have some contrast fabric, but while G likes contrast within her fabric choices and her outfits, she doesn’t seem to like it within the items themselves, so we skipped that.)

after-school pants at amyhoodarts.com

This is a close-up of the back pocket and the back ruffle. Because of course you can add ruffles to this pattern. That back pocket–it’s just too cute.

after-school pants at amyhoodarts.com

The front pocket has a ruffle too. If you were using contrast fabric, it would peek out from the front pockets too.

after-school pants at amyhoodarts.com

I love the detail on the back. It looks like a pair of jeans.

after-school pants at amyhoodarts.com

I sewed a size 7 for my almost-eight-year-old daughter and still had lots of length in the legs. I didn’t want to cut any off, so I folded it this way and that and made a cuff on the outside of the leg. It adds some weight to the bottom and hopefully I can let it down later if necessary. Plus it just looks cute.

I don’t have a photo of her actually wearing them because it’s getting into the 70s today. She wept. I told her to wear them anyway, but my girl who wears shorts when it’s 60 knew in her bones she’d be hot if she did, so she had to buck up and wear something else I’ve sewn for her (a dress and shorts) rather than the latest thing I’ve sewn for her. Oh, the challenges.

A Bit About Running

700km-badge

I promise I’ll explain what this means

I began running again a little over three years ago. I’d run cross country in junior high and part of high school, and then stopped. I started again about twenty-five years later shortly after being diagnosed with PTSD. I’d been walking every morning I could, before anyone else woke up–I wasn’t sleeping anyway–and it helped. But at some point I felt like I wasn’t moving fast enough to shut up my brain, so I began to run. It was one of the smartest decisions I’ve made.

Living in Rhode Island, my running ebbed and flowed with daylight. My kids were younger, I was homeschooling, and I didn’t feel comfortable, most of the time, leaving them home alone while I ran. So when we got to the point of the year when the sun set too early and rose too late for me to fit in daylight runs, they slowed. I’d try to get to the indoor track. But most of my miles were concentrated from April to October. Plus, my shins can get tricky. They need a break, especially my left one. There’s no sense in pushing it; I need to run regularly more than I need to run far.

I run for the love of it, mainly. I don’t like to race. I tried a couple, as an adult, but I really don’t like running with people. At all. I even get a little cranky when I come upon group runs (rather common in Annapolis) because they clump up and block the sidewalks and I can’t get by and it aggravates me. I don’t want to run with a friend, either, even though there are other runners in my neighborhood. I don’t want to talk. Running shuts up my brain like nothing else and what a relief that is, what a wonderful, wonderful thing. So it’s good I like to do it physically as well, because I need it.

And I do like it physically. Sometimes it feels awful, sure, especially, here in Maryland, in August. While I theoretically gain the ability to run outdoors most of the year, summer is pretty miserable. Not just the heat and humidity but the dew point, too. I’d try to run in the evening, when the temperature might be higher than first thing in the morning, but the humidity was a little lower. I’ve gradually adjusted. But running can be hard. It’s not all fun. But when it feels easy, it’s the most wonderful thing. It’s–it’s running flow, I guess. Everything works fluidly. I push my body, and it responds. My head clears, my body feels better, my emotions are more level.

I run with a Garmin watch and upload my runs into Map My Run. Because while I don’t like to race, I am competitive, I’m just competitive with myself. I like to keep track of how far I’m running too, as much as to make sure I don’t overdo it because of those shins. At the end of last year, I got one of Map My Run’s many emails, this one advertising a challenge, You vs The Year. The goal was 1000 km (about 600 miles) run in 2016. I’d never run that many miles in one year: between keeping my runs relatively short (shins again) and weather issues, it has just never added up to 600 miles. My neighbor across the street runs marathons and runs probably 80 miles per week. 1000 km in a year is probably an easy goal for her. But it was a stretch for me, so I decided to sign up to see what happened.

I got started later in the year than I meant to, because my shins were hurting so badly, not from running, but from wearing shoes with no support every day. (Chuck Taylors. I have flat feet. It’s a bad combination.) That badge up there means I hit 700 km last week. It means I’m on track, even accounting for the things that often crop up in fall–getting sick, too many days taken up with kid events, and so on. I usually run five miles at a time now, whereas I began in the spring running three to three and a half. Running just a little bit longer means those times of flow come more frequently. I don’t think my shins can handle long distances, but sometimes I feel like I just want to run forever.

Running is a constant backdrop in my life even though I don’t mention it here much. It’s part of what makes me feel like myself. It’s hugely important for my mental health. It gets priority; I plan it into my week to make sure I’m getting enough runs in. I figure if I’m lucky enough to have identified something that helps me so much, body and mind, it’s essential to make sure it’s part of my life. I am incredibly grateful for running.

Back-to-School Sewing

Sewing for my daughter is a joy. I have improved my skills so much thanks to the patterns we’ve chosen. Most of her back-to-school clothes were sewn by me, with a few more things (leggings and pants) not started yet because it’s still so warm here. So here we go:

roller-skate-dress-no-1

Roller Skate Dress, pattern by Oliver + S

I actually bought this pattern last summer and never got to it. It’s awfully cute. The fabric was bought locally on sale.

Roller Skate Dress, pattern by Oliver + S

Roller Skate Dress, pattern by Oliver + S

It’s such a cute pattern, she wanted two. She picked this fabric out online.

Seashore Sundress, pattern by Oliver + S

Seashore Sundress, pattern by Oliver + S

Again, since it’s still so warm, a sundress is perfect back-to-school wear. She picked this Lizzy House fabric out online too. This photo only shows the back, but the straps button in the front. I can now do buttonholes like nobody’s business and I wonder why they ever stressed me out so much.

A-line skirt, pattern in From Stitch to Style (book)

A-line skirt, pattern in From Stitch to Style (book)

She saw this fabric (Butterfly Box by Lizzy House) online and asked for a skirt. We settled on the A-line skirt pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book From Stitch to Style.  This one has a faux button band down the front and an adjustable waist with buttonhole elastic (and two more buttonhole slits in the waistband–no problem!). It looks like a big-girl skirt. So I made another.

A-line skirt, pattern in From Stitch to Style (book)

A-line skirt, pattern in From Stitch to Style (book)

I won this fabric from Ellen Baker in an Instagram giveaway and G asked for it. It’s double gauze and so, so soft. I left out the faux button band on this one.

A few things I made, I only have Instagram photos for, because I deleted some pictures when I switched phones. My son asked for a new, bigger pencil case. My daughter needed a placemat for school, so I made one with utensil slots that rolled up neatly. And I made her some reusable snack bags with food-grade laminate.

It’s so much fun to sew a bespoke wardrobe for an almost-eight-year-old!

August Reading List

Comp book cover. Sewing pattern by Angela Bowman, surface design all me

Recently sewn: Comp book cover. Sewing pattern by Angela Bowman, surface design all me

This post is a little later than I meant, seeing as how we’re somehow already halfway through September. I did slightly better with my attention reading span in August, reading six books:

The Things We Wish Were True, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Truly Madly Guilty, Lynne Moriarity
Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander *
All American Boys, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely *
Relativity, Antonia Hayes

As usual, I’ve starred some. The New Jim Crow wasn’t what I’d call enjoyable to read, because of the subject matter. I’ve starred it because it’s such a worthwhile read. I thought I knew about systemic racism, but I learned so much more from this book. And I suspect my reading of Another Brooklyn suffered because the e-book I downloaded seemed to be cut off in parts when I tried to read it in my phone browser, and the overall result was choppy. I usually borrow books in the Kindle format but it wasn’t available yet. I probably won’t try that again.

June + July Reading List

I'd rather be here than in Maryland.

I’d rather be here than in Maryland.

June and July’s books-read list is short, comparatively. I’m not enjoying summer in Maryland. Actually, I kind of hate it. I thought it might be better than last summer seeing as how we had time to line up a few activities and we know our way around better. It’s not. It’s disgustingly hot, so awful that for a stretch there my always-outside younger two kids couldn’t handle it. There is no beach. Nature is far away. I’m sick of suburbia, I miss the ocean and my yard in Rhode Island so much it hurts. Who knew you could miss land that much? I used to love summer. We had our favorite places–not just the beach, but other spots near the water, rocky shore with tide pools, aquarium and seaport, picnics and parks. You could do things outside, most of the summer, except for a couple really sultry weeks in August, but even then, you could gather up the kids after dinner for a sunset walk along the shore, where the air was cooler and the breeze tasted of salt. I didn’t take it for granted when I had it, but that didn’t stop me from losing it anyway. I knew I was really lucky to live in a place I loved so much–and it was the nature, absolutely, that rooted me in Rhode Island, not family (which has scattered) or friends (ditto). It was the way I could always find happiness in my natural surroundings. Summer filled me up.

Here, summer is wearying. It’s hot. We don’t get out enough. We’re fractious. I’m tired. We all sneeze and are congested a lot. My attention span is pitiful. All this is to say, this is all I read in June and July. I abandoned many, many books partway through because they couldn’t keep my interest (they’re not listed). I flip through magazines. I lay on my bed a lot, under the ceiling fan, kind of worn out and sad and homesick.

Anyway, here’s the list. Ones I especially liked are starred.

June

Don’t Be A Jerk & Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master, by Brad Warner * (mostly read in May)
We’re All Damaged, by Matthew Norman*
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman*
Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen
The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Raising Demons, by Shirley Jackson

July

The Trials of Apollo, by Rick Riordan
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson*
Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life Without God, by Alom Shaha*