How I Spent My Summer Vacation

As I mentioned in my last post (far too long ago), Ben graduated from Northeastern School of Law in May. His mom, dad, and sister came to visit us for Commencement, and we had a wonderful time day-tripping around New England. We visited Plimoth Plantation, the U.S.S Constitution, Harvard Natural History Museum, and the Nubble Lighthouse in Maine, and dined at the Union Oyster House. Mom and Dad also helped us finish packing up the apartment and loading everything into the truck to head up to The farm in New Hampshire. After getting everything loaded up into the storage unit, we spent about three weeks crashing with friends while we got the Little House ready for habitation. It’s spent the last few years as storage and a hang-out spot for actors and paintballers, so it was in need of a good scrubbing. I cleaned, mopped, painted, and got us all moved in while Ben began studying for the MA and NH Bar Exams.

Once we were all settled, I started working on costumes and props for Hampstead Stage Company, and have since become House Manager as well. Ben took the Bar exams at the end of July, and won’t find out the results till mid October. In the meantime, he’s pursuing job leads and helping our boss Kati write her memoir. We’ve been working on turning our yard into an outdoor lounging spot by training the grapevines to grow over the trellis to provide some shade, and unearthing some paving stones to create a fire pit.

In addition to the costumes for the theater, I’ve been working on building a gown for a local fashion designer, working out some new knitting patterns, and preparing the house for the arrival of the Fall Tour actors. When those projects come along, I’ll have some pictures for you. In the meantime, he are some summertime photos for warm memories as the chill starts to come into the air!

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February Resolutions

The month of January has been a complete blur. I’ve worked 23 solid days in a row – from Jan 7-29 – and now I finally get a week off! Now, of course, I would never deliberately set up such a schedule, but one of my mombosses herniated a disc in her back and has been quite laid up. I certainly don’t mind helping out the family I’ve really become a part of, but I’m also looking forward to our schedules returning to a more manageable level.

Now that February is nearly upon us, I feel like I’m ready to start on my New Year’s goals. We all have a love-hate relationship with resolutions: they have such a connotation of failure or disappointment in yourself. Well, to tell you the truth, I’m pretty happy with where my life is now and how far I’ve come. But that’s no reason not to keep having goals and ambitions, so that’s how I prefer to think of “resolutions.” So here are the things I’m trying out this year:

The 52-Week Money Challenge
The idea is to make a game out of adding to your savings account. Each week, you add the amount associated with week’s calendar number. My challenge is slightly altered for practicality, though. One friend is doing it backwards to get the larger amounts out of the way first, and avoid having the big numbers stack up right around the holidays. Another friend suggested doing the weeks out of order entirely based on that week’s income – and for a person who’s week-to-week income could vary wildly, that seems much more practical. So I’ve been counting my pennies, marking off weeks, and watching that savings account balance grow. So far I’m ahead of the game, having marked off weeks 52, 50, 49, 40, 32, 20, and 10, for a total of $203. Check out the chart below if you’d like to play along.

Kanawha County Public Library’s WV Reads 150+ Challenge
This year, 150 is the minimum instead of the goal, and our team, Murdock Has 14 Friends Who Can Read, is going strong. Personally, I want to beat my numbers from last year of 32 adult books and 25 children’s books. So Far in 2014, I’ve got 4 adult books and 19 children’s books, so I’m off to a strong start. I’m not planning on doing reviews of each book unless it’s a book with a specific Humanist/atheist or perhaps a crafting theme, but please ask if you’d like to know my thoughts on any particular title.

Fitness & Health
In the past few years, I’ve put on 30 pounds and gone up a few pants sizes, bringing my BMI up to 28.3. “Normal” BMI is under 25 and I’m 10 pounds away from official obesity. Now those are the numbers, but here are the realities: I look in the mirror and I feel fine. But when I look at photos of myself, I can’t believe how chubby I’ve gotten. I’ve grown out of half my clothes and don’t like the way anything looks on me anymore. On top of that, my sister and my best friend are both getting married in the next year, and the last thing I want is to look bad in pictures that will be displayed forever.

Alright, so we’ve established the problem, and whining about it won’t do any good. So what’s the plan? Well, I think I’ve finally found the exercise that fits with the needs of my body and I’ll actually enjoy doing. It’s hula hooping! I took my first class the other day with a few friends from Kids Fun Stop, and we had a great time. I learned not only how to keep the hoop going, but I learned four tricks, both left and right handed, and we burned 600 calories in an hour! We definitely felt some muscles and broke a sweat, but it didn’t feel like work at all. I’ll be going to classes once a week and practicing at home. The instructor says she’s lost 50lb over the last few years just by hooping, so hopefully I’ll see some results, too!

I also generally want to take better care of my health: get better sleep, cut back my caffeine, get back on my maintenance meds, and have my thyroid tested, see the dermatologist for a fair-skin-checkup. All that stuff that gets ignored when you’re busy, broke and lacking health insurance.

Crafting & Creating
I have a few skills I want to learn this year, including cutting dovetails (my folks gave me some saws & chisels for Christmas!), and carding wool for spinning. I also want to find a bit more time for leatherwork, beading, and garment construction. But the biggest thing I need to do is finish up my ongoing projects and avoid overcommitting my time. Between my stashed projects and some very generous Christmas gifts, I honestly don’t think I’m going to have to buy any more yarn for myself until June. That’s a pretty happy problem to have!

House & Home
I spend a lot of time keeping up the homes of my nannying clients, and that’s just part of the gig. Nobody wants to come home to a pile of dishes in the sink and toys strewn everywhere. And neither do I – which means I have to do a better job of not letting my dishes and “toys” pile up. And get the vacuum cleaner fixed. And donate the stuff I’m never actually going to use. And find a loving home for some of my crafting supplies and all these books. And bear in mind that we might be moving within the next year, and not purchase anything I’m not willing to pack, store, and move.

Mind & Spirit
Last year I decided I need to make a few more friends who are over the age of 10 and don’t require my constant care and supervision. Podcasts, books, and television are fantastic and educational, but they don’t feed your spirit the way conversation and community do. So I’ve started attending meetings of the Ethical Society of Boston and lectures at the Humanist Hub in Cambridge. On Jan 12 I attended a lecture about what the Humanist community has to offer in 2014 by James Croft, a charming Englishman who’s a Leader-in-Training of Ethical Culture and is co-authoring a book with Greg Epstein called The Godless Congregation. Upcoming lectures that I plan on attending are entitled “Welfare Rights Are A Big Deal,” “Coming Up Short: The Eroding of Traditional Markers of Adulthood,” and “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Then and Now.” Hopefully they will provide lots of food thoughts and blog-posts.

And of course, the blog!
In addition to being more consistent, generally speaking, I want to bring back the Sunday Society, Wednesday Headlines, and Humanist Heroes posts. I want to make sure you guys have plenty of interesting material to read and I want to hear your thoughts and comments!

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October Updates

The month of October has been completely slammed for me – but mostly in a good way.

Early in the month, our fair city had The Greater Boston Yarn Crawl featuring 15 shops all around Boston. My friend Deborah and I hit up or regular shops as well as a few others, and I got some awesome hand-dyed yarn called Sun Also Rises from Toil And Trouble. All her colorways are inspired by literature, but despite its name, Sun Also Rises reminded me of Ponyo, everybody’s favorite little fishie by the sea.

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Ben and I also did a weekend overnight with Charlie and Alex while their mom & dad went to a wedding in New York. The four of us had a great time! We had a ton of fall fun playing Monster Mini Golf on Saturday and going to the EcoTarium on Sunday.

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In the middle of the month, Charlie and Alex got a brand new bunny they named Bunnysaurus Rex. He’s an English Spot and lop mix, and the boys’ mom and I have been building him an epic house for the living room. It’s 2’x6′ and features an interior with a ramp up to a mid-level shelf and another ramp up to his “rooftop garden.” The top level will have a plug to keep him from escaping when all of his people are out for the day, and a wooden fence to allow him to safely explore the upstairs. Both levels will have padded floors to protect Rex’s feet and the wood will be sealed with high-gloss paint to protect from any errant puddles. Of course it will have all the regular bunny amenities such as his litter box, water bottle, hay trough, hiding boxes, and plenty of toys. I’ll get some photos up of the finished house in the next week or so.

The end of the month is of course, Halloween. Ben and I like Halloween just fine, but for the last few years we’ve both been to swamped to do much about it. And we live in an apartment complex that doesn’t lend itself to trick-or-treating, so we didn’t even buy any candy this year. But after looking at pictures of people making costumes for themselves, their kids, and their pets all day on Facebook and Reddit, I decided our bunnies needed some costumes. At 3pm I broke out some stash yarn size 3 needles, and black scrapbook paper and around 11:00, THIS was the result. I was pretty pleased with myself.

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So in addition to all of this, October featured my usual nannying schedule of one 65-hour week alternating with one 30-hour week, and my regular knitting projects – a hat for Samantha’s Monkey, a. Minion hat and Daniel Tiger’s blue Tigey for various Halloween costumes, and a pair of mitts for my new HH Etsy Shop. And wouldn’t you know it, the Red Sox were in the World Series, and I needed something with which to taunt Ben’s Cardinals-loving brother. Trash-talking ensued, and thus was born a pair of Loser’s Granny Panties, suitable for wearing on one’s head to the winner’s delight.

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So the downside of all this business is that in the past six weeks, two of them have been spent curled up on the couch feeling miserable. This week I realized that it was probably a recurrence of whatever it was last time and went to the doctor. Sure enough, a sinus infection that made my asthma go nuts has resulted in both being sick and being pretty exhausted all month due to not being able to breathe properly. But I got all fixed up with with a whole pack of medicines, and while it’ll take a little while to be fully recovered, I’m well on my way, and that’s good news too.

Nannying

Today was my very first day as a full-time nanny. I’ll be taking care of an almost-two year old boy three days per week (four if Mom picks up an extra day at work later this summer), a pair of two and four year old sisters one day per week, and I’ll still be getting Charlie and Alex from school two days per week and sitting them on Saturday nights. All this will give me around 50 hours per week of awesome kid-time.

And you know, I have to say it, as a theater practitioner and hopeful artist, I’ve done an awful lot of different jobs to keep myself afloat over the years – coffee making, photo developing, shelf stocking, register running, drunk people steering, and ticket taking – but I think this gig is gonna be pretty darn awesome.

Today consisted of finger painting, play-doh-ing, walking slowly while inspecting every dandelion and puddle, pushing a swing, reading stories, putting colored plastic bears into colored plastic cups, nap time, and more play-doh. Then I got a last minute call to come over to sit for one of my occasional families when they lucked into Red Sox tickets for tonight. So I’ve spent the evening enacting, coloring pictures of, and speculating about all things Harry Potter with an 8 year old, her 5 year old sister, and 2 year old brother. Everyone is now thankfully and fairly quickly asleep, and I can’t help but think this is going to be a pretty awesome summer.

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Adventure Day With The Boys

Yesterday my partner Ben and I took Charlie and Alex, the boys I babysit, out for the day so their mom and dad can keep packing for their impending move. We started out at 9:30 heading to the New England Aquarium. They’re renovating the central column tank, but we still got to see all the animals – and Im pretty sure we got a better look at Myrtle the Turtle in her temporary home. We checked out the fur seals, the adorable blue penguins, several types of jellyfish, and the (seriously icky) octopus. I have a deep and abiding fear of octopi and their slimy appendages that the boys think is completely hilarious. They wanted to take me to see the octopus and watch me freak out. I managed to hold it together (“She handled it better than I thought she would,” said Alex) but I did encourage us to move along a little faster than I would have for the turtle or penguins.

When the boys tired of the aquarium, we moved about two miles up the road to the Museum of Science. First we watched a 3D movie about dinosaurs, and then enjoyed some snacks. Ben and Alex headed off to play science video games while Charlie and I went to the butterfly house. While we were in line, Charlie made friends with a girl his age named Simone. They took turns comforting one another when the butterflies would startle them, and afterward we held a little caterpillar and fed him a leaf while we learned about how he would turn into a big pretty moth. Then Simone and Charlie decided they wanted to see the dinosaurs together, so off we went! They were adorable together. I gave Simone’s mom my contact information in case the kids needed a play date later.

Finally our little guys were worn out and it was time to head home – but not without a stop at the penny smashing machine and the gift shop. Charlie picked out a toy train, and Alex got a plaster treasure chest from which he’ll have to chisel a piece of fool’s gold. We had pizza for dinner, bath time and story time, and the boys konked right out. It was really a fantastic day.

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Millie Continues

Millie has been a LOT of work, but the show really looks great. We even had to make some last-minute adjustments to put Millie’s understudy in when, after all her hard work, the lead got the flu and couldn’t sing without damaging her vocal chords. The performers, director, stage manager, and costume shop all really pulled together to make it work and the show still looked fantastic. Speedy recovery, Kathleen!

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Photo by Costume Designer David Cabral.

Back to BoCo!

It’s been a busy few days here! I’m back at Boston Conservatory for the Winter Dance Concert... There are four pieces; two premiers and two reconstructions. My job as Head of Wardrobe is to keep all of the costumes in clean, working order, and to teach my student crew the basics of special-care laundry and backstage protocol.

Wardrobe is a position that often goes overlooked because of the misconception that, well, anyone can do laundry. In truth, anyone can be taught to do laundry, but there are specialized skills that most folks don’t need in their daily life. Many dance pieces and historical garments can’t be washed in a machine at all, but still have to look and smell fresh for each performance. And these days, most modern clothes have at least some synthetic content, making garment care much easier – but it also has the side effect of making most people unaware of how to properly care for a natural-fiber garment.

A lot of working wardrobe is also very personal: you have to get into another person’s space, make sure every garment they wear fits properly and facilitates the actor’s work. You might have to assist with makeup application or securing wigs. You will have to wash undergarments, deal with sweat, and occasionally take a half-eaten cough drop out of the mouth of someone about to walk onstage.

There’s a lot of trust involved, and as always, trust is earned, not demanded. The performers must know without a doubt that their costume will be clean and in full working order each day when they return to work. They must trust that when they come running offstage for a quick change, a quiet, confidant, encouraging wardrobe member will be there to facilitate the change. And they have to know that if they split their inseam, you’ll be ready and armed with safety pins. Like they say, if you’ve done your job right, no one will ever know you were there.

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The cast of Boston Conservatory’s Way of the World.