Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How I Spent My February Break, 2015.

Freezing.  Shivering. Turning up the heat.  Complaining about the weather in NY.

Looked at real estate listings for Charlotte, NC and Tega Cay, SC.  Sent the listings to Dan.  Showed the listings to the kids.  Listened to other people complain about the cold.  Felt bad that the kids can't even really go outside to play... -30 degree windchill rules that out.  Climbed into bed last Wednesday and realized I missed my opportunity to have the kids play outside- it was the warmest day of the week.

Slept in.  Stayed in my pajamas.  Watched television.  Watched movies.  Watched more television with my kids- Master Chef Junior is a favorite.  Watched Alec almost come to tears when his favorite contestant, Jenna from NYC, was kicked off the show.

Drove the kids to Vacation Bible School at our church.  Listened to them sing songs and have fun.  Hosted a sleepover for two of Michaela's friends.  Drove Jenna to a playdate.   Complained about how cold it is outside.  Hosted a playdate here for Alec.

Started watching Breaking Bad on Netflix with Dan.  Snuck downstairs to the den multiple times to watch as many episodes as we could.  Had to convince Dan that we still had to parent and feed our children even though all we wanted to do was watch more Breaking Bad.  Texted my brother, who also started watching Breaking Bad this week.  Considered staging some kind of intervention for Dan about his Breaking Bad addiction.  Had a great dream that I started dating a biker guy and for our second date he texted me this: "I have secured our crystal meth and prescription pills so we can party tonight."  Texted him back: "I never want to talk to you again."

Broke up a few arguments.  Said "leave your sister alone, please" about 15 times to Michaela.  Said "please pick up after yourself" about 115 times to Jenna.  Said "Sorry, I can't play Plants vs. Zombies right now" about 215 times to Alec.  Lounged around. Played Plants Vs. Zombies on the iPad with Alec.  Caught up on other people's blogs.  Organized part of my craft closet downstairs.  Used my label maker.

On Saturday went to Legoland in Westchester.  Watched my son's head almost explode.  Watched my girls have a ball, too.  Bought souvenirs in the shop they conveniently have you pass through on your way out.  Drove in yet another snowstorm to Dan's brother and sister in law's house.  Had a great get together with our whole family.  Kissed my nieces.  Watched Alec and Sophie chit chat and smile at each other.  Talked and laughed.  Slept over.  Drove home.  Watched the Oscars with my girls.  Picked out our favorite looks on the movie stars.

Shivered.  Slept.  Hibernated.  Carried blankets with me wherever I went in the house.  Turned up the heat again.  Considered that maybe in some kind of freak real-world Wizard of Oz scenario our town has been picked up and relocated to Siberia.  Looked at all the icicles on the houses.  Listened to the wind.

Thanked God over and over and over that I had a warm, safe, dry house that is filled with people I love.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Meet Eleanor Roosevelt and How She was Made.

So remember four years ago, when Michaela had to dress up as Clara Barton for her Biography unit in Ms. Lawler's class? And I couldn't figure out exactly how to do that with clothes I had on hand so I sewed this costume for her? And she loved it?  And frankly, I loved doing it for her?


Look at how teeny tiny Michaela was!


Guess who else was carefully watching?  Jenna, who was in kindergarten at the time.
And guess who has Ms. Lawler four years later? Jenna.
And guess what the month of January's book project was? Dress up like your Biography book subject.
Jenna was thinking of doing Jackie Kennedy, and I had it all set in my head... a tweedy pink suit with a pillbox hat, gloves, a smart little black bag and of course, pearls and sunglasses (though the sunglasses I had in mind were really later NYC Jackie O, not First Lady Jackie).

But then Jenna read some really inspiring quotes about Eleanor Roosevelt and did some of her own research and decided that was the way to go.
And I admit I was a bit stumped.  Because after looking through lots of pictures and books about her, it was hard to find a defining look for Eleanor, other than her furs, pearls and hats.  And rather dowdy droopy-bowtie-at-the-neck rumply suits.  And I didn't have a fur.
So I went to my trusty Joann fabric store and looked through the patterns and narrowed it down to two choices- one an early, early Eleanor (like around 1910) dress with a yoke and lace and a long skirt and 86 steps of instructions.  Yikes.  The other was a slightly older possibility, around 1920's but pre-flapper, with chiffon and silky fabric.  And only about 67 steps to construct it.  I was thinking it would be appropriate for NYS First Lady Eleanor.
Thankfully, Jenna chose option #2.
We went back to Joann's for Jenna to choose her fabric and to buy the notions (thread, snaps, hooks and eyes- no zippers prior to the 1930's, I think- and boning) I needed.  Yes, I needed boning because the dress has a real live one corset underneath it.  Seriously.

So the picture below was a few days in to sewing, and I hadn't even cried in frustration once!
You can see the picture on the front of the pattern in  the right of the photo.  I was making the light green version.


I worked on it for about a week and a half from roughly the time the kids got on the bus to when they got home, with a short break for lunch.  One day I worked all day and then when I had Jenna try it on that afternoon, I had not gathered it right and it laid funny, so I had to rip out pretty much everything I had done that day.  But I still didn't cry!
The chiffon was a nightmare to sew because it's so fine, and I had to do lots of experimenting with the thread tension.  Honestly, the satin was not much better.
The corset was time consuming but once it was done, I am proud to be able to say I've made one.   The corset needed lots of adjustments because the pattern was a size 6 women and Jenna is really a size 14 girl.  I had to shorten it, too, but not just lop off the bottom- it had a vent slit in the back and it would have ended up being 2 inches of a slit if I just shortened it.  So I had to rework the pattern a bit to find a place to take about 5 inches out of the skirt.  The other issue was that of course Jenna does not have a bust yet, so there was some draping in the front of the dress that I am not skilled enough to re-work to remove.
But it eventually all came together.

The morning of the presentation, we used this picture to guide us for hair.  Eleanor had pretty frizzy/ curly hair, so I tightly curled the front and sides of Jenna's hair, roller curled the back, side parted it and pulled it back in to a messy bun.



I had to get special permission to come to the classroom for her presentation because Jenna literally couldn't get in or out of the corset and dress by herself.  It made it much more clear why each woman on Downton Abby has a lady's maid.  They were trapped in those clothes!

So here's Eleanor, about to go into her classroom.  The hat is an old Easter hat we curled up on one side and the fur is a mink stole of my grandmother's that my mom let Jenna borrow.  And of course a string of pearls.  Fancy Schmancy!



Better shot of the front of the dress.
There were chiffon cascades sewn into the side seams of the skirt.
The light blue you see poking out of the top is the top of the corset.

And the back.


Giving her presentation.


Once the kids guessed who she was, she wrote her name on the board and her teacher took her picture with the book she read.

I think Jenna had a great time dressing up all fancy in a custom-made dress.  I have to admit it was a bit anti-climactic coming home that day, the presentation over,  a little unsure what to do with this precious dress.  So for now it is hanging in Jenna's closet and she can slip it on anytime and play dress up.  With help from her lady's maid, of course.

And guess who might have Ms. Lawler four years from now?
Alec.
And guess who is praying he'll choose to read a book about a soccer star, and we can throw some kind of jersey and mesh shorts on him and call it a day?
Mommy.

But with my luck he'll chose Abraham Lincoln, and I'll throw myself in to making a custom black suit complete with period-correct top hat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Performance Overload.

We had an exciting couple of weeks here at the Libutti household: Michaela performed in the the Middle School's musical, Bye Bye Birdie, and Alec and Jenna performed in separate groups at their elementary's Lip Sync performance.

I am worn out from smiling so much.

You may recall that Michaela had a little part in last year's musical, Seussical, starring as the cutest little yellow Who in Whoville.  You may not recall this because I am not sure that I ever posted about it.  But trust me- it happened and she was totes adorbs as a smiling, happy Who Whom I Could Not Take My Eyes Off Of Because I am Her Mom.

Well, she tried out again this year and got a part WITH A NAME.  Big time, people.  She played Penelope, friend of Kim, the girl who Conrad Birdie (an Elvis-type character) kisses before enlisting in the service.  She was mostly in group songs with the other friends of Kim and had a few of her own lines in one of the songs.

She attended all of the rehearsals and meetings and dress rehearsals and I tried to be patient as I drove her back and forth to the middle school 8,483 times.  She panicked when it wasn't quite coming together.  But by the last week she relaxed and told me it was going to be a great show.

And she was right.

It was amazing.  On opening night, Dan and I sat in our middle front seats and drank the whole thing in and I could not get over how proud of her I was.  She was just so good- confident and smiley and happy and right in the moment, looking out at the audience.  The songs are great, it moved along quickly and it was a great all-around performance.

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Michaela's big song... she's in the center with her back turned to the audience... 
she's a bit hard to hear because she wasn't wearing a microphone

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Dancing!!(She's the one who ends up on the far left of the stage.)

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Curtain call!  Can you stand how happy she looks?? (Last girl on the right)

Dan and I went to the closing night (the kids all cried because it was over) and a few of the performances in between.  I was a crazy woman trying to remember who was going what night, what tickets I had bought for whom, and what the overall schedule was for that weekend. (I also volunteered to help with the cast and crew afterparty on Saturday so I helped set up Saturday morning and then chaperoned Saturday night.)  By the time Sunday rolled around, we were all pooped out but happy.

Here's a couple of pictures of Michaela with her castmates:



Michaela with her friend Erin- 
they have been friends since they were in 3 year old preschool together.






So once that was wrapped up and we were just about recovered, along came the Lip Sync.  For those not in the know, Lip Sync is an event that occurs every other year (because the Mommies can't muster the energy to do it annually) in which kids form groups of 5 or more kids, a song is chosen and a dance routine is developed and rehearsed and eventually performed for approximately 30,000 people all crammed into a venue with not enough seats for the adoring fans of said children.
And we are no better- we brought a grandparent, an aunt, two siblings, two parents and even a friend of a sibling.
I fully accept my responsibility of adding to the madness.

This event was made much easier this year for me in two ways: 1) Alec's teacher organized the whole class to be a group and they rehearsed at school and even tie-dyed shirts at school so I was not responsible for brainstorming/securing/constructing any type of costume and 2) Jenna was in a group with several girls from our neighborhood and we were able to carpool to rehearsals.  Jenna's group was made us of fairly dance-savvy girls so we were not bogged down in rehearsals, anyway. It was the least painful Lip Sync ever.

Alec came home after the first few rehearsals at school, bursting with news. "I have a SURPRISE!" he said.  "I can't tell you but I want to tell you."  And he ended up spilling the beans: his group was going to sing Frozen's Let It Go with an introduction from the Beatles' Let It Be, and he had volunteered to be one of the four Beatles who stands in front with a fake microphone singing.  This was HUGE news. His teacher was so proud of him.

So the dress rehearsal came for the Lip Sync, and I was able to grab some good video and pictures:



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Alec is the boy with the white long sleeves under his orange shirt.  And the only one correctly mouthing the words to Let It Be.



The lady in the orange shirt is Alec's teacher, the Altogether Saintly Mrs. Jones.

And here we are on show night, rocking' the Frozen-color-inspired tie dyed shirts:
(Alec is basically under the 0 in 2015)

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Here is Jenna's group, pre-performance at the dress rehearsal.  Such a cute group of girls!



(Jenna is second from the left in the pink shirt.)
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They rocked it just as hard on performance night! They did a mash up of a bunch of fun songs, starting with the classic "Everybody Dance Now" and moving into "Shower", "Shake it Off", "Classic", and "All About That Bass".



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I was so proud of all of them!
See why my face hurts from smiling?

(I think a teeny tiny bit of me is also smiling because I only have two more Lip Syncs for Alec to be in and then we Libuttis are DONE.)




Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Because I Enjoy Torturing my Children.

So I dragged my three kids and husband and (much more willing) mom to a celebration of the Twelfth Night of Christmas at two local historical sites.

Because I enjoy torturing my children.

But come on... the publicity for the event promised games, period-correct food, reenactors, tours of the sites and live music.  It ran from 4-7pm, and I promised that if it was really awful, we'd stay for an hour and then leave.

So after de-Christmassing the house that morning (funny how I have so many wonderful memories of putting the Christmas tree up every year, but no warm, happy memories of taking it down. It's like every year it's a new experience. How do all these ornaments fit in this bin? How does the tree go back into the box again?  Where do we put all this stuff?) we all got ready and left for the UNENDINGLY long (according to my girls) 15 minute drive across the Hudson River to Crailo Historic site.

We had gone there over the summer without Michaela and I think everyone kind of enjoyed it in a way that was uncomfortable for them to admit... like, "Hey! That was fun, right?" and they answered quite hesitantly, "Yeah, it was ... good."  It was nice to show my mom around to the cool displays they have set up, and even the house itself is pretty fascinating.  It is all about the Dutch who came and settled here and gives a very different perspective than my usual English/Pilgrim historical haunts.

They did have music, but it was just one lady playing a pretty instrument I had never heard before, and some crafts that the kids enjoyed doing upstairs.




Alec in his Three Kings Hat

But the real excitement for me was going into the basement kitchen, where two women dressed in period clothing were cooking in the open hearth and had displays of holiday breads and cookies.  Because I eat that stuff up, both literally and figuratively.  I even took one of their cards which promoted their group: Scions of Patria: Recreating the everyday life of the Dutch in North America 1650-1675.  Because you know what a dork I am.  I was apparently so overwhelmed with dork-ness that I forgot to snap any pictures of this amazing sight.  But here are a few from when we went over the summer, just to give you an idea:



 That stone foundation and heavy wood ceiling beams are original, and they are massive.  You can breathe in the history in that space.


 Over the front door heading outside... I love decorations with citrus fruits.

Front of Crailo/ Van Rensselaer House

When we left, the sun was just going down over the river and the light was beautiful.  I am so connected to the Hudson River and when I see sights like this, I can never imagine living anywhere else. (And then late January storms come and drop a foot of snow with windchill in the negative numbers, and then I can't imagine why I stay here. It's all relative.)



Then we headed over back to our side of the River to go to Schuyler Mansion in Albany.  I am ashamed to say that I have lived here for 40 years and have never gone inside.



When we got out of our car and started walking towards the house, we were greeted with a bonfire and a man playing a fife.  I just about passed out with giddiness.  (No one else I was with appeared to be as lightheaded as I was with historical glee.)


 Now, Crailo was pretty low key... lots of visitors, nice food... but this event at Schuyler Mansion was a PARTY.  It was wall to wall people and the period music was cranking.  There were tons of people in period clothing, eating and drinking and playing games and giving tours.  I was breathless.


The dining room table in this room was set for a holiday feast.  It was gorgeous.  On the wall are portraits of the house owners: Catharine Van Rensselaer Schuyler and her husband, Philip Schuyler.  Catharine was from the family who lived in Crailo.  See the connection there?  The Schuylers were quite well-to-do and the house was magnificent and filled with history.  Alexander Hamilton got married in that very house.
 The grand staircase was decorated with live greenery.

Upstairs bedroom

 In the upstairs grand hallway, musicians were set up and playing. 
 Being there at night, it was amazing to imagine what the parties they hosted there were like.

 In the downstairs hallway, this huge table was set up with period correct food and drinks.  
It was gorgeous.

 In the front parlor room. I couldn't stop looking at the woodwork on the fireplace.

 Alec and Michaela watched the kids play Shut the Box, which is a game my mom brought home for them from Colonial Williamsburg last year.

 My kids don't look too tortured, do they? 



There were two little girls there, both wearing period dresses.  I talked to the older sister about her dress and she blew me away with her vocabulary and familiarity with clothing of the time.  I examined the hem and detail work on her dress and couldn't believe how beautifully done it was (Eleanor Roosevelt's dress was a poor, poor, poor cousin of this type of sewing).  I later found out that the girls' mom does costume work for a living, and that made me feel better.


Love this picture and the light and shadows.  

The other highly entertaining thing that happened while we were there was that a king or queen was chosen every half hour via random drawing.  Alec happened to draw the paper with the picture of the king on it, and when Michaela called attention to the crowd that he was the king, he promptly burst into tears.  So who stepped in but my handsome husband, who was then officially crowned King of the 6:30pm hour at the party.  He donned a crown and a red royal robe and had to walk around the round table in the picture and waved his royal hands and we all yelled, "Huzzah! Hail the king of the 6:30 hour!"  He was embarrassed but I think secretly enjoyed it.  I of course took pictures of it but will refrain from posting them.

For the next few weeks, he identified himself to me as "Daniel, King of the 6:30 hour!"


After awhile, the kids indicated to me that their interest in all things 1700's had waned and they were ready to go back to the 21st century.  So, we travelled back to modern times and had dinner at our local Chili's.  And they breathed a sigh a relief.  The torture was over.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed every minute.  I have poked around online and found some groups about historical reenactors and the clothing they wear.  I have also discovered that a living history museum in Western-ish NY is doing a three day commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in July, complete with two battles a day!  Tons of reenactors! Games! Food! Activities! History, history, history!

I am planning my scheme to torture them some more.  Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!