We met the very creative Samantha of Curious Jane summer camps and after school programsat a friend’s birthday party at the Curious Jane studio. We love her clever way of using everyday materials that most of us have around the house, and incorporating them into inspired project–so much so that we asked her to contribute to Momfilter on a regular basis. We wanted to find out more about her:
What’s your background: I’m from Atlanta, born and raised, but we’ve lived in Brooklyn about 10 years now and have definitely found our groove here. My husband and I have two girls; Livvy Grace is 7 and Eleanor is 9. My background is in design…graphic design at Yale, then Masters of Industrial Design at Pratt. I met my husband designing catalogs for his camp company, and later, while working on my Masters, I would spend the summers living on campuses and directing his all-girls overnight programs at colleges. Me, my girls, and 60 teenage girls for 6 weeks! This is how I came to know ‘camp.’ (I wasn’t an avid camper as a child; I attended plenty of sleep-away camps but was shy and sure that everyone was much cooler than me).
A few years ago, I had the chance (read: major nudge from the economic downturn) to start my own programs. I had been following two courses, camp and design, and my work in design had centered around ethnographic research–basically, working with people. With fear and uncertainty (the truth) I combined everything I love and started Blue Tree and Curious Jane. Blue Tree is our creative residential program for teen girls – it was a natural extension of what I was familiar with. Curious Jane is a day camp – I thought to myself “we do these programs for older girls, what about something for my own girls… what would be fun?”
So, what do I do each day? I organize, market, and run summer camps (and, yes, it’s definitely a year-round job!). Both Curious Jane and Blue Tree were very well-received and grew rapidly (about 500% from our first to our second summer). I was able to move work out of my house, and we have a great little office on 3rd Ave in Brooklyn. I am surrounded by wonderful amazing women of all ages (5 to 65) who inspire me and keep me moving each day.
Other tidbits, and in no particular order…I’m very tall, volleyball was (and is) my ‘sport;’ I play at the Y and just finished coaching Brooklyn’s first-ever girls’ volleyball clinic. Our dining room table is always covered in crafts, but otherwise I like my surroundings super-neat. I’m pretty diplomatic and I like to keep busy.
At Pratt – our program was very form-based – we sanded a lot of plaster and assembled many 3-element compositions. The school of thought was that each of the three elements had a particular role – dominant, subdominant, subordinate. This is a good way to balance life.
Who cooks in the house? I do the cooking and my husband does the dishes (though to be fair, he’s been dabbling in the dinner menu.) This is a good balance because I’m a clean-as-you-go cook and he’s a use-every-dish-in-the-kitchen to make pasta cook – so I definitely don’t want to get stuck with the dishes!
What’s a typical weeknight? Do you have a go-to dinner? Growing up with two full-time working parents, we still had a family dinner each and every night. I want the same. Lately, I get home around 6 and have just a few minutes to throw something together. Truly, Trader Joe’s makes this all possible. I don’t have a go-to dinner – except Friday night is taco night! After 10 years making family dinners, I’m finally able to produce crowd-pleasers on a regular basis. Among my girlfriends I’m known for kick-butt salads and dressings.
Do you have any family rituals that involve food? Other than eating together, no. My younger daughter does love to help in the kitchen and she makes a mean guacamole. We have an exceptional tenant on our upper floor who she single-handedly wooed with her home-made guac.
A side note: We don’t have a microwave, so I always cook rather than re-heat or de-frost. When Eleanor was a toddler, I was in school full-time with arduous hours and came to rely on zapped dinners a bit too often. In a moment of domesticity, I baked a casserole that she greeted with a dinner-table toast “to oven food.” I was guilt-stricken. When our microwave self-combusted, I never bought a new one.
A quirky note: I absolutely refuse to make pancakes or bacon after I have showered because I spend the rest of the day smelling like oil. If my girls want a big fat breakfast – they know they have to call it before I shower.
Regarding screen time, would you say you’re very conservative, easy breezy, or agnostic? I’m pretty easy breezy but only because my girls don’t choose to be in front of the screen a lot. And when the TV is on, it’s because we are all watching together as a family. We allow an occasional half-hour weeknight show like “iCarly” or “Arthur” and we definitely indulge in a Friday night movie after taco dinner. Video games have never been a big part of our activities. My 4th-grader emails quite a bit, but in short bursts. There are actually lots of great resources that I plan to consult on guidance for screen time and technology use. My girls’ school, for example, has a technology ‘contract’ that parents and children can agree to with each other – it’s basically cell phone / texting etiquette and internet safety. When I read it I thought that I and everyone I know should agree to this too!
Tell us about how you celebrate birthdays in your house. Small and sweet! Parents’ birthdays just a family affair with a fun dinner and a big cake. Our girls prefer smaller get-togethers too. Recent favorites: when Livvy Grace turned 7, she invited 4 friends for dinner at a hibachi restaurant, with all the showy tricks. At the end of the meal, the disco ball and music turned on, the whole place sang a rocking Happy Birthday, and her cake was topped with a sparkler. Really, can you beat that?
For my 9 year old’s summer birthday , we went on priceline.com and found a great deal on a night at a SoHo hotel with a pool! She invited 3 friends and we had an in-town sleep-over. A French café around the corner served crepes for dinner, and we swam, decorated the hotel-room, rented movies, ordered breakfast pool-side and swam some more.
My favorite party accessory is a good package of stick-on days-of-the-week mustaches. I’ve brought them to all different types of gatherings and they never fail to delight! I don’t have a huge opinion on the goody bags but we do steer clear of the plastic bags of plastic stuff.
Tell us about a typical weekend: We start the weekend with Friday night tacos and a movie. I’m the early riser, and on a weekend morning, I’ll start coffee, read the paper. When my girls join me, we dive straight into crafts at the table in our dining room. My husband is a late sleeper, but once he’s up, the day kicks into full swing – errands, little projects, birthday parties, playdates, the usual chaos. We occasionally have a date night – but we’re not as good about this as we should be. My brother usually joins us for an early Sunday dinner; we finish the weekend with a big meal.
Any family rituals you carry on, or that you have created? I do love that, as parents, we have the chance to carry on old family traditions or create new ones! I’m definitely a Christmas bah-humbug, but one tradition I love (and this caught me by surprise) is the stockings. We often travel for Christmas and are with a mix of adults and children. My husband and I always volunteer to do the stockings – for everyone of all ages! We spent this past Christmas with family friends who hadn’t had anything to do with Christmas stockings in about 40 years. When they woke up to their Santa stockings, they were as delighted as my own girls were. And of course, we were all wearing our mustaches!
Favorite activities for when you’re stuck indoors? I’m grouchy about long gray days and cold winds. We do lots and lots of crafts–our table is covered in projects–and my husband plays a lot of music that the girls join in on. The girls design indoor obstacle courses when they need to race around a bit. We don’t have any rules about jumping on the furniture (we live in a small space, and winters are long–they need to jump!) except “don’t fall off.”
What’s the sound-track in the house? My husband is hugely musical, and I tend to listen to what he plays. On my own, I prefer to listen to the radio – it’s current and fresh and I choose stations at the left end of the dial – jazz, bluegrass, reggae, gospel, irish folk – whatever! Really, the only genre I don’t regularly tune in to (unless I’m running) is rock. I’m a dedicated non-profit radio listener.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you? Photo albums. Staying in touch better with friends and families in other places. I love putting things in the mail–a postcard, a letter, a giftie – dropping something in the blue box and anticipating the smile it will bring on the other end.
I love to-do lists. I would feel lost without a lengthy to-do list. Being in constant motion is relaxing and fulfilling to me (I don’t vacation well). When I feel stressed, I actually add something to my schedule; it helps the other items seem less overwhelming.
Top 3 favorite kid books: The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds (an absolutely brilliant picture book about the power of owning your work), Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (a chapter book that my 4th grader brought home and I couldn’t put down), The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt (I read all her books as a girl, and have loved reading them to my girls).
Last book you read? Trying to Save Piggy Snead (I love John Irving, and love essays, and this is his collection of essays)
What’s your beauty routine? Before bed, I dip into Pond’s cold cream. It is hands-down the best make-up remover / moisturizer, in a few quick swipes. My toiletries stash is pretty un-fussy. It consists of whatever bar soap is on the sink (Dial, Zest, etc), Trader Joe’s hand lotion, and kids’ 2-in-1 shampoo.
My other must-have item for winter is a home-mixed mason jar of sugar and olive oil. I use it every shower after washing (and even use it on my face) – the sugar gets rid of the dry flakey skin and the olive oil soaks right in and makes everything smooth and moisturized.
My girls beg me not to wear make-up, but I have a few essentials that I’ll rarely leave the house without. Great Lash mascara, Neutrogena’s under-eye cover-up and any old lip gloss. I love powdery stuff that sparkles, but I always find that other people wear it better.
Your favorite family trip ever? Our recent Thanksgiving trip to Middlebury, VT (my husband’s alma mater). It was as an out-of-the-blue favorite. We don’t do a lot of family trips, due to time and budget constraints of course, but I do love to travel away for the holidays.Rather than doing a lot of gifts (which I don’t like to do) we do a Christmas trip with family. I’m hooked on this new tradition.
Do you have any personal a-ha tip? My a-ha tips are likely favorite useful phrases, which are equally useful with kids and adults:
“My concern is…” (Parents, and all people, tend to lead with their solution, rather than their concern. When you fill in this sentence, many solutions appear.)
“Let me think about that for one minute…” (better to think than to feel pinned to answer on the spot)
“Yes…” (It’s always good to start with a positive, a compliment, a ‘yes’ – even if the answer is “Yes, you can have cookies after you finish your yogurt” rather than “No cookies until you finish your yogurt)
You feel your best when…? When the sun is out and the days are long. I’m a sunshine girl, born and raised in Atlanta. The long gray winters here are super tough for me. Give me sunshine and temperatures over 50 and I’m good to go!
Favorite clothing item and why? Skinny jeans (though I hear they are on their way out???) They go with boots, flip-flops and are best to bike in (don’t get caught in the gears). They go with t-shirts, blousy shirts, anything. I also love a pair of earrings my mom got me when I was in 7th grade. I didn’t wear them much back then, but I wear them every week now. My peanut necklace is a sentimental favorite. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I scheduled the ‘big’ ultrasound on my birthday, as a gift to myself, to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. My mom’s birthday gift to me was a peanut charm, cast in white gold, on a necklace chain. Before we could officially refer to the baby as a ‘she’, we had called her the little peanut. That’s really what they look like in those early ultrasound photos, isn’t it?!
Proudest moment in parenting? Oh dear, tough question. Truly liking my kids? Not just loving them but really really liking them. And knowing that I had a little bit to do with it, but definitely not everything to do with it!
Guiltiest pleasure? A lot of margaritas on a summer evening, with neighbors on my front stoop… while the kids play to the point of exhaustion. Then we all fall into bed.
Portrait of Samantha and her daughters by Anna Moller