Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Lens Artwork

Flowers in the school garden

In theory, I was going to put these photos up before the New Year began. In reality, it's January 1st and I'm backdating these because they're just too meaningless to start out the year with them. I mean, they're pretty and all, but all they tell you about our lives is that I have a knack for picking pretty, but otherwise inane things to photograph, especially given photo equipment that is...well, really too good for me since I don't plan to open a studio. (O.K., it's not really that good, but it's quality still outstrips my opinion of my photographic abilities.
Raindrops on Naked Lady Leaves

Skimble's Closeup

Winter Birch Leaves

Winter Backyard Flowers

Ornamental Cabbage

Hmmm. Ornamental cabbage. That's just about how I feel now that the holidays have ended. Somehow that seems like an appropriate note to end the year on.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winter Beach

We really weren't sure what to do with ourselves yesterday, but the kids made it abundantly clear that we had to get out of the house and do something. Daddy and I had come up with a couple of ideas the night before, but neither of them really appealed. It took too long to get there or might be boring for one or more of us. So, I came up with something else on the spur of the moment and we headed over the hill to the beach.

This idea took care of a number of needs. It got the kids out of the house to a place they're always game to go (the beach) and it meant I'd have some use for my new camera lens. The latest is a killer telephoto and this state beach features over-wintering monarch butterflies at this time of year, so it seemed like a good choice.

Of course, there were so few butterflies that I didn't get any photos of them. I guess we should've gone during ski week instead. And despite a weather forecast that wasn't promising, it turned out to be a beautiful morning and early afternoon at the coast. So, in the end, all our objectives were met.The new lens is great. I took this photo of wading birds from really far away. That's probably why it's a little too dark too, but whatever.

I decided to do a little study on different textures at the beach and that was fun. This is one of my favorites:Yeah, I know. You don't need a telephoto for that. It was one of the last telephoto pictures I took, opting instead for my relatively new macro lens to take close-ups for the rest of our little walk.Oh, whoops. No children. Mommy must've been off in her own little photo world. Where are the photos of the children? Well, they're not quite as cooperative or photogenic as rocks, you know. So, here they are.Does Daddy look like he's messing around with his iPhone? I think he does, but we're out on this beautiful beach. He would never, ever...oh...well. Nevermind.

We took a quick trip by the visitor's center before heading back to town to grab some lunch. We found ourselves a fun little spot called Emily's Bakery where we got some yummy sandwiches and couldn't leave without picking up some awesome-looking pastries for New Year's. Can't wait to try them!

It was such a fun day. I wish we felt free to just go take off and find something like that to do more often! Clearly Daddy and I need to do some research and cabin/campsite booking!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Once the rush of cookie baking and event hosting was finally over, Daddy and I managed to get most of the presents wrapped and Smunch's bike put together well before the big day itself. We carefully stowed the bike in the locked garden shed, only to find that I'd left it unlocked after planting 120 tulip and daffodil bulbs in the backyard one day. Naturally, that meant that Smunch walked in the house one day declaring "I found my bike!"...despite the fact that he had no earthly reason to go in the garden shed except that he'd bizarrely decided that a rake needed to be put away. Seriously, what kind of kid does that?

I'd also mail ordered a nice shirt for Daddy before Christmas and stashed it away somewhere safe, only to forget - absolutely and completely - where I put it. I still haven't found it. I figure it may take a couple of years.

All in all though, we were pretty well prepared for the big day to arrive. We wrapped most of the presents well before Christmas Eve, so I spent my morning trying to make sense of the kitchen while the kids delivered cookies and the afternoon putting together some cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. Our fancy dinner consisted of Chinese takeout and chicken nuggets. Yummy.Gram and Grandpa came over shortly before the kids' bedtime. We usually open presents with them on Christmas Eve just so we can all focus on the kids in the morning. That was fun. I got a bunch of fancy new camera gear, including a killer new telephoto lens, that makes me look like I know what I'm doing even though I really have no clue. Some samples of my new photo capabilities in a later post. My parents showered us with little gifts from their recent trip to New Zealand, we had cider and cookies and they left around 9 o'clock, which is when all my best work began.
[Daddy's new Galileo Thermometer]
When my sister and I were little, my dad always enjoyed putting together little treasure hunts with rhyming clues that led you all over the house and outside before you found your big present. His most famous treasure hunt was the one which ended in a clue about how Santa couldn't fit my new bike down the chimney, so he'd had to leave it outside. And there I found it, strapped to the chimney. This story is legend in my family.

I don't know that I've quite got the stuff of legends in me, but I did a passable job. And since Smunch already knew he was getting a bike, I figured he ought to have to work for it. I spent a couple of hours composing 9 or 10 clues for each kid, mostly four line poems about this or that. I didn't know how they'd take to it, but I figured it gave my brain a little workout at least.

Christmas morning came and Smunch got up around 5 and was sent back to bed. Both kids were finally up at 7 and snuggled in bed with us for a little while before we called the grandparents and had them come over for the great present-opening extravaganza.The kids were thrilled to get little remote controlled helicopters. Smunch got a big new set of Snap Circuits and more bits for his Fischer-Technik erector set. Mam got a family of handsomely dressed squirrels. And have you ever seen a little girl more excited to get books?These were two books about Dorrie the witch. The one whose socks never match and whose hat is always on crooked. I've learned that many of my contemporaries don't remember these books, but they were a memorable part of my childhood and I was thrilled when Mam brought home a couple of them from the library at school. They're hard to find these days and she was truly excited to get two of her own.

Santa brought them the requested Nerf guns and "spy gear". They got a LOT of spy gear, actually, including his and hers binoculars from Gram.They went through their presents at such a whirlwind pace that I'm not sure they even know about everything they got (which is just as well in some cases). By the time they were done and the room was littered in paper, it was clear that Smunch had forgotten all about that bike he'd seen in the shed.

"How was your Christmas?" I asked. "Did you get everything you wanted?"
"Yes!" they both said. "It was good."

So a feigned that I'd forgotten their last presents and suddenly remembered. I handed Gavin a tiny little wrapped box and he started his journey with this clue.
"You thought you knew what present you'd get
When you went to the shed and saw it, I bet
So, go back there and see what's in store
If you want a cool present, you might have to look more."

Mam followed him everywhere he went, around the yard and through the house where he found this final clue in his soccer cleats:

"Well, here you are at clue number nine
And you thought you'd get to your present just fine
But we've sent you off on this silly goose chase
In hopes that your memories might be erased
'Cause we really wanted you to have a big day
Surprises are fun. At least that's what they say
You've been in the house and you know it's not there.
It's in the wrong house, the house in the air."

My clues weren't the least bit tricky for him. He found his bike in the tree house with no problem at all. Even though it wasn't a surprise, he had a blast on his little treasure hunt.
And then he got to do it all over again because Mam can't read, so he read all her clues to her too. And I had to restrain him from running off before he'd finished reading to her. I think his brain was working faster than his mouth. His speech was pretty bumpy Christmas morning, so that didn't help.Mam's clues were more limerick style. Somehow that worked out. Of course, Smunch doesn't know how to read a limerick, really, but that's beside the point. Mam started off with:

"Now that Smunch has looked, you must know
This can't be the end of the show
We knew you didn't not need a bike
So we thought, "What thing would she like?"
To the toy box we want her to go."

They were a little easier than Smunch's clues and with him helping her along, she sped through the clues at a pace that caused some concern. Because the plan was for Mam and Smunch to be outside while Daddy brought her gift down from upstairs and put it in her room. And although she had three clues in a row outside, Daddy almost didn't make it back in time to hear Gavin reading:

"We didn't know quite what you'd wish
But we thought you'd like critters that swish
So this hunt's going to bloom
Now head for your room
And find your bowl full of fish"

My little one is many things, but slow on the uptake is not one of them. "It's a fish tank!" she screamed as she ran out of the room. Phew! I thought. She'd never mentioned getting fish, it was just something I thought she'd like and Daddy was up for it, so we got in totally over our heads setting up an aquarium for her. Think she likes it? Her two little zebra danios are named Magic and Sparkle. We're hoping to add a couple of guppies in a few weeks.And then it was time for ridiculous amounts of delicious food for breakfast.And hours of cleaning up and playing with new toys. Mam spent hours painting her new cardboard playhouse. It was so much fun to see what she'd paint next!Smunch got to work with his Snap Circuits, of course.By mid-afternoon, I was back into cooking for dinner. I decided to make the kids sweet potatoes to go with our ham...the kind I remember fondly from my childhood, with toasted marshmallows on top. Only it turned into a sort of sweet potatoes flambé in the oven...which was more funny than scary, especially in retrospect when I remember myself opening the oven and saying "Oh no. Ohhhh NO. Ohnoohnoohno." It was easy to remedy by blowing the flames out, scraping the black marshmallows off and starting over again more carefully. Otherwise, it was an uneventful and relaxing evening to end our holiday.

As I put Mam to bed for the night, I asked her about her Christmas. "On a scale of 1 to 10," I said, "how was your Christmas this year? One would be a kinda rotten Christmas and 10 would be your best Christmas ever."

"What would 11 mean?" she replied.

The Good Neighbor

I almost breathed a sigh of relief when the last Friday of school was over. Almost. But see, we have these great new neighbors who moved in right before Thanksgiving.

Before we moved in almost five years ago, we were invited to a block party a week before our move-in date. It was awesome because we'd pretty much met all our new neighbors before we moved in July of 2005. In the winter, our new neighbors didn't really have that perk. And because they're a family we'd met and been friends with when Smunch was in preschool, I felt like I had a vested interest in making sure they felt welcomed.

So, with buy-in from the new residents, I scheduled a holiday brunch and invited everyone on our small street. Of course, that amounts to 12 boys, 7th grade and younger. And one Mam. It seemed slightly dicey, but the weather was decent and the boys mostly played outside when they weren't scarfing the food. All our neighbors came, with the exception of the strange older single guy across the street and one family who'd left on a ski trip. It was a potluck, so minimal work for me. I made a couple big quiches, cut up some fruit and supplied coffee and tea.

It was really nice to see our neighbors. I'd forgotten how little we see of them during the winter months! Our new neighbors got to meet everyone and we all got a chance to reconnect. Several people said they'd be interested in having it become a yearly event. I call that a success.

Of course, I also made mounds of truffles this year...just like the last several years. Somehow, they were distributed in a flash to the teachers, speech therapists, swim instructors and a couple of moms to whom I owe what sanity I have left.I didn't get started on Christmas cookies (despite the cookie exchange earlier in the month) until the kids were out of school and then it was a race to get them completed before Christmas arrived. Fortunately, I got a lot of kid help with decorating sugar cookies and decided to take the easy way out on the gingerbread cookies and decorate them in simple classic form instead of regular over-the-top Stacey form. They were cute. And my delivery duo was very efficient. Thank goodness! Each neighbor got a nice little plate of cookies on Christmas eve.Just in time to wrap the last presents and get a few last minute surprises set for the big day itself...

Gingerbread Parties

One of these years, I'll decide that our elementary school's gingerbread house decorating parties are no longer blog-worthy. After all, it's pretty much the same thing year after year. Every child in every grade gets to construct a house out of royal icing and Graham crackers, then decorate it with as much candy as they can pile on there.

This was the first year where I could volunteer at two different parties and since I find it hard to choose between my two children in these situations, I ran back and forth between their mercifully close together classrooms. I made frosting, supplied gumdrops and helped with construction in the second grade class...before zipping over to the kindergarten to help Mam decorate her pre-made house.Mam's regular glasses were in for repairs and a prescription change (to something lighter!), so she'd been wearing her brilliant blue Rec Specs for about a week and a half at this point...going oh-so-nicely with all her cute holiday dresses. There was a reason she had no glasses on in her photo with Santa.

I zipped back to Smuch's classroom in time to watch him load up the center of his house with as much candy as he could...learning very little from his classmate whose house felt apart from all the candy pushing on the walls.In the end, it was a cute little house, which got dropped on the ground as Smunch tried to wrestle all his stuff out of the classroom at dismissal. Although I promised we'd repair it, I'm not even sure where it ended up after that afternoon.I imagine I'll find a very stale, dilapidated house in a shoebox somewhere in the coming months.

Mam also finished decorating her house...not without an added ceremonial hat.She carefully added a lookout bear on the roof.Lookout bear didn't make it home either, but he met a different fate than Smunch's house...devoured by a fierce predatory reindeer.


Somewhere in there, we made time to go see Santa during the last week of school. The kids were both happy to get in their nice clothes and head to the mall. It's so nice to have them be enthusiastic about a visit with the big man instead of resistant. And we got a pretty decent photo this year too.Look how sweet they are! Mam's all resplendent in her velvety little Christmas dress. So cute. And my sweet, beautiful little Mam looked earnestly at Santa and said "I want a Nerf gun and spy gear." Sounds like she's well on her way to being a mistress of disguise and super spy. Smunch, it turns out, asked for the exact same thing, but somehow I bet that didn't suprise Santa a whole lot!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Grand Tea

At Smunch's school, it is tradition for each of the second grade classes to do a recitation of The Velveteen Rabbit, followed by a formal tea party. Not surprisingly, this very cute event turns out to be a ton of work for volunteering parents. And somehow, it turned into an event where I felt like I was moving half my china cabinet to the classroom.

Of course, I have a lot of stuff and judging by the frequency with which I use that stuff, there's really no reason why I shouldn't take it to school for a bunch of second graders to have tea. Still, it made me a little tense to know that my late mother-in-law's silver sugar tongs were there...and a bunch of silver plate spoons that aren't tremendously valuable, except that I really like them! I supplied a couple of tablecloths, 48 plates, backup spoons, napkins and homemade English shortbread. I set up and cleaned up. Thankfully, Daddy was there to supply a very bored Mam with some iPhone entertainment.

And in the middle of all that, I held my breath while my dysfluent son recited his memorized lines in the story at the appropriate times. He did a great job and I was really proud of him. It's not so much that he memorized the lines. That seemed to be pretty easy for him. And it's not because he didn't stutter. He did, although not much. I'm so proud that he doesn't let that stutter stop him. He never once said that he didn't want to participate. He bristled a couple of times when Daddy and I suggested ways to make his speech smoother, but ultimately, he did it all himself. He might not have been quite as expressive as some of the other students, but he was great to this oh-so-impartial mommy.

And the tea was a lovely, if crowded, little event. It was held right there in the classroom, so the kids got to sit at their "tables" with white tablecloths and full tea service while the adults stood around. The spread of food was appropriately tea-like, with finger sandwiches, scones and mini muffins.Although Gram had just had her latest tooth implant procedure (the one that still has her in so much pain), she joined us for the festivities, making for a terrific photo opportunity.It took a cart for me to get all my supplies back to the mommymobile...and just in time for me to go by the kindergarten yard to help make some "gingerbread" houses for the kindergartners to decorate the next day... The second graders would be having the same party. Thankfully, it's the party marking the last day of school before the holidays. But gosh, the kids are having a great time!