Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Photography Tips

We are still very much in the midst of moving.  A lot of unpacking has been done and a lot more still needs to happen.

But the holidays are upon us and we wanted to get the Christmas tree up so the kids could enjoy it.  That gave me a chance to get out the camera and practice some Christmas light pics.

I'm going to spend more time later on getting the girls dressed up and taking some keepsake shots, but tonight I was just trying to figure out what settings to use.  I took a deep breath and switched the DSLR to manual mode.   The overhead lights in the room were off, but the lights in the next room were on.  A few key points:
  • I set the white balance on tungsten 
  • I used a tripod (well, a stack of books, whatever), the shutter speed has to be slow, so the camera has to be stable 
  • My ISO was set to 400, but I'm thinking I should have made it higher.  A higher ISO makes a grainier picture, but also allows you to increase the shutter speed in lower light settings.  
  • Which leads into shutter speed.  I used 1/5 second.  That's pretty slow and obviously toddlers aren't known for sitting still.  Next time I'll try higher ISO and faster shutter to see if I can get the same lighting, but stop her motion better. 
  • My aperture was set at f/4, which is pretty open and helps let in the light. 
  • I used partial metering mode so the exposure was based on her face, not the bright lights at the edge of the frame.
I tried to get pictures of Sedona, which was pretty much a complete failure because she bounces around like a jack russel terrier on speed.   Sierra sat very still for me though.

The first picture, I tried turning up the shutter speed to 1/8 second.  That didn't work so well
 Moving back to 1/5 second did away with the scarier shadows, but I'm still not happy with the overall composition, too much floor included at the bottom of the frame. The shadows are still too harsh on her face too.  I think I'm going to try adding just a little bit of light above her....more Christmas lights (outside the frame of the shot), maybe.  A little editing after the fact would probably fix both problems, but I'm trying to learn how to get better straight out of the camera pictures.

Then, of course, I had to play around with the shaped bokeh trick.  It took me an unreasonable amount of time to understand how to do this, so I was thrilled when I finally got it work.  I put up a shaped bokeh for dummies tutorial last year after I put all the pieces together. 
 While we're here, I also have pictures of the fused glass ornaments the girls made at girl scouts a couple weeks ago.  They had a lot of fun and the ornaments came out really cute, though they're much more difficult to photograph than you'd think!  The top one is Sedona's and the bottom one is Sierra's.

Do you have any holiday photography tips to share? What do I need to learn about and try out before Christmas passes us by?

A Gardening Hiatus

With the move to the new house, the gardening section of the blog is going to be on hiatus.  We may do a smaller garden at the new place, but we aren't sure yet.  As you can see from the totals over on the sidebar, we ended up harvesting just over 114 pounds of food in 2012.  Our goal was 150 pounds, so we were fairly close.  I didn't include the weight of the turkey we raised ourselves, then had for Thanksgiving dinner.  Feel free to scroll back through the archives here and see what we've done in the past, but there probably will not be new posts for quite a while.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We're Moving...Again

That's right, we're moving.  Because we've lost our ever lovin' minds.  We weren't really looking for a house, but a few times a year we randomly pull up the latest listings and see what's out there.  Or we notice a for sale sign and go home to look up the property.  Just over 2 weeks ago, I happened across a new listing for a house 2 miles away from our current house.  This was a very dated house that was an estate and being sold as-is.  Because of that, it had been marked WAY down (tens of thousands of dollars down). 

That was a Saturday.  Sunday, we called our fabulous realtor.  Monday morning we were walking through the house.  That afternoon, we looked over the seller's disclosure and talked to our loan guy.  Tuesday we hammered out details with our realtor and made an informal verbal agreement with the sellers.  Wednesday we signed the official contract and sent it to the sellers.  Then we waited quite a bit because there are two siblings involved and one lives out of state, so there's a lot of back and forth that has to happen on their end.  We had some minor details to work out over the weekend.  Last Monday (one week after our initial walk through), we went through the house with our inspector and found out it was in great shape.  We anticipated problems and there were virtually none.  More small details, a few quick repairs and we're moving into the house.  Today (well, we started last night).  Just 2 weeks after we found out it exists.

We are taking a bit of a risk.  We're renting the new house before closing so that we can show the old house without us (and our 3 havoc wreaking, mess creating kids) in it.  If we don't sell within 3 months, our contract on the new house will expire and we'll have to move right back.  Our realtor does not suspect trouble selling though and she's never done us wrong before.  Last time she sold for us, she had a buyer within two weeks.  She's already got someone looking at this house today.  A good realtor makes all the difference.  A sign in the yard does not (usually) sell a house.  Also, if it all falls through, we'll be losing out on the money equivalent of a nice vacation, nothing we can't afford to give up.  So the bigger risk is just the hassle of moving everything back and forth.  

One of the biggest changes is we will no longer have a huge backyard.  No more gardening to the extent we've done it in the past.  Honestly though, our fall garden has been horribly neglected because we just haven't been interested in it lately.  We're okay with giving it up for now.  No more chickens either.  We're hoarding the last few dozen eggs and sold the chickens, their coop and all their supplies to a friend who was planning to get her own flock in the spring. 

In return for giving up the giant yard, we're going to be gaining nearly twice as much square footage in the house.  I've gone back and forth debating with myself about whether we need a bigger house or not.  I've come to the conclusion that we don''s not a need.  But it IS a want.  As the girls are getting older, we are having some personality clashes that could really benefit from some space.  With our current 1800 sq. ft. (and no attic for storage, so every last bit that we own is in here with us), none of us ever have space to be alone and decompress.  That combined with homeschooling has just been too much family togetherness lately. This house is bigger than I what I would have looked for, but most smaller houses would cost a lot more and this was in our price range. 

So we're having a super busy Thanksgiving week!  We're in a mad rush to move out all the non-essentials and get our old house as sparkling clean as possible before this afternoon.  After that we'll have a little more breathing room.  I'm not sure yet when we'll really start sleeping at the new place.  Pictures will be forthcoming, just as soon as there's more time!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Once upon a time, I worked for a vet clinic.  One fine February day in 1999, a few of my co-workers picked up this stray puppy on the street:
She was determined to be 4 months old and no one ever claimed her.  She stayed in the kennels for a little while and I would carry her around on my shoulder while I worked.  I was a senior in high school and it took a bit of convincing to talk my parents into it, but eventually she became my dog.  I named her Angel.  Her spay surgery was the first surgery I assisted in.  Later, I learned how to do dentals (teeth cleaning under anesthesia) by doing hers.   Over her puppy years, she also taught me about handling ingestion of massive amounts of chocolate, how to treat a dog who has chewed through batteries and what to do when a dog is sprayed by a skunk straight in the face at close range.  There may have also been an incident where she chewed through several quarts of oil on my parent's living room carpet. 
She did eventually grow up a little bit.  She went to college with me and played guard dog (from the safety of behind me).  If I was laying on my stomach while studying, she would lay on my back with her head on my shoulder.  If I studied too long, she'd grab the pencil out of my hand and even chewed up an entire pack of mechanical pencils one time. 
When I started dating Josh, my parents were keeping her for me.  Just before he met her, he nervously asked, "what if she doesn't like me?"  I think he may have been more worried about meeting my dog than meeting my parents.  He won her over by sharing ice cream, though.
She put up with 4 cross country moves, a marriage, 2 new dogs who both ran away and 3 kids over the years.  She never really enjoyed the kids too much, but she did accept they were part of the pack and helped watch out for them.  You had to be careful walking down the hall at night, because she'd always be sprawled across the hallway, blocking their bedroom from intruders.  The older she got, the more she wanted to sleep, but if the girls were playing out front, she was awake and watching out the window.  She would bark if anyone stopped to talk to them. 
Last February, we discovered she had a tumor that was probably cancerous.  Because she was already 13 years old, we chose not to put her through a lot of testing beyond the needle biopsy.  She managed the next 8 months without many symptoms aside from the regular aging she was already experiencing. 

At the beginning of October, she started having a lot of weakness in her hind legs and I had suspicions it was because the tumor had spread to her spinal cord.  We took her back to the vet and got her the doggie equivalent of advil and some narcotics.  The pain meds helped her out, but the weather turning cooler made a huge difference.  She was a lot peppier for a couple of weeks. 

Last night, everything was the same it has been.  She ate and drank, got around like normal and slept in the hallway when the girls went to bed, then moved into our room when Josh and I went to bed.  She needed to go out in the middle of the night so Josh let her out.  She took longer than normal to come in, but he didn't think much of it.  Then around 6 this morning she needed out again, but she was having a really hard time getting up.  I thought it was just old joints, a slick floor and a cold morning working against her.  Josh came to get me out of bed a short while later saying she couldn't hold herself up to go to the bathroom.  I got up and looked out the window at her and saw her head tilted oddly to one side and her body leaning towards that same side.  That's a pretty ominous neurological sign, so we called the vet to get her in first thing.  She continued to deteriorate over the next 2 hours and when we took her in, she was no longer holding her bladder and her proprioceptive test (turning her paw under, they should right it again immediately) was very poor in addition to the head tilt and general weakness.  The vet also found other signs that we were dealing with cancer that had spread. 

Given her age, her history and the severity of the neurological symptoms, I chose to have her euthanized.  She had been more snuggly than normal this morning, even giving me two small licks on the face as I sat next to her in the back of the van on the way to the vet.  I think she knew it was time to rest and I am pretty sure she would have had a very rapid decline at home.  I'm glad there was a definite "yes, it's time" moment/symptoms rather than prolonged suffering.  I was also able to hold her and then lay her down as they gave her the meds.  She was a good dog who put up with a lot of doggie upheaval in her 14 years and still remained 100% loyal. 

Goodbye old friend.  You'll be missed. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Two Years Old

Secora has gotten a head start on the 2s, but today she officially turns two.

Newborn Secora enjoying her first "tub" bath
First birthday, not so sure about all the people and the singing

She is a petite little girl, who just got into her 18 month clothes and is about 10th percentile for height and weight, but after a lot of work, she is finally maintaining her growth curve.  Over the last year it's become obvious that her sensory issues go beyond food and we've learned to do things a little differently with her than we did with the other girls.  She has done so much work and made so much progress on eating.  At her first birthday, she had an extremely limited list of foods she was willing to put her in mouth (maybe 5 things?).  Today she will get a happy meal from McDonald's as a birthday treat and likely eat the entire thing.  Her choices are limited and must be presented in a certain way, but she actually eats enough now that she just looks like a picky toddler to those who don't know her.

She speaks a LOT more than either of her sisters did at this age.  She has more words than I can even count.  She doesn't put them together in phrases/sentences yet, but she communicates very effectively by using words and hand motions.

She loves the swings when we visit the park and bouncing on the trampoline at home.  Two of her favorite activities are drawing and playing with playdoh. She's also developed an affinity for climbing and that "I can do it myself!" attitude.

She takes quite a while to warm up if she doesn't know you well, but she's hilarious once she gets going.

We knew she wouldn't enjoy a lot of people being around for a birthday party, so we did a very low key celebration at my parent's house yesterday.  Of course, all the good pictures of her are terrible pictures of me, so we'll just agree to focus on her, right?
Super excited to get a pack of markers.  She's shrieking, "DRAW!!!"
New tennis shoes, that just so happen to match big sister's because momma forgot sister already had those shoes
Singing Happy Birthday
Cookies are awesome!  Cookie Cakes are even better!
Seriously guys, this is awesome stuff, have you tried it?

Happy Birthday sweet girl!  I'm looking forward to the next year.  Let's stretch it out and put off turning 3 and 4, shall we? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Free Poetry Lessons

I have more homeschool freebies for you today!

Sierra finished her first novel of the year and we have a short lull before she's going to start some books that will tie in with her history lessons.  I decided to fill the space with a little Shel Silverstein.

When I was a teenager, I participated in a group called Poetry Players.  We worked in groups of 3 or 4, memorizing a sizable set of poems and traveling around town to present them (in hugely dramatic fashion) to students at elementary schools.  So, when I broke out Where the Sidewalk Ends, my intention of reading aloud a few of my favorites turned into a bit of an over the top performance.  Both the girls were immediately sucked in and we've been enjoying our impromptu poetry unit.

In addition to reading the full book of poems, Sierra will be doing a few activities:
  • Memorizing and acting out one or two of her favorites
  • Write a poem where every line rhymes
  • Illustrate that poem in blackline, similar to Silverstein's drawings
If you'd like to do a full Shel Silverstein unit, there are a lot of ideas on the website

I wanted to branch out a little bit, so I put together a poetry packet to introduce (or, in many cases, further introduce) her to couplets, quatrains, limericks, acrostics, cinquains, and haikus.  As usual, I'm providing these worksheets to you for free.  You may print as many copies as you need for your own use at home or in the classroom.  They may not be re-posted partially or fully elsewhere on the web or directly shared with other teachers.  The worksheets and lessons I produce are free because I get paid when people visit the blog, share the link to this post rather than copying the worksheet and I'll be able to continue creating freebies.


Link to free poetry worksheets

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Our Halloween

I was feeling a bit panicky about being around so many people last night, so I didn't get a lot of Halloween pictures this year, but the girls sure had fun!

Last weekend, their girl scout troop had a little halloween party.  Sierra's costume is based on Mavis from Hotel Transylvania.  Sedona wanted to be the same skeleton she was last year.  Secora just wanted to stay out of the way.
After a few crafts, they got to decorate cookies one of the moms had brought.  The idea was to use orange frosting and candy to make jack o'lantern cookies

Of course, Sedona, being Sedona, decided guidelines were for wimps and went with her own idea of seeing just how much frosting and candy one cookie can hold.  She'd add some frosting, and then some candy, and then more frosting.  It was more of a sugar lasagna than a pumpkin.
And of course, Sierra, being Sierra, decided rules are made to be followed and made a very proper and symmetrical face.  Secora, being Secora, sat with Josh and ate candy corn while avoiding interacting with anyone else.

Random cute picture because it happened earlier in the week.  We had the cold front come through before it went on to contribute to the havoc Sandy wreaked on the east coast.  Secora wanted to go out front to play, so she got herself all bundled up (with a little help from her sisters).  Believe it or not, she wanted to keep all this on most of the morning.   Reminded me of ET being dressed as a ghost to trick-or-treat, for some reason.

Halloween night!  This was the first house Secora trick-or-treated.  She really seemed to enjoy watching all the other kids in their costumes, but she wasn't so sure about walking up to strangers and asking for candy (can you blame her?)
The only good picture I got of everyone.  Sierra and Sedona gleefully ran from house to house most of the time.  You'll notice Sedona is no longer a skeleton.  10 minutes before we left the house, she changed her mind. 
Sierra with her candy haul.  I never managed to catch Sedona with hers.  Secora did warm up and went to a few houses.  By the end of the night, she was saying, "FUN!"  We had gone out with some friends first, then we came back so Secora could go to bed and Josh took the big girls out for a little while longer.  When I put Secora in her crib, she pointed at the door and said, "go! fun!".  Unfortunately for her, she was rubbing her eyes and so tired she was swaying when she tried to stand up, so she stayed in bed. 

They had a lot of fun.  This morning they sorted through their candy and turned over quite a bit to Josh and I because they wanted to share.  Well, all except Secora.  She's trying to get me to let her have her whole bucket of candy in one sitting.  I told her no, and she very sweetly said, "pweeeeese?"


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