Friday, January 30, 2009

Heavy on the Photos

Snow is not extremely rare in Oklahoma .... it's not like in Georgia or Florida, where some of the friends we made had never seen snow in their whole lives. Snow is also not extremely common in Oklahoma .... so when it happens, you better get out there and enjoy it.

More common, and what we experienced this past week, is a sort of icy rain that freezes over when the sun goes down (and causes innocent people to fall down on their patios, I think you know who I mean.) You might get a teeny tiny bit of snow accumulation on top of that at night, and then when the sun comes up the next day it all melts to slush. Then the slush freezes that night when the sun goes down, circle of life, etc.

Since my children lived the past five and a half years of their lives in Georgia, this combo of rain/sleet/ice/snow was good enough for them and they thoroughly enjoyed both of their snow days out of school this week. I reminded them that I didn't want to hear any complaining when this school year is extended two days past Memorial Day to make it up .....

I apologize to those of you with dial-up (does anyone really still have dial up?) but I have a boatload of photos to share. I've had winter scrapbooking embellishments, and no chance to use them, for years. By golly, I was taking some pictures when the opportunity arose.

(Those of you in Colorado or Wyoming or Idaho, please don't laugh. We take what we can get.)

The three kids, eager to get out the back door the first morning:

Even Barley gets into the action:

And then she promptly runs around the yard with the hat in her mouth while my poor children get pneumonia:

There are lots of things to do after a "snowfall" in Oklahoma ---

practice skating:

practice your karate moves:

practice your Hooked on Phonics:

practice your mad wanna-be photography skills:

endure more of your mother's photography attempts:

utilize your swim toys:

get your sister to push you:

And when you've used up all the slush in front of your house, and slid down your neighbor's driveway until there's nothing left, what do you do?

Why, go to your cousin's house, of course! (So what if the school board declares the roads are impassable? I'm telling you, after being house-bound for a day and a half, you'll CRAWL to your cousin's house if you need to, you'll be so desperate for someone to play with)

Because they've got way more awesome snow toys than a stupid kickboard:

And a pond that freezes over beautifully .... even if Aunt Kristie does get all freaked out when you test the strength of the ice under your weight:

Anyone who thinks there's not a perk to having ten acres of trails to explore clearly doesn't know what they're missing ...

Especially when you hit the parts that have natural hills for sledding:

Do you think Brayden was having a good time?

This is Kendrie with my youngest nephew:

We're a little worried he won't ever come out of his shell:

And although we had a wonderful time, and thoroughly enjoyed our two snow days .... MOM was certainly glad to see everyone go back to school the next day. Or at least she **was**, until that damn flyer about Book Character Costume Day came home.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You can never have too much of a good thing

Flyer sent home from school today:

"School-Wide Book Character Day!

Friday, March 13

Each student will select their favorite character from a fiction book. They will need to complete the "Book Character Report" form, and they will also need to dress up as that character on Friday, March 13th.

Let's make this a fun and educational day as we share our favorite book characters with our friends!"



Any chance its all a cruel joke for Friday the 13th???


I have a secret

So, you guys know I love to read, right? And almost always have a book or two from the library going at all times. In fact, half of what I read doesn't even make it into the "Currently Reading" section of my sidebar because by the time I remember to update it, I've already moved on.

I joined a book club last summer and went to my first meeting in August. We read and discussed "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop. I enjoyed it. The next month they were reading "The Shack" by William Young. I vaguely remembered hearing about it, or maybe seeing it at Target, but I was on a cruise with my mom that month when they met, so I didn't get to go, and didn't get the book read. The next two months I couldn't go because Blaine was having radiation and couldn't help shuttle kids to activities those nights .... blah blah, no more book club for me, I was too embarrassed to show up again after missing three months in a row.

Somewhere, between then and now, a girlfriend of mine asked if I had read "The Shack". Told me several times how wonderful it was and encouraged me to read it. I thought about the fact I had missed that month in Book Club. I heard it mentioned a few more times ..... knew I should read it because it was so highly recommended ... then I got busy .... eating Doritos, whatever. (I'm kidding, I don't even like Doritos. But crunchy Cheetos? Oh, yeah, baby, I'm all over that.)

Last week, one of the moms at my kids' school came up and asked me if I had read "The Shack". Just came up, and asked me out of the blue, "Have you read 'The Shack'?" When I said no, she said, simply, "You must. It is life-altering." And I thought, ok, fine, I'll read it already!! So I went down and put my name on a wait-list at the library. She asked a few days later if I had gotten my copy yet, and reiterated that I. Simply. Must. Read. It.

The very next day I was in the teacher's workroom making copies and the art teacher walked in, with a copy of "The Shack" and asked if anyone wanted to borrow it.

I know! How creepy was that?!

So I brought it home, and during these past two snow days, read it.

Now, here's the part where I have a secret. I'm going to whisper, because I'm not sure I want to confess this out loud ..... {looking over my shoulder} ....


Ok, are we in private? Because here's my secret ......

I freaking hated it.


Am I the only one???

Apparently it's been the number one bestseller for a kajillion months and is getting nothing but great reviews and everyone says Oh. Em. Gee. its the best message EVER and YOU MUST READ IT, IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK.

I ... thought it was exasperating. I thought it was hard to read. Not because it was a difficult subject matter, but literally hard to read, as in, the characters talked in riddles that I found annoying. I hated that the main character (main Earthly character, I guess I should stipulate) was so dense, and basically walked around the entire middle section of the book scratching his head, asking, "Huh?" and second-guessing himself the entire time. I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs, trying to decipher what the heck was actually being said, and who was questioning who (whom?) and what exactly the point was.

I also struggled with the personification of God as a black woman. Perhaps I'm unenlightened, but to me, God is referenced in the Bible in consistently masculine terms. Does that mean God IS a man? Or a male gender? I have no idea, and I'm not about to start a theological debate here. I just know that in my own mind, he's not a black woman I call "Papa".

And then I thought, well, maybe I'm just not very smart. Maybe this book is too cerebral, or the concept is too lofty for me to follow. Or perhaps the *goal* of the book was to take me out of my comfort zone, and make me question my own beliefs ..... but I don't think that was it. I really, truly found the book to be annoying.

I actually quit reading about half way through because I just wasn't interested in what was happening. Then I had that "no, don't give up, it will get better" thought. So many people love this book, how could I be the only one who didn't "get it"?

But you know what? I didn't. I didn't get it. I finished it, read every page, didn't skip or cheat or look ahead, and I still don't get what the fuss was about.

So there's my secret.

I'm the only person on the planet who didn't like it, and I'm TOTALLY breaking my "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" rule .... but I hated "The Shack".

Now, before I hit "publish" and William Young's publisher, or, you know, his MOM hops on here with hate mail, I feel compelled to point you all towards Dad Gone Mad's recent post about how it's ok to disagree with respect and politeness .....

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

IPOD Tag aka Nessun Dorma

While I do love me some Facebook, it seems there is always some kind of note or tag going around. Lately, its been "25 Random Things About Me" which I have REALLY enjoyed reading from others, although I'll confess I've been too lazy to do it myself. Today, my girlfriend Lisa tagged me for an IPOD note, which I found hilarious, so I did it right away. And because I'm all about the multi-tasking, I'll post it here as well as my Facebook Profile.

The only rule I probably bent was that I did allow myself to skip certain songs. I have many different playlists on my ipod (because I am a rigid, anal control freak) but in order for this tag to work, I had to shuffle "All Songs". When writing down my answers, I did allow myself to skip any song that came up from my Christmas playlist, my Halloween playlist, my Suzuki piano playlist and Brayden's Circle the State choral playlist. I accepted songs from my Christian Music playlist, my Current Kids playlist, Old Kids Music playlist, Dance/Exercise Music playlist, Inspirational/Ballad playlist, Soundtrack playlist, and Top 40/Basically, 1980's playlist. (I told you, I'm a freak.) And within those playlists, I did not allow myself to skip any songs.

Otherwise, here goes!

1. Put your iPod (or MP3 player) on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Tag friends who might enjoy doing the note as well as the person you got the note from.

Roll With The Changes ………. REO Speedwagon

1985 …………… Bowling for Soup

We’re Not Gonna Take It …………. Twisted Sister

Ironic ………. Alanis Morrissette

Far Away …………. Nickelback

Everything …………… Collective Soul

If I Can’t Have You …………..Yvonne Elliman

WHAT IS 2+2?
Kody ………………Matchbox Twenty

Gypsy ………………… Dio

Just What I Needed ………………… The Cars

My Heart Goes Bang ……………. Dead or Alive

Big City Nights …………………….Scorpions

Move Your Hands Up ……………..Clubraiders

It’s Raining on Prom Night ………………. Grease Soundtrack

Cotton Eye Joe ………………… Kids Dance Party

Could’ve Had Everything ………………..P!nk

You Oughta Know …………Alanis Morrissette

Supermodel …………………Ru Paul

How Soon is Now? …………………….the Smiths

Lonely Girl …………….. P!nk (now that’s just sad)

I Know Where I’ve Been …………….Hairspray Soundtrack

I’d Do Anything For Love ……………… Meatloaf

Breakdance …………….Irene Cara

Sympathy …………………..Goo Goo Dolls

I Believe in You and Me ……………..Whitney Houston

Take a Chance on Me …………….. Mama Mia Soundtrack

Bad Reputation ……………………Shrek Soundtrack

Nobody Knows …………….Pink

Nessun Dorma…………….Paul Potts and the London Symphony Orchestra

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SPT Challenge Jan 27

SPT Challenge for Jan 27:

"Take more photos of me, doing something I love"

This would be an image of me, hard at work scrapbooking. Although actually, because I love it so much, scrapbooking doesn't really count as work. It's more fun, with a bit of creative and a LOT of social thrown into the mix.

Except, not so much, lately.

Since moving here, my scrapbooking life has taken a big hit. I started scrapbooking in Ohio, when some of my new friends (Hi, Kim!) in my mother's club were doing it. I wasn't really interested in scrapbooking; I was faithful about taking pictures and putting them quickly and religiously into photo albums .... but the scrapbooking part? Not so much interested.

Then I found out these women would get together evenings, or maybe Saturdays, to work on their albums. And there would be talking ... and laughing .... and time away from our crying, pooping babies .... and there would be FOOD involved.

So pretty much, I was in.

Started it --- LOVED it --- wondered what had taken me so long. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed spending time with other women, and discovered the joy that comes from having friends who enjoy the same things you do. Discovered the bonding that can take place when women have been up all night talking and laughing and eating Oreos and drinking Amaretto (hopefully not at the same time, of course.)

My, how I would miss those women when we moved.

When I first moved to Georgia, I stumbled, completely by accident, onto a newly-formed local scrapbooking group that without a doubt, became the solid basis for my social life there. They welcomed me to the community, and encouraged my love for a creative outlet that quickly went from hobby, to obsession. They brought our family meals when cancer struck; our friendships went beyond scrapbooking to include having lunches, playdates, going to movies, attending birthday parties, inviting one another into our homes, etc. Crops (the slang term for getting together with friends to work on our albums) went from a few hours ... to all day ... to weekend-long events. Some have likened these get-togethers to quilting bees from days long ago. All I know is this hobby fed a need in me to spend time with other women, and allowed me to take part in a hobby I loved.

Things continued to get to get better. I managed to introduce some of my Ohio friends to some of my Georgia friends and viola! A group of the best, most fabulous, funny, bright, and wonderful women was formed. We meet as a large group once a year and I look forward to it MORE. THAN. YOU. CAN. KNOW. Several of our families are going on a cruise together this summer --- I. CANNOT. WAIT.

You can imagine how much depressing it was this year when Blaine's cancer came back and he was right in the middle of radiation during our annual get-away .... and I had to back out of attending.

Total. Suckage.

Not only because these ladies are some of my best friends and I miss them terribly, scattered about the country as we are, but also because since moving to Oklahoma, I haven't been scrapbooking much. In fact, I haven't been scrapbooking at all.

I've tried to find women here who enjoy this hobby. I found one group that meets monthly --- I attended three times, and except for the group leader, who tried to be friendly, no-one else really talked to me. I went home early each time --- those are words that should NEVER come out of a scrapbooker's mouth. I understand it can be hard breaking into an already-formed group, but really, I think for me, three times of trying is my limit.

There is a pseudo-local scrapbook store that holds monthly crops. I've considered attending, but the store is almost forty-five minutes from my house. At first that seemed like too far to drive ... now, I must confess, I'm getting desperate enough to consider it, if it will give me a chance to meet other scrapbookers and make some new friends.

I miss the camaraderie; I miss the chatting; I miss the creative outlet; I miss the sense of accomplishment. Quite frankly, I miss the food.

I have close to a dozen albums going at all times. The main one is our family chronological album (which I haven't worked on since last July, when me and a friend from Texas, and a friend from Tennessee got together for a weekend --- that is pathetic, I tell you.) Other albums include school albums for the kids, vacation albums, birthday albums, and activity albums.

One of my favorites is my Christmas album. Every year I save the photos that people send in their Christmas cards, and when the season is over, I make a layout with their names and family pictures. I include our family Christmas photo and a copy of the Christmas letter we send out each year. This album is a fun way to see and reminisce about the progression of our own family, and a fun way to see how our friends have changed over the years as well.

This is part of the layout I did today, for this year's cards:

I started doing this in 1999 --- so far, only two families have pictures in there every year. Three or four families have pictures in almost every year. Seems every year we "lose" a family or two, and "gain" a family or two. I guess that's to be expected when you're in the military and move as much as we do (did!). Casual friends come and go ..... long-term friends are in the album to stay.

I'm glad this SPT challenge prompted me to drag out my scrapbook stuff today. I sat inside working on the layout, and watched my children play in the snow (or what passes as snow in Oklahoma) outside my window. It felt good to complete a layout and add another page in one of my favorite albums.

It would have felt better if I'd done it, surrounded by friends. I'll start working a little harder on making that happen.

To see more SPT Challenge photos, visit here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Apparently I fall down a lot

Last year, on the day of my kids Track and Field Day for school, I was running around like a crazy person with my camera, trying to get photos of my own kids, my nephews, and my friends' kids. There were other parents there I knew and we were laughing and having a good time. I was walking past the stadium seats on my way to ... somewhere ..... when I tripped over a piece of sidewalk that was approximately 1/1000 of an inch taller than the piece next to it. My toe caught, and my momentum lurched my body forward with my foot trapped behind. I started doing that thing ...... where you try desperately to catch up and right yourself .... arms windmilling all the while .... knowing that you're probably going down and there's nothing you can do about it. In my case, I had the added pressure of trying to protect my camera as I fell.

I landed flat on my face.

My sister and a friend of mine rushed over to me, but instead of helping me, instead of asking if I was alright, instead of checking for one NANOSECOND that I wasn't hurt, my sister just rolled around on the ground, tears streaming down her face, laughing her head off.

The only thing funnier is the re-telling of the story she does on a regular basis, and the uncanny re-enactment of the windmilling arms.

Then there was that time I fell down in Alaska and basically caused an avalanche.

Then last fall when we took Kellen and my nephews to run their triathlon I was hurrying, trying to get pictures of all the boys (you'd think I'd learn to slow down a little with the camera) and I stepped in a gopher hole and about bit the dust right there. My sister, once again, saw the whole thing and still makes fun of me about it.

What can I say? My nickname was "Klutz" in high school for good reason.

This morning, it started spritzing from the sky and the temperatures were falling pretty quickly as I prepared to leave the house. In fact, it was getting cold enough outside that I wasn't comfortable leaving the dog outside, especially since I would be gone all day. So I went outside with her to convince her to use the restroom before leaving her inside, while I went to the school to volunteer.

I already had my coat on, ready to leave the house ..... and as I stepped purposefully across the patio to go in the backyard with Barley, I felt my left foot begin to slide across the patio. Wait, I knew it was wet and cold, but I didn't realize it was already icy!

I tried frantically to regain my balance, but when my right foot begin slipping as well, I knew I was going down. Even my windmilling arms couldn't save me.

I fell, pretty hard, on my right side, and a few thoughts went through my head:

1. Dammit, I just got dirt on my coat.

2. Holy crap, I think I just broke my pinky.

3. Thank goodness Kelly wasn't here to see that.

I must have mumbled "Ouch!" which is CLEARLY dog-code for "Hey, Barley, come over here and jump on me!!!" because that's exactly what she did. While I'd love to assume she was rushing to check on her injured master, I'm pretty sure she just wanted to play .... especially considering she dropped her plastic donut on my chest, then jumped on me again.

So there I was, trying to get up, feet still slipping out from under me because of the ice, with a dog trying to lick my face the entire time, and I was laughing .... because after all, it *was* pretty funny.

It wasn't until later, when I got to the school, that I became aware of how sore my right side is. And I came to an earth-shattering realization:

If I were twenty years older, of if I were thirty pounds lighter, I totally would have broken my hip. Those extra layers of padding actually PROTECTED ME from injury!!

It's supposed to continue icing all evening. My brother in law already wound up in a ditch on his way home tonight, and school has already been canceled for tomorrow. If you'll excuse me, I need to go eat a donut. Because apparently I fall down a lot, and I need to protect me from myself.

Baby Steps Better

Thanks to all of you who were kind enough to post suggestions regarding my dismal attempt at low-light action photography on Saturday. Wow, did the quality of those pictures reek or what?!

After reading the comments, and googling, and you-tubing, and anything else I could think of to find some answers, I headed to Sunday's game with ..... well, if not CONFIDENCE, at least with a semi-formed planned to ..... in a nutshell .... not hopefully SUCK as much.

The comment about my shutter speed not being as fast as my flash sync speed was definitely the most technical and scientific-y and professional sounding. Unfortunately, I had no idea what it meant. But since that commenter's husband has come through with good advice for me in the past, I will definitely be checking into whatever the heck it means for the future.

Short run, though, I knew lighting was my biggest issue. Indoor gymnasiums (and auditoriums, for what it's worth) are just not lit well enough for cameras like mine. I mean, I've seen those amazing photos of Michael Jordan, all "Air-Bud-ish" for thirty feet before slam dunking the basketball .... but *I* sure don't know how to accomplish those sorts of photos.

Saturday's photos, most of which were total crap, were taken on Auto-mode. I knew to do better on Sunday, I was going to have to actually think a little about what I was doing.

First thing, since I can't use Sports mode in the gym with my telephoto lens (not enough light) I went in and changed my camera from one-shot to continuous shooting mode in the hopes I wouldn't have to "wait" on my camera to catch up between shots like I did on Saturday.

I read the suggestion about bumping up my ISO to make my camera less light-sensitive (or more light-sensitive ... I always get that confused) and the comment about changing my white balance to reflect the tungsten lighting in the gym.

So! On Sunday, the first thing I did was change my ISO from 400, where I normally leave it, to 800. Then I put my camera on shutter priority mode and set it at 500. Then I changed my white balance to "tungsten lighting". The boys were promptly turned blue, like little Oompa-Loompas:

Whoa! That didn't work so well! Right back to auto-white-balance we go.

The next shot I got was like this:

About this time I was thinking to myself that things were getting worse, not better, and maybe I should go back to auto mode and simply hope for the best. Then I noticed I had accidentally bumped myself back into AV mode and had it set on a very low number. Whew, that was a close one! I also thought the photos still seemed dark, so I changed the shutter speed to 250.

At this point, after going back to shutter speed priority mode, I decided to bite the bullet and attach my external flash. Like someone mentioned in the comments, I was a little hesitant to do this for fear it would be too distracting to the players. I mean, there you are, going up for the game winning layup, when POP!POP!POP!FLASH!FLASH!FLASH! right in your eyes .... not exactly unobtrusive, know what I mean?

But during warm-up, only one boy fell to the ground screaming "My eyes, my eyes!!!" and since there are ten boys on the team, I figured a 10% loss wasn't too bad a ratio, so I left the flash attached.

A few things I quickly figured out about using the external flash:

Sometimes, especially if the boys were very close, they were overexposed:

If I took the pictures too quickly, the flash couldn't keep up and they were underexposed:

I think this has something to do with the slave mode on my flash, but quite frankly, at this point my brain was about to explode from all the information I was trying to retain, so that lesson is going to have to wait for another day.

I also found it interesting that although I *know* my external flash doesn't reach clear to the other end of the gym, I did get this neat photo of the boys' shadows against the wall. Sort of makes them look like they are playing basketball in a cave, doesn't it?

I wound up getting quite a few photos with too much "noise" .... I assume that's from the 800 ISO. Overall they are ok, just not as clear as I would like:

Of course, the best lighting and equipment and subject matter in the world won't matter if you lack basic photography skills:

Like taking the photo when there is an arm in front of someone's face:

Or taking photos when there is no face at all:

Or even better, cutting someone's head off:

(what really stinks is that actually would have been a pretty good shot, had I not beheaded the poor kid!)

And sometimes --- not regularly, and not nearly as often as I would like, it seemed I was getting the hang of things and a shot or two would turn out .... not totally suckish:

And about the time warm up ended I started thinking, "yes, a little more practice and I might actually figure this bad boy out ....." then the other team forfeited and the game was canceled.

We all packed up and went home.
The end.


I figure if I continue to get baby-steps better each game, then maybe by the end of the season ---- their SENIOR YEAR OF COLLEGE ---- I will be able to produce reliably good photos.

In the meantime, I am considering purchasing a 50 mm "fast" lens for this sort of thing. I've got YEARS of gymnasium shots, evening games, and auditorium photos ahead of me ...... not quite sure how a wide-angle portrait lens can help me take better low-light action shots, but I've seen that recommendation on several sites. Hopefully the good folk at my local camera shop can help me out ..... otherwise, it's probably going to be more of me, blinding innocent 10-year olds with my flash.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My total photography awesomeness

The coach of my nephew's basketball team asked me last week if I would mind coming to a few games and taking photos of the boys ..... I think he's got some sort of slide show or something in mind for the end-of-the-season party. I said yes because

1. I enjoy photography,

2. Any excuse to watch my nephew play basketball is a good one, and

3. The basketball coach is also the principal of my children's elementary school. And I figure after buying this house right out from under him, it's the least I can do. Plus, after all the complaining I've done about costumes at his school, it probably wouldn't hurt for me to suck up just a bit anyway.

So I showed up to today's game, camera in hand, ready to capture the action.


I pretty much suck. (My nephew's team is in the bright blue.)

Because everyone loves a good "back of the head" photo.

Who needs to see the player's face when a nice round ball will do? Although I did at least capture the foul against him on film.



Does anyone have any idea which player this is????


Blurry. (Anyone sensing a recurring theme here???)

Oh, look. No face AND blurry!!

Out of the 150-odd pictures I took today, I got maybe 25 decent ones. Maybe 5 good ones. Most of those are of the boys as they stood completely still, getting ready to shoot free throws.

Here's one of my nephew:

And actually, even this picture isn't so good. I mainly took it so you could see his black eye. That his cousin KELLEN gave him, as they played football together on the trampoline. Ahhhh, that makes for some happy family memories, doesn't it?

But back to the photos .... you know that saying, about you get what you pay for? Something tells me the coach slash principal will be paying a *real* photographer in the near future if I can't get my act together.

So in all honesty .... anyone have any suggestions for low-light action photography indoors????

Because these pictures ----- totally stink.