Saturday, December 31, 2011

Day 1: Self-Portrait

For the 30 Day Photography Challenge series...



Kyrie learned how to turn the camera to "portrait" mode and how to set the 10-second timer. I learned that from the desk to the wall was too far for the camera to get a good focus in portrait mode. And I learned that I need to find a more systematic way to experiment with aperture, shutter, iso, etc. settings, because all such attempts produced failures.

There is definite room for improvement here: that blemish on the wall behind me, my fat arm in the foreground, my possibly-overdone smile, and my acne. We'll find out if I learn enough in the next 30 days to produce significantly better results.

30 Day Photo Challenge!

Through my cousin, I came across this 30 Day Photo Challenge.

To make a long story short, I'm going to do this. And Kyrie's going to do it with me.

A less-abbreviated version of this story is that God told me to be teachable, and then I came across a conversation online about how much blogs need stunning visuals, "eye candy". After some web research, I decided that I will probably eventually need a better camera to take the best possible photos, but for now I really just need to learn how to use the features on the camera I've got. When my cousin posted about the 30-day challenge, I knew that was exactly the kind of thing I needed.

And then Kyrie asked if she could do it with me. And pointed out that if we started today, we would do the last one on her birthday. I was planning to start tomorrow, but I can't resist that logic. And it would be good for her to learn how to take good pictures along with me, I think.

Update: I am adding links to all 30 days, to have them all in one place.

And here is my amateur's How-To for a Camera's Manual Mode that summarizes what I learned.

Day 1: Self-Portrait
Day 2: What You Wore Today
Day 3:Clouds
Day 4: Something Green
Day 5: From a High Angle
Day 6: From a Low Angle
Day 7: Fruit
Day 8: A Bad Habit
Day 9: Someone You Love
Day 10: Childhood Memory
Day 11: Something Blue
Day 12: Sunset
Day 13: Yourself With 13 Things
Day 14: Eyes
Day 15: Silhouette
Day 16: Long Exposure
Day 17: Technology
Day 18: Your Shoes
Day 19: Something Orange
Day 20: Bokeh
Day 21: Faceless Self-Portrait
Day 22: Hands
Day 23: Sunflare
Day 24: Animal
Day 25: Something Pink
Day 26: Close-Up
Day 27: From a Distance
Day 28: Flowers
Day 29: Black & White
Day 30: Self-Portrait

Friday, December 30, 2011

PicVids - Nov/Dec 2011, Part 2

You have no idea how amused I am by the fact that I found, not just all three on the same bunk, but Gabe sleeping ON Kyrie.
Umm.. right. So "Nov/Dec" includes Oct 31st, i.e. Halloween.  She's adorable, yes? Ignore the not-so-clean floor in the background. If I owned Photoshop and knew how to use it, I might be able to fix that. I don't and I don't, so you'll just have to deal. For now.
Savi really does have a costume on. There are wings on her back, I believe. Gabe actually has TWO costumes on... his batman pajamas underneath his pirate top. Go figure.
Classic Elijah pose.

Three visible pages, two workbooks... that's right, Kyrie and Elijah are both working on their workbooks so close to each other that hers is layered on top of his. I thought it was adorable, so I took a photo instead of telling them to go do their work at the table like rational people.

This wigged-out face makes me laugh every time...

... especially since it's immediately followed by this "I can't hold still anymore, Mom" shot...
... and then by this "You're so FUNNY, Mom!" shot ...

The Cobra Hand of Death is ready to strike the book in retaliation for its evil ways. Like not turning its own pages. Or something.

Gabe isn't writing on anything. He just wanted to be in the picture.

My head may explode from the cuteness of this shot. Baby on the left is Julie's friend Evelyn.

See, I would have used this shot, but again I must bemoan my lack of Photoshop skills and Photoshop owning, to get rid of that bruise on Julie's cheek. Photoshop can do that kind of thing, right?

The Twins (Kyrie's best friends) gave her this pair of glass-less play glasses.  Which may have been a bit of prep, as it were, because it has become very clear that she is in need of real glasses, pronto. And by "pronto", I mean, "whenever I get around to calling the ophthalmologist and scheduling a visit", which I resolved to do "after the holidays". So it might be a bit before a set of glasses actually makes it to her. Hopefully the real glasses will last longer than these plastic frames, which are already broken.

I put this one up on the "About Me" page - and that last one with Kyrie in the glasses, too - but they will probably be replaced whenever I get a better one. But I love his little smile here.

Have I mentioned how much Julie likes writing in things? Books, other people's notepads, books... 

Ah, the funny positions she will read in.

The REALLY funny positions she will decide to read in. AHAHAHA.

Even Julie joined in with Movie Time.

I had a brain fart, apparently, or else this photo would have made it into the "Christmas video" down below.

So would this one have. She LOVES toy phones, and this one was her favorite present, as far as I can tell.

One more little treat... 

I had previously ignored this little program on my Mac called "iMovie". For some unfathomable-to-me reason, I opened it up recently and tried to figure out how it worked. Without much success, I might add. I sort of vaguely picked up on the idea that you could use it to edit videos or something, but that was about it. 

But then I put up all those videos of Julie in my last post and belatedly thought to myself that they would have made a good montage.

And then I was sitting here looking at a bunch of photos and videos from Christmas, most of which did not seem worth putting up on my blog. You know the kind... there's maybe 4 seconds of cuteness in a 50-second video that otherwise has background crying or something. And I thought to myself... "Hey! I'll try out this iMovie thing for making a Christmas montage." I will definitely be keeping this option in mind for future videos. Maybe instead of doing photobooks for my kids' godparents (as I was thinking of doing), I should just mail them a disk with a video montage on it.

Behold the results:

Seriously, let me know what you think of how I did the montage. I would definitely appreciate feedback on this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PicVids - Nov/Dec 2011, Part 1

Since I never got around to posting PicVids for November, I have a lot of them, so I'll be breaking them up into several posts. Here are the videos.

My brother Greg and his girlfriend Lydia have moved to Oregon, which I'm super happy about. This is him reading to the kids. Sometimes I think his sense of humor most takes after my dad.

A cute shot of Savi making Julie laugh.

One-year-olds. What can I say?

A vacuum that's so easy a one-year-old can do it... SwivelSwifferJet should totally pay me to use this video in a commercial... after photoshopping the stains out of the carpet, of course.

There's a website somewhere called "Cute Things Falling Asleep". This would make a good submission, except she got up and ran around for another couple hours after this without ever actually falling all the way asleep. 

Such cuteness. I could almost apologize that all my videos seem to be of Julie, but there you go. She's 1. It's an excessively cute time of her life.

Ooh, here's one that's not of Jules. This is a song that Savi made up about Christmas and sang to me. I was highly amused by how often she mentioned "snow", considering that we haven't had any. 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Joan's Fudge

I've been thinking about doing a new series of posts, covering my favorite recipes. Consider this the first of the batch, perfect for Christmas.

I found this recipe when I was clearing out some old files to make room for the Christmas tree. When I made it this month, it did not quite live up to my childhood memories of it being the greatest food that had ever been invented and ever could be invented, but it was still... oh so good. 

These are the ingredients. 
  • Two bags of chocolate chips ("never generic", the recipe says, although I haven't tested that yet and doubt I would be able to tell the difference)
  • One bag of butterscotch chips
  • One bag of Reese's peanut butter chips

① Melt them, stirring constantly.

② Add 1-2 cups, stir till totally melted.

"Add 1-2 cups of what?", I thought. There's no other ingredients. I finally decided that I was supposed to put all the chips in a bowl together and melt a cup or two of chips at a time, instead of melting all of them at once. So that's what I did. But next time I might try melting all of them at once, just to see what happens.

③ Pour into molds. (Add nuts if desired).

I made mine without nuts this time. But I remember very much liking both varieties. As for molds, a cake pan works just fine, and then you can cut it into squares later. I did both that and a muffin tin.

I'm not sure if the fudge was quite as melted as it was supposed to be, since it was still pretty thick when I poured it into molds. The ones on the left in the picture below are what they looked like right after I poured them. The ones on the right are what they look like after I shake the pan a bit to settle them.

④ Let harden (freezer, fridge, or back porch). 

Ahahahaha. Yes, an uninsulated back porch in a Minnesota winter will get things very cold. 

⑤ Eat and enjoy!

In case you are curious, this is how easy it was to pop the fudge out of the muffin tins, after it hardened.

1. Growing up, my family always had a couple young adults living with us; it was part of a "community" thing. Joan was one of these young adults. She lived with us for 7 years (longer than any of the others), so she was a big part of my life growing up.

2. Oh, and for the record, Ken insists that this is not real fudge. He says it is more like a really good candy bar. I don't particularly think it makes a difference, but there you go.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Making of a Financial System

One day a bit ago, I suddenly found myself compelled to make my budget spreadsheet more user-friendly.

It was pretty odd. I would not have said it particularly felt like God was telling me to. I would normally have written the thought off as a waste of time; no one else is going to look at my budget spreadsheet, so why make it easy for someone else to use? But I just had a need to do it. So I went through and deleted a bunch of extraneous calculations, organized the info into color-coded tables, and put labels on various things to show what they were about.

Fast forward a couple months.

Remember when I said I had been glancing through the websites of the guy who came up with the No-S Diet and Urban Ranger? (His name is Reinhard). Well I came across a post on the forums in which someone bemoaned the difficult reporting and tracking that was required to stick to most budget plans. It was an old post, but there weren't a lot people jumping in to offer simpler ways of doing things.

Aha! I thought. Perhaps I should share our system.

So I made a generic version of my budget spreadsheet, tweaked it a bit more, and made two other versions for people who have different pay schedules. I was almost, but not quite, done with the spreadsheets and ready to put a post on the forum about this system. But a lot has been going on, and I hadn't found time to work on them lately.

Then I woke up Sunday morning from a dream.

I don't even remember what the dream was anymore. All I remember was that there was some guy who did a bunch of things or had a bunch of things, and I was impressed by how practical all those things were. As I was waking up, I was thinking what was that about?, and then it struck me that it was just like Reinhard and his "everyday systems". And I just knew that God was telling me to finish setting up the financial system that day.

Then, in case I might have doubted whether God was speaking to me through my dream, my Scripture reading for the morning involved the beginning of Matthew, where Joseph has multiple dreams with God telling him what to do. So that was what I spent most of Sunday doing.

If you're interested, read all about Only Spend What You Got.

(Those of you who read Conversion Diary may be interested to know that I originally got the basic idea for this financial system from Jen's #6 Take here.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Urban Ranger

The Idea of Urban Rangering

So, some bit ago, I was looking through the website of the guy who came up with the No-S diet1. (I would like to point out, for the record, that he has a number of great systems.)

Every time I came across the Urban Ranger site, I went "oooh".

The basic idea of the Urban Ranger is that you walk everywhere that's within walking distance, instead of driving. I've come across the site before, and loved the idea of it then, too, but frankly I like a lot of ideas without being actually inspired to do them, for reasons of practicality or sloth. This time, though, I found myself going back to the page over and over again, and each time there was that subtle underlying push from God, as if he's telling me "pay attention to this". So I started thinking about it a little. The author recommends walking, "Anywhere you need to go that you can walk to in (say) under an hour", and I discovered that Google Maps' walking estimator thinks that my usual errands - the grocery store, the bank, Kmart, and the library - are all within an hour's walk from my apartment. Heck, even the Learning Palace where I occasionally go to pick up homeschool materials clocked in under an hour.

The First Urban Rangering Excursions

Driving back from Seattle after Thanksgiving, a rock hit the van windshield and started a crack, which grew to be some 6 inches long by the time we got home. I called and got quotes, yada yada. When I called the place to schedule a new window to be put in, they informed me I needed to drop the van off for some 5 hours or more, for it to set. Since I'd been planning to take the kids with me, that was an issue. They definitely weren't going to behave in a waiting room for that long.

The thought persistently cropped into my mind that this would force me to do some Urban Rangering.

So I did it.

I borrowed a double stroller from a friend2, made sure the kids had winter jackets, packed snacks and drinks, and we headed off on our grand adventure.

And it was fun.

Here's a list of some of the interesting places we saw or visited:
  • a "bakery" that doesn't bake anything (they just sell regular store-type bread, Hostess products, and the like);
  • a pleasant little coffee shop that I never knew was there;
  • a craft store that we decided not to take the double stroller into, after seeing a sign proclaiming that all bags must be left at the front;
  • a library with a much expanded kid's section compared to the library we normally go to, and with a baby room open on Friday mornings;
  • a bagel place that we are definitely going back to; 
  • a city park that was two or three stories deeper into the ground than the surrounding streets; 
  • a skate park with a LOT of teenage boys hanging out;
  • a little shop that re-upholsters furniture (good to know!); and
  • a place that sells racing motorcycles. Not just regular motorcycles. Sports motorcycles.3

All in all, we walked a little over 3 miles, round trip.

The next day, we went Urban Rangering again.

This time I needed laundry money, and I finally admitted to myself that there wasn't going to be any better time to get it. We hit the bank, the library, and a corner market on the way home, for milk. It was pure awesome to walk out of the library with three kids reading while they walked.

2.4 miles this time, and the kids did an awesome job of it. Complaining was not an issue; for the most part, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was quite impressed.

Now I just need to invest in galoshes, rain coats, and a double stroller of my own, so we can make a habit of it.

1. Around the time I wrote about not indulging on Sundays.

2. Technically, I have a double stroller of my own. It's been cluttering up our front porch area for some time. But, well... I didn't want to put the kids in something that I couldn't be sure didn't have mold or mildew growing in the cloth. That thing is ready for the trash, I'm thinking.

3. At least, I think "sports" was the word they used. I can't remember for sure, and I'm not really confident on the racing part either, because I know nothing about motorcycles except the name Harley Davidson. But there was some word, and it probably began with 's', and it was clear it was not just ordinary motorcycles.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Not Everything Needs To Be Done Every Day

In my apparently never-ending attempts to get my little apartment clean and uncluttered, I happened to go through large stacks of papers dating back even into my teenage years, I think.

(I mean, really. Hundreds of pages of various notes... why was I hanging on to them? There might have been two in there that I thought worth copying into Evernote. But that's not the point of this post.)

As I was going through all these papers, I found that three-quarters1 of them were either lists of things that I thought I should do every day, or else a schedule in which I tried to set aside time for all of those things. Exercise, prayer, and reading to the kids - for example - would show up on list after list, schedule after schedule.

Not a single one of those schedules ever worked for me2.

Not ever.

I might keep them up for as long as two weeks - most were lucky to last two days. They were, in general, hopelessly unrealistic, expecting me to accomplish things in a phenomenally short time so that I could fit everything into a day. Even when I was deliberately trying to "go easy" on myself, I never succeeded.

So for the next few days, I pondered why I kept making schedules that didn't work. This was ... relevant ... since I was also trying to figure out what sort of schedule I should have - if any - for homeschool. I think the turning point in my understanding came when I was looking at the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum. Out of curiosity, I took their 2nd grade syllabus and sketched out what their daily schedule (for the first week at least) looked like.

I can't believe Mother of Divine Grace only has one day of "reading".

Eventually it percolated through my head that they only did history once a week.

Now, art and music are popular candidates for "less often" subjects3, and many curriculums will do history only two or three times a week. But MODG is a curriculum that aspires to excellence, and history is a significant portion of it. And yet, they do history only once a week.

Not everything needs to be done every day.

She does still need to nap every day, although she seems to want to think otherwise.

I'm finally realizing how much that thought - that everything important needs to be done every day (maybe with a few rare exceptions) - had permeated my thinking. When Ken got a beautiful copy of the Catechism for his RCIA class, I picked it up and started reading it. I got so excited, I immediately wanted to vow to read it every day. I've been reading through the gospel of Luke, and - inspired by Frank Sheed's book To Know Christ Jesus - I decided that next I would do a comparative reading of all four gospels at the same time, and I was so eager to do that, I almost didn't finish reading the end of Luke first.

Not everything needs to be done every day.

I'm trying to exercise in the mornings - 14 minutes of anything, which means for me, mostly dancing. But some mornings I don't have even 14 minutes, because I have to spend that time brushing the girls' hair out, or because the living room floor is too messy to dance on, or because I'm still a shuffling zombie. Exercising is not one of those things, at this time in my life, that needs to happen every day.

I think I'm reading to the kids once or twice a month lately. We are very ... very ... slowly ... working our way through The Rats of NIMH. But we actually finished The Secret Garden. And it finally occurred to me that one of my treasured childhood memories was Dad reading us the book The Phantom Tollbooth; it's the only book I remember him ever reading us once we were old enough to read ourselves, so why was I freaking out over not reading to the kids every day?

Some things DO need to be done every day. Dishes, pretty much, although there have been times in my life where I didn't. I think some sort of prayer, too, needs to be done every day or nearly so.

But... not everything needs to be done every day.

Not everything important needs to be done every day.

Painting is more like a once-a-year activity for us.

1. Have you heard that 90% of figures on the internet (and in conversation) are completely made up? Including that one? Yes, well, I did make up the 3/4 figure, since I obviously wasn't keeping some sort of tally going as I sorted my papers, to get the exact percentage of how many of them were schedules. But it was a lot.

2. Which is why there were so many of them, haha.

3. I have noticed that language people insist that poetry needs to be done every day, and musicians insist that music should be done every day. I assume artists would insist that art should be done every day, and historians history, and mathematicians math. I've decided that I am competent to set my own priorities.