Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favorite Toy

Oops... someone left the laptop out.  You can't do that at our house...

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Family Portraits

I have an obsession with family portraits. 

I have, on occasion, spent hours on the computer looking through the portfolios of family portrait photographers.  I study the pictures and I think, "what makes this work?"  I look at the setting, the lighting, the clothing choices, the way the people are arranged.  I love it when I find one that absolutely takes my breath away and when I do, I dream of having a similar one done for my family. 

I guess it's the amateur photographer in me. 

So when I want a photo done of my family, I get a little crazy.  I stew about every little detail.  For months. 

Is that weird? 

Don't answer that. 

But really... I think everything through very carefully.  Do I want outdoor or studio?  If outdoor, what season would be best?  Casual or formal style?  Who will I hire to take the picture?  What will we wear?  The last two questions are big ones, especially since I am on a budget.  I am picky about photographers because I am a photographer and I don't want to pay someone money and then think "I could have done this better myself."  So I gather all the names of local photographers that I can and I look through all their websites and find someone who I think has "the eye."  And of course that person ends up charging $500 for a photo shoot.  So I look again....  I end up choosing someone who charges what I can afford, who gives me all the images on a CD, and who knows at least a little bit more about photography than I do.  And then I figure if I don't absolutely swoon over the photos at least I didn't pay a fortune for them. 

But then there's the clothes... the logistics of coordinating outfits for eight people without just going out and buying everything...  I fret about this.  I lay outfits out on my bed and change them around again and again.  I really admire well-planned out clothes in a photo and I want to have a good mix of coordinating colors and textures.  I read articles online about how to do this.  Lots of articles.  And they make me grumpy because sure, it's easy if you can drop $100 per person on clothes. 

We took a really great family portrait in March of 2012.  All the kids were in coordinating outfits I'd bought on clearance at Gymboree for dirt cheap.  We looked fantastic.  I absolutely loved the pictures except for one thing: she only had one background in her studio and it was black and white splotchies.  And we were wearing browns and creams and deep reds.  They're still great pictures, there just not the show-stopping stunners they would have been if the background had been brown-toned.  Alas. 

Oh, my goodness, what is wrong with me, anyway? 

Well, we had a big print made to hang on the wall, which never happened because I was pregnant and then we were moving and then we were here and we had Prince Charming and it was time for another family photo. 

I started thinking about it in May.  By the time I'd nailed down location, photographer, and clothes it was October. 

And then it was time for the photo shoot.  I stressed.  Would we have good light?  Would the kids behave?  Would we end up forgetting something that ended up really standing out like a sore thumb in the picture? 

Getting everyone ready took over an hour.  There are so many details with six kids: hair, shoes, etc.  It was dizzying.

The light was great, the fall colors were gorgeous, the photographer worked well with us, and the kids were well-behaved... except for Peanut.  She was wiggling all over the place and pulling faces.

It was okay, though, because I have learned one thing as a mom of many young children: don't expect things to be perfect.  So, believe it or not, after all that dithering over how I was going to have this portrait done I was not expecting perfection.  I just wanted it to be really good.  I wanted the light, the setting, and the clothes to be just right and then if there were a couple weird expressions on the kids' faces... well, that's the way it goes with kids and it wasn't going to bother me. 

So, therefore, I am very, very happy with our 2013 photo shoot.   In fact, I consider it a blessing from heaven the way it all finally came together, an answer to prayer.  I only had to buy a couple of shirts, so I maybe spent $20 on clothes.  The photographer was $70, including a CD of edited images with a copyright release. So it was very affordable for us and yet the end result doesn't look to me like we cut corners. 

This picture really looks like US, I think.  The more I look at it, the more I like it. 

And if you've been to the actual website of this blog in the last couple months (instead of just reading on Feedly) you will have seen the individual shots she did of my kids that are really fantastic. 

Fast forward now to Thanksgiving and the visit from the Beaver family.  Thanksgiving day while we were cooking Mrs. Beaver and I were doing lots of reminiscing.  She remembered how we used to always take their family photo for them when we all lived in western Idaho.  And then she said, "Hey, you could take our family picture for us this year while we're down here!" 

Of course I could.  I could easily take them to the same park we did our pictures at.  The fall colors would be gone, but it would still be pretty. 

Now, Mrs. Beaver was obviously not stressed and obsessed about this like I had been about our picture.  She was just going to be happy to get everyone behind the camera.  Friday morning she said to me offhandedly, "I thought about what we could wear and I pulled out a few shirts we brought with us that might work for some of us, but I may have to go to the store and buy some more shirts."  I looked at her selections and they were good colors, but the some of the shirts were a little old and worn.  And then I got thinking about the portrait we did in 2012... two months prior to that I had bought tons of clothes at Gymboree on the clearance rack in all sizes of little girl (I bought everything I could because they were down to thrift store prices.)  Most of them were from one particular line, meaning they were designed to coordinate.  Even more amazing was that I had recently sorted through and organized every single piece of clothing we own and I knew exactly where it all was.  I knew could easily dress all five of the Beaver girls in coordinating outfits. 

That just left the boys, but in the space of maybe half an hour we scoured the house and found coordinating shirts and sweaters for all five boys plus Mr. Beaver.  In less than an hour we had twelve outfits laid out on my bed that looked pretty good together. 

Friday afternoon after we'd run some errands Mrs. Beaver said, "Okay, kids, get dressed for the family picture.  Here are your clothes."  And all ten of them went and got dressed in a remarkably short amount of time.  No one balked or dawdled. 

We loaded up and drove to the park.  The light was fading so we worked quickly.  I lined everyone up on the bridge and snapped forty or fifty shots in rapid succession.  Getting ten kids to all stand just right and smile just right at the same time is a Herculean task-- even when they are really well-behaved kids-- but we got pretty close on several of them.  I don't know which one they ended up picking for their Christmas card, but this one was my favorite:

Okay, I could definitely nitpick this photo.  It is not perfect.  But when you consider that it was taken in the last 20 minutes of light for the day by a non-professional who doesn't have photoshop and all the logistics were put together the day of and zero money was spent and there are ten children in it, I think it is absolutely amazing. 

I could not help but contrast this experience to our experience with our family photo.

I need to explain that one of the things I have always admired Mrs. Beaver for is her complete faith that the Lord will provide for their needs.  They are not a wealthy family.  With ten children, their budget is much tighter than ours.  At times over the years Mr. Beaver has been woefully under-employed.  But I can't tell you how many times I have called Mrs. Beaver on the phone and asked her how she was coping with her financial adversity only to have her say cheerfully, "Oh, everything's fine.  The Lord is taking care of us."  And then she will list all the many and miraculous ways the things they needed just sort of seemed to appear.   She has been such an inspiration to me over the years. 

And while they were here visiting, I saw it firsthand in many ways, not the least of which was this family portrait.  They needed to get one done but it wasn't exactly something there was room in their budget for.  They ended up with a really nice photo for absolutely free.  And it really was miraculous the way everything flowed... I can't even explain it.  Stuff just fell into place.  Like, we were getting ready to leave and I realized I had a pair of really cute shoes that would be perfect for the baby.  I ran downstairs and realized these teeny tiny shoes could be anywhere in one of three large plastic tubs crammed full.  I opened the lid of the first tub and there they were. 

So as I have pondered, these are the lessons I see in this experience:

1.  The Lord is very aware and involved in the details of our lives.  He delights in blessing us and sometimes we just need to ask. 

2.  When you are doing your best to follow Him, He takes care of you to whatever extent that may be necessary.  In my situation, it was the blessing of a beautiful family portrait for under $100, which for us was a really good deal.  For the Beavers, it was the blessing of a beautiful family portrait for no cost at all because that's what they needed. 

3.  The Lord has unlimited resources.  We tend to always turn to money when we need something, and when we don't have it we pray for more of it.  But the Lord can meet our needs without money.  A humble and sincere follower of Christ can have a very meager bank account and yet be sustained from day to day in the most remarkable ways. 

4. A positive attitude is a key part of living a life of trust in the Lord. 

and finally,

5.  I really need to chill out about some things in my life and stop obsessing over them for months on end

Oh, and

6.  I really love to play with a camera and someday... someday I am going to be a "real" photographer and take more pictures like this one (isn't it sweet?):
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa Lucia Day 2013

Santa Lucia Day, December 13, is becoming one of our favorite family holiday traditions.  We started this marvelous Swedish custom a couple of years ago, once Roo was old enough, and Santa Lucia just brought baked goods to the people in our house.  This year, we expanded it a little bit: Santa Lucia carried plates of tasty things to our friends and neighbors. 

Here she is getting ready to make some deliveries:

That was too dark.  Here she is with the flash on:

And there she goes, down the driveway...

Standing at my front window and watching my little Santa Lucia walk down the snowy sidewalk carrying a plate of warm cinnamon rolls to take to the neighbors will be a memory I always cherish. 

This is what it's all about, folks.  Having children, loving them, serving them, and then teaching them to go out into the world and love and serve others...

I really love Santa Lucia Day. 
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I Did Not Make These, But...

...are not they totally adorable?  Fruit Grinches!  Also served at the Rabbit's class party.  And they were absolutely delicious.  The raspberries are dipped in white chocolate.  Yummy.  I would totally make these sometime. 

Aren't you glad food is so much fun?
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Reindeer Cupcakes

I am having a blast making stuff for my kids' school class parties. 

Yes, I am still into health food.  I still buy organic produce.  I still try to keep our family's sugar consumption down.  But... for every once in awhile... this is such a hoot! 
I spent a very happy morning last week putting these together with Bean's help while we listened to Christmas music.  We got pretty good at it by the end:
The frosting needs to be thick but not too thick.  I made homemade fudge frosting.
Roll the marshmallows back and forth under the knife blade to cut them easily
The ears are a Tootsie roll cut in half and shaped.  Just don't look at the ingredients of Tootsie rolls. Ugh. 
Use the mini-sized vanilla wafers. 
Cutting the tops off the pretzels was tricky.  I broke at least one for every one that ended up on a reindeer.  I finally figured out that if I used a serrated blade and held it very flat across the whole top of the pretzel I had much better results. 
Bean came up with this brilliant way to "'glue" on the chocolate chips and M&Ms:  take a mini marshmallow and dip it in corn syrup and use it like a tiny sponge to dab on just the right amount. 

They were a huge hit when I took them to the Rabbit's class.  Several people said "you are so creative!"  to which I replied "No, I just copy other people's brilliant ideas."  And I have a lot of fun in the process...
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Blueberries Make You Happy

Just ask Prince Charming.

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Morning Sun on Snow

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Potty Training, Take Five

I think I am supposed to be an expert at potty training by now, since I have so many children.  

Well, I am not. 

I hear stories of kids who magically potty train themselves at a very young age.  Stories of trouble-free toilet transitions.  "Potty Training in a Day" and all that.  I am sure that's how it works for some.  But not for me. 

It is a given fact at my house that by the time one of my children is completely potty trained every square inch of carpet in the entire house will have been peed on. 

It is also a given fact that if I even begin the process before my kid's third birthday I am just beating my head against the wall. 

But other than those two very important nuggets of wisdom, I have no fool-proof method or brilliant plan.  It's been different for every kid and it's never been easy. 

So, Peanut turned three and will therefore soon go through a rite of passage in the LDS church: she will move from the nursery to the Sunbeam class in the children's Primary organization on the first Sunday in January.  And I realized recently that she was about to be my first kid to go to the Sunbeam class wearing diapers.  Not that that's not allowed, or anything, it's just that it made me think that is really is time. 

Therefore, I am beginning to potty train her.  It's not going well.  She is in no hurry to be a big girl. 

I think I will refrain from giving you too many details. 

But I will say this, and maybe my experience counts for something after all: they all do learn eventually when they are ready.  In the mean time, love them, be patient, don't shame them, and cut out your frustration by lowering your expectations.  If you expect to be cleaning up a lot of icky messes then you won't be mad when they happen.  And they will happen.  Frequently. So get yourself a good carpet cleaner and don't stress about it. 

The end.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Very Bitter Weather

Well, we survived my first week of serious winter weather here in this northern land, icy roads and all. The natives said it was an unusual week.  Temperatures down to minus 23 with windchills even lower are not uncommon here, but they don't usually hit until January and they don't usually last for more than a couple of days. 

When the storm hit, the roads were first coated with a layer of uneven ice and then snow, followed by an almost immediate drop into negative temperatures, so driving became an adventure.  The road crews here are top-notch and I was amazed at what they could do.  I am not scared of driving on ice and snow as long as I don't have to go more than 15 or 20 miles an hour (not a problem here in this town) but hills scare me and there are several I traverse regularly.  Well, the road crews did a great job keeping even the steep hills safe.  The stuff they use seems to work down to about minus 15, so only on the one really cold night I went to a church party was I worried.  And after a week of driving on the ice-caked, snow-packed roads I have gotten used to it.  Yesterday we got an additional three or so inches of snow and no one batted an eye because it really didn't make that much difference in the roads. 
The silver lining is that it is absolutely beautiful outside.  The evergreen trees are particularly lovely. 

And as for the extreme cold, it doesn't bother me too much as long as the wind isn't blowing.  The fact is, when it hits the low teens you don't go outside without a coat, boots, hat, gloves, and a scarf and when you're all dressed up like that it doesn't really matter if it's 10 or negative 20, as long as you're only going outside to get from here to there.  As long as you're as well-bundled as my Fish is, you'll be fine. 

However, though I am coping just fine with the really bitter weather, I am absolutely loving it now that the temperature is back in the 20s.  I hope the natives are right and that these super cold spells don't usually last very long.  I am looking forward to doing some sledding and snowshoeing with the kids.
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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Decorating the Tree

We finally got our tree decorated Friday night.  That is always a fun activity with a big family. 

I always sit on the couch and sort through the ornaments, setting out the ones that go on the tree this year and the ones that don't.  The reason is that we alternate whether we put white lights (my preference) or colored lights (the Badger's preference) on the tree.  Some ornaments go better with certain lights. 

I just let the kids go to town and put the ornaments wherever.  Then after they are in bed I rearrange ornaments as needed. 

When we lived in Oklahoma we had tile floors downstairs and so I didn't hang any of our glass ornaments.  It's nice to be back on carpet and not have to worry about broken glass. 

I think it is so funny when Prince Charming does this:

And then it was so fun to watch him discover the tree:

Meanwhile, Rabbit and Peanut took our elf hats and played mermaid, or something...

In the end, we had a very beautiful tree!  I love Christmas trees!  They are magical! 
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