Monday, November 24, 2008

Yes, We Do Our Own Stunts

All right, really there were no stunts required for these next pictures. It was just Travis experimenting with what special effects he can do with his camera. He's been interested lately in composing more artistic shots that aren't so much about capturing an image in perfect focus, but the overall mood and feel they give. It's been interesting and actually produced some pretty cool and unique shots. So, here's my faves from the new techniques....

Here Trav is zooming while taking a shot, which, with when done right, gives you lines all leading your eye right to the center and the main subject, Noah. And even though he's not in focus, it gives a nice feeling. I think this is how parents see their children, tunnel vision! :)

Sometimes, this zooming thing can also give you the cool effect of having one thing in focus, like a face, and the rest of the picture blurred and adding a sense of motion to the shot. I mean, in this shot, can't you just feel the running like you were doing it?

Then there's taking a picture with a long shutter speed and moving the camera, panning, during the exposure. And you end up with something like this:

I love this one myself! Makes me think of an impressionistic painting or something. And, it's how childhood should look, happy kids running by in a blur against a colorful background.

Or in this one, it just helps give you a sense of the wind in your hair and gives the swinging some movement lines.

Another cool effect Trav's been experimenting with is a modified double exposure. So for these next pictures, he set his camera for a long exposure, leaving the shutter open, and then making the flash fire at the end, which grabs a second image. In this case, Travis wanted to get both the kids in a shot, even though they were several feet apart at the time.

At first glance, it may seem like a mistake, but its pretty cool, gives a kind of ghostly feel.

I love this one! Noah better get used to having his sister over his shoulder, literally and figuratively!

It almost looks like something you would have to do in photo editing software, like Photoshop, so it's cool that you can do this with the camera.

This one is great too, Bree in two places at once.

Of course, Travis still takes great shots with his usual crystal clarity too, so since it's been awhile since I've posted pix, here's a few shots of the kids looking cute in focus.

And then there's me. Yep, this is about the extent of stunt work I do, smirking. Hey, it's hard work but someone has to do it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Life is But a Game

I don't know about you, but around here our evenings can get pretty... hectic. To say the least! I'm sure it's the same at your place, (if you have kids that is), hubby comes home from work, exhausted and needs to sit down. You're making dinner and have tried to distract both kids by turning on some obnoxious show but, instead of actually watching whatever it is, both kids have decided to fight over the same toy and/or have a complete simultaneous meltdown and cling to your legs bawling while you try to finish making a nutritious and delicious dinner to the discordant sounds of yowling and some high-pitched voice singing at you from the TV. Then once you finally "sit down" to dinner, (if you all make it to the dinner table that is), you've somehow managed to forget to give one kid a fork and as soon as you sit down from grabbing that, the other kid has already gulped down all their milk and is dying of thirst. One kid is whining about how they don't like whatever it is you've chosen to serve, and the baby has decided it's fun to throw their food on the floor and scream at the top of their lungs, which, naturally, your preschooler finds dang amusing and decides to screech with jarring laughter and follow suit... Of course, after dinner both kids are messy from head to toe and need a bath, which they love, but get very excited about and end up splashing enough water out of the tub to water your garden all next spring. Then it's time to comb their hair and put them into PJ's, the latter of which is often like trying to wrestle an indignant octopus. And just when you think "Thank God, it's close to bedtime!" they have their nightly pre-bedtime hyperactivity and though you only remember having two kids, it seems like a gang of them have invaded.

Or, maybe it's just at my house?

Well, anyway, to try and combat this rather headache inducing, exhausting and patience-trying cycle we're in we've decided to try and play a game each night. Not only does it help us all spend time together in a more relaxed and fun way, but it usually requires some sitting down on the kids' part. (Whew!) Of course, playing games with a 1 yr old and a 4 yr old can be pretty interesting. First of all, they cheat! They make up rules willy nilly and break the ones they don't like. And you can forget about taking turns. It's always their turn! Although, if you can handle that kind of thing then it's also good for some laughs as well...

The game Perfection was a big hit with both kids. It's that one where you have to put all the shapes in the correct place before the time runs out. Otherwise, the buzzer goes off and the whole board pops up. We decided to play it family style and all four of us would try to get the pieces in as fast as we could. It was funny because Noah even got in on it, and even got quite a few in the right spot! (Not sure if that was pure luck or if the kid's just a genius!) I also found it kind of amusing because every time the buzzer went off, Bree would jump and scream. At first, Noah just stared at her. But after a few rounds he decided that was one of the best things about the game and was screaming along with her or clapping when we made it in time.

Another game involving a buzzer is Operation. Classic. We pulled this one out the other night and, like before, Bree would jump and yelp whenever she made the buzzer go off. Noah, on the other hand, found it very interesting to watch the light in the nose go off when the buzzer sounded. So, when it was his turn he would purposely shove the tweezers against the metal and just buzzzzzzzzz until someone (Bree) finally got tired of hearing it and grabbed them from him. Plus, during other people's turns Noah started anticipating the buzzer and was even going "bzzz" at people.

But the best was the night we played Twister. Noah just stared at us all for awhile trying to understand what the game was all about. Then he decided that he wanted to be the one spinning the wheel. Problem being, he wanted to both spin the wheel and play at the same time. So he would spin the wheel and then throw himself on the mat. After awhile, he decided he didn't need the spinner after all, and instead he was spinning himself. Round and round and falling down on the dots, then getting up, screaming, and running across the mat. Then spinning again. Then running. It was so entertaining, and so impossible to play that way, the rest of us just gave up and watched Noah put on a show. It was the most active, loud, and unusual game of Twister I've seen!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Carpe Gaudium or Thoughts on Turning Thirty

If you read my original Birthday Thoughts post, you know I started this year in a pretty introspective, searching, and yes, melancholy mood. Which, kind of took me by surprise because I'm a big believer in aging as gracefully as one can and not holding onto your 21 year old self as the pinnacle of your life. So I truly expected that 30 would come and go as just another birthday and I wouldn't blink an eyelash. But, alas, I did blink - several eyelashes actually. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that this year not only could I see my 30th birthday looming, but, with my oldest getting ready to head to kindergarten next year, and since Travis and I are 95% sure we're done having kids, I could also just feel myself rotating into a new phase of life. I mean, I am pretty darn certain that I don't want to have another baby (for completely selfish reasons) but still, I suppose I was mourning that a bit. No longer would I be in the young, married and having kids phase, but heading into the more established and sedate, married with school age kids phase. It was a bit strange for me to have gotten to all those major milestones I'd been dreaming about forever. You know, I'd already gone to college, gotten my degree, got married, bought a house, had kids, had pets, bought my first new car and got rid of the jalopy, and I guess I was sort of left looking around and going, now what? Is there anything major left for ME or do I just live the rest of my life vicariously through my children's lives? I guess, yes, you could say I was having somewhat of a life crisis, how cliche of me. Because for most of my life I've done what everyone does: think to myself, "Okay, once you get to THAT point, life will be good." or "Once you own THAT thing, that will make you happy." Then when you get there, and it's NOT better and you're NOT so much happier you feel empty. I've always been rushing to the next big thing, never quite in the moment, always looking ahead to the future, worrying about things not in my control, or reliving past moments I wish I could do differently.

So, this sense of restlessness and being out of sorts has haunted me all year. And it's been a crazy year, crazier than some of you will ever know. A roller coaster of emotion and drama for me and my own internal struggle... and here I sit, having come through all that to the other side, here as the year is starting to wind down and my winter birthday is even closer than before, thinking that maybe it was time to revisit the issue and reexamine my state of being.

And, after all that here's where I'm at: Carpe Gaudium, Seize the Joy. My new mantra and something I have been very bad at over the years. After all, how can one enjoy the moment they're in when they're so consumed with worrying about the future or reliving parts of their past that still haunt them? I guess I've decided that worrying about all that is pretty pointless...can't change the past, can't predict the future, all you have is the current moment. So you do your best and get what you can from it. Try to relax and enjoy it as it comes, remembering not to sweat the small stuff and squeezing the joy out where you can, smelling the figurative roses. Much like the characters in the Matrix slow down time to their advantage, take a minute to recognize the nice moments in your life. Or, to put that in geek speak, make sure you have some bullet times.

For a demonstration on that (and because The Matrix is just a hella cool movie, if you like special effects that was breakthrough at the time) here's your visual on that one... No, you don't have to watch the whole thing, but watch until you get the idea.

You see what I mean. So in that philosophy I now feel more calm and centered and able to enjoy the little moments with my children even more, instead of having that little voice in the back of my head nagging me about what else I should/need to be doing. I'm realizing that having most the "big milestones" of establishing an adult life out of the way isn't so bad. I've put in all this time and effort building this life and now I finally get start to enjoy it, moment by moment.

Thirty? Bring it on! I'm ready! Carpe Gaudium!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Noah may be a small person, but he sure thinks he's a big boy! And his personality is larger than life! He is a very sweet little guy, but also such a mischievous character as well. Most people see him and say, "Oh he's a cutie!" at which point he bats his big eyelashes at them and they'll add, "What a charmer!" Of course, if they spend more than 5 minutes with him they also end up saying, "And such a strong will too!" Take for instance, the gal who gave me my last hair cut. She took one look at Noah and said, "He's adorable... And I bet he's pretty ornery too!" I answered, "Yeah, for sure!" She said, "I know, I can tell by that little naughty gleam in his eyes!"

But then, even when he's doing something he knows he shouldn't, he still manages to charm your socks off while doing it. I think partially that's because he does things with so much gusto and in such an exaggerated manner that you just can't resist smiling at him. Like when he purposely throws his binky over the edge of his crib at the start of naptime and starts whining, just so I'll have to come back into the room. I start into the room feeling a bit disgruntled, but that melts when I see him standing there smiling his huge smile and pointing at his beloved binky. Or, another example is with Halloween candy. He'll finish his own and then sidle up to the nearest person who still has some left and open his mouth as wide as it'll go, (which being related to his father, is pretty wide) and just stand there, expectantly. If you don't put a tasty morsel in there fast enough, he'll grunt at you and open his mouth again like a baby bird. Then, once he inevitably gets some, if he really likes it he'll close his eyes and throw his head back to savor it while he chews.

One of the other funny behaviors he does very zestfully is blowing on hot food. Well, actually, now that he's figured out some food may be a little warm for the mouth, and may need to be blown on, he thinks he needs to blow on ALL his food. So, now he makes me laugh because he starts blowing WAY too early. As in, all it takes is for me to start preparing dinner or turning on the microwave for him to start blowing like he was the big bad wolf trying to blow a little pig's house down! I'm actually kind of afraid that the kid will hyperventilate or something!

Alas, one drawback to Noah's dramatic nature are the tantrums. He's already started having them, and his are so much more dramatic than Bree's were at this age. He can launch into a full blown, ear piercing crying at the drop of a pin, usually followed immediately by him throwing himself face down onto the floor and sobbing into the carpet. Of course, part of that has to be due to getting new teeth. He's got 4 new ones for a total of 8! And I also think a lot of tantrums at this age are spurred on by the fact that while there's a lot going on in their brains, toddlers don't have the language to express it. Even if it's just to communicate that you're thirsty... like the other day. Noah was whining and I just couldn't figure out what he wanted. I tried handing him his binky and he just shoved it away. After trying a few other things I thought he might want, with no success, I was at a loss. Finally the poor kid wandered out of the room, found a sippy cup, brought it into the kitchen and held it up by the water dispenser in our fridge. "You're thirsty?" I asked, "You want a drink?" and I started filling his cup up. He was so relieved I finally figured it out he actually started clapping!

Despite his frustration Noah does have some communication skills already though. He can nod yes or no, something I find very amusing. I know I've said it too many times already, and maybe I'm the only one who finds it so, but it's funny when tiny people start suddenly having opinions about stuff. And it's fun to ask them silly or obvious questions to see how they'll answer. "Hey Noah, can I sit in your booster chair?" Vigorous head shaking no. "Noah, do you want some ice cream?" Nodding yes like a bobble head figure. Besides his nonverbal yes and no, Noah also has a few power words he likes to use, don't and go. Only, when he says them you can just see them floating above his head in all caps. When he sees his sister doing something he doesn't want her to, "DON'T!" Or, when playing a game, "GO!"

Yes, he's growing up fast and learning things by leaps and bounds, but it's just not fast enough for him. He wants to be a big person and now! His "I want to do it myself" independence phase is already setting in. Especially in regards to walking. He wants to walk himself everywhere! And don't even think about trying to hold his hand to guide him or keep him safe, it's an affront to his pride! Even when he's dog tired he'll insist on marching himself along on his own two feet. That is, unless he suddenly decides he wants to be held, then you better jump to! (Having a toddler is a bit like living with a tiny tyrant!)

Noah is so eager to be big, that he even thinks he wants Mom's coffee! (Although, that may have a lot to do with how I make it. For me, it's more like would you like some coffee in your sugar not some sugar in your coffee.) I have to be extra careful not to leave a mug sitting around where he can reach it or else I find him in a coffee soaked shirt, happily slurping away. I have to say, I do find it a bit odd he likes it so much. Even sugared, it is a very strong taste. I didn't like coffee until my twenties! And even then it was more that I needed the caffeine to get through college. But the last thing I need now is a caffeine powered toddler! They're hard enough to keep up with as it is!

So despite Noah wanting to hurry up and be a big boy, his mom's sure not ready for that yet and wants to savor his charming babyhood. But even if I blink and suddenly he's grown, it's too late for me, I am now and will be forever, irrevocably twisted around his pinky finger.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Craters of the Moon

A couple weekends ago we decided to take advantage of one of the last balmy weekends left in fall and took a little mini-vacation to Craters of the Moon. Which, despite it's otherworldly name, is actually in Idaho. Craters of the Moon is a national park where you can explore acres and acres of a huge lava flow. It's really alien looking with black lava formations as far as the eye can see including various kinds of lava, lava tubes, dormant cinder cone volcanoes, and dormant spatter cone volcanoes. So, when early American explorers first came across it, before we had actually been to the moon, many thought it must be similar to what the moon's surface must be like (hence the name.) And in fact, the very first astronaut crew that walked on the moon visited Craters to train before their mission! Actually Craters of the Moon was made thousands of years ago by the same volcanic hot spot that now fuels Yellow Stone. Cool huh?

Walking on a paved pathway through the lava beds. This part of the park is a great example of Aa lava, a Hawaiian word meaning rough.

This is a place I visited with my family as a child and have wanted to come back to ever since. (Because, I'm a bit of an amateur geology nerd. I don't know why I should find feldspar and rhyolite and how they formed so fascinating, but... I do.) However, I wasn't too sure how Brianna would like it, since her idea of a fun "park" usually includes slides and swings.
Bree reading up on the science behind the formation of the park.

To my delight, she thought it was neat and was very intrigued. (I guess having an geology nerd mother and microbiologist father made it kind of inevitable.) She actually surprised me by asking fairly insightful and scientific questions for a 4 year old and we ended up having to have a mini Earth Sciences lesson. After we explained that this was from an old volcano and that it was dried lava she asked what lava was. We told her it was really hot melted rock from inside the earth. Then she wanted to know if the lava would burn her. We said no, it was cooled off into rock now. She thought about that awhile and then said, "If it gets hotter today will the lava melt again?" We said no, it couldn't do that. Then she asked, "Will the lava come back while we're here?" No, we explained, the hot spot that made the lava had moved to a different place. "How did it move?" she asked. Travis and I looked at each do you explain plate tectonics to a 4 year old?

One of the highlights for Brianna was getting to explore the caves, formed when the lava dried around large air pockets, or in the case of lava tubes, when a cooler crust formed around a still molten and flowing river of lava. At first, Bree was a bit intimidated of the bigger caves, since they're very dark. But armed with a flashlight she soon overcame her trepidation and was very proud to make it all the way to the end of a large cave, accompanied by Mom and Dad of course. And naturally, if only because we do think it's so amusing to hear Bree using big, technical words, we had to tell her that exploring caves is called spelunking. So when she came out of the cave she announced, "I'm a spelunker!"

Peeking out at Travis from a small cave.

Bree and I in the "twilight" area of a large cave.

For Noah, his favorite part was walking along the many paved pathways the park had to offer. (Anything to make use of and show off his new skill!)

And even though the trails were often long and windy, in order to march visitors past all the interesting and varied lava features, Noah stubbornly insisted on walking along all by himself. Although, he would sometimes at least allow me to walk along beside him.

Noah and I looking cool in our shades.

Noah seemed to find the whole thing pretty interesting actually, frequently stopping to check things out.
Stepping off the path to examine some of the local flora.

Laying down to get a closer look at some tiny paw prints embedded in the pathway. Which turned out to belong to...

...this little guy! (Okay well, maybe not this exact one but you get it.) Aside from pretty sparse vegetation and a lot of pine trees, this was the most wildlife we saw there. Although, the brochures say there's a herd of deer, small bunnies, and a few species of birds to be found as well. It's pretty amazing though, the last lava flow here was dated to be around 2000 years ago and it's still largely a barren place.

Well, I could go on and on about this subject. But for now I'll just leave you with a few more shots of our trip.
Looking down the throat of a dormant spatter cone volcano.

Pahoehoe (Hawaiian for "ropey") lava.

A large Aa lava bed and a great shot to give you the feel of the landscape there.

Me standing next to the edge of an impressive and voluminous flow of lava. Can't you just imagine what it must have been like when it was molten? It looks like it just barely dried there and was oozing it's way forward just a little while ago.

The three spatter cones of Craters. According to the park info, these are some of the most pristine examples of spatter cone volcanoes in the world.

I love this shot. Bree standing by a lava formation at sunset.

It was a really cool experience and a fascinating place, well worth a visit for any family.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! Hope it was a good one for you. Here at our house it was a full week of spooky preparations leading up to the big day.

It started early in the week with the pumpkin carving.

Of course, this actually means I do all the carving since the kids are really too little to wield a knife safely. So they play around and act silly, I carve, and Travis takes pictures of it all. This is me trying to carve a kitty pumpkin. Bree always asks for the hardest things!

Meanwhile Noah mostly just played with the seeds. (We like to save them so I can salt and bake them later for a yummy Halloween snack. Although, this time around I put them in the oven, forgot about them, and burned them to a crisp!) He also spent quite a bit of time tasting the parts of the pumpkin that were carved out.

Then I spent the rest of the week finalizing the family's costumes. We thought it would be fun if the whole family dressed up this year, even picked a theme. We also decided we didn't really want to spend at least $25 a pop for outfits we'd wear, at best, maybe twice. And since I'm sorta crafty/sewy anyways, I thought I'd give it a try.

It all started with Bree, who thought it would be fun to be Tinkerbell this year. Actually, at first she wanted to be "Evil Tinkerbell" but then decided the original Tink would be best. We already had the wings and fluffy skirt so all I had to make was the tunic.

That got me thinking...wouldn't it be cute if Noah were a tiny Peter Pan?

Naturally then, that led to Travis suggesting that he and I complete the picture and go as Captain Hook and Wendy!
Doesn't he look great?!

And here's "Wendy" as well, who ended up having to haul tiny Peter Pan around quite a bit. Wendy was the easiest costume, just needed a blue nightgown really. In fact, it kind of looked like I was just dressed a bit oddly and no one really knew who I was unless I was walking with the whole family, then they'd go, "Oh look a tiny Peter Pan! And Captain Hook! There's Tink too! Oh, and that must be Wendy!"

Of course, we all got some interesting interpretations of our costumes. (Except Travis, he was pretty obvious.) Brianna was called a butterfly or a princess a few times.

And Noah was mistaken for Robin Hood or an elf once or twice. Mostly though, he just stole the show with his charming little self and had everyone commenting, "Oooh. Look at the little Peter Pan! What a great costume. He's just adorable! What a cute little guy. He'll never grow up right?!"

But whatever people thought we were, we had a lot of fun parading around as the whole cast of Peter Pan. No, literally, parading around since our first stop was the annual town Halloween Parade down Main Street.

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, ready to Trick or Treat at all the local businesses.

Tinkerbell had no problems at all, having mastered Trick or Treating, it's old hat for her these days.

Peter, however, found it all a bit overwhelming and did a lot of wandering around, stopping to stare, and trying to peek into his bag and eat all his candy immediately.

He got pretty tired by the end of the day, but still stubbornly insisted on marching along by himself, even refusing to hold hands most the time.

And of course, Travis had to take a staged photo of all of us in character... and it turned out great! So here we are looking like a poster for a play of Peter Pan with Travis as Captain Hook, Beth as Wendy, Bree playing Tinkerbell, and Noah as Peter Pan himself.

Happy Halloween from the Taylor family!