Monday, March 19, 2012

Green Weekend

You may have heard, but we're having some unseasonably warm weather here in these parts these days (for point of reference, here's last MarchMarch 2009, and March 2008 (though it looks like we had a warm--if not quite-as-warm March 2010).

We hit 74.9 degrees at our house yesterday, and the boys spent the whole day outside (in shorts and tank-tops) jumping their bikes over ramps,

Splitting wood for the evaporator, 

and eating whatever nasty processed meats various visitors provided and drinking cupfuls of sap and almost-syrup. To cleanse their systems, I made Catherine Newman's maple-lemon tofu with brown rice and broccoli, which we ate outside while swatting mosquitoes. Mine did not come out as beautifully golden as hers, but it was yummy (though I do recommend you double the good stuff--you can't have enough sauce on rice). I ate the leftovers cold for "lunch" at 10:30 this morning.

Saturday we celebrated St. Patrick's Day. The Leprechaun visited and left chocolate gold coins in the shoes (he forgot to come Friday night and showed up Saturday morning, before the kids noticed one way or the other, which is an improvement over the tooth fairy who took two days to deliver a gold dollar after Z lost his first tooth last week). He spruced up the nature table while he was at it (the kids could care less about the nature table these days--I feel like such a failure as a psuedo-Waldorf parent).

I was so tired on Saturday after a week of terrible sleep (and probably groggy from the two Benadryl I took the night before in order to try to sleep) that I just wanted to spend the day in bed, but the kids coaxed me into taking them to Lego club, and we had guests invited to spend the afternoon with us. Once our friends arrived, I immediately forgot all about being tired and we had a pleasant afternoon catching up after many months since our last visit. I helped her get started knitting and we cooked up an Irish feast, inspired by a feast created by my friend Raina of the blog Mamacita Spins the Globe: vegetarian Guinness stew (using sweet potatoes in place of the potatoes because we were out of the latter--how not-Irish is that?), Irish soda bread (I use the Joy of Cooking recipe, which has caraway seeds and raisins), grilled cheese sandwiches for my kids who I knew would complain about the mushrooms in the stew (though amazingly they ate the other veggies), Dubliner cheese and brown butter whole wheat shortbread for dessert (again with the Catherine Newman, and I know shortbread is traditionally associated with Scotland, but I've been craving this recipe for a while, besides, why not make it an all-Celtic celebration?).

It only took E and Z about half an hour to warm up to our friends, whom they hadn't seen in a very long time (and girls, no less!). It was fun to see them all playing together.

We listened to Celtic music during dinner and later watched The Secret of Roan Inish, which I love (though Z spent the whole movie saying, "When is this going to be done?"). I had wanted to do some Celtic crafts, or even just some rainbowey-leprechauney crafts, but I never got to it, nor did I ever bring out the Celtic fairy tales book. There just isn't enough time on the weekends, and when the weather's beautiful out, who wants to be inside making crafts?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring, Cameras, Photography, Etc.

Friends, spring is here! I heard red-wing blackbirds singing Saturday morning on one of my many trips to the school for various sporting events, both real and imagined. C heard a woodcock on Sunday. Today it was warm enough to walk outside in just a sweater and feel almost, dare I say it? Hot.

Yes, yes, I know I just jinxed myself (and all of you within a 100-mile radius of me--sorry), and I know the boy red-winds precede the girls by many weeks in order to establish their territories, and I know woodcock have been known to resume their wild mating dance with only a patch of bare ground between the snow drifts, and I know we're still due of our April Fool's Day blizzard, at a minimum, but oh it does feel good to have the warm sun on your face, doesn't it? (I feel like breaking into a rendition of John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulder Makes Me Happy," but since I'm in the library stacks, I'll spare everyone and refrain). Maybe it's just that daylight savings threw me in such a loop I slept about two hours last night and am now completely slap-happy (it might have been the two pots of tea, but I prefer blaming daylights savings).

So, on last week's new camera post you all left some great comments regarding photo tips, which I want to share here, but first, the camera. After an informal poll of bloggers whose photos I admire, I selected a Cannon Rebel T3i. With the standard lens that comes with it, which I can't name right now since I don't have it with me, but it's a sort of zoomish thing with a function that makes your pictures non-wiggly even if you do wiggle while taking them (do you love my technical jargon?). I love it very much and one of the things I love most about it (which happened to be one of the only things that gave it bad reviews on the Cannon site) is the very loud, snappy shutter sound it makes when taking a picture. When it's set on "continuous" and takes many pictures in short succession, it sounds just like the beginning of "Girls on Film." So Duran Duran runs through my mind when John Denver doesn't.

Now, on to your comments:

IM said...
Tip: Take your camera everywhere. Take tons of photos. But don't be afraid to delete delete delete photos and delete quickly (do you really want to go through thousands of photos at one sitting?). It's so easy to hang on to them because you only kind of like them. Save the ones you love and dump the rest and soon you'll have an amazing set of photos.

Play with light. Get up before sunrise to catch that morning light and dew on the spider webs in the field.

Look for interesting patterns in objects (bark, buildings, moss, clothing, etc.) and focus very tightly so the pattern is the focus of the picture, not the whole tree or whole building or person wearing the clothing.
Maple syrup in process.

Aunt Kirstie said...
That is awesome! I love mine. I have had it for over 2 years and I am still learning new things. Your pictures so far are great. I suggest joining Flickr for feedback, inspiration, and tips.

As far as tips, I am such an amateur that I really don't know. Oh yes, I do have one: don't use your flash. My brother has more photography training than I do (I also took one darkroom class, when I was 19, which I LOVED, but that was *cough cough* years ago).

Two years ago I asked him for one good tip to improve my photos, and he told me not to use my flash. That was the last time I used it. I'm pretty sure I haven't used it at all in the last two years, but perhaps I have once or twice.

What is your favorite tip?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lovely Yellow Teapot

I was devastated when I learned that Pristine Pottery of Staffordshire, England went out of business. I love my green four-cup Pristine--it is so perfectly balances, never drips, the lid stays firmly in place even when pouring out the last dregs of tea, and they're just beautiful to look at. I used to have a bright yellow two-cup as well (pictured here), but C broke it. When I found out that they could be had no more, I started checking Etsy to see if any would ever show up. I found a lovely yellow six-cup there right before Valentine's Day and dashed off an email to C letting him know that's what I wanted.

When Valentines Day (observed) arrived, C gifted me with this pretty copper-foiled stained glass heart, which is made locally and is perfect in our mudroom window, where I've been wanting to hang something stained glass.

I didn't want to sound disappointed, so I waited a few days before I asked, "Was that teapot already sold?"

C's eyes bugged out, he clapped his hand over his mouth and ran downstairs to the basement, emerging with a big priority mail box. Inside was my lovely new teapot:

He said he figured he owed me a few extra presents to make up for some dud Valentine's Days in the past.

I haven't used it yet (six cups is an awful lot of tea). I'll need a friend (or five) to join me in a cuppa.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New Toy

Did you guess? Yes, I finally got myself a fancy-dancy real-live grown-up actual digital SLR camera. It was half a birthday present from C (he gave me the cash from selling his car, which I had bought in the first place--but it all goes in the same pot anyway, right?). I'm so excited I just want to loll about all day reading the 1/2-inch thick manual.

I've just gotten as far as trying out the various automatic settings. I figure I'll delve the manual settings here and there over time.

I took a photography class in high school, which was a very long time ago, and I hardly remember anything about apertures and shutter speeds.

But I do remember the feeling of having that old school-issued Pentax 35 mm camera in my hands,

and the way it was like looking at the world through new eyes.

I had just exactly that same feeling again when I took my new camera out into the woods on Sunday,

but with the advantage of not having to roll film or worry about having to develop the pictures in the darkroom,

so I could take as many as I wanted to (and believe me, I did).

Suddenly the same old trees and woods that I walk in almost every week were alive with new and unusual textures and beautiful colors that I'd noticed before.

I know I have a lot to learn, but it's going to be so much fun figuring it out along the way. 

What are your favorite photography tips?

Monday, March 5, 2012

March Meanderings

I got a new toy last week. Can you guess what it is? I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

It snowed all day Thursday then rained all day Friday and Saturday, so now it looks like a typical Maine March outside, wet heavy snow everywhere. But I have to say, I'm not sick of winter yet (perhaps because it's been so minimal, or maybe because it's not April) and I prefer the snow and ice to the mud (although I know we'll get that--again--next month).

The boys took advantage of the packable snow and spent a good deal of Sunday engaged in a good-natured snowball fight (with sleds for forts, 'cause that's easier, right?). But signs of spring are in the air; birds are making much more noise--chickadees singing their spring songs, woodpeckers drumming and a flock of purple finches has been frequenting our feeder. This is not one of them:

In sadder bird news, I came across this little owl when I was walking in the woods yesterday:

It was tiny--only about six or eight inches tall--and at first I thought it was a baby, but quickly realized its wing feathers were fully developed (the body feathers are so naturally downy it's hard to tell, right?) and there was no sign of nesting nearby (owl guano on tree trunks, owl pellets, angry mother owls). The feathers under its bill seemed stained a rustish color that I thought might be dried blood. I wonder if it could have flown into a tree. Do owls do that? I thought of taking it home to show the boys and draw it, but decided it would be happier left to be food for other wild things. When I got home, I looked it up and I'm pretty sure it was a Northern Saw-Whet Owl, which I didn't even know we had here. Poor little owl. RIP.

OK, so now I've joined the ranks of "bloggers who post disgusting pictures of the insides of their kids' mouths" but I had to share Z's crazy double tooth. The twins had a dentist appointment today and I was hoping he'd just pluck the damn thing out (the baby one, that is) so the adult one doesn't stay all crazy-crooked, but he said just give it time.

Before we went to the dentist, we stopped off at the credit union to cash in about 20 pounds of coins we've been rolling (and rolling and rolling) for the last year or so. It all came out of my Dumbo piggy bank, which I've had since I was two and to which C has been adding his pocket change for years. Dumbo finally was full last winter and we've sat around on occasional rainy days ever since, rolling up coins. We finally finished the last 300 pennies last weekend, checking each one against M's penny collecting booklets, and reading Shell Silverstein's "Smart" while we were at it. E and Z are very into money (I think it's a first-grade thing; M was in his millionaire stage at the same age), so it's been a fun and educational activity for them.

We ended up with $253.50. A pretty good haul. We're going to go on a trip to Boston with our takings sometime this spring.

I'm just about to send off my second packet of writing for the semester. I know my mentor will hate it. I've been wallowing about in self-doubt ever since I got her comments on the first packet, and this story has been such a struggle. Do you remember when you were a kid and wanted to draw something and had such a clear picture in your mind of how it would look, but when you put pencil to paper it came out nothing like what you had in mind? That's what writing this story has been like; I can't get it to do what I want it to do. Also, a friend of mine who had kindly offered to pre-read and offer comments on my work before the official comments sent me an email that said, "The other stuff you write is so good. Why is your fiction so different." I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the gist. Youch. I'm really hoping that voice inside my head telling my I suck is just my super-ego on overdrive. I guess there's nothing for it but to push "send" and hope for the best.

How is you March meandering?
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