Sunday, December 27, 2009


As much as I love living in North Carolina with it's easy access to mountains and beaches, I do miss being near my family back in Texas. Especially when the holidays roll around. We've gone back a few times over Christmas, but we usually end up staying here. This was one of those years that we stayed.

The biggest question about staying is what to do for the holidays. One nice thing abut Charlotte is that many people here are transplants and we have many friends who, like us, have no extended family nearby to visit. We've always had one set of friends or another to celebrate with. This year, we hung out with our other Southern friends.

Two days before Christmas, we spent the afternoon playing games and staying for dinner with the Hines family.

Christmas Eve, we spent the evening with the Hines over at the Jinks house.

Christmas Day, we all met over at the Hines house with another family and some extra teenagers and had a fabulous fun-filled day.

But first, we had presents at our house.

They look so calm here. Actually, it looked more like this.

L loved the Webkinz she got from her sister and they both shrieked with joy over the Webkinz they got from Grandma and Grandad and Aunt Bethany and her family.

The girls both got books in their stockings - a simple Barbie one for L who is learning to read, and Encyclopedia Brown #1 for K, who is already finished and has asked for more.

I just think this one is cute.

When we got to our friends' house,the first thing Tracey and I did was make chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy for lunch. It was Everyone stuffed themselves and we took the leftover meat, cut it into bite-sized pieces and served it with the gravy as a snack.

I did mention we're all from the South, right? Except Tracey, who's from upstate New York, but she's an honorary southerner.

The children played.

The grown-ups played.

(Did you know that even if you're wearing a sleeveless white t-shirt and overalls that if you turn your hat backwards, you can look like a skater? Yeah, me neither.)

The grown-ups played with the kids.

(L and Miss Jodi practiced for their debut as almost-Chinese acrobats.)

The children settled down to watch movies.

L used their dog as a pillow. He was very patient.

We had a chocolate fountain.

(I didn't get any pictures. I was too busy dipping.)

We had a fabulous time just hanging out.

And by the end, we all felt like not-so-little Miss Cindy Jae.

Worn flat out.

It was wonderful day spent with our family-away-from-family.

Friday, December 18, 2009


This week is Parent Observation Week at L's dance studio. They've been working since September on their skills and it was time to show them off.

L takes dance two days a week. We started off with two classes on one day, but that proved a bit too long for a 5-year-old to focus in the late afternoon. Also the teacher told me L was too advanced for one of her classes and was consequently acting up a bit, so we switched up the schedule and everyone is much happier.

Monday's class is a jazz/hip-hop combo. It seems to involve lots of jumping and shaking and pointing of toes. The girls showed off their stretching routine (it looked like a hard-core yoga class), some of their individual skills, and then they performed a little dance they'd been working on. L has been in this class for about 4 weeks, but she held her own with the other girls who've been working on this stuff much longer.

L is extremely flexible. That knee grab may look impressive, but I've seen her sitting watching TV with her knees behind her shoulders like it was nothing at all. Even her teacher is amazed at how that child moves and twists herself into knots.

Now *this* is impressive. Straight legs. Toes pointed. Arms thrown out to the sides. Fingers carefully together. A perfectly executed leap.

I'm almost just as impressed that I managed to capture this shot so well.

The final pose of her class' dance. Is she sassy, or what?!

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Getaway Trip

This time last week, I was standing around holding some heavy books in one hand, fanning myself with a piece of paper in the other, wearing a wristband on my wrist, and waiting in a store full of people to meet Pioneer Woman.

It was awesome.

I packed my things and left for Atlanta Monday morning. I made a stop or two on the way down, including an outlet mall that I had always stared at longingly every time we passed it, but I'd never stopped there. I went in every single store I wanted to and looked at everything I wanted to without interruption. Ahhhh....

I checked into a hotel and dropped off my bags, then it was out the door to find the bookstore for the signing and some dinner. I was over 2 hours early, so I browsed through the Target across the street, grabbed a hot dog from the snack bar, and made my leisurely way over to the bookstore.

Where the parking lot was packed.

Seriously??? It was still 1.5 hours until the signing started. I parked on a lower level and went in the bookstore to discover that they had moved the signing up and I was getting there exactly when it started. Oy. I got my book, got a wristband, and headed upstairs to find a very disorganized "line" and soon Pioneer Woman walked in with her sister, her friend Hyacinth, and some employees acting as security. With all the flashbulbs going off, you would've thought we were the paparazzi.

I soon had the wristband system figured out and discovered that as a Green-B, I was near the top of the list, but there were a TON of people in the first category and it was 4 hours before I actually got my book signed.

Since there was no "line" until your category was called, everyone sat or walked around. They were browsing and knitting and feeding their children. I found a book and read all but the last few pages before I was called to go get in the "official" line. It was fun talking to different people and getting to know some of the others brave enough to come out to the signing.

At last, I was there.

And Ree is as gracious in person as she is on her blog. We had just a couple of minutes to talk as she signed and she loved my excuse that it was a business trip. Then I was shuffled over to another table to pick up a t-shirt (they only had mediums) and I got to talk to Betsy and Hyacinth for a little bit. They are just as awesome as Ree and I had a fabulous time doing the book signing.

I made it downstairs just before they closed the registers at 10pm to check out a couple of Christmas gifts, then I headed out in search of somewhere I could get a drink and snacks. I finally found a CVS and loaded up on some choice gourmet selections and drove back to my hotel to do this.

That's what I consider a perfect quiet night alone.

I actually went to bed shortly after midnight, got up fairly early Tuesday morning and checked out to start meandering my way back toward home. The first stop was for a little breakfast at my friend's new shop, Dutch Monkey Doughnuts. And they were awesome!!

If you ever find yourself near Cumming, GA, go see Arpana and her husband Martin and their awesome doughnut shop. Order one of everything on the menu and you will be so happy you did.

A couple more quick stops rounded everything out and I made it home where I was glad to see my kids, the puppy, and especially Mr. at Home. I had a wonderful time alone, but I was happy to be home.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The puppy has rocked our world

There are lots of things I knew about having a new puppy, but knowing is not KNOWING and you don't get to KNOWING until the puppy comes home.

And chews up everything she can get hold of.


Wires. Couch arms. Office chairs. Highlighters. Boxes. Drumsticks. Books. Leashes. Tape dispensers. Christmas pins.


We finally were told about bitter apple spray and that has helped. We moved the bookshelves out of the loft where she's confined behind a baby gate. She's spent time in her crate and on a tie-down, which she's not too happy about, but it does keep the destructiveness down some.

On the upside, she's a lot of fun. She's very well behaved except for the chewing thing and loves to play and go places. She's cute and cuddly and makes us exercise a bit more with all the walking.

Which reminds me. One more trip outside and let's hope we wake up to a clean crate in the morning.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting ready

The girls' schoolwork is planned, printed out, gathered together, and placed in their folders ready to go for the next two days.

The prayer and praise sheets have been typed in and emailed out to my Sunday Bible Study class.

A new roll of doggie bags has been put in the dispenser that hangs on the leash.

My clothes are washed and ready to be tossed in the dryer.

And I'm about to go relax and spend the evening with my wonderful Mr. at Home.

Bright and early tomorrow morning - I'm off!

I'm packing a bag and my camera, turning the radio up loud, and heading down to Atlanta for a couple of days of rest, rejuvenation, and a book signing by one of my favorite bloggers. I plan to stop at an old friend's new doughnut shop and enjoy creations made by a highly talented pastry chef and her chef husband. I plan to get in a little Christmas shopping. I plan to turn off the to do list and the responsibilities and the availability for a little while.

Mostly, I plan to enjoy myself. I'm looking forward to meeting The Pioneer Woman and chatting with a bookstore full of women.

But for now, I'm heading downstairs to spend a little more time with those I'll be missing while I'm gone.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The right tools make all the difference

Several years ago, Mr. at Home got a photography bug and ended up with some fancy equipment and software. He has since gotten busy with work, work, and school, and the photography stuff sat gathering dust. Whenever I'd read another mommy blog about cool photography tricks, I'd sigh and click on past. Because, let's face it, while it all looked really awesome, I had no interest in delving into a bunch of technical stuff to take professional looking photos. I have enough going on in my life without adding another time suck.

Then little motivators cropped up. L's dance pictures cost a fortune and stunk anyway, so I grabbed the digital SLR and held an informal photo shoot in front of a shopping center fountain. The sports associations *always* mess up our order, so I snapped a few of K on my own. They were better photos than my point-and-shoot could take and the "auto" setting seemed to do all I needed it. Maybe this isn't so hard after all.

Today, I got the girls all spiffed up to try for a Christmas card photo. Even the puppy had a bath (that was for a completely different reason and you really don't want to know). With exactly 14 minutes before L had to leave for dance class, we raced down to our simple and pretty neighborhood display and frantically clicked away before we had to get on the road.

Tonight I loaded them into iPhoto like usual, but there was a tiny little prompter in the back of my mind. MckMama raves about a photo editing software called Lightroom. And you know, I think Mr. at Home might have bought that one. And it might just happen to be on the desktop I'm using until my laptop screen gets repaired.

And it was.

So I opened it and easily got the pictures imported. Then the whole user-interface scared me. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. So I went back to MckMama's most recent tutorial and within the first 2 sentences of the tutorial, I had figured the whole thing out.

Ok, maybe not the WHOLE thing. But enough to where I could click around and make some really amazing things happen without any amount of trouble because a lot of the effects are preset for you and you just have to pick the one you like best. Then there are all kinds of detailed changes you can make in another frame, but they're all easy and you can just play around until you find something you like.

For example, this photo is edited in iPhoto.

And here's the same one using Lightroom.

The difference is breathtaking. Sharper, bolder, more detailed. Just think of all I've been missing!!!! And all because I was scared of what turned out to be nothing!!!! It's just a easy to use one as it is to use the other.

And with Lightroom you can do really cool effects like this with a couple of clicks.

Don't worry. These pictures are great, but they did not make the cut for the actual Christmas card, so you still have a surprise to forward to in your mailbox soon. I was so proud of myself for not freaking out and making the girls wear matching clothes. I went with the flow and let them choose things that matched their own style - L in a lovely smocked corduroy dress and K in corduroy jeans, a Christmas t-shirt, and a blue jean jacket. Surprisingly, they coordinated very well and made some really cute pictures.

Especially with a little post-production magic courtesy of Adobe Lightroom.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cindy Jae and all the kids

Today we took Cindy Jae on another exposure outing. Some friends got together at a local mall playground (the mall playground to put all other mall playgrounds to shame) and we headed over there to let all our poor socially deprived homeschoolers spend time with other kids. Socialization is important, after all.

I packed up Cindy Jae's baby gear - paper towels, wipes, treats, toys, tie-down chain, vest, and a copy of the law that allows us to take her in public places in SC (I swear it's like having a baby all over again), took her for one last walk to make sure she had taken care of all her business, and we headed just down the street to the mall. One last chance to take care of business and we headed inside.

Where Cindy Jae walked in without a care, then promptly pooped on the floor.


I used some of those clean-up supplies then got the girls checked in for the playground. I said it was a monster of a playground, didn't I? They *charge admission*. The girls went to play and Cindy Jae and I joined the other moms at a table nearby. I hooked one end of her tie-down to my chair and the other end to her collar and she sniffed and explored and nipped at everything within reach. She whined just a bit, but was pretty good. After awhile, she settled down and started dozing.

Periodically the children would mess with her and she'd get up and interact for a minute and then find another comfy position on the cold tile floor. She didn't seem to mind it, in fact she spend much of her time stretched out enjoying it. The rest of the time, she was curled up under the table. Like this.

And this.

And sometimes like this.

On the way out, we managed to get one quick shot with most of the kids and Cindy Jae. This exposure part of her training is turning out to be very, very fun.