Friday, April 28, 2017

Macro Photography Homework

At this month's Mamas with Cameras meetup, our speaker was Sally Halvorsen, an incredibly talented macro photographer.

Sally spoke about her inspiration, the equipment she uses, how she sets up her shots, and how macro photography is her passion. Her goal is to capture the delicacy of flowers and plants ... and to photography each flower's "face".

She was inspiring and entertaining, so say the least. At the end of the meetup, Sally challenged each of us to pull out our macro lenses and put them to work. It didn't take much for me to do exactly that after hearing Sally talk about her love of this art form. A couple of days later, out came my camera, tripod, light box (for fruit photos because the rain drove me back inside), and macro lenses. I struggled with my Lensbaby lens (need more practice, obviously), but feel like I did a pretty good job with my standard macro lens.

I look forward to some more breaks in our wet weather so I can head outside again to try shooting more than only the tulips in our front yard!

Conor's Prayers of the "Fateful"

All week long, Conor has diligently practiced his two prayers of the faithful (or as he calls them "prayers of the fateful") for mass this morning. Each week, one grade helps with mass by providing greeters, readers, and people to present the gifts. This week, it was the 1st grade's turn to help.

By the end of his week of practice, Conor was ready to go. Just like his big sister a couple of months before, he had no qualms about standing up in front of the entire school to speak. So proud of him!


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Annika is our budding photographer

(Like the pun in the title???)

Annika did a great job capturing some lovely photos of the tulip festival on her tablet. I wanted to make sure she and her photography received their rightful spotlight and recognition.

2017 Skagit Tulip Festival

A few weeks ago, I made the executive decision (as I am known to do) that we should visit the Skagit Tulip Festival because it conveniently coincided with the kids' spring break. My reasoning, you ask? Well, not only did the festival work with the school schedule (and trust me, you do not want to go to the festival on a weekend if you can avoid it), but neither of our kids nor my sister (who was in town) had ever been to the festival. 'Nuf said ... going was our only option!

So, last Thursday, a rain boot-clad Suzanne arrived at our door. I handed her a cuppa coffee (it was 8:30 ... we needed the fuel!), we got the troops wrangled, and we headed up north to discover some much-needed tulip eye candy.

As soon as we were buckled, Suzanne plugged in her phone and started up the playlist she created for the trip. I was highly impressed with her song selections, as were the kids when they recognized some of the songs. We diligently taught them how to "bom bom bom" during "Sweet Caroline" and all of us did our best YMCA dance moves while in seat belts.

Before we knew it, we were in Mt. Vernon anxiously trying to find the stupid illusive tulip fields. I'm not normally one to complain, but I have to say that the signage for the festival left a lot to be desired. I kid you not, one "Tulip Route" sign pointed us down a dead-end road ... that had a mechanic shop at the end and no flowers! (In hindsight, I'm wondering if some locals were having fun with us lost tourists...)

Thank God for our cell phone GPS and Suzanne's idea to navigate to a place called "Tulip Town"... two things that got us right where we wanted to be... in the middle of fields filled with stunning tulips, which were much more attractive than the fields of dandelions we passed trying to find said tulip fields.

Because we visited the fields on a weekday, the crowds were rather minimal. We easily found parking and often were able to get photos without extraneous people in the shots. Bonus!

Sisters selfie

Talk about picturesque

Hello, tulips

Fortunately, many of the rows of tulips were marked with the tulip type. Unfortunately, many of the times, we were on the opposite side of the row from the markers. Whoops! Didn't plan that so well, did we?
Double pinks

Conor had much more fun than his expression conveys in this shot; to his credit, Suzanne was saying "don't smile!" (Conor has the reverse psychology thing figured out!)

I like how the kids' boots compliment the tulip colors
Auntie Suzanne and the kiddos

I suggested to the kids that they might want to pop their faces through the various cutouts that were on the edge of one field. Both kids high-tailed it to this one, not even taking the time to look at the cutout. All that mattered was the foot race ... and winning it. 
Yup - this is what happens when you win a race before knowing about the prize

Annika, guardian angel of the tulip fields 
 Shockingly, we didn't have a single drop of rain fall on us the entire time we were out in the flower fields. We had prepared for a day of dodging the drops. Instead, we were dry (except for the random splashes we got when the kids opted to stomp or jump in the puddles). Thanks for giving us a break, Mother Nature. We are grateful!

Near the end of our time among the flowers, we ran into a very nice gentleman who started chatting with us and asking about our visit. Lo and behold! He is the owner of Tulip Town and emigrated from Holland (how authentic!!). He told us about his acreage, the various flowers, and even a bit about their business model.

Soon enough, we realized we were tired and getting rather hungry. We bid Tulip Town adieu (after buying a few pots of tulips for our front yard, of course -- Eric later said he had a bet with himself about how many flowers would come home with me. I never asked what his guess was... I should do that!) and we headed back into civilization (aka Mt. Vernon) and gobbled up a rather tasty lunch at the Skagit River Brewery.

A final, closing shot of our trip... just a last bit of floral eye candy for you, dear readers! I envy the farmers for getting to see these beauties day in and day out. I don't envy the work they put into them, though!!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Our Alderbrook Getaway

For the most part, Eric's and my birthdays pass with little fanfare or hoopla. At our ages, we tend to top off the celebrations with a take-out dinner and some gifts. Low-key is the name of our game.

Because this year marked Eric's 50th birthday, I felt compelled to do a bit more than in other years. He wasn't convinced it was necessary, but I did. Hey! How many times does a person hit the half-century mark? Right??

To celebrate his 50 years in this world. I booked a weekend getaway for our family at Alderbrook Resort. Knowing March is a crazy-busy month for us, I opted for us to go out of town in April... a little after his birthday, but better in terms of the calendar. I was able to get a two-bedroom cottage, complete with a kitchenette, making thins a whole lot easier for us. The cottage was even pet-friendly, so Buca could go with us. Bonus!

After making the drive to Union (just shy of 2 hours from home), we found ourselves ready for vacation, but vacation wasn't quite ready for us. Because we arrived before the official check-in time, our cottage wasn't ready for us. To pass the time, we decided to do a little geocaching. We tromped around the resort's property for about an hour and a half and had a marvelous time. It was a great way to stretch our legs after being in the car and to learn more about the lay of the land. We went along trails through the woods, to the pool, along the beach, and along the loop of cottages. Fortunately, we only got rained on a little bit. Considering we were expecting a very wet weekend, we felt like we dodged a big (wet) bullet.

Soon enough, we were able to get the keys to our cottage (#10) and get unpacked a bit. While the kids claimed their beds and figured out where their toys would spend the weekend, Buca got comfy on his vacation dog bed that we found waiting for us and promptly fell asleep. (Traveling is so tiring!) Eventually, Buca was up for a little exploring. (He's 12, so emphasis on the LITTLE.) He and the kids walked down to the beach to check out the sights and smells. Buca even took a little dip in the Sound ... too cold for us, but he had a great time!! Of course, that completely tuckered him out, leaving me to hoist him back up over the 2' bulkhead so he could slowly walk back to the cottage and his comfy bed.

After dinner, we took advantage of the lovely indoor pool and hot tub. (You had me at hot tub!) The four of us (Buca was on cottage guard patrol) had a marvelous time playing, splashing, and relaxing in the water. At one point, Annika decided to make a raft out of the available pool noodles. She was incredibly industrious!! It was such a treat to see how far the kids have come in their swimming abilities. They both can navigate in the water with skill and confidence. Conor had a blast tossing our dive toys around and then scurrying around the bottom of the pool to retrieve them. Fortunately, we didn't have to share the pool with a lot of people for the most part. 

Soon enough, it was 7 o'clock and time to dry off so we could enjoy one of the many fire pits around the resort. Thanks to a hint from my friend Kate (who recently visited Alderbrook with her family), we packed s'more makings and had dessert outside while soaking up the heat from the fire. We wrapped up the evening with a walk along the docks and some quite admiration of the local beauty.

After putting the kids to bed, Eric and I opened a bottle of bubbly and plated a few hands of cards. We played Quiddler (and had to reminder ourselves how to play because we'd taking a rather long hiatus from that game apparently!) and gin rummy. We even whipped out the dice and played a few rounds of Greed. Yeah. we are party animals!!

We chit chatted, reminisced, recapped the day, and laughed together ... all while listening to a chorus of croaking frogs. (Definitely not part of our typical city-dwellers soundtrack.)  

The next morning, we awoke to a quiet calmness that basically sums up staying at Alderbrook. We had 9:00 breakfast reservations, so scooted out of the cottage fairly soon after Annika woke up. Oh my, but was breakfast amazing! We had warm carrot cake break (which we all inhaled) as a starter. The kids and I ordered eggs benedict (mine had crab cakes instead of an English muffin and Canadian bacon.... AMAZING) while Eric had scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. (Ahh, my runny-egg hating sweetie!) The potatoes that came as a side dish were addictive ... the kind of food that keeps bringing you back even though you're painfully full.

We walked off breakfast by touring the docks and beach one more time before packing up our stuff (well, most of our stuff ... stay tuned for that story) and heading home. We had fun looking for pretty shells scattered along the beach. The kids were particularly impressed with the oyster shells ... something they had very little exposure to previously.

Before long, we bid Alderbrook a fond farewell and made the journey home. That night after the kids went to bed and Eric and I sat on the couch to watch a TV show, a teary-eyed Conor came into the room saying, "I think Spot 1 is still at Alderbrook!" (sob, sob, sob) We search through his luggage and the car hoping Spot 1 was just hiding. Unfortunately, it was soon apparent that Spot 1 was on an extended vacation. I called the resort and spoke with a very helpful (and sympathetic) employee who quickly found Spot 1 in the lost and found (WHEW!!). He took my contact info and promised the person in charge of the lost and found would contact me the next day to arrange for Spot 1's return. (Double WHEW!) As promised, I received a call the next day and Spot 1 was kindly packaged up and returned to his rightful home. A very squishy (and MUCH anticipated) package arrived at our home a few days later. I swear, I've never seen Conor so happy to see the mail in his life!! To show how top-notch Alderbrook is, they included a stuffed chipmunk (named Chip) and a note explaining how Spot and he became friends while they were both at Alderbrook. Talk about customer service!!!