Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Great Brain

I vaguely remember reading The Great Brain series as a kid. Not much stuck in my mind other than the books being humorous. No, that isn't true. I really remember the boys getting the first water closet (or toilet) in town. I thought the first story might be entertaining enough for Levi this year.

The books center around three Catholic brothers in a predominately Mormon Utah town back in 1896. It was a time when boys swam naked in the swimming hole (having been taught to swim by getting thrown in the deep end), were quarantined for the mumps, learned tolerance for others by fighting, played with homemade sling shots, and polished silver on the back porch every Saturday morning.

John, seven years old, tells the story of his brother Tom, the ten year old Great Brain. The eldest brother, Sweyn, shows up on occasion. Not for the faint of heart, the story covers fighting and wrestling for respect, a shop owner dying of starvation, a boy stepping on a rusty nail (not telling his parents because he was disobeying at the time) and loosing a leg, the boys ruining the reputation of a harsh schoolmaster by hiding liquor in his room, and the narrator trying to help his friend commit suicide. All of these adventures have a larger meaning, though, and I think are well presented for what they are.

The story is humorous, with serious moments thrown in just as they are in real life. The occasional illustration by Mercer Mayer adds to the book. My main complaint is the length of the chapters. They seem to go on and on and on. I would prefer the story broken up in smaller chunks for bedtime reading. The book was too easy to put off if I didn't have time or energy to make it through a long chapter!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Let's Discuss Photography

Have you thought about purchasing a book about photography but became overwhelmed by the choices or the technical information? Yep. Do you glaze over when someone talks about f-stops? Yep. (What are they?)

A Mt. Hope reader recently asked advice about camera settings. I panicked! Wait! Am I supposed to know stuff like that? I want to know, but here is the awful truth: I'm lazy. I'm easily intimidated and overwhelmed by technical information. I have other stuff to do, like laundry.
The purpose of this post is two-fold. 1) I want you all to see how much I don't know. This list is pretty much the extent of my photography knowledge. 2) I hope to encourage those of you who enjoy my photos but think photography is intimidating. For many of you, this list of photography advice will seem like kindergarten stuff. For a few others, it will be revolutionary to you, much like it was to me not so long ago.

1. Flash is evil. Bright sunlight is evil. Red-eye, unnatural harsh shadows, washed-out colors, squinting, over-exposure... Take pictures inside on a sunny day. Take pictures outside on a cloudy day or after sunset. (On a covered porch, in the shade, by a window...Use your imagination but avoid direct light.)

If you must take a photo in low-light try one or two without flash (if your camera will cooperate) and possibly using a tri-pod. If that doesn't work, use your flash. I have lots of photos that I don't post because they are just for me to remember something by (birthday parties, etc.) and not beautiful in the universal sense.
To give you an idea what I mean: I doubt anyone has noticed, but I don't think I posted any pictures of dinner meals this past winter. Why? It is dark when I cook dinner during the winter, which means I'd have to use the flash. And there is nothing left to take pictures of the next morning, or at least nothing appetizing to view. If this was a cooking blog and I was making money off of it, I'd cook dinner at 10 am just to take pictures of it. But this isn't, I'm not, and I have laundry to do.

2. Try a new perspective. Stand on a chair, climb a ladder, get on your belly. Whatever you do, don't just stand there! At least not for every photo.
If you are photographing an object, don't be afraid to place it in a new setting. Take a picture of the back of your kids. See things in a new way. Oh, and smiles are nice, and all, but I prefer a variety of expressions from my kids.
3. Get close. Really close. Don't be afraid to cut stuff out. In fact, please do. Pay attention to distracting backgrounds. I don't want to see the emptied basket of toys on my floor or the dishes in my sink or the weeds in my grass or the stack of paperwork I've been ignoring.

Fill the frame with the subject of your photo. Get as close as you're comfortable with, and then get closer.

Get extra close to capture details. Hands are one of my favorites.
Elevate the commonplace by creating a focal point.

4. Don't be afraid to experiment. Take a ginormous number of photos. Are you attempting to capture a great photo of wiggly boy? It might take 50 tries to get a single good one. (Ask me how I know.)
Take your camera with you everywhere you go. You never know when something interesting might capture your photography imagination.
5. Use the rule of thirds. Take your focal point (eyes in the case of a face shot, or head in the case of a body-shot) and off-center it a bit, horizontally and/or vertically.

Notice that Leif's eyes are above the center line and his nose (the center of his face) is to the right of the center line:

6. Go with simple lines, shapes, and colors. Avoid busy-ness. Get rid of as many distracting patterns as possible. When taking pictures of people, the less distracting the clothing, the better. If it is something you can control in advance, go with solid colors.

7. Spend time looking at the pictures of photographers you admire. I love looking at photography blogs. Some of my favorites are linked over at my photography blog on the side bar. Visit Jessica, Courtney, and Kate. Look at Becky Novacek's photos. Hang out over at Donna's blog, Quiet Life. Amanda at SouleMama never fails to inspire me. And there is always Pioneer Woman.

8. When you're starting to feel comfortable, broaden your knowledge. My top recommendation for those of you who want something slightly beyond my simple hints would be Expressions: Taking Extraordinary Photos for Your Scrapbooks and Memory Art. The authors do a wonderful job of presenting very basic photography advice (such as my tips above) with more in-depth instructions and advice.

::What kind of camera do I use? I use a Nikon D50 with the standard auto-focus lens. I have yet to use the manual settings. All my photos are done with auto-focus, occasionally experimenting with some of the setting options. Some day I'll learn how to use manual focus and also splurge on a new lens or two. But not today.

I recently discovered how easy it is to use Nikon Editor after glazing over while trying to use Photoshop. Almost every photo posted since January 6th has been edited in Nikon Editor as well as every photo on my photography blog. Every photo posted previous to that date was straight out of camera.

One last item of business: Crissy at Soliloquy is hosting a Mother's Day photo contest. She is asking bloggers to submit their favorite picture of a mother or grandmother and their children. It can be an old or new photo. The prize is incredible. Go check it out!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Appreciating Music

Each week or two, the boys and I read about a composer in our book, The Story of the Orchestra. I check my collection of classical music CDs and play the composer's music sometime during that week. I also utilize the composer shows at Classics for Kids. My boys often play CDs from our Classical Kids collection, which I highly recommend.

A couple weeks ago we read about Stravinsky. I didn't happen to have a CD of Stravinsky's works, so I decided to do an internet search for him. Why, oh, why don't I think of all the internet resources off the top of my head? Do you know what website I will be using from now on for our music studies? YouTube. That's right. My dinosaur-loving six year old has watched this segment over and over and over again. I think Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is permanently embedded in his brain.

When it came time to study Gershwin, I went straight to YouTube. We watched an orchestra performance of Rhapsody in Blue with Leonard Bernstein as pianist. Excellent!

But this is what I really wanted to share with you. Levi, Luke, and I have watched this several times. We had a few interesting chats about living in a city, New York City, and more. Great educational entertainment! Fine arts are boring? No way.

Here is the second part for you:

Are we just easily entertained?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Those Boys

I remember, now, why I don't have very many pictures with all 3 boys. It is almost impossible to have 3 happy, still, smiling little boys at the same instant. (Thanks for the visit, Grandpa Ron and Grandma Haley!)

Not even 2 boys:
I have to content myself with action shots:
Or just one child:

Or bribes:

Or we could go walking at the park and I could get pictures of the backs of heads...

I hope everyone had a terrific week last week. Or at least survived. Grin. I know I wasn't replying to very many comments. Did I miss answering any questions? Anyone have new questions they need answered? Anyone have ideas about what they'd like to read around here? I have a bunch of posts in the works, including a 'Heidi's Photography Tips' (such as they are) and camera questions answered, but I'm always up for requests.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In Which Saturday Returns

Do you know that there are all sorts of fun things you can do on a Saturday morning without cartoons? Russ, Levi, Luke, and I piled in bed and stared at the ceiling. Our ceiling happens to have a very funny texture. Have you seen shapes in the clouds? Well, we see shapes on our ceiling. Found this morning: a pteradon, a platypus head, a scuba diver, and a giraffe.

A few minutes later, I heard Levi and Luke in the front room discussing recipes. 'I think these spinach pinwheels look yummy. They kinda look dessert-ish.' They were laying on the floor with 5 or more cookbooks open to various pages.
At almost 9 am, Levi suddenly remembered his dad had told him he might be able to watch a few cartoons this morning. Somehow, it had slipped his mind. Oh, what a week without television can do to a kid. Too late. The fresh air was calling. Levi headed straight to his dam. Luke and Leif piled on the lawnmower with dad, where they spent a blissful hour.

We spent the morning doing work around the yard. It felt so great to get things cleaned up a bit. If you notice the boy in swimming trunks, it will be obvious to you that our weather warmed up some.

After a trip to Costco, Russ headed out with Luke to visit a client for the afternoon. Leif had the decency to sleep for three hours, Levi played quietly, and I managed to accomplish a host of tasks. Oh, happy day.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Thank you so much, everyone, for the encouraging comments. I think I'll keep you all. Grin.

Today was headed in the same downward spiral until a friend came to visit our tornado zone. We had a lovely chat, and she was very gracious about the state of my house.

I spent the next few hours working furiously to accomplish something. Anything. Leif took a nap (wahoo) and Levi, Luke, and I managed to get a good deal of school worked on. I was worried I wouldn't have any pictures for you today.

Until... (cue cheerful violins and those ol' song birds) the sun came out to play. Yes, that is right. Our first day of sunshine in over a week. Hallelujah.

Levi and Luke practically burst at the seams, grabbing jackets and boots, the front door banging behind them.

The first thing I did was dump my pitchers of dead flowering branches and replaced them with luscious green curly willow. Ahhh. Much better.

Then I filled a vase with fresh flowers. Ahh, again.
I'm happy to tell you, by the way, that I did start my day with a green smoothie. I won't lie and tell you that I skipped the Dr. Pepper, but I had less than three and replaced the pan of brownies with goat cheese and sour cherry jam on multi-grain crackers. Probably not any healthier in the end but less 'desperate mom-ish' if you know what I mean. Leif was thrilled to head outside after his nap, and I headed down the way to check on Levi.

Aha. This is an excellent clue....
Wait, I think I see him...
Yep. Just as I suspected. He was at his 'dam.' This was actually the first time I have visited. I've been working really hard to scale back my over-controlling tendencies and let the boys play without me hovering over them.
When I arrived Levi said, 'You're welcome to take as many photos as you'd like, Mom. I bet your blog readers would love this.' I also discovered that he had M&Ms in his pocket, and he invited me to dig right in. When I told him I'd pass he said, 'Aww, Mom. You know you love caffeine and chocolate.' This boy is getting too smart for his britches.
I headed back to the overgrown front yard and situated my chair.

I was distracted by the hillside, though, and started dreaming of hammocks.

Leif joined me to look at bugs.
Luke decided to roll down the hill. (I'm tellin' you, these boys needed OUT.)
When I came back to my chair, it appeared to have doubled. I was surprised that Levi could lug that heavy chair down from the front porch. Then he told me he didn't do it. I asked Luke if he carried the chair. 'No.' After a pause, he added, 'I slided it.'
I sat down and looked up. I decided to stay there for a week.
Life calls, though. It's Chinese take-out for dinner, a game and a couple books for the boys, and movie date-night for mom and dad. (Hopefully Russ can get our second DVD player hooked up since Leif destroyed our first one...)
See y'all tomorrow.