Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Amanda!

Dear Amanda,

The Daily Olympian simply said, "Arend, Brenda and Jack, Olympia, a girl, Jan. 29, 1995."

That little public announcement didn't come close to expressing how overjoyed we were to become your parents!

It's been so much fun to be your mom and dad, and today as you turns 15, we couldn't be more proud of you. You are funny, smart, good natured and thoughtful. We have loved seeing you grow in your relationship with Jesus as well as seeing God's expression of love to US as parents, blessing us with a kid like you.

Today when you were getting your driver's permit, I couldn't believe that 15 years have passed by since I woke one morning to find that "the water was broken" and we knew we would become parents in the next several hours. What we didn't know was how much fun it was going to be to watch you grow!

So my Panda Bear, happy happy birthday to you! We love you tons and can't wait to see what the next 15 years of having you as our daughter brings to our family!!!

You and your cousins (well, those you had at the time). Collin, Kaisha and Nicole. You were about 1 week old in each of these pictures.

You at about 9 months old. This was the stage when people asked if I put your hair in curlers.

Below are pictures of you turning one. Your cheeks are pink because you had just gotten up from a late nap. Family was going to come over but the highways were ice so you partied it up with just mom and dad.

Now, the below pics were taken today! You've come a long way baby!
Congratulations Amanda!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photo blogging #2: aperture/f stop

I'm finding that I'm a pretty slow learner when it comes to my camera. I have sat down numerous times with the camera in one hand and the manual in the other, working through what the different settings do. I always "get it" at the time, but a week later, it's gone. Swoosh! The information leaves my brain like my parents leaving Washington for Arizona in October. It's a quick exit.

After looking through a few photography web sites, I have decided that maybe I'm taking the wrong approach. Instead of trying to digest everything for one photograph, I need to focus on one thing at a time. Isn't that how I learned violin? math? writing? Focus on one aspect, then when I'm ready, I'll move to the next. So, that's the new approach. Baby steps to good photography... baby steps to good photography... (Have you seen What About Bob?)

Okay. Baby step #1... aperture. It's one of those pieces of my camera that has been a bit of a mystery to me, but it's referenced so often that I figured it's a basic piece of photography. Bear with me as I write this all out. I'm blogging this stuff because then when I forget it, I can look back and see what I wrote! Also, maybe just writing it out will help the info stick into my brain.

After a little internet digging, here's what I found out about aperture:

1. Aperture is not a camera setting at all. It's actually a setting of the lens. On older cameras it was an adjustment made on the lens, but with the modern digital SLR cameras, the makers decided it would be handy for people to have the setting actually sit on the camera instead of the lens. No wonder I've been confused! There. I can blame my confusion on the people who make the cameras. *whew*

2. Aperture is a like the pupil in your eyeball; it controls how much light is allowed to come into the camera.

3. Contrary to logic, the larger the aperture setting, the smaller the lens or "pupil". A big f number lets in less light.

4. Conversely, the smaller the aperture setting, the more wide open the lens. A smaller f number lets in more light.

5. The big deal about aperture? It can control the depth of focus. It reminds me a little of having my eyes dialated at the eye doctor. I leave with wide open pupils, and only things up close have a chance of being clear. The background is very blurry. Same with aperture. A high aperture setting means the lens opening is small, and background is more clearly captured. The depth of focus is greater. A low aperture setting lets more light in, like the dialated pupil, and background blurs.

This bluring or depth of focus has made me crazy in the past. For instance, I take a picture of the 3 kids, and only the one in the front is really clear; the 2 in the back are blurry. Depth of focus problem. Aperture problem. Now I know!!!

The fun of this will be when I want to create a blurry background. I've managed in the past to get a soft, blurry background, but I think it was by random accident and messing with camera buttons without knowing what I was doing. Now, I will at least have a clue of where to begin!

Look at the photos below. For lack of a better subject, I grabbed the AAA Northern California. I promise to get better subjects in the future, but we're excited about planning a trip to the Bay Area. We are thinking we will drive down. Have you ever driven 12 hours... in a row... with kids?  I'll take any tips on this topic, as well as tips on aperture. Okay. Enough about all that.

Can you see which has the more blurry background? To take these, I set my camera to AV (aperture priority... the other settings adjust to what I set for aperture).

f/3.5 (low setting, aperture quite open)

f/10 (higher setting, aperture moderately open)

Isn't this cool? I can see it coming in handy when I want to get something like this on purpose, instead of by accident:

a beautiful huckleberry with a nicely blurred background, f/4.5

Friday, January 22, 2010

photo blogging #1: you have to start somewhere!

For Christmas I received Photoshop Elements and it's taken me until now to try it out! I had no clue of where to begin. I mean, obviously, I'd like to remove the wrinkles shadows on faces and get rid of red-eye. But, I know the software is meant for so much more than that. So, today I was talking to a photographer friend and showing her some of the pics on this blog. She commented that my camera tends to take "cool" photographs (refering to the colors and white balance). She noticed how in some pictures the skin tones make people look ashen or blue. Her suggestion? Add red to the photos. That meant I had to finish installing the program and open it. Yikes.

It took a little fiddling, but with some trial and error, I was able to warm up the skin tones on people. Take a look:



Before... (the kids all look a little gray-faced)


Before... (I've always thought the kids looked washed out on this one, especially their faces)

After... (I was even able to add in a little tan on this one. Too much?)

So that is blog post number one about my adventures with Photoshop. Next up, removing the, um, shadows from the faces. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

the coolest cookies!

Last weekend we drove to Seattle to take in the Body Exhibit. I won't blog on that, but you can hop over to Amanda's blog to see what she wrote about it. I will say that in spite of the controversy surrounding how the bodies were obtained, it was an amazing thing to see. I'm glad I went. Reminded me of anatomy class in college and the cadaver lab, except I didn't have to go around, labeling all of the parts in front of me. I was surprised to find that I could remember the structures of the larynx (can you say "hyoid bone" 10 times, fast?) and most of the muscles in the abdomin, neck and face! (sternocleidomastoid... just say it once, that's good enough)

Okay, enough about that.

Now, the cookies. After the exhibit, we wandered the downtown for a bit and found ourselves at Williams Sonoma. Hmmmm, wonder how that happened? You know I love a good kitchen shop.

At WS, Jack spied the most fun cookie cutter I have ever seen. Have I told you he's an amazing guy? He even has an eye for great kitchen stuff.

It comes with 3 coookie cutters (star, heart and a rectangle with a scalloped edge) and a bunch of plastic letters, sort of like the letters you would find on an old typewriter.

Here's how it works:
1. Make a sugar cookie dough. Emily chose to tint hers yellow. Roll the dough out per the instructions, about 1/4" thick.

2. Insert the letters you want into the cutter and cut the cookie. Then, before removing the cutter, push the plunger down a bit to stamp your message into the dough.

3. Bake and ta-daaaaaaa! You have a really cool and unique cookie.

Next time we'll decorate these to really jazz them up, but for this time, Emily was just happy to make the cookies. She made one for her friends at school. Imagine the possibilities: baby shower, thank yous, birthday, teacher gift, staff appreciation, congratulations, Valentines Day  ... I think I will need to buy more flour, butter and sugar.

Monday, January 11, 2010

a dysfunctional relationship

It's a love-hate relationship, really.

It's not all that complicated.
I love the results, but hate the work it demands of me.

You may be asking, "Of whom are you speaking, Brenda?"

I would reply, "Why, Mr. Dreadmill, of course."

Mr. Dreadmill, aka: our treadmill

Well, even as dysfunctional as it is, I will persevere in my relationship with Mr. D. Afterall, shorts-weather is coming!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Signs

I think we got tomorrow's forcasted weather today; clear skies with temperatures in the upper 40s to low 50s. Actually, it got up to 57 degrees! It was so good to see some clear skies and we were able to get out and do some long over-due cutting back of perennials. LOVED. IT. In the process, I saw the first signs of the promise of spring.

Witch Hazel, getting ready for its winter bloom

Autumn Joy seedums are sending up new growth

Blueberries with buds

This is the winner of the "spring is on its way" survey, a blueberry stem with its first leaves already out!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fish Wish

I am one of those people who think spring should happen the week after New Years Day. I want the flowers to be out. I want to see the trees budding. The grass should be greening up and starting to grow. Dang, it never works out that way. There is usually that one really nice week in February. You know the one: 65 degrees and sunny, you think spring is really here and then BANG it snows the next week.

Anyhow, along with wishing for spring comes a desire to BBQ. That made me think of pictures I took last summer of some salmon that Jack caught with Brad when they took a charter boat out of Westport for some deep sea adventure. They came home with 2 fish each!

My favorite way to prepare salmon is on the bbq, and either with a little brown-sugar and butter on it, or using this awesome marinade.

1 cup soy sauce
1 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 to 5 cloves garlic, crushed
ground pepper to taste
crushed parsley (a good handful works)
2 to 3 T lemon juice

Mix well in a blender or food processor.

Marinate salmon for 60 to 90 minutes. I've actually left it for the day in the refrigerator and it turns out fine.

On the BBQ, first cook flesh side down (assuming you have a fillet) for 5 minutes. The flip to skin side down and brush with more marinade if desired. Cook on medium heat until done, 5 to 10 minutes.

I have used a fish basket or like in the picture, an aluminum pan instead of putting the fish directly on the grill. This eliminates the problem of loosing fish through the grill. When using a pan, there is no need to flip the fish. Just cook on medium heat until the fish is cooked through.

The marinade seasons the salmon perfectly: lots of flavor, yet the taste of salmon is still clear in your mouth without being fishy tasting. In spite of it using lots of soy sauce, it doesn't make the fish too salty, but I suppose you could use low sodium soy sauce and still get a pretty good result.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I'm not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions, but after a couple of days to think about it, I have two:
1. to blog more frequently, and
2. to improve my 5K time to something under 35 minutes

Neither may seem like a big deal, but both require me taking time out for myself to work on the goal. So, maybe the resolution should really read, "Take time out to do some things for myself." Nah, I like the first way better. Sounds less selfish and more ambitious!

New Year's Eve quickly caught up to us and as has become tradition, the Carlsons came over to help us greet the new year. For dinner we had hamburgers and baked beans. It tasted so good to me, like a little blast of summer time! All that was missing was the watermelon and flip-flops. Oh, and sunshine.

Now, Amanda has requested that I complete the 20 questions about 2009 that have been popping up here and there on some other blogs, so here it goes!

1. What did you do in 2009 that you had never done before?
Lots of things:
  • drove and rode on a WaveRunner (thanks Leanne for the pic!)

  • made a "jelly roll" style pumpkin cake
  • had all three kids in public school at the same time!
  • was a Summer Hummer camp councilor

2. Did you keep your New Years Resolutions? And will you make more?
I don't recall having any resolutions. My resolutions for this year are above. I'll add another: to try to remember my resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No, but we did get a new kitten, Lewis. Lately, after watching season 1 of "24", we've taken to calling him The Senator. Also, he chases our fat girl cat, Dot, around after we are all in bed. They loudly zip from one end of the hallway to the other, up the stairs, on and off beds. Their feet pound the floor the whole way. Did I tell you it's loud? Anyway, since Dot has been advised to "loose some weight" by the vet, it's almost as though Lewis is putting her through a work-out. Now we also call him "Bob" (ie: trainer on "Biggest Looser") and say that he is running Dot through her last chance work-out. Now, what was the question?

Lewis finding us at the pet shelter

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thank goodness no, but we did loose a cat, Dixie. After we were sure of her not returning, we got Lewis/The Senator/Bob. (see above answer if you have cheated and skipped to this question because you won't know what I'm talking about)

5. What places have you visited?
Oooo, really exotic places like Bellingham, Yakima, Ferndale and Westport. You should go to these places some time. The food is wonderful and the people and customs are so delightful.

Amanda and Emily pulling a razor clam from the Westport sand

Cousin time in Bellingham/Ferndale
Kaisha, Collin, Amanda, Alissa, Emily, Thomas, Mia, Ania

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Money for travel to real exotic locations. Truthfully, I don't think I lacked anything in 2009. It was a very blessed year.

7. What date in 2009 will be etched in your memory and why?
A date in 2009... I would have to say it was coming home from my work to greet Amanda after her first day of high school. She was one distressed and stressed girl who was just starting the adjustment to public school after 4 years of homeschooling. Don't worry though. In 3 days she had found friends, decided her teachers were not freaks, and she looked forward to heading off to school with Jack driving her each morning.

8. What was your biggest achievment?

Biggest achievement in 2009 was probably work on our back yard. There's still a lot to do, but we got a lot done last year.

9. Did you suffer any injuries or illness in 2009?
Nope. Just sick from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Bummer, but temporary.

10. What was the best thing you bought?
Does re-financing the house count? Other than that, I would say my red couch. Love the red couch. Did I buy that in 2009? Well, if not, let's just say I did.

11. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage. Hands down, the mortgage. Taxes run a close second.

Our home last winter in 13" of snow

12. What song will remind you of 2009?
Any song by The Lads. They played at Summer Hummer and their songs ran through our heads all summer. What fun!

13. What do you wish you could have done more of?
Individual time with Jack and each of the kids. I should add that to the resolutions list.

14. What do you wish you could have done less of?
Less eating. At Christmas. That, and laying in bed, waiting to fall asleep.

15. What was your favorite TV program?
For shows I currently watch, it's either Biggest Looser or Desperate Housewives. For shows on DVD, 24. Jack Bauer is so cool. Did you ever notice that he never has to comb his hair, use the bathroom or charge his cell phone? He is just THAT amazing. He's almost as cool as my Jack.

The resemblance is uncanny, don't you think?

16. What was the best book you read in 2009?
Jane Eyre... read this along with Amanda this summer. Turns out she didn't need to have read it, but I'm still glad I did. There are so many classics that I've never set hands on.

17. What was your favorite movie of the year?
The Blind Side or This Is It (Michael Jackson's movie). I was not expecting to like the Jackson flick as well as I did, since I'm not a big fan of Michael Jackson as a person, but it was fun to see that show be put together. I was impressed at how much work went into it, and of course we all know the curtain never opened after MJ's death. It was like being a fly on the wall in the rehearsal hall.

18. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you turning?
Honestly, I don't remember what I did on my birthday. OH, I know! Went with the fam to Fujiyama, a Japanese grill type of place where they cook on a hot grill at your table. Fun and yummy. I turned whatever age it is you turn when you graduated from high school 26 years ago. You do the math...

19. What political issue did you strugle with this year? Health care reform. I'd like to see costs come down but some of the changes around insurance make me nervous.

20. Who was the best person you met?
My husband, Jack, of course. Now, I realize that we didn't meet in 2009, but the question didn't ask that. It just asks who is the best person I met. For what it's worth, we met in 1983. WSU, fall semester, Kimbrough hall, upstairs classroom for music theory with Doc O. We were friends all through college, but didn't date until we were out of college. That's for another post!


Amanda and me at my Mother-in-law's home in Westport

Thomas with Grandma's really cool carousel      

So, a quickie Christmas recap- Christmas Eve took us to Jack's mom's house in Westport.

As is the usual way, many little bowls of things to nibble on were set out upon our arrival. It's like dim sum a la Westport. Cheese, crackers, summer sausage, grapes, little oranges all peeled and separated into sections, mini carrots. When the kids were little there was always a bowl of something like Froot Loops or Coco Puffs. New this year were two things: guacamole (yum) and chopped up pieces of smoked razor clams that someone gave my sweet mother-in-law who I think likes all things from the ocean. I had to draw the line at the smoked clams. This picture gives an idea of the set up of little bowls. Amanda will want you to know it is ROOT beer, not a fresh cold Henry's.

Scott cooked, food was great! Ham, potatoes au gratin, salad. All just yummy. It's hard not to like something when it is cooked in cream and has cheese oozing through it.

Gift giving, as always, was super fun. But, the piece of the evening that will never be forgotten is when my BIL Todd announced his engagement to Coral-the-former-girlfriend. You can imagine our surprise! After getting caught up with how we got from "She needs to get on with her life, which won't include me" to "I love her and we're getting married", congratulations were offered all around. I look forward to getting to know Coral and her family better. This probably includes the proper spelling of her name. Sorry Coral!

Christmas Day we were at home. Emily was sick and had been up coughing most of the night. Of course when the sun came up, she was finally getting some quality sleep. The only problem was that presents and stockings were waiting downstairs and her siblings were doing their best to be patient and let her sleep. They know the rules: don't come downstairs until you are invited to by mom and dad. So, Amanda and Thomas kept busy in Amanda's room. They were shooting the new super blaster nerf shooting gun received from Grandma the night before, and Amanda read Calvin and Hobbes comics to Thomas. By 8AM nobody could stand it any more and we had to get Emily up.

Look at the little darlings. Nothing says "Christmas Morning" like new jammies and a gun in your hand.
Such fun to unpack the stockings! Santa usually fills them with random things and this year was no different.

Giant Hershey bars, little craft kits, gummy candy, peppermint sticks and flarp. Flarp is this amazing goo that comes in a plastic little can. When you push your fingers through it, it sounds like, well... a fart. Thomas especially appreciated the flarp gift. It's great to be an 8-year old boy at Christmas!

From the stockings we went to the tree and by the time we got done there, it looked like a bomb went off at the wrapping paper factory. Such fun to open gifts, and a great time to count blessings.

Thomas and Jack received matching Mariner's pants

We spent the day playing with new toys, picking up a bit and I did a little baking. That evening we had some friends over for dessert so I had to get a cheesecake and pie ready to add to the mix of other sweet treats.

The dessert spread

I fell into bed that night, exhausted from the day's activities, but very happy. To celebrate the birth of our savior with people you love, great food and fun gifts... it gets no better than that!