Sunday, January 29, 2012

TSS - 1.29.12

Can someone please tell me where all my free time goes in the course of a week?  I started off the New Year with great hopes of writing blog posts two to three times a week, and I find myself barely able to crank out a Sunday Salon post before the weekend is over.  This cannot be the new normal, can it?!

I have started teaching Pride and Prejudice in the British literature course.   This is the fifth time I have taught the book, and probably the seventh time I have read it.  My own children just roll their eyes when I tell them that I "have" to read the book again.  They don't understand my need to refresh my memory in the hopes of fully engaging the class in a lively discussion.

But this time around I have noticed something a bit different.  Since I am already well versed in the plot, and I essentially know what is going to happen in nearly every chapter, I am finding that this re-read is enabling me to see subtle character development that I have missed before - particularly with the minor characters such as Mary Bennet and Charlotte Lucas.  And I continue to marvel at Jane Austen's ability to weave each detailed description into the overall work as a whole.  And of course, I am always anxious to come across my favorite lines of the book - it is as though I have run into a long lost friend whom I desire to visit for awhile.
"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents.—Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."     - Mr. Bennet
One of the male students in the class remarked that nothing happens in this story, and while I disagreed with his statement I did add that this book is definitely not a plot-driven novel, but rather a character-driven novel.  As a class we spent quite a bit of time discussing this subject and I proposed that while plot-driven novels are a lot of fun to read because they keep us at the edge of our seats, they are rarely suitable for literary study.  Whereas, character-driven novels, and theme-driven novels, provide ample material for class discussions.  What do you think?  Was this too broad of a statement?

The training of Feeny, our inherited basset hound puppy, continues at a very slow pace.  I must say that I am pleased that he is now nearly house-broken - having an accident perhaps once every two or three days rather than two or three times a day.  Of course, he still prefers to use our garage to the backyard, but I figure first things first.  He still continues to bark when I leave the room, although it is not quite as immediate or as long as it used to be.  I suppose I should not be too anxious for this new dog to learn new tricks.

He almost found himself on the streets this week, however, when he managed to jump up to the table and take my husband's cell phone.  Before we could stop him, he had already chewed it to the point of destruction.  Fortunately for him - those floppy ears and droopy eyes made it impossible to stay angry for long. 

I have managed to take a picture every day this week - so the month of January only saw one missed day in the 365 Project.  The pictures still tend to chronicle my week rather than focus on creative photography, but I figure there is plenty of time to work my way into that arena.

I spent my free Thursday this week trying to teach myself PhotoShop Elements.  Oh boy, this is going to take some time.  In the nearly three hours I spent with the software program I learned how to upload a picture, make use of the quick edits, and employ the basic concept of cloning.  I tried to eradicate the "black scarf" from one of my Paris pictures (for those who are regular followers of my blog, you know to what I am referring).  While I did manage to make the blemish "disappear" - I must confess that it is rather rough around the edges - literally.  Oh well, I keep reminding myself that I am on a long journey here and I wish to enjoy every step of the way.

Unfortunately, this continued fascination with photography has meant that I have failed the TBR Double Dare Challenge.  Sorry, C.B.  I have picked up several books from the library, and actually used my recent Barnes and Noble 20% off coupon to purchase two new books for my personal collection.  To try to broaden my scope of potential pictures for the 365 Project, I purchased Jim Krause's book, Photo Idea Index.  I like the fact that he uses ordinary cameras and lenses (available to the masses rather than just the professionals) and that he uses lots of pictures to illustrate his points.

And to continue to help me understand the fundamentals of photo composition I purchased Peter Ensenberger's book, Composing Photos.  Again, this book provides lots of visual stimulation - as well as post-it note comments - to help me understand what I have read in several other books before.

I have continued to read - albeit rather slowly - the first book in the Harry Potter series.  And while I am probably half way through, I am sure that I will not finish by the end of the month - which was my original goal.  Oh well, this is another test in my resolve to enjoy the journey of life - and not be so intent on the end results.

I continue to enjoy the Travel Writing course with Dave Fox - although this week I have not been able to motivate myself to write the assigned essay.  I have received some positive feedback on the previous two essays, as well as some very good constructive criticism.  Perhaps I am afraid that I don't have a third quality essay inside me?  Or perhaps my travel journeys do not quite have the universal appeal as I originally thought?  Or perhaps I don't have the necessary discipline to be a writer?  I'm not sure....but I refuse to admit defeat - just perhaps a bit of writer's block.

I cannot that this week marks the beginning of February!  Perhaps I will be able to do a better job of posting this next month.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

TSS - 1.22.12

It has been a good week.  Although that is in large part due to the shortened work week due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  I could definitely get used to teaching just two days a week!

I have tried to keep relatively silent about school this year; first semester was difficult.  But I just had to share the excitement in my yearbook class.  I don't remember if I reported here or not, but somehow I consented to co-teach the year book class with the art teacher - neither one of us having any experience in yearbook whatsoever and with a staff of only three underclassmen who were equally inexperienced.  It made for a stressful first few months of school.  Fortunately I was able to negotiate a delay in the delivery of yearbooks until August, which meant that we had no deadlines first semester,  This was indeed a blessing.

However the great news is.....we now are a staff of twelve students!!  Many of these students are juniors and seniors - and two of them have actually worked on yearbook in the past.  What a joy it is to arrive in class and see students working on assignments without having to be prodded or coaxed.  I feel confident that we will meet our deadlines this year - and that the end product will be a quality one.

photographs taken week of
January 15-21, 2012
I completed the Finding Your Eye online course this week and while I would love to register for the next session immediately, I am using great restraint.  I have already registered for the Slice of Life project - which will begin on February 6th, and I think that is probably all I can handle this semester.  I believe this new course will help me to truly find the beauty in everyday life - and I am very hopeful that I will continue to develop my eye for photography.  Perhaps I will be able to take the subsequent Finding Your Eye course this summer.

I have managed to take a photo every day this month except for one.  While it would be easy for me to declare an early failure in the 365 project - I refuse to allow my perfectionism to rob me of fun in this journey.  So I continue to keep on keeping on....

My photographs are absolutely nothing to write home about, but they do represent what I have experienced each day.  And perhaps that is what the project is supposed to do for me this year:  serve as a visual journal.  And perhaps next year I can focus more on creative composition.

Nicki was the topic of my
travel writing essay this week
I am so far enjoying the travel writing class with Dave Fox.  Last week we had to speed journal four different entries - and I chose to share two with the class.  It is rather intimidating to put my writing out there for total strangers to critique, but I knew in order to get my money's worth for the course, I would need to be willing to take a risk.  I was pleasantly surprised that others enjoyed the writing, and I received some positive comments from the teacher as well.  It definitely encouraged me to continue.

This week we had to write a travel essay that focused on just one particular incident.  The goal was to write an essay that was between 500 and 800 words.  I learned that my daily blog posts during that trip truly helped me to recall details that have dimmed over time.  I also learned that I need to work on prioritizing details - as my "finished" essay was about 910 words.  I am anxious to hear feedback, but ready for some constructive criticism to help me move forward in my writing endeavors.

Well, once again this has taken a backseat in my weekly activities.  I am no further in the Harry Potter series (about page 50 of the first book), but I have skimmed some photography books, most notably Photo Idea Index by Jim Krause, and Exploring the Light by Rick Sammons.  I also picked up a copy of How to Write a Sentence; and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.  I can't remember where I saw this recommendation, but so far it is an enjoyable read - both as a writer and as a teacher of writing.

In Brit Lit we are beginning the study of Pride and Prejudice and while I have read this book at least five times, I am looking forward to re-reading this classic with the class.  It has been a while since I have allowed myself to relax in Jane Austen's description of Regency England, and I look forward to reacquainting myself with long lost literary friends.

I hope that this week finds you well and warm.  Our cold snap was apparently temporary, as we are now to have a series of fifty degree days.  Hardly seems like winter this year, but I am not complaining.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Photo Assignment - third time's a charm?

I have spent a large part of this long weekend practicing photography.  Yes, I finally got my head out of the books, took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather (Sunday = 55 degrees; Monday = 67 degrees!), and went for a photo shoot.

The assignment was to really spend time on one subject and photograph that subject from a varieties of different angles, perspective, etc.  The first time I read the lesson, I interpreted "subject" in a broad sense. I decided that I would go to the local arboretum and photograph nature.  While there was little floral vegetation, there were some variety of plant life and tranquil spots by the water.  I took 242 pictures, of which I am willing to share three.  Not great odds, but I did learn quite a bit about light and how the angle of the sun in relation to the subject can dramatically alter the mood of the picture.  I learned to use my exposure compensation to help overcome my ineptitude of proper manual settings.

This is actually one of the first photos I took.  I liked the way the sun provided the warm glow to these cat's tails.  I had hoped to have the rocks a bit less in focus, so that the cat's tails would truly stand out, but my camera lens did not stop down far enough.  

I experimented for quite some time with this subject, and in a couple of pictures I focused on just one of the stalks, but I thought this group of three made for a more cohesive shot.

This picture allowed me to play with depth of field a bit more.  As I study it, however, I wish there was more of a contrast between the subject and the background.  Oh well, I am definitely still learning.

After spending quite some time trying to take a picture of the rope bridge (to no avail) I looked behind me and noticed these benches next to the water.  I thought it might be fun to take a picture of this spot in the middle of winter - and then return in six months and see how the tree has filled out and the grass has greened up.

While I don't think this is a spectacular photo (and I am sure many of you with far better composition techniques could give me a few pointers), I do like the idea that it could inspire a story.  Who might walk into this setting and sit down by the water?  A romantic couple?  A lonely teen?  A young mother with her newborn?

After this shoot I came home and read some of the message boards for the class.  Apparently same subject meant, literally, the same subject.  If I wanted to photograph flowers, then the same flower from a variety of perspectives, angles, etc.  Of course, this makes more sense:  if I am truly going to develop my eye for the beauty around me, I need to slow down and really see the beauty up close, far away, underneath, overhead, etc.  

Occasionally Jude has to show
Feeny who's boss.
Ok -- so round two.  We were encouraged to find a subject that evokes an emotional response from us - something that we find inspirational.  Well, for me, that would be my dogs.  So I went out to the backyard for about thirty minutes and took another 211 pictures (isn't it wonderful that we don't have to pay for the developing of film in this day and age?!).  I tried to focus my attention on the newest member of the canine family, but it was impossible not to include the other three in this photo shoot.  There was lots of sniffing......running....rough-housing.

In hindsight, this was not a great subject choice.  Yes, they inspire me and bring me great joy. Yes, they are my most photographed subject by a margin of about 3:1 --- but to try for a variety of angles and perspectives is impossible.  If I tried to sit on the ground, they were on top of me.  If I tried to crouch in their face, they would attempt to lick the lens.  It was definitely a humorous shoot, but not terribly productive for this assignment.

I did however find a couple of photos that are worth sharing....and again, I did learn a valuable lesson even if it wasn't the focus of this particular assignment.  I learned that when photographing nature, I like to use Aperture Priority, as I prefer the control over depth of field.  But when shooting dogs, particularly six month old puppies, Shutter Priority is the way to go.  I set the shutter speed at 1/250 and the ISO to 200 (it was partially shaded), and I let the camera adjust the aperture accordingly.

So, I am wondering if perhaps I should try this assignment one more time.  I am thinking of perhaps trying to photograph my nook - filled with shelves of books (my next favorite pastime to my dogs).  Or perhaps I could photograph my car (now that would provide all kinds of angles for different perspectives) - or maybe my morning cup of coffee?  I don't know....apparently developing my creative eye is going to take a bit longer than most.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy

I wanted to share one more poem with you that I found particularly meaningful to me at this stage in my life.  Perhaps it will resonate with some of you as well.

Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon --- don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon --- you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind ---
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Invitation by Mary Oliver

My retreat Thursday led me to pick up a book of poetry and to slow down long enough to savor the imagery and wisdom of simple words.  Not exactly how I anticipated spending this retreat, but it was apparently what I needed.  I wanted to share with you the poem that resonated with me all day:

Invitation by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches 
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink in the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of the winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude -
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

Retreat Thursday

My resolution for 2012 is to make time for me.  To transition from a Martha (a constant doer) and become more like Mary (content to be present in the moment).  Not only does this require a change in mindset, but for me, it also requires a change in schedule.  I was granted a sabbatical from one of my classes this semester which translates to leaving school by 2:00PM each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (typically I would stay until 4:00 or 4:30) and to have Tuesdays and Thursdays off.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I want to use Tuesdays as an at-home work day (catch up on lesson plans, grading, and correspondence) in order to give myself Thursdays to focus on spiritual renewal and creative endeavors.  After reading Jennifer Louden's book, I became inspired to set aside a portion of each Thursday to relax with purpose in the form of a private retreat.  Today is my first retreat.

But as is my typical MO - I have spent far too much thinking about the "perfect" first retreat:  so many options and such a great desire to make every minute count.  Apparently the Martha in me runs deep.  But in thinking through the options I have come to discover (or rather admit) that I am an academic.  I love to learn.  And I am energized when I am researching a new subject.  So it occurred to me that if this is truly what feeds my soul, why fight it?

The three subject areas that fuel this desire are travel - writing - and photography.  And I am consumed by the idea that I can marry these three interests into one life long hobby.  I find such pleasure in planning a trip - and sometimes I enjoy the anticipation more than the actual vacation.  I have a burning desire to not only visit Europe, but to return to a few select locations multiple times.  I want to experience being a true part of that culture and not just a one week visitor.  I have several books on London (where I have been twice), Paris (where I have been three times), and Italy (where I have yet to visit).  How delightful it would be to spend a few Thursdays as an armchair traveler to any of these destinations.

I am currently taking Dave Fox's online travel writing course, which will allow me to revisit my summer trip to Paris.  I journaled about this trip on this blog, and I am now ready to take these "immediate" drafts and put them into more cohesive essays.  I find that a few months' distance provides a new perspective and some hidden insights.

I am also tempted to register for Patti Digh's new online writing course:  VerbTribe.  Two years ago I read her book, Life is a Verb, and actually developed a few writing prompts that I shared on this blog.  I like her writing style and her outlook on life.  I like her sense of humor.  I would imagine that she is a very kind and compassionate teacher who would encourage students rather than discourage them.  I just don't know if I should add the class to this semester's schedule where I am supposed to rest and relax.  Would that be another Martha move?

My photography obsession is slowly transitioning from head knowledge to practical application.  There is something within me that prevents me from just going out there and taking pictures.  Probably that perfection gene that I just can't seem to shake.  But the 365 project is helping a little bit - and the Find Your Eye course is teaching me how to see the world up close and personal.  I have also registered for the Slice of Life project that will begin in early February.  Yes, I even pursue the creative subjects with an academic mindset - but I am learning to accept it.  I recently found a book that I think I need to add to my personal library:  Storytellers by Jerod Foster.  How serendipitous is that?  A book about photography that teaches me to view the picture as a narrative story?  If that doesn't sound like the perfect marriage of writing and photography, I don't know what is.

So while it is nearly 9:00AM and I am still not exactly sure how I will spend this retreat Thursday, I do have a direction.  And I am excited to see where the journey takes me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why Photography?

Any of you who have visited my blog over the past year or so knows my new-found interest in photography.  I have read many books on the subject (even posted a few reviews), shared my trials with a dirty sensor, and posted my goals of improving my photography in 2012.  I've been a woman of many words but little action.  But not anymore.

The last couple of weeks in December I decided to take some positive steps forward in making this dream a reality.  I committed to the 365 Project - something I had contemplated for nearly 18 months but was too fearful to join.  Of course, it helps that I have a close friend who is also committed to the project, and we try to encourage each other to take the required photo each day.

But I also registered for a couple of online classes, one of which is the Find Your Eye course by Kat Eye Studio.  If you follow the link you can find a full description of the course, but the reason why I registered is because I want to learn how to "express my heart and soul" through photography.

This post is a response to our first assignment:

 Why do I take photos? What draws me to photography? What are my motivations? What keeps me excited and interested?
Consider all of the reasons and motivations you have for taking photos, both internal and external. 
I have always been interested in photography - but only as a memory capturing device.  I would take pictures on special occasions, like birthdays and Christmas, and on family vacations.  I believe this style of photography is referred to as snapshots - and while it continues to serve a purpose in my life - I have come to realize that I want to capture more in my pictures.

Since turning 50 two years ago, I have found myself struggling to know the "real" me.  No longer entrenched in parenthood, I have now entered the realm of grandparenthood.  Phasing out the career as teacher, I am now contemplating the life of retirement.  I have graduated from being an eldest child, to being a matriarch of the family.

Somewhere along the way I have lost my sense of me.  I have always referred to myself by the role I have played - not by the person inside.  And now that those roles have changed - and in some cases, disappeared altogether, I feel out of touch.  I have focused solely on raising a family and writing lesson plans - and I have forgotten how to be creative and have fun.  All work and no play has made Molly a very dull person.

Photography seemed like an easy solution.  I already owned a camera (point and shoot most of the time, but my son recently gave me a dslr) and I didn't think I needed any special talent to click a shutter.  I naively thought that "anyone can be a photographer"  But isn't it funny how the more you learn about a subject the more you realize you do not know?  And while it is true that anyone can click the shutter - it is also true that only through practice can one hope to master the skill.

The above picture is a photo of my granddaughter Brynn that I took this holiday season.  Yes, she is in focus, yes you can tell that she is adorable (no prejudice here - ha!) - but it is truly just a snapshot.  Now compare that picture to this one here that my son took at the same time.  He not only captured her face - he captured her personality.  This is the true Brynn - my photo is just a two dimensional image.  I want to learn to capture the essence.  Not just the essence of people - but the essence of life.  I want to learn how to S-L-O-W down and really observe life around me.  I want to find the beauty in my everyday surroundings and I truly believe that in doing that - I will learn to find joy in life, no matter the circumstances.  In addition, I hope to discover a means of self expression that will enable others to see the real me - the me on the inside and not just the role I fulfill in their lives.

Of course, I also have a heart for travel and I want to develop photographic skills that will not only help me to capture the iconic pictures of my beloved Europe - but I want to learn to capture the emotion and the atmosphere as well.  And in the deep recesses of my imagination, where I sometimes allow myself to dream, I would like to marry my love of photography with my love of writing.  I would like to not only visit these foreign countries, but also to write about these travels - if not for publication, then for a legacy to leave for my children to read.  If a picture is worth a 1,000 words - then I want to accompany that photo with another 1,000 words to fully document the event so that others might know and feel exactly what I experienced.

That is what I hope to gain from photography.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

1.8.12 - Sunday Salon

It has been a VERY long time since I have participated in the Sunday Salon, and while I would like to promise myself that this is the start of a weekly habit, I know my track record too well to make that commitment.

This week marked the return to the routine.  All the holiday decorations have been put away again for another 11 months, and the back-to-school regimen began in earnest.  I have made good on a few resolutions, but I am trying not to overdo it.  Slow and Steady wins the race is my new motto.

This semester will be a drastic change in schedule for me.  Without going into too many details, I asked and was granted a one semester sabbatical from teaching my most challenging course:  9th Grade English.  I think the stress and strain of last year (having 9 different course preps, taking care of my ill mother, and eventually dealing with her death) has taken its toll on me.  I have little patience, and in this particular classroom, I had none. But I am indeed so blessed to work for a caring and compassionate administrator who saw my need and was willing to fulfill my request.  It took a while to find a suitable substitute, but at 4:00PM on Thursday afternoon --- when classes were to begin at 8:30AM on Friday --- a final decision had been made.  I spent Friday early morning gathering course materials to hand over - and for the first time in my life I benefited from my OCD organizational tendencies!  In just one hour I had assembled 90% of all the handouts and lesson plans that I believe she will need.

In addition to that schedule change, my Tuesday/Thursday class dropped enrollment to just two students this semester.  And as fate would have it --- all of us have first hour free on Monday - Wednesday - Friday.  So what this means for me is that I will be done teaching at 1:30PM on these days and I will have Tuesdays and Thursdays totally free.  And my schedule on Fridays is amazing:  I teach Brit Lit 2nd hour and 8th Grade English 5th hour.

For the first time in the 8 years I have been teaching, I feel as though I can have a personal life during the school year - and I am so excited!

So what do I plan to do with all this free time?

  • Well, for one thing, I hope to blog more regularly.  I hope to start maintaining a list of possible blog post ideas and then cull from that list on a weekly basis.  
  • I hope to develop an exercise routine that helps keep me fit.  I am not looking to run any marathons or bulk up muscle mass.  I just want to firm up the flab and walk several times a week. 
  • I hope to not only write my daily morning pages, but I want to begin to hone my writing craft.  I tend to use as a journal, documenting life events and personal feelings - but I do not give much thought as to how I write.  I want to work on my creative writing projects on a regular basis.
  • I hope to focus on photography as a creative means of escape.  So far this week I have taken a picture every day for the 365 Project and I am glad to have persevered.  However, the pictures are definitely more journalistic in that they document how I spent the day rather than creative expression.  BUT...slow and steady wins the race and I have promised myself that I will enjoy the journey and not add undo pressure.  
In order to help me complete the above resolutions, I read Women's Retreat Book by Jennifer Louden.  In that book she outlines some ways in which women can organize their own personal retreats that can last anywhere from a half-hour lunch break to a long weekend excursion.  The greatest insight I learned from this book is that a retreat is purposeful.  I have had plenty of days of alone time, but I tend to fritter the hours away.  A retreat has structure - and intent.

So my plan is to reserve Tuesdays for school work:  lesson planning, outside reading for certification (the topic of another post), and grading - but Thursdays will be a day off.  A day for intentional retreat or fun creative play.  I hope to scrapbook some more (I really enjoyed Christmas recipe album project) - perhaps try quilting once again - schedule my own mini read-a-thons - or conduct a nature photo shoot.

So while the end of the holidays is marked with a certain sadness that the celebration is over - for me, it is also the time for a fresh start.  This week will be a full week of school - which is followed by a long weekend due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  For me, that will be a five day break and one in which I not waste away.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Homemade Christmas

I realize that Christmas has come and gone - but I wanted to share with you the gifts that I made for each of my girls:  my two daughters and my soon-to-be daughter in law.  Our family Christmas traditions are many and run deep - filled with lots of routines and favorite recipes.  I decided that I would create a scrapbook that preserved the top ten recipes that I make each year between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Each two page spread included the title of the recipe - the actual recipe itself written on a 3x5 index card and placed in a plastic sleeve that can be removed from the book and replaced - a photograph from years past that depicted our family celebrating the holidays - and a note that briefly told the background of certain traditions.

The project was more labor intensive than I had planned - but fortunately I started early enough that it did not prove too stressful to complete in time for Christmas morning.  I hand wrote each recipe (x3), created page layouts (x3), copied pictures (x3), and added decorative elements (x3).

In the end, I think the books were well-received and I hope that they will be used in years to come.

While we will most likely always have the Italian Christmas Eve vigil at our house (traditionally the feast of seven fishes but done Totoro style includes baked salmon - boiled shrimp - and plenty of snow crab) - my eldest has already claimed that Christmas day will be spent at her house so the grandbaby can enjoy her Santa gifts.  I don't blame her for wanting to adopt a new tradition - but I am a bit melancholy that our days of early Christmas morning risings accompanied with squeals of surprised glee are officially over.  It was a wonder 25 years of fond family memories.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The newest addition....

One of the changes that I alluded to yesterday has to do with the latest addition to the family.

Meet Feeny (as in Mr. Feeny from the hit series, Boy Meets World).  Feeny was my youngest's puppy that she purchased shortly after obtaining her first apartment.  Her theory - and one that I supported 100% - was that she would be lonely in an apartment by herself when all her friends were away at college.  She wanted a puppy to keep her company, as well as provide added security.

What we both failed to realize was that the schedule of an 18 year old student and a basset hound puppy do not mesh well together.  Mandy is the assistant manager at an upscale coffee shop where she works about 25-30 hours a week as well as taking about 15 hours of credit per semester at the community college.  If she wasn't working she was studying and if she wasn't studying she was going to class.  Feeny is a great dog - but he is definitely a puppy and needs far more attention than our three yellow labs.  Both of us forgot this key ingredient.

Mandy's frustration got the better of her and she was ready to give Feeny up for adoption.  Well, for those of you who know me, you know that I could not allow that to happen.  He had become a part of our family and I could not simply discard him because of a bit of inconvenience.  So the day after Christmas Feeny became my puppy.  Not exactly the way I had planned to spend my Christmas break, but when duty calls....

He has assimilated well into the household - although the older dogs have had to teach him the proper pecking order - and he is about 70% house trained.  He is a bit insecure and immediately barks when I leave the room, but we are working on those issues of separation anxiety.  I have quickly learned that Basset Hounds are a unique breed - not just in appearance but in personality as well.  I would welcome any suggestions for training dear Feeny (C.B. --- do you have any words of wisdom to impart?) - as he is definitely here to stay.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I realize this is a bit late - but I hope that all of you have celebrated a marvelous start to 2012!

There are many changes taking place in my life right now - which is one of the primary reasons I have been absent for much of the month of December.  I have to be careful that I do not divulge information too early for fear that certain readers might find out information prematurely.  I promise to catch up very soon.

In the meantime, I will take this time to publicly announce (rather scary....) that I am going to take part in the 365 project.  For those that might be unfamiliar with this concept, I will try to take a photograph a day in order to document a year in my life.  One of my New Year's resolutions is to learn to slow down and appreciate life around me, and I think this might help me to accomplish that goal.  So I am going to give it try - and if perchance I do not succeed, I will at least hope to take more pictures in 2012 than I did in 2011.

In honor of this new challenge I am posting the photograph of the day.  We babysat our granddaughter last night while my eldest and her husband attended a few parties.  This morning she entertained herself by reading a couple of books (following in her Ollie's footsteps????) and I tried to take a few photos.  She is quite enthralled with the camera, however, so every time she heard the shutter click she stopped reading and started to crawl towards me.  This was the best picture of the bunch.

I must go and attend to the black-eyed peas and cornbread - I figure any superstition that promises a year of good luck is worth my participation - but I hope to be back soon and far more regularly in the days and weeks and months ahead.
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