Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lake Johnson

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Joey is trying to be Mr. Cool here;-)

The boys and I hiked around Lake Johnson today.  I wanted to go to the NC Zoo, but the forecast was for the sky to turn very cloudy by noon, and  sure enough it did.  I like sun for my pictures when I go to the zoo. At least the temps was in the 50s and the winds were relatively calm.  It was great weather for a winter hike.
I didn't tell the boys the trail was 3+ miles;-)  We've hiked this trail before, but they didn't immediately remember it.  Good thing!  I suggested that they bring their scooters.  The main trails is paved with asphalt and is quite hilly in spots, but you have to be careful not to trip on tree roots that are pushing up through the trail in may places.  We were all ready for the facilities and a snack by the time we completed the loop!

Santa bought a Wii U for Christmas and included a Wii U Fit Meter which I registered to me.  I've ordered another one for Joey who is very interested.  Johnny and I both wear a Fitbit each day already.  I have the Fitbit One, and he has a Fitbit Zip.  It was really interesting to compare the steps that each recorded for the hike.  All the devices reported a similar number of steps.  The picture below shows before and after shots of the Fit Meter.  The hike ended up being about 9000 steps if I averaged out the steps on each device.

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A couple of things to note:
1. The new Fit Meter is much bigger than the Fitbit One.
2. The clip on the Fit Meter doesn't really hold it onto my clothes, so I am keeping it in my pocket.
3. I really like the big display on the Fit Meter and it's cute that it shows my Mii.
4. There isn't as much doc available as I'd like for the Fit Meter.  I want to know how often I HAVE to sync the data with the Wii U before it gets lost and can't find that.  I'd also like more info on the data on the displays.
5. I like that that Fitbit data automatically syncs with a USB dongle on my computer or with my iPhone (or android).  Having to fire up the Wii Fit U game to sync the Fit Meter will get old if you really aren't playing the game every day.
6. Joey and I are loving the updated Wii Fit U game.  We have previously played the Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus games, and Nintendo has done a nice job adding new games and updating features with each iteration. We really do enjoy playing the games.  

I'm hoping to keep us active during the boys' January trackout, and I think the Wii Fit U game and Fit Meter will help.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Acu-Rite Weather Station

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We installed our new Acu-Rite weather station today. We took down a rotten tree that was leaning towards the house to make a clear and safe spot for the weather station. The station is a tad too close to the house and there is a bit of a tree canopy, but this location is the best we could do in our yard.  We'll hook up the station to Weather Underground tomorrow.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Google Twinkle

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Besides uploading all my important pics to SmugMug, I also uplod them to Google. For the past few weeks, Google has created Awesome Photos for some of my pictures. You can read more about what Google was doing here and here. But, in a nut shell, Google added SNOW, TWINKLE, and MOVIE animation to photos meeting certain criteria. Here's a picture of my tree that Google added the twinkle feature to. even the reflection in the window is twinkling! I really enjoyed what Google did the past few weeks. The only thing I would have changed was them adding a button to let me select for a certain picture the awesomizing feature. If there was one, I didn't see it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

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Wishing you are yours a Merry Christmas!

These pictures were taken earlier in December on a trip to the Durham Museum of Life and Science.  I had the tripod with me, and we lined up and took several pictures trying to get a good one.  At the end of the day, I decided that instead of putting one picture on our card like I'd done years past that, I would pick several.  I used a template from Wal-Mart and Hallmark for the ones I mailed out, and I used some embellishments from Scrap Girls for this version that I created last night.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Festive Tree

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Another shot taken on our light show tour Sunday night.  This house was gorgeous!  Somehow I forgot to get good picture of the overall lights with my real camera, but here is a quick iPhone snap to show you how massive the display was.  The green tree featured in my daily is over on the right.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas...Another Card

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This is another shot from our Sunday night drive to see lights in our area.  This house has the lights dancing to music and is really fun to watch.  I get a tad frustrated at this location because along with the typical Christmas lights there are a whole bunch of lollipop looking real RR or road lights.  They are so powerful when they flash on and off to the music and it can really be an issue when trying to get a good exposure on the regular lights.

See what I mean.

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My daily was made from two shots.  The real tree is next to the big lighted tree, but I didn't get a shot where they both looked their best at the same time.  I pulled the lighted tree from another shot where I thought it looked great and overlaid it on another shot of the lighted and real tree.  I've darkened shadows a bit to hide seems and boosted the lighted tree colors just a bit.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

X Marks the Roof

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Donnie, the boys, and I drove around after dinner last night looking at Christmas lights. We saw a lot of festive and enjoyable displalys, and I grabbed a lot of pictures. I'm not real keen on this shot, but it does have an X in it. Tomorrow I will post my favorite from our light seeing tour.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Star Light Star Bright

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Taken on a drive after Joey's basketball game last night.  Unfortunately, the Stampede lost their 3rd game:-(  Two weeks off for the holidays and then back at it.

This version is closer to the original.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Santa's Suit

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This is a card Joey and I worked on for his teacher.  He picked out the striped print for the suit.  I looked at a few templates online and then drew and cut the pieces out.  Joey used double sided tape to put him together and then decorated the inside and back of the card plus the envelope using some rubber stamps and ink and some markers.

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Johnny also made a card for his teacher.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tree Swing

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Another shot from the tree in the fog location.  This time a close-up of the tree with the swing. Processed the same as the original wider angle view shot.

Here is an alternate processing.  Both done with Color Efex Pro.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trees in the Fog

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Each day on the way to and from the boys' school, I admire these trees.  With a pretty heavy fog yesterday afternoon, it seemed like the right day to finally stop and take some pics of them.  I love the swing on the rightmost tree.  How classic.  I've enhanced the details and contrast and then applied a B&W conversion.  I hope in the next few days to catch a sunset behind the trees.  This shot is looking west!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

V Is for Violin - Springs, Sprockets and Pulleys by Steve Gerberich

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The boys, Donnie, and I went to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.  Joey just couldn't wait any longer to see Steve Gerberich's Springs, Sprockets, and Pulleys exhibit which is on display through February 23rd.  Steve has installed an exhibit at the museum many times before around the holiday, and we've had the pleasure over the years of seeing several of those too.  Here is a link to a gallery with photos of his 2009 exhibit and link to a gallery with photos from his 2011 exhibit.

My daily photo is a collage of a group of musicians.  The violin player is on the right.  I could just kick myself for not thinking V and getting a better shot of him!  However, the whole group and head shots that I got are pretty fascinating anyway.

My favorite part of the exhibit was The Time Machine.

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Here's another collage showing a variety of figures from the entire exhibit.

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We entered Johnny's Halloween robot costume in a contest that they have going on right now to win a workshop with Steve.  We sure hope we win.  We went to one of his paid for workshops several years ago and made interesting flying creatures that you could pull the strings and make the wings flap.  It was a lot of fun!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Professor Rigsby Elf

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The elf tradition continues in our home this year.  Some of you may remember that we have quite a large collection of elves and that during the month of December the elves report back to the North Pole each night therefore upon their return end up in a new location in the house.  This year, one elf each night moves to the kitchen table and leaves some sort of helpful note.  The boys are mostly pleased with this change, but there are a few requests for all the elves to spin to new locations one night.  Maybe on Christmas;-)

Way Out West

We had the pleasure of watching Joey perform at his school on Tuesday night after a PTA meeting. The theme of the production was Way Out West, and the kids sang a series of songs about America's westward expansion including Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea.

Here is a collage showing several pictures I took during the performance.

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Joey also belongs to the Storytellers club at school, and the shot lower left shows him narrating part of the program.

The 5th graders made the western style wagon art in their art class for the backdrop.  I took a picture of Joey's purple wagon.

And here are two short videos showcasing some of the songs.



Joey is also an AM Panther Ambassador for the next three weeks.  That means he wears a safety vest and stands to greet kids in the carpool drop-off line.  There are 6 spots for drop-off, Panther Paw, and they usually have 4 kids and 2 teachers out there.  There is another group of kids that do PM.  Johnny and I have to go through the line while he's out there, and we were lucky enough to get him Thursday morning.  He was proud and embarrassed at the same time:-) especially with mom taking pics.

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That's Johnny with his green book bag in the background.

It's been a real family effort this week to get out the door an extra 20 minutes early each morning. Definitely worth it to give Joey this opportunity but nothing relaxed about the morning rush right now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tree-Shaped Bokeh

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This is a follow-up post to the one I posted earlier this week showing star-shaped bokeh on my Christmas tree.  However, this tree-shaped bokeh was created using  totally different process as described here.

I bought three hole punches at ACMoore and Michael's this past week. This tree shape and a butterfly shape were very inexpensive (<$1) and created very small holes about 1/8 inch diameter.  The third was a heart shape and a bit bigger, about 1/4" diameter, and it didn't work for my lens (Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras) and equipment (Canon 40D).

This picture shows you the type of punch that I think works best.

There is a bit of an art to getting the punch in the right spot on the paper.  Don't be afraid to fold.  As the article points out, you can also buy a set of lens hoods.

I had to crop my shot, and I was a bit frustrated that the bokeh filled such a small part of the image size.  I think this would be improved shooting with an aperature less than the 3.5 I used.  Needless to say, I was in manual mode and using manual focus.

Here's the butterfly bokeh inverted.

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Here's the lens shooting the tree with no lens hood.

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I hope this is encouraging and motivational food for thought as you take holiday light photos this year. I certainly plan to keep experimenting.

Yates Mill

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Now that we're finally done with all the major house repairs and updates, I have a bit more time to take photos again.  Yates Mill is not that far from the boys' school, and twice now I've stopped by after dropping them off in the morning to walk the mill pond and take pics.  The light isn't great in the morning for shots of the actual mill, but the walk is pleasant, the birds are busy, and there is still some close-up leaf color to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Star Tree

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Let me give credit where credit is due here.  I got this idea from John Bennett of Light and Dreams Photography.  I remember John taking shots like this last year and me trying to replicate the technique with no success.  Then I saw his shots this year and tried again also with no success.  After corresponding with John and Donnie watching my technique, I was able to understand that I needed to make VERY small movements with the camera.  This is not like the kids standing in front of me with glow sticks making letters with big motions.  This is about fine short barely moving at all type movements.  Even with understanding the technique, it was still really hard to get the stars just right.  The beginning and end are hard to line up.

Used manual mode with a 5 second exposure f8 ISO 100 on my dad's 40D.  I'm sure this will work with my S3 or SX40 now that I understand how to move the camera.

When this doesn't work, it's obvious.  You get nothing but streaks of light across the screen and no shape at all.

Monday, December 2, 2013


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I bought a few mealworms (live) for the bluebirds and have been trying to get them to notice the dish attached to the front porch rail.  Today I finally saw that they had found them.  Yippee!  

Shot between porch rails on a cloudy day.

Here's a shot with a mealworm in his mouth.  Unfortunately, the ISO was high and the detail and grain along with it.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013


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We had a feast for Thanksgiving just like I like it.  Although it was just the 4 of us, I had enough food for 10 or more leaving us very enjoyable leftovers lasting through the weekend.

We bought our turkey this year, and last, from Rainbow Meadow Farms.  I ordered a 15lb turkey, but we ended up with a 19lb. turkey.  They said that we had so much rain and cool temps this summer that the birds were all running big.  I'll never turn down a larger bird!

Here's a picture from me picking up the turkey.

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The day before, Donnie helped me get the turkey soaking in a brine solution.  We used the recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  It was quite a comedy of errors trying to come up with the right 'bucket' to hold the turkey and brine, but we finally settled on a 5 gallon bucket which worked well.  I can't say that we noticed a big difference between a brined bird and not, but maybe the gravy tasted even better than usual.  This was my first experience trying a brine, and I'll probably try it again.  There is a white wine recipe I'd like to try.  Maybe I'll use it on my next chicken.

The night before, Johnny helped me with a lot of prep work.  We made cauliflower mash, green bean casserole with sausage, pumpkin pie, a sweet potato brown sugar topped casserole, and a cheesecake.

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Joey was a big help Thanksgiving morning with the rest of the prep work.  He loves to do the stuffing and has gotten really good at it.  I tried an organic mix from Whole Foods this year instead of Pepperidge Farm. I didn't notice much of a difference; both were yummy.  We also made cranberry sauce and a broccoli rice casserole.  Joey loves to stand at the stove and brown and saute things for me.

Donnie helped out with lifting and carving which I really appreciated.

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The bird cooked for about 3 1/2 hours.  I let it sit int he bag for 30 minutes while I warmed up all the casseroles in the oven and made the gravy.  We sat down around 3:15PM and very quickly, much more quickly than it took to prepare it, we were done.

There's just no day like Thanksgiving, and as much work as it is, I can't wait to do it again next year as long as I have all my helpers in the kitchen with me.

Monday, November 25, 2013


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Johnny helped me make meatballs for dinner.  It's one of his favorite meals, and he loves smushing the ingredients together and making the balls.  He's such a ham.  The wide open smile was his idea:-)

I'll be cooking and taking a lot more pictures like this over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The kids are so excited about what we'll cook!  Me too!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

T is for Tree and Train

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We spent a good part of the weekend putting up Christmas decorations.  The boys are away next weekend, Thanksgiving is late, and we had good weather on Saturday to do a few of the outside tasks.  On Saturday, we  hung stars across the whole front porch.  3 strands with green, red, and blue looks very pretty twinkling out there.  Donnie put up new white hooks for me, and hanging the stars went smoothly.  Then, the boys and I got out the nutcracker and snowglobe collections.  I laid a thin piece of wood on the hearth and then some green fabric and multicolor LED icicle lights as a foundation for the nutcrackers.  We used a snowflake tablecloth and some LED snowflakes for the snowglobe base.  Today, Donnie put up our new LED multicolor or clear artificial tree.  We got a good deal on it from Home Depot and are pleased.  I felt very lucky that he set it up and fluffed out all the branches while the boys and I put out my snowman collection.  We had Christmas music playing and had a good time putting ornaments on the tree.  Donnie and I prefer the multicolor but Joey is liking the transition back and forth between multicolor and white.  We put some of our Hallmark ornaments on but not so many that I will be spending hours reboxing.  We also put on some glitterly white ornaments and an assortment of red and blue bulbs long with some fun plastic shapes.  Watching Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas by treelight as I type this:-)

Next weekend we'll mow the yard and swap Tom the Turkey for the Christmas inflatables.

I also intend to get a family photo in front of the tree for our Christmas card this week.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Crimson and the Lamp

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Taken in downtown Fuquay yesterday near the library. The orange and red leaves of the bradford pear caught my eye first and then I spotted the lamp as an interesting background.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fall Portrait

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Joey 11 on the left and Johnny 9 on the right.

Today, I'll attend the closing on my house.  Selling it has been months in the planning, and it will be a relief not to have to work on it or stress on it anymore.  On the other hand, the boys and I have many fond memories there, so it's hard at the same time.  After school yesterday, I took the boys over to the house one more time and we took a few pictures by the red maple in the front yard.  It's always so pretty, and I've taken a picture of the boys in front of it nearly every year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Leaves Basking in the Fall Sun

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Just a shot taken in the yard yesterday showing the color of fall.  Finally had a few minutes to take a walk and enjoy the unseasonably warm temps.

Here are a few other shots I took.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Gray Panther?

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I see this kitty in our new yard periodically.  He (just assuming based on size and body posture) is VERY timid, and he's quick to run off.  He looks well fed, and I feel like he must belong to one of the neighbors.  The little poodle up the hill is taking most of my thrown out dinner scraps lately, so I don't think this guy is getting much.  I thought he was just adorable posed on one of my big rocks this afternoon.  Taken through the window and color and contrast corrected.  Reminds me of a short hair version of my Kitty.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

S Is for Sheet Music

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I found this interesting wreath made out of folded up sheet music today at a local antique store in Fuquay-Varina.  I have mixed feelings about 'ruining' music to make a craft but I also like recycled artwork.

I pulled the wreath out of the original background and used a misfire on my iPhone as the new background.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sparks Fly #1 and #2

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Donnie installed  a new winch on his riding lawnmower this week.  The old one messed up when the cable wound itself off to the side off  the roller.  The new one came with a roller bar out front to help prevent that from happening again.  It would have been nice if the old mounting bracket fit the new winch, but it didn't, and Donnie had to construct a new bracket.  He used scrap pieces of metal from various sources, and it took quite a bit of effort to cut the pieces and then drill the necessary holes.  Here he's using a 4 1/2" grinder with a cut-off tool attached to cut a piece of metal in half longways.  One minute I was cooking dinner, and the next I was taking pictures:-)  Thankfully dinner didn't burn and I did remember to get what I needed from the garage refrigerator after the photo shoot.

Here's a picture showing the finished mounted winch.

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If you're wondering, recently we've used the winch to help pull invasive privet out of our the yard. The local park, Carroll Howard Johnson, is totally overrun with privet.  If we spend  few days a year pulling it out of our yard, ,we can keep it pretty clear, but there's not much hope for the park.