Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This is summer

I have to admit that I am not one of those moms who cherishes summer breaks with long stretches of empty, unscheduled days. For starters, neither of my kids are gifted with the ability to entertain themselves; yesterday Thomas spent the entire three hours Annamarie was at summer school "in my bubble." Every time I moved, I bumped him with my elbow or my desk chair and wondered when exactly it is that teenagers are supposed to want to spend lots of time away from their parents.

After vacations, Thomas' year-round school, and Annamarie's summer school and Colt Camp, very few "lazy days of summer" actually remain to be conquered. Occasionally though, the planets align themselves just right and produce a day like today... a day that is just like what I imagined summer would be before I had actual children.

We were joined for the day by Thomas' friend Harry, one of those kids who never seems to run out of ideas for things to do. Harry brought his bike, and the boys rode much farther than I am usually comfortable with, up to the nearby high school. (I've been thinking a lot about letting go recently. It's not easy. When did I become such a control freak?) They came home a couple of hours later, sweaty and smelly and ready to hit the neighborhood pool.

Harry is also a bit of a daredevil, the opposite of my own cautious and fearful boy. When we arrived at the pool, Harry entered at a full run like this:

He decided he wanted to try to do some flips, the mere thought of which freaks Thomas out. It might hurt, or he might get water in his nose, but he was perfectly willing to jump up and down and cheer Harry on. (You can click on any of these photos to make them larger, and please note that I found the focus "sweet spot" on my new lens.)

And later on, Thomas got daring enough to risk an almost-belly-flop.

After two and a half hours I had to drag the boys (who had both claimed to hate swimming) out of the pool. But where was Annamarie during all of this summer fun? She was right in the thick of things, making sure to alert me to every potentially unsafe move anyone made. She is a terrible tattle-tale. Here she is saying, "Mom, Harry pushed Thomas in the pool." (Harry never fails to win my heart by being incredibly kind to Annamarie, including her and teasing her gently.)

Let's back up a second and see how upset Thomas was about being pushed in:

Yeah, I thought so.

We ended the day at Vacation Bible School, where tomorrow we are going to prepare meals for 10,000 people. Seriously...tune in tomorrow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How to Become a Better Photographist

Remember back on the Ultimate Scrapbook Cruise when I won a spot in Karen Russell's Photographer's Workshop? I am now a proud graduate of the class, and I can say enthusiastically that it is worth every penny of the tuition (that I blessedly did not have to pay). The class was everything that I had hoped for and more. If you're not familiar with Karen, she is a past Creating Keepsakes Hall of Fame winner, designer of the fabulous Narratives line of scrapbook products (although she has now sadly retired as a product designer), and an amazingly talented photographer. She shares glimpses into her beautiful life on her blog, Snapshots of a Good Life.

Karen has said that she spent seven months working 50-60 hours a week preparing The Photographer's Workshop before welcoming the first student, and it shows. The course and the website are thorough and well thought out, and Karen responds quickly and graciously to questions posted on the message board. Probably because she is largely a self-taught photographer, Karen explains the technical aspects of photography in terms that even beginners can easily understand. She is funny and real, and offers constructive criticism while encouraging every student. The random photos in this post were all taken as part of my assignments, and every time I would pull out the camera, my kids would ask, "Is this part of your homework?" When I told them that I was finished with the class, Annamarie said, "So now you are a photographist like Karen Russell?"

I highly recommend The Photographer's Workshop to anyone who wants to become more skilled at capturing the beauty of everyday life in photos. It is probably not the right class for people who want to become studio or landscape photographers, and it does not cover photo editing. The course is designed to get participants taking better photos straight out of the camera (all photos in this post are editing other than minor cropping). The waiting list is huge, but it is worth the wait.

So what did I personally learn? Much of the information in the class was a refresher for me, which is always a good thing. Karen's explanation of the exposure triangle (the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture) was great. I discovered that I just may not be able to overcome my biggest weakness as a photographer, which is my inability to move myself around easily to get the best shots. I thought a lot about that, and on our Disney trip I would often set the camera up for a shot and then hand the camera to Ron, and tell him where to take the photo from. I might have to share credit for the resulting fabulous photo, but at least it will have been captured. (I did suffer one mini-stroke when I handed him the camera and he said, "I'm just going to switch it to Auto to make it easier.")

Just one more comment: Over the last ten years, I have taken a lot of classes with "celebrity" scrapbookers, and while I've enjoyed them all, I have often been disappointed by how thoroughly the instructors had bought into the notion of their own fame. That's all I'm going to say about that, but as a long-time reader of Karen's blog, I was really hoping that she would be as genuine in real life, and she could not have been sweeter when we met. She didn't treat me like a weird stalker at all. :) Also, I feel better about things after taking the class with some awesome ladies who are even worse Karen-stalkers than I am.

On wishes and healing and guilt

The morning after we arrived in Saint Augustine we were heading out to do some sightseeing, and Thomas and Annamarie were loading my scooter into the van while Ron got some information from the front desk. A man walking through the hotel parking lot asked the kids if they needed help, and I smiled and said, "They're actually quite efficient." The stranger, an average looking fortyish man, asked if he could pray for me, as he had performed some healings in the past.

The first time a stranger assured me I would be healed by the intercession of his prayers, I was in sixth grade and visiting my friend Vicky's church after a sleepover. Already a bit uncomfortable with the unfamiliar rituals at her Lutheran church, I was mortified when the priest singled me out at the communion rail. With his hand on my head, he said for the entire congregation to hear, "I don't know what your problem is, but you will be healed."

This sort of thing happens to me every few years, and I can barely begin to unravel the mixed feelings it brings out in me. To start with, I have spent my entire life learning to love myself and to believe that my disability is part of God's perfect plan. He made me this way and as the saying goes, He don't make no junk. Then again, there is a part of me that so wants it to be true...I want to be healed.

Because I don't believe that you can ever have too many prayers said over you, I agreed to pray with the parking lot man, and afterward he instructed me to get up and walk (I had been sitting in the car). Not surprisingly it was the same old lurching walk I had before his prayer, and I was vaguely humiliated, enough to say "No thank you" when he asked if he could try again. (Aren't you sorry you have never shared this experience?)

The worst part of dealing with these well-intentioned people is that for a long time afterward, I have the nagging feeling that maybe I just didn't have enough faith. I believe wholeheartedly that God could heal me if it was His will, and who am I to say that He isn't going to send some stranger in a parking lot to do it? I end up feeling anger at the person for giving me false hope and guilt because I didn't really believe it was going to work, and if I did might it have worked? and renewed anger at them for making me question my faith.

When I refused his offer to try again, I noticed Thomas and Annamarie watching wide-eyed, so I chose my words carefully. I said, "I do believe that God will heal me, but I don't think it's going to be on this earth." He disagreed, saying that he thought God wanted me to be dissatisfied with my disability and to pray and beg for healing. "God wants you to have joy now," he said, and I assured him that I do have joy, that I believe God wants me to be joyful and hopeful in spite of my afflictions.

...there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure... For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me... And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - II Corinthians 12:7-9

I can't quite bring myself to brush these people off as lunatics, but it might be easier on my heart if I could.

Come on over for a vacation slide show

It has now been so long since I've posted that I can't possibly summarize everything that's transpired this spring, but none of it was likely to be the answer to anyone's Google search anyway. I will just say that I am fully recovered from my thyroid removal surgery and the following radioactive iodine treatment, and Annamarie graduated from fifth grade. We have sent her out into the world in search of gainful employment. If a fifth grade education was good enough for Jethro Bodine, it is good enough for us.

After all that excitement, we certainly deserved a vacation, so we spent a week at Walt Disney World and three days in Saint Augustine, Florida. Disney was Disney: enjoyable, magical, blisteringly hot, crowded, and overpriced, and we will surely visit again soon.

In the week before we left, the kids drug out some videos Ron had taken during our 2004 trip to Disney, and we watched those videos over and over for days. My heart was nearly ripped out by the sweetness of those little voices, even in the one which features Annamarie whining and begging for a $65 beaded headdress at Epcot's Morocco pavilion, hollering, "Mom, can I be cute wif it on?" Among the videos was one where Ron had recorded his entire ride on Big Thunder Mountain, and 1476 viewings of that video convinced Annamarie the roller coaster hater that she could "challenge herself" (her words) and ride it. All four of us rode it the first time, and then she challenged herself four more times with Thomas. Thank goodness for Fast Passes. You have to click on the photo below to see their faces.

Of course we saw every parade and show in every park (except for Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios, which we couldn't fit into the schedule), because we love some Disney spectaculars. (I had always believed that "spectacular" was an adjective until we saw the Wishes(TM) Nighttime Spectacular). The photo below, taken during the Celebrate a Dream Come True parade, may be my favorite of the trip.

More of our Disney photos are here.