Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite shots of 2011

Over the past few days I've been going through all of my 2011 pictures to create a family calendar with shots of the Bachsters (I know, I know, I'm a little behind on the task!).  It's been so fun looking at all the photos I've taken this year - I was thinking that I didn't have many shots of the Bachsters, but it's actually quite the opposite!

As I've been reviewing my pictures, I've come across a lot of nature shots, too, and I thought I'd share a few of my favorites from this year.  I just love this one, taken at Conkle's Hollow in Hocking Hills.  I'm pleased to say that it won runner-up in  the OEC annual photo contest:

Another one of my favorites is the spider family reunion shot - taken in our backyard after the spiders were all very busy:

I just love photographing dragonflies, and I especially liked this shot for the colors and the graceful lines of the leaves:

I love big fat magnolia blooms, and was so happy that the Bachsters and I did an impromptu photo shoot in April, coming across the most beautiful magnolia tree I've ever seen:

This year, I didn't get in as much warm-weather shooting as I wanted, mostly because we stayed close to home this summer to take care of our new puppy (who weighs almost 80 pounds now!).  So, I did a lot of shooting in the backyard.  I can never resist dandelions - they're so under-appreciated!

And for the last one......this one is one of my favorite shots from the summer, but it's got some real technical problems that I can't seem to fix.  But I love the shot anyway!  I had an underwater camera & was at a creek shooting the waterfall from underneath.  After I had a few shots, I got up and saw this snake sunning itself just a few feet from me.  I put the camera low, almost in the water to get a unique perspective.  I was able to get only this one shot, and then the snake slithered off into the water and swam away.  I'm pretty proud of myself for at least getting one picture, and not freaking out about the big snake, so very close!

I'm really looking forward to trying out some new things with my photography in 2012 - and I promise to share my shots!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Nook - Best of 2011

I just love year-in-review lists that come out in late December every year.  Best movies of the year, biggest news stories, most shocking celebrity moments, that sort of thing.  So I was thinking it might be fun to look at all the books from Book Nook in 2011 and give my 2 cents on which ones I thought were the best.  So, in no real particular order:

Best non-fiction book:

I just loved Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity (see original post here).  This book sort of comes across as a good friend inviting you into her home (a very comfortable, cheerful home).  Your friend offers you some tea and some yummy lemon cake.  You get to chatting about each other's latest knitting project or a favorite book.  I admit I didn't get a chance to finish the entire book, but I have a feeling Brocket is just there waiting for us to pick up the conversation right where we left off.

Best non-fiction, honorable mention:

One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen  (see original post here) has always been one of my favorite books and my re-reading it this year initiated a whole conversation with DH about how we would do One Year Off as a family & where we would go.  We're big dreamers, so this was a big topic of conversation for us for a couple of months.  Turns out, our One Year Off is destined to be nothing but armchair travel, at least for now.  But it's fun to dream.

Best fiction book:

I just loved Life of Pi written by Yann Martel (see original post here).  I loved how this book surprised me.  The first half is so different from the second half, and I didn't see any of it coming.  I love how intense the story is, how real the character of Pi is, and how the book permeates its way into your thoughts.

Best fiction book, honorable mention:

Actually, it's a tie.  A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (see original post here) and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children written by Ransom Riggs (see original post here) are both really great reads.  I thoroughly enjoyed these books & would love to (and plan to) re-read them.  Witches is going to be a 3-part series and Peregrine's ended in a very open-ended manner, so I'm hoping to enjoy the continuation of both of these stories soon.

Best children's book:

This year, the Bachsters and I have enjoyed several books by Roald Dahl - see this post about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.  See this post on The BFG.  We're currently reading another one of Dahl's classics - more on that in a future post.  These have all been wonderful, fun stories that we've all enjoyed reading.

What's your favorite book (or books) that you read in 2011?


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas & are spending your day with friends & family, opening lots of presents under the tree!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Solstice hike

The first day of Winter was earlier this week, and we've decided to make it an annual tradition to get outside and take a hike to celebrate (although, as we decided today, it would be much warmer if we celebrated the summer solstice instead).  I love that this is a new family tradition for us, one that is completely stress free, takes no real planning and doesn't involve any consumerism.  Unlike many other holiday traditions at this time of year!

This year, Ranger joins our family, so we took our hike on a dog-friendly trail at one of our local parks.  It was a chilly day, but it was really nice to get outside for a bit.  There was beautiful, bright green moss everywhere, providing splashes of color among all the brown leaves:

And lots of fungi:

It was great getting away from the busy holiday season, just for a little while, to slow down and enjoy a walk through the woods.  And of course, we all enjoyed hot chocolate when we got integral part of this new tradition of ours!

Happy Winter!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A sneak peek

Over the past couple of months, I've been working on knitting up Christmas gifts for the Bachsters, and now I am on the home stretch.  I'm happy to say that 2 out of 3 gifts are complete!  I've been working hard on the last one, but it's been a challenge because it's my own design (what was I thinking!).  Here's a sneak peek of what's been on the needles recently.

The first gift I worked on was a scarf & hat for our 6 year-old.  These were done in Grace Hand-Dyed yarn (see original post here).  The yarn is heavenly and I'm really pleased with the results (although the items are heavier than I expected - I guess that's the silk).  I did a box stitch scarf, and then improvised a box stitch hat to match.  Here's a shot of the prototype hat - I ran out of yarn, so my first attempt ended up looking like an odd headband:

Thanks to ebay, we have more yarn, and it's a proper hat now!

The next project I worked on is a vest for Little Dude.  I knit it in the round, which is the first time I've made a garment this way.  I loved how quickly it seemed to go on size 8 needles, knit-stitching along.  I learned the kitchener stitch on this project too.  Overall, it was pretty easy.  Now, I'm just hoping it fits him!  Here's a shot before I knit on the arm and neck edging:

A couple of weeks ago, a big box of Plymouth De Aire arrived at my door:

It's so light & airy & soft - DD is going to love her project I'm making with it!  And, thankfully, it's bulky, so I'm hoping it knits up fast.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
     -Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher

Oh, and just for fun, I added a few hand towels into the mix, as gifts for my aunts!  One is complete, one more to go (maybe more, if there's time)!  The first was done on Seedling organic cotton yarn, by Classic Elite.  It's so soft and buttery, for cotton!

I'll show you all the finished objects once they are all complete & after they've been gifted.  In the meantime, wish me luck getting that last one done!

Are you making (or shopping for) any last minute gifts? 


Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Nook - The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio written by Terry Ryan:

I'm knee-deep in the middle of last-minute holiday knitting, so I will try to give this book the full attention that it deserves, but if I end up forgetting some details to share or if my writing seems a bit rushed, there's my excuse.  Six days, that's it!  I'm in the weeds, as they say!

This book is very deserving of a long post full of praise, because it is simply great.  And inspiring.  Or, more accurately, Evelyn Ryan is great and inspiring.

Evelyn Ryan and her husband Kelly had 10 children.  The first house they lived in together had only 2 bedrooms and no bathtub.  They literally had to wash up in the kitchen sink.  Kelly worked in a tool shop and Evelyn was a stay-at-home mom.  The time that the story takes place is the 1950s, early 1960s.  Money is very tight for the Ryan family.  Evelyn, who has a natural talent with words, submits entries to contests for jingles and slogans for large companies.  She is so talented that she ends up winning a great many of them and is able to help supplement her husband's income with her winnings.  Thanks to a major award, she is able to help them move to a larger home.

Evelyn was also excellent at keeping notes about all of her entries and winnings, because her daughter Terry (the author) was able to relay great details in the book.  On just about any given contest, we can learn which entries Evelyn submitted and which alias she used (she submitted multiple entries by tweaking her name just a bit, like adding her middle initial, for example).

But this book is far from being just a recording of all the contests and winnings from Evelyn Ryan's career as a contest winner.  What makes this book so special is the determination and positive outlook that Evelyn always had, as well as Terry's wonderful stories and details of family life in a big family in the 1950s.  Many of the stories she shares are humorous (the cat that can open doors as she pleases, or her little sister's roving eye patch).  She also writes about more painful memories, such as her father's heavy drinking and growing resentment and hostility towards Evelyn.  Evelyn rises above her hardships and is a true matriarch and beam of hope to her family.

One interesting aspect of the story is how Evelyn's prize winning sometimes (well, often) came just in the nick of time.  Once, Kelly took out a second mortgage on their home, but didn't tell Evelyn.  When the money was due back to the bank, he had spent it all, and the family was on the brink of losing their home (and not having anywhere to live).  Evelyn won a major prize right around this time (beating over 250,000 other entrants), and was able to offer the bank proof of her earnings the very day before they were to be foreclosed.  She saved their home just in time!  What's more amazing, is that it is a true story!

Evelyn Ryan was a woman who sought out making a living doing something that she enjoyed - as someone who is also trying to lead a "creative" life, I find a great deal of inspiration in Evelyn's story.  She is a very admirable person, and it is very clear how beloved she was by her children.
This is a wonderful book - it's a really great "feel good" story.  There is also a movie based on this book, but I'm not sure that I want to see it.  After reading the story of Evelyn Ryan, I don't think anything can top the real thing!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dawes Arboretum - part 2

In early November, the Bachsters and I took a trip out to Dawes Arboretum to explore & enjoy a beautiful Fall day.   Here is the first post about our adventures.  Dawes is a very large arboretum & our time was limited, so we had to narrow down what we really wanted to see the most.  I had my preferences & the Bachsters each had their own, of course.  But, since it was just a couple of weeks after Halloween, and they had spooky things still in mind, they all wanted to see the cemetery at Dawes.

We've driven past this cemetery many times - every time we've been to Dawes, as a matter of fact, because it's right on the main road through the arboretum.  But we've never stopped to visit before - and I'm so glad that we did on this excursion, because it is a beautiful old cemetery, rich with history.

I was expecting to see the graves of the Dawes family (those are actually located at a different part of the land, close to the Dawes home).  This is a very old cemetery, with some of Licking county's first settlers buried here, as well as some Revolutionary War veterans.  The "new" tombstones, the ones you could actually read, were from the mid-to-late 1800s.

I'm so intrigued by old cemeteries, and I think this one deserves another visit.  It's relatively small, which is great because you really feel like you can explore all that is here.  I'm sure many, many visitors to Dawes just drive by, as we always have before.  I think this fascinating little area of Ohio's history is worth visiting again and again.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Nook - Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall written by Patricia MacLachlan:

This is a quiet, gentle little book that won the Newbery Award in 1986.  In the story, Anna and Caleb lost their mother when she died a day after Caleb's birth.  The two children discuss her, Anna sharing her memories with Caleb, Caleb asking question after question.  Their father has recently put an ad in a newspaper for a "mail order bride" (although that term is not used in the book).  Sarah, a woman who lives in Maine, responds to the ad and starts a correspondence with the family.  Eventually, she comes for a visit to see how things go.  Anna and Caleb are fascinated by Sarah's life by the sea, while at the same time hope that she likes staying with them and will choose to stay permanently.  In fact, once Sarah arrives, the entire plot is simply the issue of will Sarah stay.

This book is very different from many of the popular choices kids have today.  There is no action, no magic, few characters, the pace is slow and it's incredibly short (58 pages).  This story has nothing up its sleeve, so to speak.  It's a very gentle telling, almost poetic really.  There is a lot of description of the sea and the place where Sarah lives.  As the family gets to know Sarah, they hope she's happy being there.  I personally enjoyed the simplicity of the book and thought it was a refreshing change from the norm.  My Bachsters had mixed feelings about it, the 6-year old enjoyed it more than our oldest DD (I don't think Little Dude joined in any of the readings).

From a mother's perspective, this book saddened me.  The scene in which Papa has his arms wrapped around Sarah, and Anna reflects that that is how he used to hold Mama just about brought me to tears.  To imagine someone in the place where you should be, with your family, is heartbreaking.  But if that day ever came, wouldn't it be nice to know that there was someone who could bring joy back to their lives, and love and (in the case of Sarah)


Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Nutcracker

Last night, we attended the opening night performance of The Nutcracker at the Ohio Theatre in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

It was wonderful!  The beautiful music, the fantastic sets and costumes and the graceful dancing.  It was a great performance.  And I'm happy to say that the Bachsters all loved it too.  Little Dude, who sat on my lap the entire time, told me after the first act that he "loves the Nutcracker."  And every time I looked over at the girls, they were watching, enthralled.

There were nutcrackers for sale in the lobby, and after the performance, we bought a big one for our 6-year-old (she chose a blinged-out purple glittery one), and 2 teeny-tiny nutcrackers for the other two Bachsters.  I love nutcrackers, so I could have taken them all home!

I believe we may have the beginnings of a new family holiday tradition!

Are you doing any fun holiday activities this weekend?


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dawes Arboretum - part 1

A few weeks ago, the Bachsters all had a random Tuesday off of school.  The weather was predicted to be beautiful that day, in the 70s and lots of sunshine.  So, we planned on taking a trip out to Dawes Arboretum, located in Newark, Ohio, to explore the beautiful arboretum on a gorgeous Fall day.

(We also visited Dawes in the Spring - here's the post)

The first thing we did was climb up the observation tower to see "Dawes Arboretum" spelled out in huge hedges.  You could feel the deck sway with the breeze, so needless to say, we didn't stay up there too long!

You can just see a little bit of the lake in that photo.  So, after our little picnic lunch, we headed over there & explored a little island in the middle of the lake.  There was a beautiful tree on the island called a paper birch with the neatest bark:

I switched to macro to get a close-up:

I think this called Winter Berry (but don't quote me on that!):

One area I really wanted to visit was the buckeye "patch."  Ohio is the Buckeye State, and Dawes has a group of buckeye trees planted in the shape of the number 17, because Ohio was the 17th state.  Unfortunately, it appeared as if we were a couple weeks late to see any buckeye tree foliage, but we found lots of buckeye nuts on the ground (the Bachsters were under strict orders not to take any of the buckeyes.  Not from me per se, but from Dawes - there were "please do not collect any buckeyes" signs everywhere.  Yes, we're a little crazy about our Buckeyes here in Ohio).

Another must see on my list was the Japanese Garden.  I'm not sure why, but I've been to Dawes a handful of times and never visited one of the biggest attractions there.  So, on this lovely Fall day, we finally made our way there.  First thing we came across was a Japanese rock & stone garden, known as karesansui.  Oh, the Bachsters were definitely forbidden to run around in there!  Further along in the garden, there is a lovely pond and a couple of decorative bridges, a meditation house and lots of beautiful trees, of course!

I love days like this - warm, golden Fall days spent with my Bachsters, exploring a beautiful corner of our world.  Just perfect!

You might have noticed this post is entitled part 1 - stay tuned for part of the must see areas of Dawes for the Bachsters!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Nook - The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker written (or rather, adapted) and illustrated by Susan Jeffers:

It's early December, and this year in the Bach household that means one thing:  the countdown has begun.  No, not that countdown.  The countdown to The Nutcracker - we're going to see the ballet this weekend!  I am soooo excited!

I thought it would be nice to get the Bachsters a book about the Nutcracker so that they can read the story and understand what it's all about before we get to the performance.  There are many picture books out there on the Nutcracker, all based on a lengthy fairy tale called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, published in 1816, on which the ballet is based (the ballet premiered in 1892).  But I am particularly fond of this one by Susan Jeffers because it tells the story in such an understandable kind of way.  There is a nice author's note at the back of the book, in which Jeffers explains that she decided to create the book because she wanted to present a simpler retelling for picture-book-age children, and she also wanted to incorporate ballet into the images.  Jeffers has accomplished both of these goals with aplomb.

For those who are not familiar with the story, it is about a little girl named Marie (often called Clara, although I'm not sure why her name was changed from the original at one point in time) who is enjoying a holiday party with her family and their guests.  Her godfather, Herr Drosselmeier (who is a bit magical) gives Marie a special gift at the party: a nutcracker.  Her little brother, Fritz, grabs the nutcracker and breaks him.  Marie wraps him up and falls asleep under the Christmas tree later that evening.  She wakes up in the middle of the night, and the tree has grown to an enormous size (or perhaps she is now tiny).  Before she knows it, she is surrounded by a bunch of mice and their king (who has 7 heads!).  And her nutcracker has come to life and is fighting all the mice!

The nutcracker, Fritz's toy soldiers and Marie win the battle with the mice.  Nutcracker turns into a Prince and escorts Marie to the land of the sweets, where they enjoy the dances of all the inhabitants (like Coffee, Mother Ginger & her polichinelles and the Sugar Plum Fairy).  One day, Marie will find herself Queen of this wonderful land.

I absolutely love The Nutcracker, & have ever since I was a child.  I love ballet (and love sweets!) and adore the music.  In fact, I listen to my Nutcracker CDs (composed by Tchaikovsky) throughout the year.  I think the music is my favorite part of the Nutcracker experience - if you've never listened to the entire composition, please treat yourself & sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy some of the finest classical music created!

Whether you are planning to see The Nutcracker this month or not, The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers is a wonderful retelling of the story that will turn anyone into a Nutcracker enthusiast!


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hey, Santa!

Every year, our local library hosts a day with Santa Claus, with live music, crafts for the kids and a chance to visit with Santa.  It's always a lot of fun - I'm so grateful for our library for having such a great event!

For the past few days, the Bachsters have been revising and finalizing their Christmas lists to give to Santa.  And bright and early this morning, the 6-year old woke up to decide which fancy dress would be best for the occasion, and to get her new fancy dress shoes all ready.  Yes, there has been a great deal of excitement over meeting Santa today!

When we pulled up to the library's parking lot, Santa was right behind us - being escorted in a police car (but in a good way).  As Santa walked up to the building, our oldest DD ran up to him and gave him a big hug - it was so sweet!  Followed right behind her were the other two - yes, they really love Santa!

And of course, they sat on Santa's lap, and gave him their lists and drawings they had made for him:

(I know, the flash, the flash!  But I didn't want to miss the shot & the indoor lighting there is not the best)

After we visited with Santa, we headed over to the kids area of the library to do some crafts and games:

Our oldest said today that for Christmas, she would like Christmas to actually come a little earlier than the 25th - she said she just can't wait that long!

Are you doing any fun holiday activities this weekend?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

August 2012

I received a very surprising, wonderful phone call last week: a photo that I had submitted to a calendar contest for our local power company got accepted!  I'm pleased to let you know that my picture of a tree trunk with moss and ferns all over it (taken at the Rock House in Hocking Hills) is the shot for August:

There are a lot of really nice shots in the calendar - I especially like the winter pictures that were chosen for those months.  So, if you don't have your 2012 calendar yet, you might enjoy one of these!  You can contact Ohio's Rural Electric Cooperatives at 614-846-5757 for more information.

The shot from Rock House was from our family vacation to Hocking Hills in 2010.  I'm so glad I brought my camera with me (seriously, would I have even considered leaving it at home!?) because some of my favorite shots ever were taken on that trip.  I think it might be about time to re-visit Hocking Hills - it's my photography-muse!