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19 posts from May 2008

May 30, 2008

Actual unretouched photos

I'm still trying to figure out our new camera and I promised myself that I'd actually learn a thing or two about shutter speed, ISO, etc and not fall into the old habit of using the auto mode.  Well, I broke that promise much sooner than I'm comfortable admitting.

Apparently, our new camera is much smarter than I am.    After yesterdays underexposed photos and this morning's experimental photo shoot with the exposure set differently (but still a total failure), I'm abandoning all hope of understanding ISO and shutter speed, admitting defeat, and flipping the little dial on top of the camera to the little green rectangle.  And the little green rectangle will be my best friend from now on.

Here are some pictures taken in the auto mode (the heavenly little green rectangle).  This is Gwen on the swing in the backyard.  I love the way the sunlight shows off her gorgeous hair.  If you think her hair is pretty, you should smell it!  I'll do my best to describe:  If you took a beam of pure sunshine, spritzed it with vanilla and wrapped it in alternating layers of lavender and honeysuckle, you'd come close to experiencing the treat my nose gets each morning when I lift her from her bed and bury my face in her hair. 

Backyard_004_blog

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to take closeups of small things with this new camera but this photo shows that I had nothing to worry about.

Backyard_057_blog

Maddy is pouting because Gwen took her plastic golf club.  She loves to pose for the camera and was happy to model her most emotionally abused look for us. 

I just noticed that she's wearing the apple sandals we bought for her two summers ago at the Majestic Hotel in Nanning.  I'm not sure where the heck she found them but I'm most surprised that they actually still fit her!

Backyard_079_blog

Here's Gwen with her lovey.  She prefers the corner with the tag and she'll almost put herself into a trance when that corner touches her lip.  I've never seen anything like it!  Sometimes, that one corner gets so nasty looking that I can't even get it clean in the washing machine and I'll have to take a pair of scissors and cut it off!  You can imagine how well THAT is recieved!

There's a small artifact on this photo but I love it because it's so honest.  I also love that you can see the detail in the texture of the pink washcloth.

Backyard_045_blog

May 29, 2008

Daddy's new camera: Canon EOS 5D

Daddy's Father's Day present arrived in the mail yesterday so I packed a picnic lunch, grabbed the girls and the new toy and headed to a local park to play!    Here's a sample of one of our first pictures:

Canon_eos_5d

Yes, it's a gorgeous photo but it didn't look this way straight out of the camera.  Here's what it looked like:

Canon_eos_5d_first

The image was dark and full of shadows.  It was a clear sunny day so I set the ISO at 100 to take these pictures and really had my hopes up that all of them would look as spectacular back home on the computer as they looked right there in the glorious sun shine in the park.  I love the vibrant colors of the hill and sky but you can't see the faces of my lovely little girls so all of the pictures would be destined for the recycle bin if not for some photo editing magic from Paint Shop Pro (my trusty photo editing program). 

Here are some other altered photos from our first photo shoot (shown with the original photo on the right).  The camera has no built in flash but I didn't think one was necessary outdoors in such lovely daylight. 

New_camera_three_and_three

I really hoped that our new camera would help me take pictures that I don't need to correct.  Considering the cost of the new camera, you'd certainly think such an expectation isn't unreasonable.  So far, I'm spending just as much time fixing my photos as before but I'm sure it has to be operator error.  This camera really does seem to be an incredible piece of machinery!

We took flash-less photos in the house last night and they came out surprisingly good (considering there wasn't a flash).  The sensor in this camera is amazing and it seems to want to do a good job for me but I'm holding it back.  Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

May 28, 2008

Memorial Day (Weekend)

Memorial_day_2008
Even though we were barely unpacked and recovered from our China trip, we decided to pack up again and head somewhere fun for the three day holiday weekend (Memorial Day).    We don't have many of these so it seemed a shame to waste one.  Plus, now that we know our girls can sleep in a hotel bed, we're trying to make up for all the lost long weekends of the past two years.  Besides, this is our last year before they're in school (Pinch me, please!  Can that be true!?!).

May 24, 2008:  Saturday morning, we loaded our suitcases into the van and headed to San Francisco (Interestingly, we seemed to have as much luggage for two days in San Francisco as we had for 4 weeks in China).  We found a nice hotel right on Fisherman's Wharf and spent the next 24 hours exploring as much of The City as possible.   The girls LOVED the cable car and had a blast running around Ghiradelli Square.

First on our agenda was the SF Zoo.  The girls love animals and visiting a zoo is always way up high on their list of favorite things to do.  We saw the usual assortment of beasts, rode the steam train, ate some overpriced food and had a wonderful time!  I'm not sure what's up with the peacocks this time of the year but they sure were frisky!  This lovely fellow was more than happy to follow us for several minutes and strut his stuff for our camera. 

Sf_zoo

We had a delicious dinner at Aliotos where the chef was very accommodating and agreed to cook up two grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls so Mommy and Daddy could enjoy some of San Francisco's best seafood!  When Andrew and I were dating, this was one of the first places he took me and Michael.  Michael wasn't a vegetarian back then and was just a little kid - barely 12 (next week, he'll be 20!).   A few years later, we came back with my brother and sister in law.  I remember where we sat each time we dined there.  Today was our third visit and I often think about how it would have felt to have a crystal ball way back on our first visit and be able to look into the future and see that the third time we walked through those doors we'd each be holding one hand of our two daughters!   

I wonder what our 4th visit will be like.  I'm already trying to imagine it!

Half_moon_bay

May 25, 2008:  Sunday afternoon, we checked out of our hotel in SF and headed south to Half Moon Bay.  We stayed at the Ritz (something nice to do once but really much too extravagant!).  The grounds were gorgeous and we strolled along a path flanked by beach cliffs on one side and a velvety golf course on the other.   The view was incredible but it was a bit overcast so not too many of our pictures turned out. 

Gwen started out in a really rare and quite miserable mood (no nap) and we got plenty of disapproving looks from just about everyone as she stood on the path and wailed.   Daddy finally pulled her out of it by showing her how to roll down a little hill in the grass. 

For the best part of an hour, the kids ran up and rolled down that small grassy hill with their Daddy (while Mommy took pics).  They laughed and romped and rolled and never wanted to stop even though all that grass caused Gwenny and Mommy to discover allergies we never knew we had!  Seriously, we sneezed about 100 times each!  We went back to the room and ordered room service for dinner and lounged around and snuggled in our two queen sized beds and watched cartoons.   

May 26, 2008:  Monday morning, we checked out of the hotel and came home.  It's nice to have these little trips but oh-so-nice to be back home!  At least that's how Mommy and Daddy feel about it.  Gwen and Maddy protested as soon as they started to notice familiar scenery and told us "I don't wanna go home!  I wanna go hotel home!"

May 27, 2008

Travel tips for those foolish enough to attempt spending a month in a foreign country with two 3 year olds.

Curious_bystander_cards_2 Lots of people have asked me to share some advice/tips about traveling to China with two small kids.   I've resisted because I don't consider us to be experts in this area at all but it was our third trip there so I guess we've probably learned a thing or two from these experiences,  So, here you go -- my short list of what made our trip easier.   No promises that it'll be 'short' though.

I guess the sight of a Chinese kid with non-Chinese parents is something most Chinese people just can't look away from.  Every time we've been to China with the kid(s), we were immediately aware of all of the curious attention we were getting.  And it was kinda nice!  Once we came home, we actually missed it. Around here there's so much ethnic diversity that nobody notices that someone looks different or that their kids don't match.

Anticipating the attention we'd draw in China, I created some small laminated cards that explained (in Chinese) why our children look Chinese but have non-Chinese looking parents.    We got lots of smiles and positive responses when we flashed the card -- and we flashed it a lot!  (click on the image to see a larger view)

Hanging_organizer_3

Since we were visiting ten Chinese cities in 24 days, we seemed to spend a huge amount of time checking into and out of hotels and packing and unpacking.  I think the hardest part of the whole trip was figuring out what to bring, not bringing too much to carry, and keeping it all organized so we didn't have to search through four suitcases for it.

This hanging organizer was really valuable!  It looks like a bit of a space hog but it squishes down surprisingly flat.  I loaded it up with everyone's underwear and socks and it was quick and easy to pull out and hang in the closet.   

If you've ever searched through a suitcase for the mate to a tiny toddler sock or a pair of Dora the Explorer size 2T p*anties, you know how frustrating that can be.  This solved that problem perfectly for us.

Want one?  We got it at Target for about $6. 
Hate pink?  It even comes in Navy Blue.  :)

Car_seats_and_lap_trays_3

This is our 2nd trip to China with these blue car seats and we've also nicely survived a half dozen US flights (and painful layovers!) with the same seats.  The sleeping kids you see in the pic to the left is precisely the reason why we struggle to haul these beasts through airports.  15 minutes of excruciating airport check-in agony usually buys us several hours of in-flight bliss as our darling babies snooze like angels on the longer flights.

Our only complaint is that they're HEAVY and difficult to carry and we constantly worry because one of our kids removed all of the stickers that once declared and the seats are suitable for airline use.  So far, we've not been nailed but we know our luck won't hold out for long so we're looking for something cheap and light and FAA certified for future trips. 

The other little goodie we purchased for this trip was the lap tray you see Gwen modeling (we got a pink one for Maddy).  It's got a magnetic/dry erase surface and we got it from Office Depot.  It also has an internal storage area that holds small books, notepads, and crayons/pencils/magnets, etc.  I made it even more useful by adding sticky magnetic tape to the back of some of the items inside (crayons packs, notepad, etc) to keep them from sliding off the top of the tray.    This was more handy that you can imagine and this tray was worth its weight in chocolate.  It even doubled as a personal room service tray in the hotel when we called for grilled cheese and french fries!    It fit nicely in the airline seat and our car seat and we have no regrets about bringing it!

Lost_kid_id_tag_2

Imagine being a lost Chinese-American child in China and being unable to speak or understand any of the 56 dialects of Chinese.  You would be so scared and you'd cry but nobody would understand you.  And when someone stopped to try to help, you wouldn't understand them either. 

This scenario haunted me from almost the first instant we considered a trip back to China.

I had these cards translated by dongmei_miller1029@hotmail.com for a very reasonable price (she also translated the curious bystander cards I mentioned above). 

I used luggage tags (thanks Michele!) and attached them to the belt loops of the girls pants using stretchy hair bands.  It was quick and easy and gave us incredible peace of mind!  The few times we forgot to attach this tag, we used an ink pen to write our tour guide's cell phone number on the arm of each child.

As always, click the image for a larger view.

Backpack_and_stroller

We'd start the day wearing a T-shirt, our favorite REI fleece vest and a light weight jacket.  As the hours passed, we'd shed layers and eventually end up in short sleeves.

Since I didn't want to carry everyone's layers of shed clothing, we got these great little backpacks from REI.  They're incredibly good quality and very comfortable to carry.  Even little tiny Madeline was able to easily carry her own stuff all day in her backpack.  There was even room for a small toy, a bottle of water and a few snacks. 

The backpacks were usually used in lieu of a stroller but, If we knew the tour of the day was going to be exceptionally long or require lots of walking (but not too many stairs), we also brought our MacLaren stroller.    The girls could take turns using it and when it wasn't being used by a kid, it was really nice to pile all our backpacks on it.

The MacLaren stroller is probably the best lightweight umbrella style stroller on the market.  It holds a child weighing up to 55 pounds and is easy and comfortable to push (even with one hand).   Gwen is 44 pounds and she could sit with 28 pound Maddy on her lap and we could push both of them if necessary.  One drawback is that it easily flips over if you pile stuff on the handlebars and your child jumps up and runs off (like they always do).  But, overall, we were really happy that we brought this. 

Other things we found helpful:

  • We used a travel agency to set everything up.   Originally, we asked Lotus Tours for a price quote then we took the itinerary to a few other agencies and found one that was a bit cheaper (China Discovery Tours).   I'm happy with our trip but not totally happy with the service from CDT so I might reconsider using Lotus if we did this again.   
  • We got two adjoining hotel rooms in each and every city we visited.  Hotels are pretty cheap in China so this was a luxury that was easy to treat ourselves to.   I won't bore you with all the conveniences of doing this as I'm sure anyone with a kid already knows. 
  • Hotel Room Prep:  As soon we we got into the hotel room, I'd gather up all the stuff I didn't want the kids to screw around with.  All the brochures and flyers and books and expensive mini-bar treats and shoe horns and umbrellas and laundry bags and remote controls, etc.  Then I'd deposit the whole thing up on the top shelf of the closet.  I even unplugged the phone (in the kid's room) and put it away.  Once all those annoying temptations were out of site, we could all relax and settle in.
  • Suction hooks:  There's always a full length mirror somewhere in the hotel room so I stuck a few good strong suctions hooks up high (out of kid's reach) and used them to hang up my sunglasses, small purse, etc.  It's easy to put things down and lose them in unfamiliar spaces so those hooks really helped keep me organized.
  • We brought a small portable DVD player and a dozen favorite DVD's.  We also purchased some standard RCA style cables (the red/white/yellow ones) so we were able to connect the DVD player directly to the TV in the hotel room.  We never found a single TV that we couldn't connect our DVD player to.   All you need to do is make sure your DVD player is PAL/NTSC compatible and your power AC adapter is rated for 110-240 but that's it.  The DVD player was really nice to have and served as a "Nanny" to the kids while Daddy and Mommy tried to deal with packing/unpacking, showering, computer time, etc.
  • Pediasure:  Our kids drink a bunch of Pediasure.  Maddy gets two per day because she's underweight and Gwen gets two per day because she has food aversion issues that mean she doesn't get good nutrition.  We packed enough for each child to have one per day and we wish we could have managed more because Gwen wouldn't eat anything in China except toast.  Fortunately, Maddy wasn't as picky and ate pretty well so we were able to give Gwen some of Maddy's Pediasure.
  • Camera and laptop.  We never skimp when it comes to electronics.  We brought two laptop computers and two good quality cameras.  These things don't take up that much extra room and really help make the whole trip more memorable, comfortable and convenient.  We were able to connect to the internet in each of our hotel rooms and we were able to access our blog even if it was blocked by using a free proxy server site such has www.turbohide.com (thanks Lynne!)

I could probably add a bunch more.  If you have specific questions, please ask and I'll do my best to answer.  :)

May 23, 2008

cupcakes

CupcakeOne of the really cool things about 3 year olds is that they have no concept of time.  Daddy's birthday was six days ago but we didn't get around to making birthday cupcakes until last night.  And they're totally okay with that!

One of the other really cool things about 3  year olds is that they have no concept of gluttony.  They helped Daddy mix up these cupcakes and pour them into the paper cups and frost them and sprinkle pretty candy confetti on top.  Then they just assumed that all the cupcakes were for them and promptly ate the top off of each while we weren't looking.

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