Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Blog Highlights,Struggles and Lessons Learned

Every year, I like going back through my blog to find the things that really worked for me. It helps me figure out what to do more of. This year, I also noticed several things with which I struggled and this has given me some clues about what I to change. Here, in no particular order, are my 2014 blog highlights, struggles and lessons learned.
1. Frugal Still Life Photography Class. Cheryl McCain offered this class (see my review here), and it opened a whole new world of photography for me. Looking back over my photographs for the year, I realized how much I like the photographs I took for this class, such as the one up top. In fact, I liked it so much that I just signed up for Kim Klassen's still life class called Be Still -52.
2.  Organizing my craft room, re-doing the bathrooms and purging the house like crazy (an outgrowth of my 2014 OLW and Do What You Love's New Year's Revolution). My one little word for 2014 was illuminate, which means to lighten and clarify. I used that as the impetus to down load the free class "New Year's Revolution." The worksheets helped me realize how much I wanted to have a clean, well-decorated, presentable house; one where I would be happy to entertain. And I accomplished about 90% of that goal this year.
3. Summer of Color Houses - Sponsored by Kristin of Twinkle, Twinkle. Every summer, for six weeks, she posts a color palette a week and invites people to create something in that color palette. This year, I chose little houses and loved the project! Confession time: I only did five of them, but I plan to finish the 6th one soon!
4. The Art of Practising Gratitude Tag Booklet. Bernice hosted this wonderful, free month-long meditation on gratitude which also featured lots of techniques. I chose to make tags and really enjoyed the experience.
5. Zoom In < Zoom  Out. Helena hosted this wonderful weekly meme, and I participated most weeks. You can see all my zizo's at this link. It was a good reminder to see the world through a camera lens.
6. Good Fences Link-Up hosted by the Run*A*Round Ranch Report and One Photo, Twenty Words hosted by Abi of Creating Paper Dreams. I enjoyed these photography memes very much, even if I didn't participate every week. You can see all my fence posts here.
1. Facebook ate my photos. In an attempt to short-cut the tedium of uploading photos to my blog, I often upload photos to Facebook first and then copy and paste the URL to my blog (especially if I'm using iphone photos). Unfortunately, these links don't last. So, when I go back to look at blog posts with those photos, all I see is a broken link. Argggh!!! So frustrating!
2.  Studying Under the Masters Class - I signed up for this class last January, and I've worked through a few of the exercises. The class is well constructed and can help develop fine art skills in drawing and painting. The challenging part is that these exercises (like the Georgia O'Keeffe shell above) were difficult and not that fun for me. I did enjoy creating the Matisse inspired still life though. I think that I have learned that representational drawing and fine art painting don't really excite me. I like photography and mixed media art better. It's a good lesson to have learned and will help guide my art work in 2015.
3. The Summertime Photography Scavenger Hunt. I love hosting this event. I love coming up with the list and seeing the results. I love taking the photographs .  .  .  but, it is a bit exhausting. I think the lag in my blogging over the last half of the year is directly related to the rigors of hosting the hunt. I still plan to host the hunt next summer, but I need to find a way to do it that works better for me. All suggestions welcomed.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Post Christmas Thoughts

How was your Christmas? We had a lovely, quiet celebration. We had planned to go to southern California to see our extended families, but those plans got cancelled when Luna, Clara's puppy, joined our family. I really love spending time with our families, and I was sad to miss Christmas Eve with Paul's side of the family and Christmas day with my side of the family. But we did our best to enjoy ourselves. Paul made lasagna on Christmas Eve, and we had crab for Christmas dinner. We exchanged a few, large presents with each other.
Clara got her puppy, who decided to help unwrap the presents.
Henry got tickets to the Rose Bowl next week (he and I are going, and I'm super excited about spending that time with him). 
I also distributed some Giants baseball tickets to the kids. Clara gave me a new pair of Uggs, and Henry gave me a cool watch. Paul gave me the noise reducing head phones I've been wanting. For our anniversary, I gave Paul a nice watch; he gave me the Vitamix I've been lusting after. Mostly we enjoyed spending time together.
After our Christmas meal, I cleaned the last of the crab to make crab cakes. I drank the last of the chardonnay and began to think post-Christmas thoughts about my blog. I've got a few things I want to blog about:
*A series called "DMBB" (During My Blog Break) to record things that happened during the fall when I wasn't blogging (including Clara's amazing cross country season, Henry's adventures in Oregon, a trip to Montana, my awful encounter with poison oak, our volunteer work at Guide Dogs for the Blind, a wrap up on the kitten nursery, and other miscellaneous happenings);
*Two posts from the summer about the light at sunset and the light at sunrise;
*A wrap up post on my "One Little Word" from 2014 - Illuminate;
*A post on my "One Little Word" for 2015;
*A post on my favorite blog moments from 2014;
*A year-end Photo Heart Connection post; and
*Thoughts on current classes and where I see my "art" going in 2015.
And that should keep me busy for quite a while! What are you planning for the next few weeks on your blog?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

ZIZO #33: Christmas Cards & Best Wishes to You!

It's Christmas Eve here in California, and I'm enjoying some time writing Christmas cards. Yes, I know they won't arrive before Christmas, but I'm still happy to send holiday greetings around the world. And I really love receiving the same.  I keep my cards in a basket on the Christmas mantle, and you can see a few of them above. Since it's Wednesday, I thought it was a good opportunity to take a pair of photos for Helena's weekly photo meme "Zoom In Zoom Out.
It's also a good opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
Most years, I send out two different types of cards. Hand made cards for my arty friends that I know will appreciate them and a photo card for family and friends. The latter includes a brief letter on the back of the card. Here's what I wrote this year:
"2014 was a good year. We enjoyed music (everything from Luke Bryan to Drake v. Li'l Wayne) and sporting events (World Cup, Giants winning the World Series and *soon* the Rose Bowl). We rebuilt our decks and remodeled our bathrooms. Clara turned 16 and got her driver's license. Henry transitioned from freshman to sophomore at University of Oregon, moved from the dorms to the Sigma Chi fraternity house, had a summer internship at Coaching Corp. in Oakland and traveled to Memphis where his club soccer team placed third at the national tournament. Maria and Clara volunteered at the Peninsula Humane Society, and they brought Frida home from the kitten nursery. Now, Clara volunteers at Guide Dogs for the Blind and raises backyard chickens for her egg business. She also runs really fast - she was the League Champion in Cross Country. Paul and Maria will celebrae their 30th Anniversary this month!"
I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Puppy for Christmas

My daughter Clara has been wanting to become a Guide Dog Puppy Raiser. She has been attending training classes and studying the training manual. She has written papers for school and volunteers at the Guide Dog campus in San Rafael. We told them we were ready to start puppy-sitting (the first step to getting a puppy of our own to raise).
And then the Guide Dog people came to inspect our house, and they decided that we weren't a good fit because our current dogs would not be good role models for a guide dog pup. They bark too much, and Aria was afraid of the two dogs they brought over. So, it turned out that we were out of the Guide Dog Puppy Raising business. . . .  and Clara was crushed. She had worked so hard, and her heart was truly broken..
After a few weeks of mourning her lost dream, she began asking if she could just get a regular puppy. My immediate reaction was "No!" I didn't want to get a puppy that would require a 10-15 year commitment. But, she was persistent and my husband Paul pointed out that we had been planning on taking on the puppy responsibility. 
So I gave Clara a to-do list of conditions to be met, including putting together a chart of responsibilities for dog care and finding a rescue dog, even though she wanted a lab puppy.
And she met every one of the conditions. So, meet Luna, Clara's Christmas puppy - a 7 week old yellow lab. There's going to be a lot less sleep over the next few weeks, but I think we've made the right decision. 
She couldn't be happier, even though she's going to be getting up at 3:00 a.m. to let her dog out!  Merry Christmas Clara.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Club: RSV Christmas Trees

Henry and Clara, 2014
At Christmas, we go to the Rancho Siempre Verde Christmas Tree Farm . . . 
We have been going to this tree farm for about thirty years, since before the children were born, and before we moved into our current house 25 years ago. There are so many memories associated with RSV Christmas Trees that I thought I would share a few for Sian's Christmas Club storytelling gathering (you can read other Christmas Club stories here).
The RSV website promises "no plastic Santas, no long lines, no parking lot style Christmas trees just a relaxed rural farm, with very friendly people and a diversity of beautiful trees." And that's exactly what you get. It's a magical place, and we return year after year . . . 
It's a "cut-your-own tree" farm. Which means you wander around looking for something that might be able to be shaped into a traditional looking tree, then you saw it off at the base, and get it to the baling station where they will wrap it up and help tie it to the top of your car. If you want, they will drive a tractor over to your felled tree and bring it to the baling station. They will even let your little kids sit on the driver's lap and "drive" the tractor! 
2011 - Henry and Paul with our tree
2009 - Henry helping to bale the tree
But, RSV is about so much more than the trees . . .
Clara 2013
Henry and Clara, 2010
The tree swings are one of the best things about RSV. They have them scattered throughout the farm, and we all love playing on them.
2013 with Aria and Gypsy
RSV is also a great place to bring dogs. Aria and Gypsy love going there, and it was the absolute favorite place for our previous dog, Buster. We used to call our annual trip to RSV, "Buster's favorite day of the year." He loved it so much that when he passed away, we buried a cast of his paw print at RSV at the foot of a tree. And every year, we go visit Buster's tree and think about what a good dog he was.
2009 - Scrapook page about Buster's tree (read full story here)
We always picnic there and sometimes roast marshmallow on the bonfire to make s'mores. I love wandering around and taking photographs with my camera. Paul usually makes a wreath at their wreath station.
2009 Paul and Clara making wreaths
2013  Paul and his wreath
We have so many other memories about RSV Christmas Trees, like the fact that . . . 
My friend, Karen of Random Reflections, lives 3,000 miles away in New York. But she's been to RSV. I think she went on the rainiest, muddiest day possible and left with quite a story to tell . . .
One year (1988, maybe), Paul and I moved house during the holidays. We moved from our first apartment to our first condo. And we moved our tree! We had already visited the farm and put up the tree, so when we moved, we un-decorated the tree, moved it, put it back up and re-decorated!
2014 - our RSV wreath on our front door
And one last confession about RSV. We actually have an artificial tree now and no longer go there to buy a tree. But we still go . . . to have a picnic and make wreaths, to swing on the swings and let the dogs run wild, to make memories and experience the Christmas magic!

Friday, December 19, 2014

How and What Do You "Read?"

One of my goals for 2014 was to read a little more and keep better track of what I read. I added a list on the left hand column of my blog, and it has helped me keep up with this intent. I just added the five most recent books. 
Of these, my absolute favorite was "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. It's an emotional story of a mixed race (Chinese-American) family in Ohio in the late 1970's.  It was beautifully written, well-paced and made me think deeply about how I parent my kids. I would definitely recommend it.
I read "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd and "Americanah" by Chimamanda Adichie for my book group.  Both were very good and both taught me a lot about parts of life about which I had never read - the first, about abolitionists in 1840's Charleston, South Carolina and the second about Nigerian emigrants to the United States and England. 
The other two books, "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" and "Gone Girl" were quick, entertaining reads without a lot of heft to them. I found the ending of Gone Girl annoying, but so did a lot of other people I think.  One of the most interesting things about "Bernadette" was that I read it as a paperback book borrowed from a friend. I used to do that all the time, but now I tend to read almost exclusively on my ipad. And it seems like my friends do, too! I liked having a real book, and I really like being able to borrow books (rather than buy them - at least ipad/kindle books do not require shelf space to store).  And I was wondering, how you do you read books? On a kindle or ipad? Do you read real books? From the library? Borrowed? Or bought? By and large, I don't mind reading on my ipad, but I do think a real book is just a bit easier on my eyes. Thoughts?
When talking about Americanah, I use the term "read" a little loosely because I listened to it on Audible on my ipad. It accompanied me when I drove Henry back to Eugene, Oregon (a nine hour trip) and then on a long plane flight and finally finished it at home. I started using Audible for Clara to listen and read along to the novels she is assigned for high school because she is not a strong reader. It's a subscription service, and I had an unused credit so bought Americnah.  I liked the experience enough to buy another book, "We are Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Fowler. But I haven't gotten around to listening to it yet.  And I was wondering, do any of you use audible, books on tape or any other audio book format? Do you like it? 
Our next book group book is "The Interestings" by Meg Wolitzer. We almost chose "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown. I am definitely planning to download and read Denali's Howl by Andy Hall over the holiday. What about you? Do you have any good book recommendations? What are you planning to read next?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ZIZO #32: Fence Flowers and Memes

As I return to blogging, I'm thinking about a blogging schedule . . . 
how often to post and whether to continue following along with different memes.
One of my favorites (and most consistent) memes this year has been Helena's Zoom In/Zoom out photography challenge. I've done 32 out of the 51 weeks this year, which is pretty good for me. I'm not sure what Helena has in store next year, but I'll definitely take a look and consider playing along. 
I also enjoyed  "Good Fences", hosted each Thursday by the Run*A*Round Ranch blog. I find fences so visually interesting that I  was am really drawn to this meme. You can see this week's offerings at this link.
I found this beautiful fence full of flowers at the tree farm last weekend and like that it fulfills both challenges.
As one year ends and a new one begins, I'm wondering. What memes did you like and participate in this year? What are your plans for 2015 memes?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Returning to Blogging

Well, that was a long break . . . 
I didn't have a plan to step away from blogging, but I did.
Life happened, work happened, and I just didn't have the time to devote to writing posts.
But now I'm back.
And I'm looking forward to visiting your blogs and seeing what you've been up to.
Thanks to those of you who sent me emails to make sure I was still alive . . .
as you can see from the above, I am. And so is the rest of the family. The photo is from our annual trip to the Rancho Siempre Verde Christmas tree farm. 
I'll update you on what we've been up to over the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season!