The Sights and Sounds of Spring

Buzzzzz……

Can anyone guess what that sound is? Yep! A bee. I know spring is here when I step out the door and hear that beautiful sound. Honey bees and bumble bees fill the holly and hawthorn bushes next to the front door collecting nectar from some of the first blooms of spring. I have yet to find where those honey bees live, but I’m sure the honey is sweet.

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And what else says spring? As I sit here and type, Papa Bluebird perches atop the post on my patio guarding Mama Bluebird and her little blue eggs. So many of my little feathered friends have returned home to fill my backyard with song and fight the squirrels for the food in the feeders. When the weather is nice (which would not be today), I sit outside and listen and watch…and photograph of course. And this year, a mockingbird has made its nest in the holly bushes by the front door. I so love to watch the birds. I have photographed a few of my little feathered friends. So far…

Tufted Titmouse

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Cardinal

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Sparrow

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Scarlet Tanager (female)

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House Finch

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Chickadee

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Bluebird

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I hope to add to my bird collection this summer. I even have my Daddy’s old binoculars to aid in my bird watching.

And the flowers. Oh the flowers. So beautiful to behold and so sweet to smell.

Daffodils

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Peach Blossoms

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Cherry Blossoms

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Blueberry Blossoms

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Moonlight Broom Tree Blossoms

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Just to name a few. They fill the world with beauty and color.

I just love Spring. The world wakes up from its winter nap and says hello in such beautiful and amazing ways. So if you haven’t gone out to say hello back, I encourage you to do so. Wake up from Winter’s slumber, take Spring’s hand and go for a little stroll.

Chasing Trains

There’s just something mesmerizing about that low rumble and faint whistle in the distance. What kid doesn’t eagerly wait for that engine to pass, hoping to catch sight of the engineer waving back as he rolls by on the rails? In fact, even as adults we still find it fascinating and exciting.

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A few weeks ago, we traveled out to Perry to set up a booth at the Peaches to Beaches yard sale. On the way, we stopped in Juliette to eat at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Yes, the same one featured in the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes”. It was a cute little town right beside the railroad tracks. We wandered around, and I took lots of photos. Many were of the cats that hang out on the porch of the Whistle Stop. I also got a few of the tracks and the corn mill between the tracks and the water. Unfortunately, these were among the pictures I lost. However, I now have an excuse to go back out there soon.

On the way home, we drove back out to Juliette. I wanted to wait for a train to go by and get some good pictures. We waited and waited, but no train came by. On the way out of Juliette, we took a wrong turn. Or maybe it was a right turn, because as we circled back around, we saw it…the train!

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Now, my husband’s grandfather was quite the train hobbyist. He built models, and he even had a train car that he and Grandma rode down the railroad tracks with a club they were in. He also helped open and run the train museum in East Point. His father also worked for the railroad. So, as you can imagine, my husband’s childhood was filled with trains.

I have my history with trains as well. I grew up with my grandmother’s stories of her father who worked for the railroad out in Montana.

So, with our shared fascination with trains, it only makes sense that we would decide to take off and chase this one. What fun! He drove and followed the tracks, and I kept my eye out for the train. The goal was to get ahead of it and watch it at a crossing. Did we succeed? Indeed we did! We headed it off and made it to a railroad crossing on a backroad in the middle of nowhere. We pulled off the side of the road and eagerly awaited.

Just as I was beginning to get antsy and believe we had missed the train, the lights came on, the bell sounded, and the crossing arm lowered.

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The train came rumbling around in just a few minutes. And to our delight, the engineer waved as he went by. Our daughter watched as she stood in the middle of the road in front of the crossing arm, and I took as many pictures as I could get. And these were not lost! They were safe on my SD card, so you get to enjoy the fruits of our Great Locomotive Chase (a movie we are most familiar with by the way).

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Lights! Camera!…Back in Actio

Well, in my blogging absence, I have certainly not been idle. One of my recent projects has been to create some lighting. I just love DIY, and from my resources online and a few creative ideas of my own, I have been able to create some light diffusers and a light box with which to work.

The light diffusers turned out awesome! All I needed was some scrap cardboard from my ever-increasing supply, some duct tape, aluminum foil, Pellon interfacing fabric, and a couple of clamp on shop lights from Home Depot. From my research online, purchasing these lights and diffusers would have cost around $100. With DIY, I think I spent less than $50 for the two lights, diffusers, and the creation of the light box. It may not be as pretty as the cute little kits, but the functionality far surpasses what I have accomplished with the cute little kits in the past.

Oh, what is that? You want to see photos of my handiwork? Why sure!

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Ok. So maybe it’s not that impressive. It does, however, provide some great lighting. The first thing I tried it out on was my daughter’s baby doll that was passed down to her from her great-grandmother.

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And then, of course, Molly decided she wanted to get in on the action. And I think Angel (the baby doll) had a few words of wisdom to pass down to the pup.

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Then the Holly Hobby doll decided she wanted some tea party pics, but she fell asleep before I could get a good one.

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Then I got a photo of my favorite carousel figurine and my tea cup.

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A few days later, I was working on my weekly photo challenge. The challenge was “Less is More.” The extra challenge was to get a high key photo. After looking up the how to of getting a high key photo, I headed to my studio and built my light box. I got it built and then spent quite some time in the studio playing with lighting and taking “high key” photos.

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I found that you can make just about anything interesting with this technique.

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And then I thought of a really good combination for a photo puzzle. Can you guess what it means?

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Then last week I had a chance to use my new toys for a product shoot. A friend asked me to take some photos of some of the dishes in her restaurant for the new menu. I’m going to show you my favorite one, so get ready to drool.

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It smells and tastes as good as it looks! Trust me!

And thus concludes the story of my new lights and light box.

For now…

Murphy’s Law and Silver Linings

Wow! It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything. I’ve started to write quite a few times, but that thing called life gets in the way. In fact, I feel like I’ve been recovering from one disaster after another since the beginning of the year. Murphy’s Law has dominated, and anything that can go wrong has gone wrong. However, every cloud has a silver lining.

On Christmas day, I hurt my thumb. It was a severe strain, and you think that would be easy enough to recover from. However, I think it would have been easier to recover from a break than a sprain. After three months of therapy and a ridiculous medical expense to pay, my thumb still hurts. I am able to type again, which was nearly impossible wearing the brace, and I can almost open jars by myself again without much pain, but I still have some healing to do. I’m not letting it stop me though. I’m determined to get back to writing and photographing.

Therapy took a big chunk out of my schedule that I wasn’t expecting. Between driving to and from, the therapy itself, and the frequent lunch dates with my husband (insert smiley here), I didn’t have much time left for the many other things I needed to do. So I scrambled to get things done, and unfortunately blogging was low on the priority list. Then, just as therapy ended and I was ready to get back blogging, I awoke to a flooded garage.

Now, I know what you’re probably picturing, but it really was an interesting discovery. My studio and workshop resides in the garage, and a little more than half of the garage floor is covered in a burgundy colored foam flooring that locks together like a puzzle. At this point in the story, the workshop was not quite organized like I would have liked. In fact, my husband and I had spent some time browsing Home Depot that very week looking for shelving units to organize my creative work space. Well, I stepped into the workshop to do a little work, and as I stepped, barefoot as is usually the case at home, I kept noticing that water was seeping up between the squares of flooring. My first thought, of course, was that the rain had managed to blow in under the garage door. When I knelt down to retrieve something from under a table, I realized that that there might be quite a bit more water than I realized when the knee of my jeans became completely soaked with water. I began to feel around and realized that there was enough water that I needed to get some things out of there and get the flooring up. I called my son in for help, and we began to move things. As we picked up the flooring near the wall, I discovered that the water was not rainwater after all. It was flowing from the wall. And on the other side of the wall…the kitchen sink. Into the kitchen I went, and I pulled things from under the sink and discovered that the pipe had a steady drip. When I called my husband, he knew immediately what was leaking and told me what to turn off. It was leaking from the valve to the outside spigot, and it had been leaking for about two days. Thankfully, the flooring protected all of my supplies and equipment, so no damage there. After cleaning up and my living room being filled with half of the garage for two days, I set out to purchase those handy-dandy shelving units to get everything organized…and off the floor, in case of a similar incident in the future. Needless to say, between repairs and organizing, that entire week was shot. The silver lining however, my work space is now happy and organized.

This, however, was not the end. Come Friday, Murphy’s law was at it again. My darling cat, Butterscotch, decided to take to sleeping on my laptop. I guess he was doing this because the laptop was warm. Anyway, he jumped up there and CRASH! My external hard drive with all of my photos fell to the floor. I got up and plugged it into the computer and immediately received the “fatal error” message. Oh no! I texted my computer genius friend and got the hard drive to him straight away. It was to no avail, however. My darling cat had destroyed it. I scrambled to my social websites and cloud storage sites to retrieve the lost photos, and of course, I cried quite a bit. Then, last weekend, as I was cleaning up my laptop of unneeded files, we discovered that my husband had backed up most of the information on the hard drive back in the fall onto his profile on the laptop. We found the treasured pictures from our trip to Missouri and many of the original files for most of my photos. The only thing that is missing now…2014 Christmas photos and trip to Gatlinburg and a trip to the Whistle Stop Cafe. Those had not gotten backed up anywhere yet. So, the loss was not nearly as devastating as I had imagined, and I am back up and running…and taking new photos.

Now I am mostly healed from injuries, organized, and back to work. Hopefully, I will not go so long without blogging in the future, so stay tuned! The weather is good, spring is here, and travels are in the planning. I’ve also got a few festivals I’ll be attending in the near future, so I plan to tell you all about them!

The Great Smoky Mountains

Ever since I was big enough to remember, I have always loved the mountains. Every summer my daddy would choose a day, wake us up before dawn, load us up in the car, and surprise us with a trip to the mountains. We always went to the same place … Helen, GA. We would explore the town a bit, have lunch, and then drive around. Usually, we would end up at Brasstown Bald and stroll up to the peak. Every trip, he would tell us how you could see seven states from there on a clear day. It was always special, and I grew to love those Smoky mountains. To this day, the very sight of those peaks coming in to view fills me with joy.

Well, last week my son and I got to explore a bit in the smokies. We had some timeshare points left to use, and my son had not been able to take a trip without his sister this year, so we headed up to the condo in Gatlinburg .

The best thing about taking a trip to Gatlinburg is that we get to drive along the pass through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN. This pass is beautiful no matter what time of the year you travel it, and this time we were able to travel through it in the winter and experience the pass adorned with ice and snow. But, I get ahead of myself…

As soon as we entered the pass, we saw signs for a historic grist mill. It seemed like a good place to stop, and Jonathan needed to stretch his legs, so stop we did.  It was quite cold up in the mountains…considerably colder than back home. I donned my jacket, grabbed my camera and headed for the trail. It was just a short walk to the grist mill, and I got several good photos.

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Of course, at some point I made a comment that the aqueduct (I assume that is the correct term) was made out of real life Lincoln Logs. My son responded that he was pretty sure that was the building style Lincoln Logs were created after. Why does that boy have to be so smart and ruin all my fun? Anyway, after our photo adventure, we headed back to the truck and hit the road.

We stopped in several places. I loved how the green lichen on the trees stood out against the stark bareness of the leafless landscape.

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As we reached the higher elevations, we began to see ice and snow.

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The landscape at the top of the ridge was absolutely beautiful.

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Eventually, we made it to the end of the pass and found our way to the grocery store and then Mountain Loft Resorts. The room was lovely and had a great view, and we settled in for the evening to watch television and eat popcorn. I got several photos from the balcony of the room at different times of the day.

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Dusk

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Dawn

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Nighttime

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Snowtime

The next day we dilly-dallied around until around noon when we headed out to see what we could see. We decided to drive the Motor Nature Trail through part of Gatlinburg. As we drove around this, we stumbled upon an old farm that I didn’t remember from my last trip. It looked like a good place to take some pictures, so we stopped.

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The rest of the day we spent in town shopping and eating. We took Peppermint the Sock Monkey with us. (You can check out his adventures on the facebook page Sock Monkey Road Trips or the Google+ Community Sock Monkey Madness!). I tried some moonshine while we were there. It is not my favorite drink. My son does not have a good winter coat, so as the temperature began to drop and the wind began to pick up, we headed back to our condo to watch How to Train Your Dragon 2 (very good movie, by the way).

The next day, it began to snow as we headed out. Jonathan got some experience driving in the snow…and the mountains. He did rather well and didn’t scare me too much. I got a couple of shots out of the window as we went, but he decided it was best to concentrate on getting through the snow rather than stop for pictures. I must admit, I agreed with him 100%.

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We had a great trip. If you get a chance to visit the Smokies in the not so dangerous snow, do so. It is beautiful.

Holiday Reflections: Christmas Memories

Ahh… back to my blog. I can’t believe it’s been a month since I have written anything. The holidays certainly kept me busy. For us, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. On that wonderful day, our home is transformed from ordinary to extraordinary. The lights and trimmings come out and the transformation begins.

This year as we pulled out the outdoor decorations. it was discovered that our wonderful little grazing reindeer had reached the end of their days. Half of their lights refused to shine; therefore, it was necessary to retire them and head out in search of a new lawn ornament. After looking about a bit, we discovered a giant blow-up snowman that was perfect to go with our giant blow-up sock monkey. We placed them in the perfect position to wave at people coming down the street.

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The next adventure was putting up the tree. Well, we got out our old artificial tree, and it too had reached its last Christmas. The branches were thin and the half of its lights were burned out as well. At this point, we decided to get our first live tree, so off to Berry’s Tree Farm we went. We found a perfect Leland Cypress, cut it down, and brought it home.
Every year we each get a new Christmas ornament to put on the tree. We started this tradition many moons ago on our first Christmas together as a married couple. That was 20 years ago, so you can imagine how many ornaments we have considering we added two kids along the way. Every year my husband unpacks these treasures and distributes them to their respective owners. As we hang them on the tree, conversations begin about when we got a particular ornament and why it was so special then. We marvel over how our tastes have changed (or not changed as the case may be) over the years. It is such a special time, full of memories.

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Soon enough the tree was decorated, pictures were taken, and we could sit back and enjoy all of the festive decor. The situation changed all too soon however, as the cats began to eat the tree. Our smallest (and oldest) fur baby, Frodo, began to get very sick. Within a couple of weeks, the live tree had to come down, and the hunt for a new artificial tree began. Little did we know that artificial trees get harder to come by the closer it gets to Christmas. In time, however, we found a nice tree at Target. The fun part of it all was that we got to do tree decorating twice this Christmas.

Then came the family gatherings. This year everyone came to our house, so I had the pleasure of making three Christmas feasts. The first was on the 14th with my husband’s father and step-mother. We had a lovely visit and played an interesting guessing game that my daughter found an app for.

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Our second gathering was on Christmas eve. Every year we have a formal dinner on Christmas eve just for the four of us. This year, however, we invited my mother-in-law over. She had the pleasure of watching us try to get our annual family pictures done before dinner, and she had a few taken herself. After dinner, we read through the book we read every year, and then we opened our stockings. This has been a family tradition for us since the children were very little, and it was such a blessing to have my mother-in-law be a part of it this year.

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And the last gathering was Christmas day with all of my family. We ate lots of food and played with our Christmas presents. However, for this gathering, my thoughts often strayed to the one who wasn’t there to be with us. This was the fourth Christmas without my father… our own special Santa Clause. It still isn’t quite the same without him.

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And after this gathering, we were all quite tired. It was a nice Christmas, and it was nice to be able to avoid all of the traveling we have done for so many years. It was also nice to provide a feast for everyone to enjoy. And that is all for the 2014 Christmas memories, and the time has come to move on to making 2015 memories.

Transformation

This morning I was thinking about a photo I recently printed to frame. It was a photo I captured while in the mountains near Ellijay after the Apple Festival last year. I was there with my friend, Dawn, and our lovely teenage children. We drove around exploring backroads and arguing with Daisy (that’s the GPS by the way) about where we wanted to go, because we didn’t have any reason to worry about getting lost as long as she could get us back home.

Well, in the course of exploring, we stumbled upon a little trail up on a mountain just outside of town, and we parked the car at the foot of the trail and headed up. It was a short trail, and the view that evening was amazing. As we neared the peak of this little mountain we were on, I looked out over the valley and toward the peaks of the other mountains, and I noticed a tree that stood on the ledge of a nearby peak. It was silhouetted against the setting sun with the clouds and mountains in the background. It was the image of serenity, and it reminded me of the oriental paintings I adore with the tree silhouettes and calming colors.

This outing took place before I purchased my Nikon D3200, so I went armed with my perfect little purple Canon Powershot ELPH-310. This is now my daughter’s camera, and she is learning all of its ins and outs as she aspires to creative greatness. Anyway, I framed my shot and snapped.

When I downloaded the pictures, this one just didn’t quite look the way I wanted it to look. I was using Picasa to edit, and though Picasa is a great free editing software, it just wasn’t doing the trick. Well, a few days ago, I was going through my photos looking for some to print and frame. As I got to these photos, I realized that I didn’t have Adobe Lightroom 5 when I edited them, so I decided to run them through Lightroom and see what I could do with them.

I adjusted the contrast in a few of them and played around with the lighting a bit. With a little sharpening and color saturation, I was able to brighten them up a bit and enhance the color. There’s not a huge difference, but enough of a difference to make the photos more pleasing to my eye.

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After:

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 And with a few of them, I added a bit of artistic flare to create the painting in my mind that I would have put on canvas had I known how to paint. And on this day, I was feeling a little purple, so this is what happened.

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After:

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 I just love the ability to edit my photos and transform them into what I see in my mind. And I must say, I was very surprised at the quality of photos I was able to capture with that little Canon point-and-shoot, so don’t fret if you don’t have a great expensive camera. Have fun with what you have and share your vision. In fact, that last photo is about to become the main attraction of my next collection.

(If you want to know more about feeling purple, check out my blog post at http://chasingbutterfliesinmyhead.wordpress.com entitled “I Feel Purple” on December 7, 2014.)

Winter Birds

Winter is upon us. How do I know this? Well, from the influx of little winter birds of course! My Daddy always called them snowbirds, and since he called them snowbirds, I naturally thought that there appearance meant there would be snow soon. Much to my dismay, their appearance did not always bring snow. Living in the south, we look for every sign we can that snow will be coming soon, because we don’t get it very often…but I digress, so let’s get back to the snowbirds.

I realized last year that I couldn’t keep calling these little guys snowbirds, especially considering there were several different species hopping around the yard. Therefore, I got out my handy dandy field guide and perused its depths looking for my little birds. I picked this guide up at a gift shop at a state park within the last year, and it has become an indispensable part of my hiking and photography repertoire. With my handy dandy field guide and internet access, I was able to identify the most common winter bird that my daddy referred to as a snowbird.

The Dark-Eyed Junco

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He’s a wonderful little bird and a sure sign that winter has arrived. This little guy flies right in with the cold it seems. And on Thanksgiving Day, several of these fat, fluffy little guys were hopping around in my butterfly bushes.

Who would have ever thought that butterfly bushes would attract birds? But they do. These bushes attract all of the smallest little chippers into their spidery branches. Apparently the twisting and weaving branches of this bush provide a safe haven for small birds, as it is quite difficult to see into their branches. Also, the branches are very small in diameter, which is perfect for little feet to wrap around.

It had rained on the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and the rain had collected in some holes the dogs had dug underneath the bushes forming two perfect little bird baths. As I sat at the kitchen table listening to Mama talk, I started to notice the birds gathering to drink and bathe. (My cat, Butterscotch, noticed them too. He sat in eager anticipation, just hoping somehow the window would disappear, and he could spring on the unsuspecting little feather dusters.) Their little chips and chirps caught my attention, and I began to watch them. They would flit down to the little puddles, take a drink, splish and splash a little to rinse their feathers, and then flit back up to a branch to preen. I was captivated. I grabbed my camera and began taking pictures of these little cuties. I only managed a handful of good shots, but I will share the ones I got.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

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Carolina Wren

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Tufted Titmouse

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Carolina Chickadee

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When they began to disperse, I filled the feeders with food hoping to bring them back. They have been feeding at the feeders ever since. In fact, they are enjoying their breakfast as I type.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday. Remember to give thanks for all the wonderful people in your life, and enjoy the feasting!

Do You Want to Build a Doh-man?

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Do you want to build a doh-man? Come on let’s go out and play!

 How’s that for a cool combination of the weekend’s activities? Play-doh creations, Disney music, cartoons, balloons…but I’m getting ahead of myself. What is this all about? Well…it’s about a fun-filled weekend with my favorite 5 year old in the whole wide world. And it all started with a phone call saying, “Rosie wants to know if she can come spend the night with you.” Of course, considering all of my extended family live in the same house, her choices are rather limited when she wants to spend the night away from home. So, obviously my reaction was…”Yay! My Rosie wants to spend the night with me! I’m the cool aunt!”

So Friday came, and I watched the clock. As soon as I knew school should be just about out, the phone call was made. “Is she home yet? Can I come get her?” She was! And off we went to go get her. My sister works night shift, and it was her weekend to work, so of course I asked to keep Rosie for the entire weekend. So an extra outfit was stuffed in the bag…along with the armloads of toys…to start a fun-filled weekend.

 What was the first order of business? Well, creating a Disney radio Pandora station of course, because…well, I just don’t have kid music around the house anymore. My kids are nearly grown. One is (GASP!) an adult as of a couple of months ago, and one is a teenager. Therefore, a request of music from the Little Mermaid could only be filled by a search on Pandora for some Disney music. The first song did not meet our Little Mermaid request; however, much to our surprise and delight, song number two was the perfect fit!

 Our first night was planned by yours truly. It consisted of pizza from Little Caesar’s, cartoon movies, a fire in the fireplace, hot chocolate, and toasted marshmallows. Despite Mom’s concerns, the marshmallows were a hit! And of course Rosie added something to the mix. The activity for the evening for her was blowing up balloons…more like the activity of the evening for me. Of course, the hot chocolate reminded her of our last tea (coffee) party, so a “coffee” party was added to the breakfast agenda.

 Morning came all too soon, and after a breakfast of chocolate chip waffles, which apparently has come to be expected when there is a Rosie spend-the-night involved, we had our “coffee” party. Now, a coffee party must be done right. It must have all of the right ingredients: 1) antique china tea cups and saucers, 2) musical carousel horse figurines, 3) candles, and 4) lots of cream and sugar. Usually there are cookies involved too, but seeing as how it was still early in the morning, we decided to forgo the cookies (and when I say we, I mean me). We had a lovely coffee party, and we even had a server! Of course, our server also got to be the handy man when we broke the bottom shelf of the island work station (and again when I say we, I mean me…oops).

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(The server, aka my husband, took the pictures of me and Rosie having coffee.)

And after the coffee party…Play-doh! Now if there is any wonder as to whether this bright-eyed little girl has everyone wrapped around her finger, the following picture should put to rest those suspicions…

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Yes, indeed! Even the boys gladly played Play-doh with the girly-girl. We made all sorts of creations…mostly snowmen. And since Aunt Athenia is the photographer of the family, lots of pictures of our lovely creations were taken to share.

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(That’s my Doh-man.)

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(Rosie’s Doh-man…or woman)

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(And this is why boys are sometimes not invited to play.)

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(Uncle Jason’s creation.)

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(The cute couple.)

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(Picasa art)

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(This is a cake.)

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(Rosie’s cake.)

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(Rosie cutting her cake.)

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(Boys…insert eye roll here…)

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(Another Uncle Jason masterpiece.)

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And that’s not all! Cool cousin Kat with all of her creative geekiness led an experiment in making goo. Pink goo of course, because we are girls after all. The experiment was a success! Therefore, there was lots of goo for us to play with (and when I say us, I mean them…goo is icky, yuck!)

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And then there were the cartoons…lots and lots of cartoons. Millions of cartoons. I didn’t know there were so many. We watched a dozen different kinds of fairies (well…I got corrected on this, because apparently a pixie and a fairy are not the same thing. What do they teach kids in schools these days?). Then there was the Monster High Enchanted according to Rosie. This ended up being Ever After High…probably the same thing. And then we went to see Big Hero 6, and Rosie made the whole theatre laugh. The boy in the movie made a robot and claimed it as his greatest creation, and it popped out of the box, and Rosie said in her most quizzical voice, “A marshmallow man?!” Ahhh…if only these memories could be bottled up and replayed to remember always.

And so are the adventures of a weekend with my five year old niece, Princess Rosie! It was so nice having a little one around the house, and I think we’re all looking forward to the next adventure. (Yay! I’m the cool aunt!…hehehe.)