Friday, December 19, 2014

Life Lately

The tree

Rich arrived home from work last Friday night with a (ah, inhale the wonderful scent) plump Christmas tree tied to the roof of the Volvo.  The sight caused Emily to scream in delight, while poor Anna began to cry because she wanted to go as a family and pick out a tree together.  I asked her what we could do to make it better and she told Rich that he needed to return it.  

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Taking photos like this is a good way to see if you've distributed your lights evenly.

Santa Claus

Or Eddie Claus, as the girls call him.

Last weekend was busier than I wanted it to be.  Saturday, the girls had their first reconciliation (church, mandatory) in the morning followed by the massive, because there are so many people, Christmas party for Rich's side of the family.  This year, the role of Santa was played by the girls' cousin, Eddie.

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And then on Sunday, I slept in while Rich brought the girls to CCD, which I recently learned is no longer called CCD.  And then we were gone for the afternoon for a birthday party.  And then there was my favorite activity - laundry.  As of this posting, I am still not finished Christmas shopping.  Awesome.

Trouble

This one's middle name.

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Check out the hand on the hip.

I had intended to take photos for our holiday card the first weekend in December but then I was sick so that didn't happen.  I managed to squeeze in a five minute photo shoot on Saturday in between church and the Christmas party.  The photo above was a test shot so I could see what I had for light.  That night, I edited the photos I needed for the card, found a card on Tiny Prints and ordered 'em up.  They arrived earlier this week.  Thank goodness for free expedited shipping.

Second grade update

I know I have some readers who found me after their babies were diagnosed with spina bifida and so I like to update here and there with how Anna is doing.  I recently met with the girls' teachers for our first parent/teacher conferences of the school year.  Anna is in a bit of a unique situation in that she has not just one, but two identical sisters and although no one intends to compare their children, sometimes being able to compare provides a certain level of comfort.

So Anna is doing really well.  To quote her teacher, she's exactly where she should be academically.  I was also able to speak with her PT and OT.  She continues to gain strength and balance, although she sometimes doesn't use proper form when walking and her left ankle easily tightens up.  No one really knows why she needed to see an OT.  Was it because she has spina bifida? One could argue that it's because she's left-handed.  Regardless, they are thinking of cutting her loose from OT in a few months. Yippee!

Anna's an awesome kid who is well liked by her classmates and easily makes friends.

I've read and maybe even quoted that kids with spina bifida are of average intelligence.  I'd like to change that to say that the intelligence level of kids with spina bifida is determined by genetics.  The other implies that these kids can only hold an average intelligence level.  Not true.

So now for some fun (and interesting) comparisons.  The girls all prefer literacy to math and although they all score high on math concepts testing, none of them score above the class average on the timed math facts tests.  Their scores are near the class average so there are no concerns but it's funny to see how they all essentially feel the same when it comes to those timed tests and practicing math facts.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Laughing

On Facebook friends:

Allie:  "Why are you friends with Nilla Wafers?"

Me:  "It's an ad, buddy."


On being the president:

Allie:  "My favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt."

Anna:  "My favorite president is Obama."

Allie:  "Can you be the president and work at Stop & Shop?"

Me:  "No, sweetie, you can't do both at the same time."

Anna:  "But you can be the president of Stop & Shop."

Me:  "That is true."


On spines:

Emily:  "I feel a ball at the back of my neck.  What is this?"

Me:  "That's part of your spine, sweetie."

Emily:  "My spine?  I thought that was something Anna had."

Me:  "Emily.  Everyone has a spine.  You know that.  Anna's spine didn't close all the way, which is why she has spina bifida."

Emily:  "Oh.  Maybe I have a bulging disc."

Me:  "I think you've been spending too much time with Grammy."

Emily:  (hysterical laughter)


On High School Musical:

Allie:  "Eeeew.  A sweaty boy."

A little later. . .

Me:  "Allie, is that the kind of movie you want to act in when you are older."

Allie:  "Yes."

Emily:  "You'd have to kiss a boy, ya know."

Allie:  "That's okay."

Me:  "Ahhhhhhhh."


On boys:

Allie:  "Emily has a crush on C."

Emily:  "So what.  He's cute."

Me:  "Which one is C?"

Allie:  "At the beginning of the year, he had like a mohawk thing and lightning bolts on the sides of his head."

Rich:  (best facial expression ever)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Photography + Disney + Thoughts on camera upgrade

Before I begin, I want to point out a deal to those of you using an entry level DSLR camera who are in the market for an upgrade.  Amazon currently has the Nikon D7000 body only listed for $499.  If that's not a steal, I don't know what is.

What's in my camera bag?

I decided to travel light for this trip for several reasons.  I've been dealing with back problems since the girls' birth and lugging around a heavy bag is painful and when you're at Disney, there's a lot of lugging around.  There's also the simple fact that photography equipment is expensive and the more you have on hand, the more you need to care for it.  Disney may be the most magical place on earth but it is not immune to thievery.

Deciding what type of trip/vacation you plan on having will help you determine which equipment to bring with you.  I wanted to capture our family vacation through photos but I didn't want photography to take over the vacation.  The reality is that with three little ones, photography can't take over.  As much as I would have loved to have photographed the fireworks, that would have required additional equipment (think tripod) and planning.  Keep in mind that there are some people who travel to Disney specifically for photography.  There are others who bring so much more than I did.  I was reading a thread on the disboards that confirmed that I'm a lightweight.

So what did I bring with me?

Nikon D7000 - This is the only camera that I own.  There are no point and shoots in this house.  (Well, the girls' cameras are.)  And you can Instagram your little heart out but an iPhone camera cannot compare to a DSLR.  If I want to take pictures, I need to bring my DSLR camera with me.  Can it be a hassle at times?  Sure, but the end results are worth it to me.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens - This is my primary, walk-around lens.  It's almost always on my camera and for the most part, fits my needs.  While I still think this is a good lens for the price, mine tends to back focus when I shoot wider than 3.5.  I'd been considering an upgrade replacement for awhile and had finally settled on one but now I've decided to upgrade my camera to full frame* which means I need to find new lenses as well.

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Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens - I've found this is a great landscape lens.  It also comes in handy when my 35mm is too tight and I need something wider.

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SB-600 Speedlight - What do "natural light" photographers do when there just isn't enough natural light?  I love my Speedlight and don't think there's anything wrong with using one.  I've found the inside of some restaurants to be too dark, especially for character meet photos, and bouncing the flash makes a huge difference in photo quality.

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The camera bag

I continue to use my Lowepro Flipside 200 for transporting my camera and other equipment during long outings.  It's comfortable to wear and protects my gear.  It is supposed to be waterproof but I did wear my rain poncho over it during the downpours to be extra safe and that worked well as the inside of my bag stayed completely dry.  Even though I like this backpack, my one complaint is that it isn't very easy to take the camera in and out of it.  It's good if you plan to either keep the camera in the backpack or out of the backpack for extended periods of time.  Taking photos and then placing it back in the backpack is just not convenient.

If I was a good blogger, I would have had Rich take a picture of me wearing the backpack at Disney. Instead, here's a photo taken by Emily a few days ago.  I think she did a good job.  (Please ignore the crazy, dancing child.)

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As you can see, it's not a huge backpack.  I'm 5'4" and wear size XS/S.  I should have worn a shirt color other than black though so that you could really see the backpack.  I am far too lazy for a redo. Because the backpack is black (as opposed to a girly color), Rich has no problem carrying it around for me if I need a break.

Here's the inside of the bag, packed with the gear I brought to Disney:

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(Hey, look.  It's an iPhone picture.)

How many photos did I take?

Again, going back to the disboards, it's not uncommon to see folks take 3,000 to 5,000 photos during a week's vacation. I took 550 pictures. That's it. I probably would have had a few hundred more had the weather been different. When it was pouring rain, which was a frequent occurrence, I kept the camera in the backpack under the rain poncho. This was also a tired trip for me. I was coming off of my first illness of the season and really could have used a few days of rest prior to traveling. There were times when I felt like I was dragging myself around and photography was not my main priority.

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*Thoughts on camera upgrade - I've had my D7000 for three and a half years now.  When I upgraded to that camera, I had thought that I would be happy staying with a crop sensor.  Maybe forever.  But then I could tell who was shooting full frame by looking at their photos and I started to change my mind.  The D600 series was my obvious affordable choice but the oil/dust issue was a major turnoff.  I even looked at Canons as an alternative.  When something costs so much money, I want to make sure I'm 100% positive with my choice.  I hemmed and hawed for a year and then the D810 was released to rave reviews.  But with a $3,000 price tag, I just couldn't do it.  I've been researching the D750, which is more affordable than the D810, and it appears that many prefer the 750 to the 810.  So that's where my head is at now. Still thinking. . .

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thoughts on book logs

Shortly after the school year began, my sister-in-law sent me a link to a blog post that discussed how required book logs at school suck the fun out of reading.  That was the gist of it anyway.  The author's daughter was an avid reader but tracking what she read on a book log made reading not fun so the blogger told her daughter that she could write down whatever she wanted on the book log (I'm pretty sure she used the word lie) and the blogger would sign off on it.  My sister-in-law's oldest is in kindergarten so she has yet to experience the joys of book logs and wanted to see if my opinion matched that of the other blogger.

I have not included a link to the original blog post because I disagree with several of its arguments.

Last year, in first grade, Allie was the only one of my three who was required to turn in a book log signed off by a parent each Friday.  The log was fairly simple and because kids at that age are often read to, it included books read to the student as well as what the student was reading.  Were there some Thursday nights when I exclaimed, "Crap! What did we read on Monday?"  Yes.  But really, it wasn't a big deal.  It's a first grade book log, not life or death.

So here's the main reason I'm cool with book logs:  While you and I may read to our kids each night or have them read to us, there are plenty of parents out there who don't or won't.  A book log ensures that everyone stays accountable.

This year in second grade, Allie and Emily are both required to complete this during the week:

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Anna has a monthly reading contract where she has to write down all the books she reads during that month along with identifying if the books were difficult, just right or easy.  A parent needs to sign off on the reading contract before it's turned into the teacher at month's end.

Thankfully, my kids are very much rule followers but even if they weren't, I don't think it's appropriate to tell children it's okay to lie on homework.  This other blogger compared book logs to time sheets from her former life working in a law firm.  I, too, used to complete time sheets when I worked in public accounting and maybe I'm a newbie at this but book logs can't compare.  Plus, anyone who fills in a time sheet learns the art of accurate estimation.

We've only run into one snafu but it's been fairly easy to work around and it actually isn't completely related to book logs.  Emily's classroom has a small library and all the books are organized by reading level.  Each kid was assigned to a certain reading level and they pick out books to bring home to read from the numbered bins.  This is required as homework.  During orientation, her teacher did say that to start, she assigns them to levels lower than what they may be capable of.  Emily is at the highest number.  After that number, there's a star group and then a double star group.  She's already read books that are in the double star group.  So Emily brings home a book from class Monday through Wednesday but she likes to read every night.  And quite often, during the day.  Thursday night, she reads a book online through a website for homework but she still wants to read to herself at bedtime.  Even though she's only required to read a few chapters (if they are short) from the books she brings home, she often finishes the entire book that night.  Think Magic Treehouse or Cam Jansen.  I try to make sure we have enough books here at home so she always has something to read, especially on the weekends.  If I get lazy, I know now that I can always check out a book from the library for her to read on my kindle.    

The girls read to themselves every night, including weekends.  At the beginning of the school year, they all three read to me each night but that's not really necessary anymore.  They still do read to me - just not every night.  I'm a huge believer of the benefits of reading, especially at this age, which may be another reason why I don't mind book logs.

I think my kids are fairly responsible.  They pack up their backpacks for school each morning and so naturally, they've taken to completing their book logs themselves.

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Now, if only practicing math facts, which is also on the log, was as painless.    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

{Disney} Day 7 - Departure Day

Hi!  So I'm feeling heaps better than I did two days ago.  I've still been heading off to bed early at night, which fortunately seems to be helping.  Unfortunately, it's not good for blogging.  A co-worker of mine, who is also inflicted with this illness, went to the health clinic at work and was told that this is a virus that typically lasts for 12-14 days.  See what I was saying.  Super bug.

I wanted to wrap up my Disney trip report posts.  This is the last one (and a short one) but I do have some other Disney posts in the works, including photography, general thoughts/planning and our experience/tips related to visiting Disney with spina bifida or other physical needs.

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I hate to waste an entire day just for travel but with the kids, it's sometimes easier.  Our flight back to Providence was right before noon, which meant we didn't have to wake up at the crack of dawn to rush off to the airport.  We had planned to leave the resort at 9:00 but we were running a bit behind and left at 9:30.  Not too bad.  There wasn't any traffic to contend with.  I'm sure being a Saturday helped with that.  I was happy that we had our own transportation as well and didn't have to worry about catching the bus at a specific time.

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Rich dropped off all of us and the suitcases before returning the rental car.  It all went pretty smooth and there were no issues passing through security with Anna's meds.  Actually, that TSA employee was really nice.  Some of the others, not so much.

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We were doing so well with time.  After getting through security, we thought we had just enough time to use the bathroom and grab lunch to eat on the plane but then we were told that the pilot and crew for our plane were on another plane that had been delayed and so we had to wait.  Our plane finally took off after almost an hour of waiting but they were able to make up time in the air (?) because we landed almost right on time.

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Allie spent the first hour of our flight watching a show on Disney's Aulani resort.

"Can we go there?"

"Sure.  Why not?"

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