Monday, April 30, 2007

Pool Season Starts

Yesterday it was finally hot enough to warrant going to the pool, so we rounded up Sunny, Kesley, and Austin, who live a few houses down, and Dada and bundled everyone into the car for our first trip to Deep Eddy this year.

Everyone had a great time, although it wasn't quite as sunny as we would have liked. But it was still plenty warm. We took a break for some Jim Jim's water ice (very yummy) and then finally came home to have a sauna party back at the house. Julie got to hang out and read the NY Times Magazine while the rest of us played in the water.

For the sauna party, the kids brought over some snacks while Austin and I put up the safety rail around the sauna heater [I had only just a couple of weeks ago realized that there is supposed to be a wooden railing around the sauna heater and that it had been part of the sauna kit but the builder never installed it and I never noticed it]. The sauna now safe for kids, we all piled in and had a good time getting very hot. Dada wasn't really down with it and decided to watch Clifford instead.

A very nice start to the hot season. It won't be long before we start spending most afternoons at the pool...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Chicken Obsession

I have apparently become obsessed with photographing our chickens. Now that I have a spiffy new camera, I want to capture the sort of shots that are in some of our fancier chicken books. Also, the Wyandots are, I think, particularly attractive and make good chicken models.

Unfortunately, the light conditions in the chicken coop are challenging. It's either deep shade or shade plus bright light, making it very difficult to get either good exposures or sharp pictures (because the shade demands a slow shutter speed). The built-in flash tends to be too harsh.

However, last night at around 7:00 I decided that the light conditions were good and tried to get a few shots. Most failed, either because they were too dark or too blurry from motion, but I got a few.

Remarkably, the flash worked OK for these shots, probably because I was using the zoom rather than getting physicallly close. I know that I really need to get an external flash and mount a bounce card on it, but that's for another day.

This portrait of one of the Blanches came out pretty good, I thought.

For anyone who is similarly chicken photo obsessed, I've set up a "Chickens" set on Flickr where I can put the best of the multitude of chicken pictures I will surely take.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Photographic Art: Easter Eggs in Basket

Julie dyed some of our hens' eggs using food coloring. I really liked the effect. The basket is the basket we use to collect the eggs. The arrangement of the eggs is how I found the basket. I took the picture using the little flexible tripod Julie gave me for my birthday. The picture is lit using available light and taken using the self timer to accomodate a very slow shutter speed. This is taken using the standard lens on the camera, not any sort of macro lens. I was surprised that the lens could focus this closely.

Easter Excitement

Easter was pretty low key this year, between the nasty weather and the fact that Dada hadn't been particularly indoctrinated into the whole Easter thing (we didn't really want to stress a holiday that is essentially about candy given Dada's chocolate dependency and her day care,while run by a Christian church, perhaps felt that the doctrinal issues of death and resurrection were not quite within the intellectual grasp of three-year-olds and while I fully appreciate the ancient animist association of spring with rebirth and the return of life, a full pagan celebration seemed a bit much, especially given that we had to cut the 1/4-scale Stonehenge from the construction budget. And we couldn't even stay up late enough to watch The Ten Commandments this year.).

But Uncle Jay did come by with a present for Dada, a little wind-up chicken that lays jellybean eggs. The thing is hilarious and Dada loved it. Here you can see Jay and Julie and Dada playing with the chicken.

Julie did dye a few of our own eggs using food coloring--they came out really nice (I'll post some pictures in another post) and we had a very brief egg hunt Sunday morning (it was quite cold and a bit damp).

We actually spent most of the weekend watching airplanes take off and land. A group called the Collings Foundataion had brought three WWII bombers to Austin airport and Dada and I both wanted to see them. So even though the weather was frightful (cold rain and wind with a threat of sleet) we all went out to the airport and found the planes. We got to walk around the planes and climb around inside, which was fun, but because of the weather the planes were not flying and there were no other planes flying as well. There was a B-24, a B-25 (same model I took a flight in on my 40th birthday), and a B-17.

The next day Dada was "we go to the airport where the airplanes are and see more airplanes?"

I couldn't see a reason not to. The weather had improved, in that the rain had moved off even though it was cold. So about noon Dada and I bundled up and headed back out to General Aviation. This time the venerable war birds were flight ready. But in addition, the airport was alive with other airplanes, including a tarmac full of small passenger jets waiting to take off.

Where we were was a small private executive jet center. Dada liked the WWII planes but she was completely captivated by the variety of aircraft taking off and landing around us. We had been there about an hour or so when we learned that the bombers would start flying around 4:30. So we decided to stay, rather than go home and then come back (since we're only 10 minutes from airport we certainly could have), largely because Dada simply didn't want to stop watching the airplanes. She also liked the well-stocked snack room there in the jet center, which had remarkably non-skanky microwave food and, most importantly, ice cream.

So we ended up waiting until about 5:00, when the B-17 finally took off, meanwhile watching everything from Southwest 737s to little single-engine Cesnas take off and land. Finally, about 5:30, after watching the B-17 land and come back to get another load of riders, we went home, cold and tired, but thrilled by our afternoon of airplane watching.

Not a particularly traditional Easter activity, but Dada definitely enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I took a spur-of-the-moment picture of the chickens through the wire and it turned out quite well, with the chickens framed by the out-of-focus wire.

Here I've Photoshopped it a bit to add the spotlight effect in order to further highlight the chickens. I can't claim any Photoshop expertise or skill but I thought this came out pretty well.

Here is the original cropped but otherwise unmodified version:


Hockey Night

A new family has moved into the neighborhood and they have three kids with whom we have all become fast friends. The two girls, Sunny and Kesley, just love Dada and Dada loves them. The whole family is very cool and interesting (they have had and are having quite the family adventure, which you can explore here:

Anyway, when I got home Monday night, in a particularly vile mood after a not altogether joyous day at work and fighting traffic and what not, we had dinner and then right after dinner I had to take a phone call and Dada wanted to go see Sunny and Kesley, so we went down the block, where the kids were all out playing "street hockey" in the street. I didn't really want Dada to be running into the street trying to play with the older girls, so I invited everyone to come play in our driveway [our architect had specifically said "the kids will want to play on the driveway" and he was right].

So we convened a game of "hockey" in the driveway and the girls let Dada play with them. This is Dada in the jersey and holding her hockey stick.

We all ended up playing until dark. Sunny and Kesley's brother Austin came over with his skateboard and I got out my Tierney board (a snowboard simulator with wheels) and we all ran around until it was too dark to play so we went inside and Sunny and Dada played Wii tennis and Austin, Kesley and I rocked out in the music room.

It was great fun and the perfect antidote to a foul mood. By the time we went to put Dada to bed I was remarkably not tired (considering that I've been waking up around 5:30 a.m. lately) and the soul of patience as we read this very tedious Curious George book that provides endless opportunities to name things and count things and identify shapes and so on.

During this time, Julie was out in the yard working on landscaping and whatnot, which she enjoyed as much as I enjoyed playing with the kids.

Here is another picture of Dada in her hockey gear. I call this one "Kabuki hockey":


Sunday, April 01, 2007

One Year, No Fooling

CIMG0395March 31 was the one-year anniversary of getting the gas turned on in our new house, which I consider to be the official "start of occupation" even though we'd been in the house for about two weeks at that point.

One year on the house is doing quite nicely and we're very happy with it and the neighborhood. We've had very few problems with the house itself--nothing major in the way of construction mistakes or design features that just didn't work and that we now regret. My biggest complaint is simply that the location gives me a long commute coming home in the evening, but that's only compared to the 10-minute commute I had before.

CIMG3596We're slowly working on landscaping, although with all the rain this spring the unwanted grass in the front has gotten away from us--we'll actually have to mow it just to knock it back. We have planted a real tree and a shrub in the front, but there's still 8 tons of gravel waiting to be hauled back into the playscape. Guess I need to get on that. Julie is starting to plan some raised beds in the front, which we'll build mostly from leftover stone from the facade.

We're pretty well integrated into the neighborhood--we know our neighbors and our neighbors' landlords. We know where to eat and the back ways to get around traffic when we have to venture out.

IMG0002The solar electric system has been working very well for us--our march electric bill was $20.00, which is an average of about 8 kWhs per day we were billed for. That reflects what's probably the smallest possible usage (cool, relatively long days) coupled with the most efficient solar electricity generation (the solar cells operate at peak efficiency at about 75 degrees F, so they actually get less efficient as it gets hotter in the summer, but then the sun is up longer and usually out more).

We're completely unpacked (or as unpacked as we'll ever be). The house certainly feels lived in (and is starting to look a bit lived in as well). It definitely feels like home.

The first picture is what the property looked like in March 2005, right before they started demolition. The second is the new house as it looked on Apri 4, 2006. The last picture is the house on April 4, 2007. The main difference is we have a little landscaping and have been unsuccessful at keeping the grass from growing up through the mulch.