Thursday, July 30, 2009


Since we came home from vacation a couple of weeks ago, I have totally lost the motivation to do anything beyond playing with my photos. I haven't taken any new pictures of the girls in at least two weeks. It is just too darn hot outside for much of anything other than swimming.

Today was the first day of Vision Therapy to correct Chloe's intermittant exotropia (outward turning left eye). It is going to last for at least 6-9 months and will require significant effort every day. For now, this is my top priority. Chloe's vision in her left eye has suffered and it is hard for her to focus it for more than a second or two at a time. As we met with the therapist, I could see that these exercises were going to yield tremendous results if followed consistently. In fact, these seemed like really good exercises for perfectly healthy eyes. The best part is that Chloe is determined and motivated to give it her all and when she puts her mind to something, great things happen.

So I came across this old photo I took of her a few months ago. It never made the cuttoff before, but today it struck a chord in me and I was inspired to play with it. Blissful is how I feel when I look at this picture and when I think about being Chloe's mother.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

For Your Viewing Pleasure

I was just playing around with software (Topaz Adjust and Topaz Simplify) the other night and applied some painterly effects to a picture I took 5 months ago. My apologies to those of you who were expecting something about the girls.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fix-it Friday

I decided to partake in the Fix-it Friday challenge again over at I ♥ faces. This week, the before picture was so cool that I decided there wasn't a whole lot to improve upon, so I chose to apply a different effect. This was the first time I tried this technique with my new software and it took all of 3 minutes. What do you think? Click on the pictures for a larger view.



For more cool edits, go here

This was so much fun, I started trying it on a few of my photos. Here is one of my daughter Chloe on a garden bench.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Off to a New Home

No..........We're not going anywhere...........yet.

It has been a chaotic 32 hours around here. I even had trouble sleeping last night. I have NEVER had a beef with a neighbor, especially not ones that I considered friends. Our home is bordered by streets on three sides and an alley on part of the 4th. Our one adjacent neighbor has a koi pond in their backyard. For months, a predator was eating their fish one by one. Before this past Sunday, we had only witnessed a raccoon on our property once, on Superbowl Sunday.

We feed our cat in the morning, mostly so that the neighbor's prowling cats don't eat his food. We also do this to keep the skunks and possums away. So I was appalled when I received a phone call from my boss (the City Manager) from his vacation at the beach. He was telling me that my neighbor had complained about us and said we were harboring raccoons and had been feeding them illegally for months, leading to the demise of their beloved koi. (I am thinking that maybe it was the koi and the other neighbor's loose lid on the outside cat food container that might have attracted the raccoons) They had gone to other neighbors to garner support and turn them against us as well. They certainly didn't ever say a word to us directly.

My boss had a solution....send a humane wildlife trapper to come get them and relocate them. Due to the uproar, I was perfectly happy to see these guys move onto a safer habitat, so I signed a release and agreed to allow the trapper to put baited cages in my yard. Within an hour, we had our first capture, the neighbor's (you know which neighbor) cat. The neighbor came over and was angry and rude and called my husband a liar and almost knocked our gate over as he slammed the fence. This man is supposed to be a professional, but he stooped to childish and boorish behavior.

You would think he would be grateful that we allowed the trapping of the raccoons, but instead he went into a tirade about the city trapping these animals for me as a special favor since I am an employee of the city. He was angry that the city was picking up the bill for the trapping services (to remove the nuisance HE was complaining about).

He didn't stop there. He called the Mayor, the Chief of Police and every other person he thought he could influence. He told the Mayor that he will sue the City. Apparently he is also mad because the city pruned a tree in the alley that he thinks I should have paid for. I had no idea he was so angry. This man and his wife were pillars in the community, participating in service clubs and volunteering at the Police Department. I am mortified and puzzled at how we have become the objects of his angry rampage. I guess this can be one example that life in a small town isn't always better than the big city. How did this man forget that when we moved in, we spent thousands and thousands of dollars to remove the overgrown ivy that was a haven for rats? We have done a lot of improvements to our property that have positively influenced the value of his.

I am trying to keep this a little vague, as the girls' blog isn't really the right soapbox to vent about an individual when half of my coworkers read this occassionally (whoops!). Anyway, we caught the whole raccoon family the first night. They cried in our yard all day until the wildlife trapper could come pick them up. Here's wishing them all a safer home.

I hate Koi.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where We Live

This is our living room. As you can see, two of the walls are solid glass, which makes for good raccoon and wildlife viewing. We have a meandering 8' hedge in the front, so people cannot see in from the street. This is where I spend most nights surfing on my laptop and this is where Chloe falls asleep on the couch or floor, as long as she can touch me. I suppose this is a very bad habit, but we have tried the alternative for a long time, and it just isn't worth the trauma. When it's time to go to bed, I carry her upstairs and put her in our bed. I really love being this close to her and am no longer looking forward to the time when she will sleep in her own bed.

Even though it usually tops 100 degrees here in the summer, our house is shaded by the big trees and our air conditioning works great, so it is very comfortable. It does get cold in the winter, where the temperature does often dip below freezing. However, we have that fantastic 6' wide fireplace where we can stoke a roaring blaze in to keep us all nice and toasty. I really love the winter nights here and will miss this house if we can ever sell it.

Our yard is like a forest with very tall trees, mostly pines. This is quite unusual for our town which is hot and a little bit deserty. Every year a hawk family builds its nest in one of our trees. Pictured here is a baby that is nearly full grown, sitting on our safety fence around our pool. The adults don't come this close to the ground, but the younger ones are often found roaming the yard at or near ground level. This one is a red-tailed hawk and he is screeching for his mama. I think he's a tad too heavy for our fence. Not shown in this shot, is a very agitated robin who keeps flying around his head trying to chase him away.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

While We've Been Away.................

.........a new family has taken over our home. I guess this is what happens when you leave a little extra cat food out for the pet when you go on vacation. Pearl was already asleep, but Chloe got to see these four baby raccoons and their mama hanging out in our avocado tree. Shortly after she fell asleep, I was able to take these pictures while sitting in the MIDDLE of my LIVING ROOM!

Until this past winter, I had never heard of raccoons in our area. It is a hot dry climate with little vegetation. On Superbowl Sunday, we had the priviledge to spot the largest raccoon I had ever seen. He was one BIG boy! I guess since then, he's been busy. I hate to call the wildlife control, but our next door neighbor has been complaining about her expensive coi missing from her pond. She probably doesn't have any left by now.

No wonder our cat Marty is so skinny.

Reliving the Memories

Well, our summer vacation has been over now for almost 4 days. We are just about over jet lag and I return to work Monday morning as the girls return (gleefully) to daycare.

Posting pictures of our vacation from Europe was sporadic and I missed quite a few highlights. I thought I would add a few more here that I missed before. You can click on any of the pictures for a larger view.
Pearl in a swing at our cottage in the Cotswolds
Pearl standing in front of our cottage entrance
Pearl sitting on the stoop of a two storey stone playhouse

Our cottage living room

Chloe laying on the trampoline

A beautiful bird we saw at "Birdland"

Chloe is posing in front of the penguins at "Birdland"

Chloe and Pearl are feeding fish at "Birdland"

Pearl at the top of Broadway Tower

Daisy, Pete and the girls pose atop Broadway Tower. The view is up to 50 miles in each direction.

The streets of the town of Broadway

Our hotel in Warwick
Dad and the girls riding the London Eye, a supersize Ferris Wheel

Daisy and the girls at Warwick Castle, a medieval theme park
St. Mary's Episcopal Church and cemetary

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fix It Friday



As if I don't have enough of my own photos to edit, I thought I would participate this week in the I ♥ Faces "Fix-it Friday". This darling little angel captured my interest and I was determined to see what I could do with her picture.

Here's the breakdown:

Using Photoshop CS4 I first cropped the image down to where her hand just fit into the picture. I put up a strong (87%) gaussian blur over the image and then used a mask to bring back the clarity of the subject. I used a soft-edge brush and 33% opacity so that I could blend it evenly without any sharp edges.

Once the background was gone in a blur, I imported a pink scratchy texture (free on flickr) and again masked out the subject. The child was leaning a bit to the left, so I rotated the image 7 degrees.

Then I applied a frame overlay from the Pixel Fairy Princess and once again masked out most of the subject. I also brightened the eyes with curves (2nd step). I hope you like it.

For other great ideas on how to edit this picture, click here.

Bastille Day

We have already been home for a day, but I need to post about our last day in Paris, so I will include it here.

Bastille Day, July 14th, is the National Holiday for France. They close down the subways and the Champs Elysees and Charles De Gaulle boulevard (which our hotel is just off of). The day started with a parade and show. We slept in, but awoke to the sound of jets soaring over our hotel room. We could see them and their colored trails from our bathroom window. We quickly dressed and headed out into the street. It seemed strange to be walking down the center of a huge boulevard with no cars in sight. People were gathering and staring in anticipation. We had no idea what was next to come.

Then suddenly a swarm of helicopters began a processional down the street. I had never seen a helicopter parade before, and it was quite a spectacle. In the distance we saw paratroopers in red, white and blue. I was standing in the center of the road taking pictures of the helicopters when I heard Pete yell at me "GET OUT OF THE WAY!!" As he shoved me aside, I turned around to witness that we had a front row vantage to the military convoy coming down the road. We were so close the tanks could have run us down. I stepped back enough to snap a few shots. It was a memorable time.

Later that evening we attempted to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. It turned out to be a bust. We walked for a couple of hours amongst a sea of humanity, all searching for a vantage point from where to view the fireworks. Everywhere we went, the streets were blocked off. Cars were stuck in traffic with angry drivers all around.

After giving up, we returned to the hotel. Amazingly, we could see part of the fireworks in the window reflections from the buildings around us. Sadly, I have no pictures of the fireworks, but it has been a great trip and we have some wonderful pictures to document the girls' experiences. We are sad to leave, but we are happy to be home. I am grateful for elevators, uniform stairs, ADA standards, doors that my children are strong enough to pull open, sidewalks, ramps, gutters and well-conditioned roads. Where we lack the beauty of glorious old buildings, we have the convenience of spaces that are easy to navigate for all ages, young and old. I was saddened to see a very elderly woman attempting to leave a pay restroom in a UK train station, having to navigate a turnstile and haul her luggage up a steep flight of stairs. I still regret not having helped her with her bag even though I had my own and two little girls to manage. I was so worried about catching our next train.

The girls were wonderful travelers. I think the only challenging part was Chloe's bladder. She cannot be far from a restroom and needed one at the most inconvenient of times. Pete had to whip out a "pull-up" in the middle of a crowd while I was trying to navigate through customs in France. One feels so helpless in the middle of a long line. Too late to turn back and no way to move forward. Nevertheless, we all had a blast. We are already planning our next long weekend in Carmel and possibly San Jose. Donna, are you ready for company?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Today We Went to the Louvre

Chloe and Pearl at the Louvre
My husband and I have been to Paris once before, 5 years ago right before we adopted Chloe. It was to be our last "hurrah" before we had to settle down and get to the business of raising a family. It was one of those worldwind tours where you visited something like 10 countries in 8 days. As it turned out, our one full day in Paris was on a Tuesday, the day of the week that the Louvre is closed. Instead, we went to Versailles, which was probably the most memorable tour of my life.

Now we had a chance to see what we missed out on 5 years ago. The Louvre is awesome on so many levels. Today the place was packed like Disneyland on a holiday. It was so full, they had the Mona Lisa cordoned off approximately 30' away from the painting, and this is a small painting. I found myself in the middle of a massive crushing crowd inching closer to the famed lady, only to realize that I had my wide angle lens on my camera. No time to change it. Chloe was standing anxiously in the wings desperately needing to find a restroom. Great! This was my once in a lifetime chance, so I just shot it the best I could. It is covered by a thick layer of reflective glass that even further hinders a photographic attempt.

Fortunately, there is so much more to the Louvre than the Mona Lisa. We just loved touring Napoleon's apartment and seeing all the great sculptures and paintings. Outside was a gigantic plaza just perfect for relaxing by the fountain and letting the girls run wild. The place is huge and there are no English captions anywhere. The staff seemed overwhelmed and indifferent. I was shocked to see people touching the sculptures and leaning on them for pictures. You could see the oily discolorations where thousands of dirty hands had fondled ancient masterpieces.

We had planned to visit the Eiffel Tower tomorrow, however we have just learned that tomorrow is Bastille Day, France's National Holiday. All the subways will be closed. There will be a major parade up the Champs Elysees (close to our hotel) and a big fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower. I was lamenting the fact that I missed the opportunity to photograph fireworks on the 4th of July at home because we left for vacation, and now I have a chance to capture this amazing event at the Eiffel Tower! How fortuitous is that? I cannot think of a better way to finish off the last night of our vacation than this. This also now helps me understand why all the hotels in Paris were booked and so expensive.

Above is a view from a window in the Louvre.

Looking up through the glass pyramid at the Louvre. This is the main entrance.
I believe this last picture is Napoleon's Dining Room. He had an apartment in the Louvre.

For more pictures from the Louvre, including the Mona Lisa (not a good pic), click on the Flickr box on the right sidebar. Once at Flickr, click on "will9516's photostream" to get to the most recent shots.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We Have Arrived in Paris!

Today we took the Eurostar across the English Channel to Paris France. We were early, so we had a long wait at the train station. It is very nice on the London end. We were shocked at the difference on the Paris end...not so great. Actor Woody Harrelson was on our train and he ended up in the queue for a taxi right in front of us. Noone acted like they recognized him.

After our previous experience of "roughing it" in Warwick, we were a bit apprehensive about our hotel room in Paris. I had a hard time finding any rooms under $300/night for 4 people. Anything less than that was in an undesirable neighborhood and didn't have real air conditioning. It turns out that our room was just perfect. It is really two rooms joined by a private hallway to the door, kind of like an apartment without the kitchen and living room. It is just a few blocks away from the Arc de Triomphe and within walking distance of many great sites.

We arrived a little late, so our first order of business was to find dinner. We immediately spotted a Chinese restaurant right around the corner from our hotel, but we decided to venture out further. We went a long way, but most of the eateries were closed. I guess they were breakfast and lunch places. We decided to return to the Chinese restaurant and had one of the most memorable meals of our lives. Everything was perfect from the red wine to the won ton soup to all the great dishes. It was all small portions, but just perfect for us. The only imperfection was when the owner asked us if we wanted desert and when we declined, he "tooted" and walked away. We just laughed and laughed!

Here's the girls goofing off at the train station.

We arrive in Paris.

Posing after a great Chinese dinner

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Our Final Day in England

We have spent the past two days in Warwick England. There is a famous castle that has been turned into an amusement park and a very lovely Episcopal church in this town. Strolling the streets was also very nice. I am going to post a few miscellaneous pictures over the past week. I will try to get some of Warwick Castle up in a future post. I didn't take very many pictures today because once again, it rained on us all day!

Tonight we had to say goodbye to Daisy. Monday she returns to China for the remainder of the summer. We will miss her very much.

Next stop.............PARIS!!!!

More pictures from Sudeley Castle above. I wanted to take many more, but between the rain and my family, I had to be satisfied with what I captured. It was beautiful.

Our cottage in the Cotswolds had two indoor swimming pools, a stone children's playhouse, a full playground and a trampoline. The trampoline was an especially big hit with the girls. I will post more pictures of this place later.

This is Broadway Tower. The views from the top are amazing. It is touted as the world's smallest castle. Later I will post more pictures. It was well worth the visit.

Above is St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Warwick England. It is fabulous!

This is St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

And finally, we have a few more pictures of London, including one from the top of the tour bus. It looks a little cartoony because I took multiple exposures while we were moving.