Sunday, December 30, 2007

Belated Photo Essays: Twas the Night Before Christmas...

All right... moving on with the belated photo essays of our family at Christmas time!

We last saw the family gathered round the noble fir (okay the plasticky flame resistant fakey tree) decorating and adorning with abandon. (Okay, maybe not the whole family... we purposely leave the twins out of a lot of things. Its amazing what gets done around here at nap time!)

I am mostly disappointed with how these photographs turned out. But I have to blame half of that on the fact that I STILL hate flash photography and its unnatural look, and so I tend to go without. So my pics either come out garish or yellow and blurry.

The other problem is I have recently upgraded to the ultimo pinnacle of Photoshoppy goodness, Photoshop CS3!!! And I have since downloaded a plethora of brushes and actions. What are actions, you ask? Let me tell you! It seems you can record some of the steps you take to "shop" your photos to make them look a certain way, and if you seem to take the same steps over and over, you can record the steps as an action, open a photo, press one button and a dozen or so steps can play out right before your eyes!

Of course, I downloaded nearly every free action I can find, so I have been playing with them all, and all my pics now look WAY over processed, and likely will for awhile until the fun of new actions wears off and I go back to a more natural look.

So, anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, the night before Christmas. Christmas Eve! We tried to gather the three kids beneath the tree right before bed, just after baths. We even plied them with ginger snaps and sugar plums. This was the best picture out of 4,237. And it shows why I hate flash photography.

Then we tossed the babies placed our sweet angels lovingly into their snug little beds. It was time to get ready for Santa! So, we read Santa's blog one more time, saw he was in South America and heading north, and that he wanted carrots placed out for the reindeer as well as cookies in every home for himself, the tubby little elf!

So, we got Santa a few cookies, picked out a green plate for Santa and a red bowl for reindeer carrots, because they were Christmas colors, and Noah poured the milk by himself down there on the floor and placed them all on the hearth. Then, we moved the out-of-reach stockings and hung them by the chimney with care.

Lastly, we cleaned the living room of toys, so that Santa wouldn't be appalled with how we sometimes live, and we headed upstairs for a long winter's nap.

I read Noah the Night Before Christmas story, and stopped repeatedly to explain things like kerchiefs, and sashes, "stirring", and "wondering eyes". Kinda ruined the flow, but what can you do?

Then Daddy and I drifted off in bed for a little while before waking and heading downstairs to place our presents to the kids under the tree, but would you believe Santa had come and gone already?? There were only crumbs left on the cookie plate, and there were a few toys scattered around the tree.

Santa had even left Noah an unwrapped Razor scooter and six little Nutcracker soldiers. Noah has been so taken with nutcrackers the last two Christmases, we knew he would love having a few of his own. Santa is so smart.

The stockings were stuffed, too (some much more than others) and all was well.

Michael and I sat ourselves under the tree around midnight and set up the camera to take a couple pictures of ourselves in our rarely quiet home.

It was so much fun, seeing the magic through a child's eyes who was finally old enough to really understand what magical things were about to happen in his very own home that night, and really believe. Its going to be triply fun in a couple more years, I believe.

And probably triply expensive.

But what the hell? It was so worth it!

Belated Photo Essays: Trimming the Tree!

Okay, Okay...

Everyone has been bitchin' and moanin' about "where are your Christmas pictures!!??" and "don't you have a blog to update??". Okay, maybe those are the voices of guilt in my head. But either way, I have a bajillion photos that I have taken of the Christmas season, only most of them are crappy because I absolutely refuse to use flash indoors, so all my pics are yellow and blurry. But the few that are not blurry look a bajillion times better than those with flash.

If only I had a new camera with a lens that could stop down further, to let in more light so that I could shoot indoors with no flash... so that I could get that much narrower depth of field that I have been in lust with since I signed up for the evil flickr account that makes me realize what a better photographer I could be if I worked at it.

Oh but wait! I AM getting a beauteous new camera for Christmas, and while it doesn't have the $1400 lens I so covet, it does have a rather nifty and awesome little lens that is the next best for a thousand dollars less! It just hasn't arrived in the mail yet.

More on that later. Darn tootin', there will be a LOT more on that later, baby!

But until then, I give you the first installment of my family Christmas photos... the Trimming of the Tree!!!

Why haven't I shown you this before? Why do I show them now, the very day I took the tree down? YOU try buying presents for a bajillion people while jugging twin toddler's second birthday parties, researching daycamps, while stopping a plethora of "he took my toy" fights and "he threw a truck at my head" tantrums, and getting all these crazy people fed. Just do all that and keep your blog up to date! I dare ya!

So, be still and enjoy.
You just know, we waited until the twins went down for their nap before opening the boxes of decorations. I am a "real pine tree girl" but with the chaos and the 2-year-oldness that abounds in my house, we just opted to put up the tree and be done with it, no watering, no mess.

We also went with the all-plastic ornaments, which proved wise what with Ethan's penchant for yanking balls off the tree, screaming "OH NO!!!!!!" and throwing them across the room.

We did add in the special ornaments that were made by the NICU nurses the day after the twins were born, to celebrate their first Christmas in this world. They put their wee footprints and their names on them, and hung them on their isolettes.
It turned out to be a really awesome Christmas for us. Noah is five now, and was fully immersed in the Santa story, was trying to be good for Santa, kept worrying that he was going to get a "rock of coal" in his stocking.
He asked all the tricky questions about how Santa gets down the chimney and all. He didn't believe in Rudolph, though, because there is no way reindeer's noses can light up. That's where the whole story lost credibility, you know.
Of course, that all turned around when we watched Santa's progress on NORAD's satellites, and he actually SAW Rudolph out there in front of the sleigh. "Whoa... there really IS a Rudolph! THERE REALLY IS A RUDOLPH!!"

Christmas generally rocked this year.

I was really dreading the season, what with the whole Halloween slide into Thanksgiving with Noah's birthday the very next day, twin birthdays just before Christmas, and don't forget we do Hanukkah, too!

But it wasn't the complete insanity I expected! It was rather enjoyable, and while I didn't exactly have time to reflect much, I did get a few chances to sit back and see how good I have it, and to give thanks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm Big in New Zealand!

I got an odd email the other day.

This guy from the "regional council for the Waikato region in the North Island of New Zealand" wrote to me. He is a graphic designer for Environment Waikato, which is a "regional council that manages land, water, soil, air, coastal and geothermal resources in the central North Island of New Zealand."

Apparently, they like to change their banner header every three months and have it represent each season. And this season, being down under and all, is Summer!!

So, this guy asks if I would mind if he used part of one of my photos of Ethan that we took on the beach this summer (our summer, 6 months ago!). I thought, "why not?". They also put a graphic representation of a river through every picture they use. You will see that if you check it out. It should be their page header for three months or so!

So, I'm published! Sort of...

Check it out, here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace On Earth

(David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Apparently, this was filmed a month before Bing passed away, and was aired after his death. It's never Christmas for me unless I hear this song. This year, with children of my own, and so much unrest and fear in the world, it speaks to me more than ever. Have a peaceful Christmas. - Shama-Lama Mama -)

Peace on Earth, can it be?
Years from now, perhaps we'll see.

See the day of glory:
See the day when men of good will live in peace,
live in peace again.

Peace on Earth, can it be?

Every child must be made aware!
Every child must be made to care!
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can.

I pray my wish will come true
For my child
and your child too.

He'll see the day of glory:
See the day when men of good will live in peace,
live in peace again.

Peace on Earth...
Can it be?
Can it be?

What Do I Want For Christmas?

Update: I am keeping this post on top because I am STILL BEGGING for your comments. I am lovin' it! But there is a new post below this one, you might not have seen.

I will tell you.

Comments, baby. I want comments!

I just sent out a massive Christmas Card email to all my friends and family (okay, lots of them) and I am guessing there is going to be an influx of visitors.

(waves furiously!!)

And what I want for Christmas is for you (YOU!!!) to just take a second (pleeeeze!) and leave me a comment to let me know you stopped by. Whether you stop by every day or if this is your very first time.
EVEN if you plan on never coming back again!

It's easy! See down there where it says how many comments there are on the above post? Click on that. Check "Nickname" and type in a name so I know who you are. Then just say "HI!" in the comment box and push "Publish Your Comment!"

It would make this girly-girl very happy.

Very happy, indeed.

Update: If you missed it, from my email Christmas Card, here are my kids dressed like elves and dancing their butts off.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Party Time, Twin Style

The twins' second birthday was on December 20th, but we decided to have their little party on Saturday. I present, for you viewing pleasure, a little photo essay of the day:

I have to tell you it went WAY better than their first party, which happened outside past sunset because we couldn't "get it together" as it were. Then, neither boy wanted to sit at the decorated table, and when presented with the cakes, they burst into tears.

Yes, this year was much better. Mima and Papa came down (Michael's parents) and Aunt Terri, Uncle Jim and cousin Katie swung by, too.

Mima and Daddy to all the kids for a walk to the park so that Mama could get some cooking done and do the finishing touches on the cakes.

Noah brought along his new bike with training wheels, that he got from my parents for his birthday. He looked pretty rockin' since his outfit matched the bike so well!

Mama made a big potful of yummy pasta, and when everyone got home, Daddy opened a bottle of wine, and we had at it.

After dinner, it was cake time. Like last year, I decided to make a little cake for each boy, so they could both blow out candles. I have never been very good at cursive writing, but I gave it my best shot.
A while back I bought myself a revolving cake plate to make decorating easier. Noah thought that was pretty darn cool.

Noah, with SO much practice lighting the Hanukkah candles, was allowed to go ahead and light up the birthday candles.

They had been practicing their blowing a lot lately (and couldn't figure out WHY they weren't allowed to blow out the Hanukkah candles), so they were thrilled when each cake was pushed up towards them, all flaming and hot!

Luka did pretty well! Ethan needed a little help from Noah. His blowing aim was not quite up to par yet.

Then, of course it was present time, and the kids just ditched the cakes in favor of ripping open their packages.

They received some cool little toys and clothes from Mima's recent trip to Portugal, some gingerbread cookie decorating kits, a shopping spree at Old Navy ("Babies need a new pair of shoes!"), some new toys, and a nice little investment in their college fund.

A good time was had by all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Address Correction

This is just a quick note to fix a small error.

Some of you may have received my parents' Christmas letter in the mail. In it, they put in the address of my Mom's bright and shiny new blog, Sand Between My Toes.
Unfortunately, there was a little typo.

So, if you would like to visit my Mom's blog about her grand kids, her life on Sanibel Island, her interest in Scottish things, and Clan Montgomery in general, and especially my parent's new lives as wildlife rescuers (a'la Diego!), go check her out here.

She rocks, by the way.

New Blog Header! YAY!

So, I went and fixed my blog header finally! And it was such an easy fix! But I also wanted to play around with my new updated Photoshop, so I went over the old picture and tried to spruce it up a little bit.

What do you think?

I see it really needs to be redone with a higher resolution. It's a bit grainy. Actually, I may go back and just redo it completely; try to make it look more professional. But I am not known for my design skills.

We shall see.

But it's certainly better than it was the last few days! Whew!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Twins At Two

My babies aren't babies anymore!

Yes, they turn two today. Two times two. It's odd because their birth seems like it was just around the last corner, and it also seems eons ago. This has been a couple of the hardest years of my life, but in a deeper sense (way down there, some days) it has been the most fulfilling.

I had planned to show you some pictures of their actual day of birth, and then some more from their birthday last year, but I had a little freak out this morning, because I found that, even on my backup drive, all the pictures from December of last year are GONE! So this is a plea to the grandmas... I need any pictures you have from last December! I have lost the first birthday, AND the first Christmas! (Well, technically the second Christmas, as they spent the first in their little incubator boxes.)

So, I give you pictures from their birth day.

I had a natural birth, although it took place in the surgery because we felt it best to be ready for an emergency, and the side door went straight into the NICU. Unbeknownst to me, two teams of about 5 people stood by waiting for the boys, just through those doors. As the birth went on, things relaxed. The face masks got pulled down, the hairnets came off. It went very well, even though it was happening six weeks early.

Michael was a resident doctor at that hospital, and as with Noah, he delivered the twins, with our OB standing just over his shoulder. When Ethan broke free, he was handed off to the nurse who whisked him quickly to a table for his apgar score, and then off through the double doors to the NICU! I didn't even get to have him held near my face so I could get a good look at him before our separation. But I knew that time was of the essence and that he could be in trouble, and his safety was my first priority, so I didn't complain.

Luka decided, with room to stretch out finally, that he would relax and enjoy having a womb of his own. Most second twins come about 5 minutes later. Luka took a good hour and 10 minutes. At one point, I saw one of the male nurses peek through the window of the door to the NICU, catch my doctor's eyes, and point to his watch and do that shrug, as if to ask, "IS there a second baby??" The team was apparently getting bored back there.

But then he came. My littlest guy. And like the first, he was whisked away. I don't remember much from that day, as I had been doped up on Magnesium for 24 hours, trying desperately to prevent this birth. But I do remember a sense of loss, separation, fear because I was no longer keeping them alive with my body, and comfort because they were in the hands of a slew of people who knew best how to care for them. I had had this sense that my body was not a healthy vessel for months. Years, even. It had betrayed me a few times when it came to holding onto babies. My body had "attacked" my babies, previously. And in a sense, it was betraying me now, spitting out my children before it was time. So, I bit my tongue about not being able to be with them.

I thought I would see them soon, but one thing lead to another and it was a full two and a half hours before I found myself wheelchaired up to their isolettes. They had been bathed, and tubed, and wired and pricked and held by strangers. Would I just be another set of hands? How would they know me as anyone more special than all these other hands?

I guess it took the next three weeks for that. To get acquainted, to become partners, or a little team of three. I lived there in the hospital with them, in my own room, so I could come and make my feeble attempts at breastfeeding, learn to use the pump, to "scrub in", be trained in the sacred way of the NICU, of methods, monitors, and alarms.

But all in all, for all the tubes and wires, my boys were healthy. Even at just over four pounds. I was one of the lucky ones. Many around me were not so lucky that Christmas.

And now they are two.

Terrible two, they say. Its been hard. And I pray that they don't experience what a lot of kids go through in their third year on earth. But, even though I never really wanted three kids, and it's been more than overwhelming at times, I do feel blessed. And I can't wait to see how they grow and change, and interact with each other and their brother as they learn to communicate better and better.

Having twins is like constantly riding a roller coaster. And I feel like I am at the bottom of one of those hills, the car tick-ticking slowly up the track to the top. The "twos" are going to be a bumpy ride, I am sure.

But its going to be a blast!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gather 'Round! It's STORYTIME!!

I was thumbing through Noah's bookshelf the other night, trying to find something to read to him before bed, when I stumbled upon this book I had been ignoring all year because it was a Christmas story. Well, what better time, right? I pulled it out and snuggled down with Noah.

It was one of the books that came in a big box passed down to me from my mom from her teaching days. It's called The Fir Tree, and it's by Hans Christian Anderson.
Oh, what's that you say?? You have never HEARD of the Fir Tree???

Oh well! May I enlighten you??

Cuz, really, you are gonna love this one! One of those books with a truly heartwarming ending. Well, maybe not HEART warming, but definately warm.

Gather round, children, while I tell you the story of the little Fir Tree!!

Once upon a time, there was a little fir tree that lived in the forest. It was a small tree and it wished it was a big grand tree like the other trees around it. "Oh, to grow and be old! That is the only fine thing in the world!!" it said.

At Christmastime every year, the big grand trees would get chopped down and carried away. The little tree asked the sparrows where those trees were going. "Oh", said the sparrows, "those trees are planted in warm rooms and decorated with beautiful things and songs are sung and stories told around them!! We have seen this through the windows of their houses!"

The little tree really, really REALLY wanted to grow up now!

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say...

I mean, then one Christmas, after the tree had grown to a respectable size, a family did come and cut down the tree, and carried it off to their home. It was put in a bright corner of a warm room, decorated with beautiful things, and a glorious star was put up on top like a crown! At last, the doors were thrown open and a number of kids raced in and practically knocked it down trying to get to their presents.

When the mayhem calmed down, the grandpa of the family told a wonderful story to the children about Klumpey Dumpey (that's what it said!) who fell down the stairs and married a princess. (???) The tree just LOVED the story and as all the kids were ushered off to bed, the little tree thought...

"Gee! That was a blast! I can't wait until tomorrow when we can do it all again!! Whoooo-hooo!"

The next morning the servents came in (the servents??) and the little fir tree thought, "Oh yay! They are going to spruce me up (is that where the phrase came from?? decorating trees?) and we can do it all over again!"
But the servents grabbed him and dragged him from the room, up the back stairs and into the attic where they unceremoniously dumped him in the corner.
He stayed there in the dark for many days, bewildered. Then it realized, "OH! Of course! It's winter outside! The ground is frozen! There is no way they could go and plant me again outside NOW! They must be waiting for spring!" He was terribly lonely in the dark. Until some mice came around.

The mice asked questions about where the tree had come from and so he told them the story about his life in the forest, and then the living room, and about Klumpey Dumpey. The mice ate it up, and brought back some friends the next night asking the tree to tell the story again and again. The tree was so pleased to finally have friends who really cared about him.

After a few nights, the mice asked if that Klumpey-Dumpey story was the ONLY story the tree knew? It was. They stopped coming back and the tree was alone again.

Many weeks went by, until one day, the servants once again threw open the door, through the tree roughly onto the floor and dragged it downstairs and outside. "Now I shall be PLANTED!!" the tree rejoiced! "I shall really live now!"
The servents tossed the tree off the porch into a corner amoung the weeds. The tree was brown and withered by now but the tinsel star still clung to the top and shown in the sunshine. At least the tree had that.
It gave the tree some happiness.

Some of the kids who had danced around the tree at Christmastime were playing nearby. It pleased the tree that when the kids saw him, they rushed over happily! But then the youngest boy ripped off the little star and jumped up and down upon the trees branches until they cracked and broke off.
The tree looked at itself and wished it had stayed in the attic.

And then the servant came out with an ax and chopped the tree into little pieces.

And then he gathered all the little pieces into a pile.
And then?
He set the little tree on fire.
As it burned and burned, the little boy played nearby with the golden star that the tree had worn on its happiest evening.

What's the moral of the story, you ask???

Oh that's easy! Enjoy life while you can, kid, stop wishing you were a grownup, because when you grow up, you end up betrayed, alone, people stop wanting to hear your stories, and then you get left alone and you die.

So, live it up kids!!

And have a Merry Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wordless Wednesday: A Little Night Music

Update: I posted this photo last Wednesday, but linked it wrong and so got no visitors. So, here it is again this week, properly linked. I took it on the outskirts of a Christmas street festival. It made me giggle.

Pardon the words, this Wordless Wednesday!

Find more Wordless Wednesday participants here and here.

Blogger Headers Tweaked!

You may have noticed that my header is all screwed up. Apparently Blogger has "fixed" something to make doing unique headers easier for new bloggers, but it totally screwed with all of us old bloggers. I am working on it, but I know zilch about html code.

I am on a hunt for the fix.

Stay tuned...

Un Viaje del Norte

Before I was a mom, I was a stage manager for live theater. It’s kind of like being a mom, only you take care of actors and backstage crew. You still have to put out just as many fires, stop just as many tantrums, and clean up just as many messes. The downside is there is a lot more paperwork. The upside is you get paid for all the craziness! And like parenting, its one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs you can do.

I worked for seven years at South Coast Repertory in Orange County, CA. They produce some of the finest theater in California. I was really proud to work there, and still miss it a lot. I left around the time I was pregnant with Noah and we were moving to Ohio so Michael could do his medical residency.

For each of those seven years, I worked on a Christmas play (a “play with Music”… not to be confused with a musical, because that would invite all kinds of union rules) called La Posada Magica, which became the way I celebrated Christmas. With a few changes here and there, it was the same people back each December to re-stage the play we had done the year before. I really grew to love the people I worked with, and really feel a void when Christmas time comes and I know the show goes on without me. I was by no means the head honcho, but as people on the stage management team came and went, I was the one who stayed with it year after year. It felt like it was kind of my baby. There is a little video clip of it here which REALLY does not do it justice!

Well, since we live nearby again, I went back to see my baby which has grown up, moved onto the new second stage, and has really blossomed. I brought along my REAL baby, Noah, who is five now and I felt ready for his first play.

It's a bit of a drive up the coast, an hour and twenty minutes. We got there with enough time to visit with the actors and musicians backstage before it began. I had told Noah about the guitarrĂ³n, the base guitar played in mariachi bands. He was really excited to get his hands on one and get a little lesson from Lencho Martinez, the sweetest guy you ever met.

Marcos Loya wandered in soon after. He wrote all the music for La Posada Magica, and is an awesome musician as well. If you were there, you might remember these guys from my wedding. Marcos played the wedding march on his guitar and some ambiant music for the whole ceremony. It gave our wedding ceremony the magical quality that the play has, as he underscores the whole show and plays almost continually through it, heightening the emotions each scene brings.
After giving and getting many hugs all around and squealing with delight way too many times, we headed into the theater. Our (free!) tickets were in the back, so I waited until the lights were about to go down, and moved down to some empty seats in the second row. No balcony seats for my little guy's first play! It's not allowed but I pulled out my point-and-shoot and snapped of a picture of the musicos playing the opening number.
The show was awesome! There were so many new wonderful bits and set pieces they had added or updated. A few things had been dropped as well, and some of those disappointed me, but what can you do? Things change. Noah stayed awake even though it was right in the middle of his nap time, sitting on my lap wide-eyed. He didn't seem to think it was the most awesome thing he had ever seen, but he did really seem to enjoy himself.
After the show, we went backstage and up to the greenroom to get Noah his lunch. Jamie, the stage manager, came in for his lunch too, so we got to do a lot of catching up on all the news and intrigue at the theater. Noah decided he would like to be a stage manager someday. He doesn't want to be an actor because he is worried he might be too afraid to stand up in front of an audience.
After lunch, it was time to hit the road again. Noah was asleep before we got out of the parking lot. We parked across the street at the largest mall in California a week before Christmas, so that's not really saying a lot. It was slow going. I have to say, too, that with him asleep, I actually enjoyed the long drive, listening to weekend NPR with no interuptions from children.
I drove through my old neighborhood before hitting the highway, and got a bit nostalgic. Then I turned toward home.
Now that we live so close (relatively speaking) to the theater, I might get up there a lot more often, keeping in better touch with the old crowd. Now that SCR has built their new second stage, the old second stage is now the third, and it seems they are using it for lots of good quality theater for kids! So, we may make this journey again soon.