Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March

Which of these statements is true:
  1. Time to pack our bags and buy skirts for the boys....Lee's accepted a job in Samoa (I'll wait while you find it on Google Earth)
  2. We're expecting Cook baby #3 AND #4 - wow, twins!
  3. Nate knocked out a front tooth while dancing around to Pharrell William's "Happy" song.  Nate, you gotta watch out for those doorways, buddy.
  4. She won! Chelsea is Little Miss Coppertone 2014
The answer?   You'll have to wait until the very bottom of this post.  No peeking!
 
In the meantime, on to my March round-up which isn't nearly as exciting as any of the above....
 

Does anybody know that Walt Disney's cute little red barn has been moved to Griffith Park?  It's open for viewing one Sunday a month and holds a huge amount of items related to his model train collection.  I want to live here!






 A happy face in the morning!






 Disney? Check.  Star Wars?  Check.  Something that combines the two?  Pretty awesome.  A school friend of Nate's picked up these car window decals for us at Disneyland.  I wanted to be Princess Leia in the 4th grade.  Guess I can cross that off my bucket list.






 I'm giddy over these little feet in sandals.






 25+ pictures taken on St. Patty's Day and the best one might be when she tried to shove her finger up her brother's nose.







 Doesn't look like much now but our vegetable garden has been planted.  We've got cherry tomatoes, peas, zucchini, carrots, eggplant, beets, and corn!  I've also planted Dahlia and Gladiolus bulbs.  I'm excited to see what happens.








Thought I'd share one of our favorite staples -- ham & beans.  Actually, I switched out the ham for smoked turkey legs.  It's soooo good.  You can find variations of the recipe on Pinterest.







I always post happy pictures of the kiddos but there are other moments in our life too.  "Sobbing at the Back Door" is an appropriate name for this photo.  She was not a happy girl.  Hitting me in the face and throwing stuff on the floor didn't buy her any sympathy.  Just keeping it real....
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Matchbox Car Name Parade!








The brim of Chelsea's sunhat flipped up and I immediately thought of Scarlett O'Hara's wide-brimmed hat at the start of Gone with the Wind.  Although, I don't believe Scarlett carried a sippy cup around Tara....
 
Okay, so the answer to my question above is...April Fools!  Hey, it ends in 45 minutes and I couldn't help myself. :)


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review #2

Well, I haven't been reading as much as I would like now that Chelsea is more & more mobile (translation: trouble maker).  Here are a few books I managed to eek out at the end of last year and into 2014:


It's been months since I finished The Light Between Oceans and I still think about it once in a while.  It is exquisitely written; I haven't read a book with such vivid imagery in a long time.  The plot captures your attention from the start and is, ultimately, heartbreaking.  Discussing the particulars of the plot gives too much away so I'll leave it at that.  I highly recommend this novel.


  
I was disappointed with Beautiful Ruins.  Maybe my expectations were too high because, with such a beautiful cover, it has to be the perfect novel, right??  Well, the cover photo is very pretty but I found this book to be so-so.  This is the first book I've read where I actually skipped a chapter (it wasn't totally relevant to the main plot).  The chapters, in fact, jump around and cover different decades in the lives of the characters, which was an interesting literary device but I found it too distracting from the storyline. Also, I wasn't fond of the Hollywood/movie-making portion of the plot.  I finished this book -- that's really the only good thing I can say about it.




We made a super fast stop at the library recently and after checking out a dozen kid books, I decided to quickly swing by the "new book" shelf on our way out.  With Chelsea squirming in my arms and Nate asking "how long are we going to be here?" I decided to grab a book and go, solely basing my item on cover photo and title. Yea for me.  Anyhoo, this book was fascinating and I would recommend it if you're interesting in British history.  Pamela Hicks is the great, great granddaughter of Queen Victoria and she's lived a very interesting, very privileged life among the upper-crust of British society.  She was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth for a time, lived in India for a spell and was friends with Gandhi.  I can only assume by the very abrupt ending to this book that Mrs. Hicks is planning a second volume to her autobiography.  Fascinating story.
What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said?  I finished it 2 weeks ago and I think about it constantly.   It will blow your mind.  I can't decide who I love more -- Laura Hillenbrand or the book's subject, Louis Zamperini (I might love Laura a smidge more because Louis is a USC alum....)  The movie based on this book comes out in December.  I highly recommend reading this book first; Laura's attention to detail (research!!) is impeccable and there's no way the movie can cover the entire story unless it's a 4+ hour film.  My only other comment would be to warn future readers that the POW abuse and other elements of the story wore me out at one point.  It's difficult to read about someone's suffering day after day and not have it affect you.  I had to put the book down for a couple of days because it was taking me to a dark place.  After my self-imposed break, I finished the book just fine.   I will definitely make my kids read this book at some point in their future ("20 books your mom wants you to read as young adults "-- hmmm, that's a list I need to start working on).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

January and February

I've fallen behind in my updates!  But, honestly, there isn't too much to write about besides just typical daily life stuff.  I'll let the pictures do the talking....

We spontaneously decorated with some crepe paper and balloons before our family SuperBowl party. 




 A rare moment of sibling affection.




 She wants to play with the big kid toys soooo badly.





 Love this little guy.






 A kick done in the spirit of fun....or is it???






Working on a birthday banner for Daddy.






 Daddy's birthday cake and ice cream.  
Hey Chelsea, no feet on the table!







Valentine's Day goodies for my little sweethearts.







I bribe my kids with food during photo shoots. 







We bought large planters at Costco and will be using them for some of our veggie crop this year.  The kids have enjoyed playing with them too.




With the unseasonably warm weather, we've been breaking out the Spring hand-me-downs.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prime Time

After years of point-and-shoot, I saved up to buy a "grown-up" camera -- a Nikon D40x.  That was 6 years ago.  My Nikon has been a blessing and a curse ever since.  A blessing by taking decent photos but a curse because I don't always understand how to use it! I'm still trying to grasp how to operate an DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera.  My main gripe every year is that my Christmas photos never turn out very good.  All of the places we visit on Christmas day, including our very own house, have poor lighting which leads to poor photos.  I want crisp, clear Christmas photos! 

Most reviews of DSLR cameras say that the kit lens (the lens that comes with the camera) is decent but not great.  I researched better lenses and came to the conclusion that I'd like a prime lens.  A prime lens is the opposite of a zoom lens - the focal length is fixed. So instead of zooming the lens out or in to take a photo, I have to physically move forward/backwards to take a picture.  Prime lenses have superior optical quality and have a high maximum aperture (smaller depth of field).  Translation:  clear pictures!

A 35mm prime lens isn't cheap so I opted to search on eBay for one.  I managed to get one for about $30 less -- not a huge savings but it's still something.  I was a happy girl the day my prime lens arrived in the mail last month, just in time for Christmas.  Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out how to use it properly but my Christmas photos were noticeably better than prior years.  

Here's a collection of photos I've taken with my prime lens to show you how it differs from other lenses:

Prime lenses are great for portraits.  See how the background is blurry?  I can increase my aperture (small f-stop) and get a shallow depth of field.  Chelsea was actually walking toward me as I took this picture.  That's a Ritz cracker crumb on her face :) 




Another shallow depth-of-field picture.  I love how the fence and flags are blurry in the background.




A portrait of Nate, pre-haircut....hair is a little shaggy in this one.





I didn't do anything special to this photo -- no editing.  This is exactly how it turned out.  Plus, it was taken with natural light from my kitchen window.  Pretty amazing detail.








Nate's Lego helicopter.   




And the helicopter pilot who Nate has named "Helicopter" (makes for confusing conversations.)  He's standing on the bricks that edge our backyard grass....looks a lot more interesting in the picture than what's really there!



Every year I take a picture of this house in our neighborhood and it's always under or over-exposed.  I've always struggled with outdoor, night-time photos.  This year's picture of the Christmas lights -- perfect!



Not a great picture but an example of how I can have both kids in a photo and still focus on Chelsea shoving Cheerios in her mouth on Christmas morning.

So that's it.  I think most photography novices such as myself think that a zoom lens should be at the top of your wish list.  I'm here to say that a prime lens is the way to go. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

December

Christmas Day antics.  I never said we were normal.
Be sure to check out my Shutterfly photo book at the end of this post.

We put up our Christmas tree on December 7th -- I didn't want it to be soooo close to Thanksgiving but I wanted us to be able to enjoy it for a while.  As I wrote in my previous post, the Ikea "ornaments" worked out great.  I may even put them up next year!  And while I missed the scent of a real tree, our artificial tree looked and felt great even after having our heater on for 20+ days straight.  A real tree would have become a fire hazard, for sure, due to the chilly nights we experienced.

Lee used up the last of his vacation days the 2nd week of December and we were able to take advantage of doing some Christmas-y things during the week.  We drove about 46 miles east to see Santa at the Bass Pro Shop (he really did look and act like Santa!) on Monday.  On Wednesday, we took Nate ice skating after school at the new outdoor ice skating rink in our city.  We had the entire thing to ourselves, which was fun but maybe a little boring.  Go figure -- it was unusually warm and sunny that day.  

The 3rd week of December was Nate's last school week before Christmas.  The entire school hosts a short sing-a-long on Friday in the church sanctuary and it's adorable.  Unfortunately, Nate woke up sick on Wednesday and stayed sick the remainder of the week. No sing-a-long for us in 2013!  That was heartbreaking since it was his last performance with this school.  Thems the breaks, as they say.  And Nate was really sick so there wasn't much time to think about the sing-a-long between juice and Tylenol runs.

You know what's coming next....Chelsea developed a fever on Saturday, the 21st.  It hit her fast but not as hard as Nate.  Despite a milder virus, Chelsea also had to deal with bad diaper rash and some teething.  She was not a happy camper.  She and Lee missed out on our annual tradition of visiting Stats and picking out an ornament.  Nate and I still had a great time.  We loved the decorations, chatted with Santa and picked out an ornament on Chelsea's behalf.

By Christmas Eve, Nate was feeling about 95% better and Chelsea seemed a bit more like herself.  I had to work the first half of the day (boo!) and then we rushed like mad to get to church on time (we weren't) before decorating cookies for Santa and driving around & looking at Christmas lights with Grandma.  Boy, we crammed a lot into that 12 hours.  That evening, while Lee was at church until about 11:30pm, I cleaned up the house, baked some zucchini bread, and "played Santa Claus."  Nobody tells you that as a pastor's wife, you'll be putting toys together yourself on Christmas Eve.  Thank goodness I'm handy with a screwdriver!  Every year the instruction manuals get more complicated :)

You know what's coming next....I woke up on Christmas with a scratchy throat.  Double ugh.  Time to power through - it's Christmas morning!  Nate was super excited to see his toys and Chelsea got a kick out of the chaos.  We enjoyed time opening presents at home before going to Grandma's house for brunch and Grandpa's house for dinner.  A fun day.  A tiring day.

I had to work the day after Christmas with a flow-blown cold.  Not fun.  The fiscal year was about to end and, as a bookkeeper, I had a million things to do.  Looking back on it, I wish I would have planned ahead and taken Christmas week off from work.  Now that the kids are getting older, it would be nice to be with them for the entire holiday week.  

On Friday, we headed south to Newport Beach to visit with family. It was a really nice day visiting with family we don't get to see often enough.

Chelsea gave us a nice Christmas gift -- she started walking!  She had taken a few steps here and there during the previous month but she seemed a little nervous about walking then.  By late December, she felt more confident and -- boom -- took off without looking back.  That's my girl!

The rest of December is a blur...I closed out the fiscal year and was home from work on New Years Eve by 5pm so we were able to eat dinner and drive a few blocks to see our city's entry in the Rose Parade.  There weren't many people at the warehouse, which made it intimate and fun.  I think Lee was impressed with the scale of the float and the flowers.  You really do have to see the floats in person to appreciate all of the work that goes into them.  Nate was really interested in seeing the float the next morning on tv so we watched the parade and ate our traditional New Years donuts (Chelsea's first donut!)  It was a beautiful New Years day.

And that's the end of December.  What a great month.  I had so much fun with my kiddos and we made some great memories together.  The sick part wasn't the best but it comes with the territory and we tried to roll with in.  We feel very blessed to end 2013 this way.  I'm excited to see what 2014 has in store for us.....



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Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Called It!

Remember how I predicted this would happen??


Yes, that is one of my Ikea cardboard "ornaments."  Miss Chelsea has eaten the tops off of 3 ornaments and pulled countless others off of the Christmas tree.  But -- it doesn't bother me one bit.  We're suppose to enjoy the tree with all of our senses, so why not add taste to that list???

Here's how the tree turned out:


I really think this might be my favorite tree we've ever decorated. There are the Ikea ornaments, paper gingerbread men that Nate and I made, ornaments Nate made at school and a few sentimental favorites.  All of that has created a colorful, festive tree.  I love it so much.  We have it lit every day from 7am until Lee and I go to bed. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

November

Wait, did November even happen?  Because at Halloween, I blinked and suddenly it's December 3rd.  What a blur.  Am I the only one to feel this way?  The end of the year goes into hyper speed and I don't like it. 


Chelsea had her first ride on the Griffith Park Carousel. 
It's a rite of passage in our house.  






I think Nate isn't particularly happy that Chelsea gets to play with his "younger" toys that I've been saving in the garage.  I hear "hey, that's mine" a lot.  He pushes her around the yard in this police car a tad too aggressively....oh boy.






The ONLY good think about living near an airport is that on holidays such as Veterans Day, you get to see some pretty cool planes fly above your house.





Old house meets new paint.  Yippee!  We went from terrible tan (I guess that's what it was) to gorgeous gray.  I channeled my inner-gardener and prettied up the front too.  Isn't that bench divine?  My talented hubby made it for me.  We needed a place for kiddos to remove their sand-filled shoes after school.  Love it!





The nice thing about gray walls is that
 it makes a nice backdrop for portraits!





Our new backyard adventure: T-Ball!







Turkey Day!  







Man boils oil.  Man slowly lowers turkey into hot oil.  
Turkey cooks in 45 minutes. Best. Turkey. Ever.







New fried turkey fans.






We made a "thankful" tree and added leaves to it every night to show that, even when you're having a not-so-hot day, there's always stuff to be grateful for.  The leaves said things like: Churros, running water, our health, playing baseball, family time, Jesus, etc. Nate's pointing to his favorite leaf that said Darth Vader and Samurai.  Oh-kay....






Here's a preview of how I'll be decorating my toddler-friendly Christmas tree this year.  I found cardboard drink coasters at Ikea that resemble Christmas bulbs (99 cents for 10).  Thanks to my trusty hole punch, I now have unbreakable ornaments!  Chelsea will still probably put them in her mouth -- I wonder what Swedish cardboard tastes like??

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

October

I'm not doing a very good job at writing these monthly posts in a timely manner.  November is coming up!  Oops.

The big story in October was obviously the 1st birthday of Miss Chelsea Cook.  As per tradition, we had a relatively low-key birthday party with just immediate family.  It was a warm day so we ate hamburgers outside and (thankfully) Chelsea made a mess of her cake outside too.  

Halloween was not our typically Autumn holiday this year.  We did attend a fun Halloween carnival at Nate's school and did other Halloween type things but for the actual holiday, we were in Las Vegas!  I know, I know.  Not exactly what you'd think of for a kid-centered holiday.  But we made it as family-friendly as possible with our friends and their kids (a total of 6 under 5 1/2 years old). The trip was less about the location and more about us all being together at a resort where we could entertain the kids in the pool. Too bad the water was on the chilly side! 

Party clothes for the birthday girl.




Spice cake with pale pink buttercream frosting.  I was trying to be creative with the design and it turned out kinda weird.  I do like my Lisa Leonard "Happy Birthday" pewter decoration.  It'll be a new tradition for family birthdays.


Present time.




This was Chelsea's first time having something truly sugary and I wasn't sure if she'd like it (she doesn't like fruit.  Go figure).  Anyway, I was going to give her a small portion but everyone encourage me to give her a bigger piece.  Girlfriend went bonkers for that cake!  She ate the entire piece that was bigger than any other piece I served the adults.  It went all over her clothes as you can see.  We had to hose off her chair and change her clothes.   Flies kept landing on her cake-covered hands.  It was pretty gross.



Chelsea and Grandpa play with her new toys




Chelsea is a little afraid of tall Uncle Eric.  Nate was too.  He got over it.




One of the school projects this year is that each child gets to bring home Corduroy for the weekend (the plush bear from the Don Freeman classic book of the same name).  Nate was SO excited when it was his turn.  Corduroy watched a Dodgers playoff game, went to Home Depot and Griffith Park, and helped us plant some lettuce in our garden.  The collage above was what we added to the binder that was returned to school after the weekend and Nate had to give a brief "talk" to the class about his time with Corduroy.






A few weeks after I washed her birthday outfit (thank you Tide Spray!  You performed a miracle), I put it back on Chelsea for a little birthday photo shoot.  She wasn't particularly cooperative and I couldn't find a decent background with adequate lighting so this is what I got.  Not bad.






Knight Nate dressed up for the school Halloween carnival





 Nate played every game they had.  It was fun to see him interested in that part of it.







All packed and ready for the 4-hour drive to Vegas.  We rented a crib for Chelsea when we got there.  That saved us a lot of space!








And inside the car, Nate is all ready for a movie marathon.  I seriously think this is his favorite part of traveling.  Poor Chelsea gets stuck being bored for 4 hours.  She slept about 20 minutes on the way there -- she is not a car sleeper.








Woo hoo, we made it!








Swimming in the lazy river with Daddy.  Would have been perfect if it had been about 10 degrees warmer outside.







Because Nate is interested in Egypt and King Tut, we visited the Luxor hotel.







At The Bass Pro Shop, the Cook men compared facial hair with the Robertson Clan.







Family photo at Bass Pro Shop.  This was our last stop before we headed back home.