Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas in PB

My Christmas Eve/Day was spent in Poplar Bluff this year - the first time I've been away from Springfield on Christmas in many years.   Since our Gasaway family Christmas is always the weekend before or after the actual holiday, I always let Jace's dad have his preference of when Jace is with him on Christmas.  That way they can make all of their visits to Jace's family on his dad's side.  One of the traditions that Dave and I had started in recent years was to take the boat out on the lake - always beautiful to be out on the water, in the warm enclosed boat cabin, enjoying the peaceful lake on Christmas Day.  This year, knowing that I wouldn't want to be alone on Christmas, I decided that I would make plans to spend the weekend with my grandparents and parents, in Poplar Bluff.   And it was SUCH a nice way to spend the holiday!

Brian made the trip with me on Friday morning, but drove separately so he could head home on Saturday afternoon for his family's Christmas that evening.  We arrived early Friday afternoon, and just relaxed and visited with my grandparents and parents, before we all headed to dinner at a local Italian restaurant.

Later that evening, we headed over to my cousin Krista and David's home for a bit, to visit with them.  They were getting ready for their big annual Christmas Eve party - but since Brian would be gone by Saturday night, I wanted him to meet them while he was still there.  On Saturday morning I got up bright and early to see if Grandpa wanted to have an early breakfast at his favorite hangout, Myrtle's.

Grandpa and me - ready for breakfast

Grandpa is a well known community member in Poplar Bluff and at Myrtle's, a cafe in historic downtown Poplar Bluff.  I've enjoyed going with him a few times over the last several years  (although he loves to rib me and say that it is mainly because one of  the younger law enforcement guys once thought I was about 22 or 23, wearing my baseball cap one morning.  I was 35+ at the time, so yes, I did enjoy that compliment!)  But it really is just enjoyable to go with Grandpa and get to see him interact with all of the folks he knows in Poplar Bluff.  He grew up in PB, and then later came back in the 90s to serve as city manager for several years.  I'm very proud to be his granddaughter, and just like to spend time with him around others.   My dad and Brian joined us for breakfast at Myrtle's, and then we went home and picked up Mom and Grandmother to head to second breakfast at Perkins.

Before Brian left on Saturday we looked around Poplar Bluff a bit, while picking up the Saturday newspaper for Grandpa.  I thought to grab my camera as we headed out the door, but didn't bring my long lens or my tripod - will remember that next time, never know when or where you might find a good photo.  Brian spotted an old railroad bridge, and we headed down to park closer to it so I could take some photos.

When we got home Grandpa said he had some other buildings and landmarks that he would like me to get some photos next time I visited..   I  enjoyed a quiet afternoon at my grandparents, and then we headed  to their church for the candlelight Christmas Eve service.  

Hanging with my cousins

The Christmas Eve gathering afterwards at Krista and David's was lots of fun - I got to catch up with them, and also my cousin Kyle.  I had seen them all when Grandpa had his heart surgery, but it was good to see them in much better circumstances.  There were also some relatives on their side of the family that I hadn't seen in years.   And Dad, Mom and my grandparents all stayed for quite awhile and enjoyed the festivities - although Dad was ready to go to bed towards the end of the evening, and not enamored with my efforts to capture our photo on my phone!

Me & my dad - say cheese!
Sunday morning Grandmother fixed us breakfast, with some yummy cinnamon rolls, apple strudel, fruit, orange juice and of course, coffee.  I always bring my own coffee to brew, and this weekend was no exception - they know I want to enjoy my Sinless Pastry even when I'm not at home!  We sat around the table in our comfy clothes and visited for awhile and then I leisurely packed to hit the road and head home to Springfield.

It was a great weekend, and I was so glad to be able to spend the holiday with them - Grandpa and Grandmother always join us for Gasaway Christmas in St. Clair, but it was nice to be with them at their home and spend some time catching up.  Grandmother said we should make it a tradition, and I may just do that, if they'll have me!

Now I'm finishing up this post while in the car with Jace, Brian and Brian's 3-year-old Daniel, headed to our family Christmas in St. Clair.  All of us siblings have been texting back and forth this morning, getting each other's ETA at the ranch.  The weather is gorgeous, and all of the nephews (and niece) will be able to enjoy spending time inside AND outside - pretty nice plan, for late December.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm Ready, I'm Ready!

Christmas is almost here, and I'm ready!  I mean, I'm definitely ready, as far as being in the Christmas spirit.  I love the holidays, and one of the biggest thrills for me is getting together with my entire family - Jace and I always look forward to that.  But as far as actually being prepared, I'll admit it - most of the time I'm a last minute shopper. Not as bad as some folks, who are out shopping the night before.  But most years I'm still trying to juggle my budget, shopping trips and lists down to the last few days before Christmas... and since my family doesn't do our big Christmas at my folks until the weekend AFTER Christmas, you can often find me buying presents for my nephews and niece that week between Christmas and New Year's. But not this year, and here's the evidence:

Look at all those presents under the tree!  All wrapped and ready to go, with just two final items to buy this week.  This is the first year I've been this early, and I'm a little afraid a certain 13 year-old will consider a week's time is fair game for him to shake (and maybe even peek) at his gifts to see if he can figure out what Santa is bringing him.   And in addition to having almost all my gifts purchased, I am also getting my Christmas cards out early!    Early for me, that is - most years I end up sending a "Happy New Years" photo card out, but this year's are going out this week.

I'd love to say I've discovered the secret to being incredibly organized this year, and I could share some juicy tips with all of you about HOW I did it - but it is really just a combination of a few things.  One of the best things was that financially, I had some extra cash this year from a change in policy and one-time payout on accumulated sick time at work.  So that money made it easy to go ahead and purchase everything without pulling money from savings or worrying about how much was allotted from each check over the past six weeks.

As for my Christmas cards, I was able to finish them earlier than usual because I wasn't trying to get a family picture at Thanksgiving.  Instead, my friend Eric took photos of me and Jace in the park, back in early November.  So that gave me plenty of time to pick out which photos to use and make a trip to Walgreens to make my cards.  Thank you again, Eric!

Here was one of the photos that I used on the card:

We had so much fun with the photos, and my 13-year-old still let me be all affectionate with him, which was great.  I used four photos on this year's card - it had been way too long since I've had any photos of us taken; I won't let it go that long again.

Let's see - back to Christmas prep...  another big piece of my early Christmas preparation has been that I'm dating the #1 biggest fan of Christmas. Brian absolutely loves Christmas, and all the traditions that go along with it… the guy had his tree up before Thanksgiving! He is just like a kid about the holidays, and is so excited to make the holiday special for his 3-year-old… and that kind of excitement is pretty contagious.

Since he enjoys shopping, we’ve made a couple of trips down to the outlet mall and Branson Landing over the past several weeks. Our first trip was to meet my grandparents for dinner, and then to get a couple of photos for my homework project. I did manage to take some shots of the fountain that night, but I wanted to try again with a tripod. So we headed down last weekend, and I was much happier with the results. The fountain is always gorgeous at night, and the Christmas lights and music were so festive - this was one of my favorite evenings in a long time.

Fire and water show, on the hour

In addition to capturing the fountain, I also had fun with getting a photo of us - I'm sure I was a hoot to watch, running back and forth to hit the 10 second timer and then get back in place in time!  But this was one of my favorite shots:

Tonight I'm going to hear a Christmas concert by Mosaic, the group I used to sing with at another church here in town.   I am excited to be going to Poplar Bluff for Christmas, but was a little disappointed that I would miss our church's Christmas Eve candlelight service, one of my favorite Christmas traditions each year.  Apparently our church has heard that sentiment from a few folks, so they are having one this Thursday, as well.   I'm looking forward to taking Jace, it is always a very emotional service, makes everyone remember and give thanks for what we're really celebrating.

So c'mon Christmas, hurry up and get here - I'm ready for you!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Freeze Frame!

I finished my 8 week photography class last week, and hated to see it come to an end.  I forgot how much I like being in class and learning about something... all the more when it is something for fun, like this.  I made some friends in the class, and learned so much.    Our instructor was interesting, and many of things I had already started reading about and trying to learn - exposure, F-stop, shutter speed, metering and more - made so much more sense after the class.  And the best part was that as I worked on my homework project, I started to better understand my camera and what I had to do to get each shot - putting my new found knowledge into practice felt great.

My camera - didn't go with the more known
Nikon or Canon, but I love my Sony... Just bought
a new (longer) lens - and my wish list keeps growing!

I've quickly come to realize that this could be a very expensive hobby, as I learned about more and more accessories (lenses, filters, and gadgets) that I need (want) to have in order to take better photographs.   We drew names for our family gift exchange at Thanksgiving, and my grandmother got my name.  Normally my M.O. with gifts is "just surprise me"...  I'm not picky, and getting me anything to do with books, music, coffee, wine, or a variety of things will make me happy.  And it is fun to open the present and be surprised.  But not this year - when we saw my grandparents that Friday night for dinner, I told my grandmother that I would make it easy for her this year, as I already knew what I wanted for Christmas.   With that in mind, I'm buying my tripod later this week - yay!   I'll be taking it home for family Christmas at the end of this month, set it up to take a family portrait, and THEN put it under the tree for the gift exchange.  Merry Christmas to me!

Our class homework was a scavenger hunt - taking 10 photographs of specific items/types, using totally manual settings, ISO 400, no flash and no editing (other than basic cropping) after the fact.   I wish I could say I started early on the project; but honestly, the first five weeks we were still learning about the different components.  I just really didn't feel like I had the tools to really take the photos.  I was worried I was totally behind, but everyone felt the same way - that we weren't ready until the last few weeks.   So I bit the bullet over Thanksgiving and took them over the final two weeks of class - and really, the last few were taken in the two days before class (perhaps I should remember this when I chastise Jace for procrastinating on school projects - the apple may not fall far from the tree).

Here's my first photograph:

My holiday weakness...

Ok, this photo wasn't really one of the assignments.  But I loved it... I took it over Thanksgiving at my parents.  Guilty confession - I have already enjoyed my first bag of Candy Cane Hershey Kisses this holiday season.  Now I'm on a rationing program - one of my staff members at work has my stash, and gives me five kisses per day.   Desperate times call for desperate measures, folks.  :)

On to the real homework photos:

SCENIC:  Tree at my folks' house

WATER:  Fountains at Branson Landing

STATUE/NIGHT: This photo of a 
reindeer at Branson Landing worked 
for both statue and night, 
two of the ten shots.

ANIMAL:  Cinco, my mom's horse
(the blue cast is because of the blue sky
and shade - realized afterwards that 

I should have adjusted my white 
balance to cut out theblue tones;
 lesson learned for future!)

MOTION:  Jace in action - this looks cool, but isn't
 really what I wanted... this was one photo that I really had
trouble with - I think capturing motion will be much
easier with a tripod, rather than trying to hold the camera
still when using a slow shutter speed.


PORTRAIT:  One of my favorite shots...
I took this while home for Thanksgiving....
 loved this one of nephew Sam!

FIRE:  Just a simple shot of a votive 

SELF PORTRAIT:   Taken with camera on
a bar stool, 2 second timer ...  (colors

on this photo were much better, but
compressing it to upload to the blog
made it much "brighter"... ?)

Scrolling back up through these, I realize I've critiqued half of them, stating what I didn't like, what I'd do different, etc.  And I realize that's just part of it - I'm learning, and I need to remember that.  I did love some of my photos, especially the one of Sam and the one of the fountain at the Landing.  We all brought our photos on the last night of class and displayed them so other students and our instructor could see them.  I was happy to see that I wasn't far off from most of the others, as far as beginning shots.  And I got some great ideas from others' photos and how they captured some of their images.

I'm buying my tripod tomorrow, and then Brian and I are heading back down to the Landing after doing some shopping at the outlet malls.  I'm excited about trying some of the night shots again, I want to see what I can do with a slow shutter, with the camera more stable.

Happy Friday to all, hope you have a great weekend - AND, you're further along on Christmas shopping than I am!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Family Thanksgiving 2011

This year's Thanksgiving at my folks' house was the first one in many years that we all fit around one table, and didn't have a second table full of people in the other room. With only 12 people, it was a small gathering, but we still had a great weekend.   We missed having Tara, Ann and Thomas and their families with us - it was just me, Susan, Rob and our families - well, it was just me and my two dogs, since Jace spends Thanksgiving each year with his dad and their family.  Landon and Payton always miss seeing him at Thanksgiving, but it is nice knowing that we'll all be together a month later for Christmas.

I've been hard at work completing my homework assignment for my last photography class tonight.  After it is finished, I will post my ten photos on here as well!  In the meantime, I want to get this post done, but it will be skimpy on the storytelling... the photos of our family turkey day will have to tell their own story:

The Z boys and their dog, Daisy

Payton in action

Run, Payton, run!

A rare smile for the camera from Miss Eva!

Ole JCrew , as I like to call Ron,
with his catalog model good looks...


More wrestlin' (had to put two photos - one with each
of them getting the best of the other...)

On the phone with Tara, as we prepare
to eat Thanksgiving dinner...

Zartman Family - I got to play
photographer this year!

Yes, Dad, we know -  it is "only coffee" in your
cup... the deacons at church will never know 

any different!  :)