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Sunday Morning Mardi Gras Magic

I know what you think.

You think it’s not for you, this Mardi Gras thing.  Maybe you don’t see yourself as much of a drinker.  Maybe you’re a little put-off by the whole girls-gone-wild thing; you weren’t the type to want to do Spring Break in South Beach even when you were in college.  So you figure that Mardi Gras isn’t for you.  And also?  That city?  New Orleans?  Well, you saw the pictures and heard the stories and it’s a mess.  You can’t figure out why people would even want to live there, let alone visit.

You’ve thought at least some of those things, I feel certain.  I fully admit that until I moved here, I thought THE VERY SAME THING.  Actually, both Paul and I did.  And now we can say that we were very wrong.

New Orleans is an absolutely fantastic place to be, especially during Carnival season — and especially for families.  As an example, here is our family, enjoying parades this past Sunday morning.  Music, laughter, conversation, floats, horses, football, dancers, prizes, and of course, beads.

Krewes of Okeanos, Mid-City, and Thoth.  Vantage on Magazine Street.

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What we missed today.

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Unbridled avarice… but done relatively neatly.

Wow. We told the kids that they could not dive into the holiday bounty until we gave the go ahead… and they listened.

(Please forgive the unfinished touches of the room. Have a mentioned that we’re in year 5 of renovation on our 100+ year old house… wait, I have? Well, don’t I get to use that excuse for at least a decade or so? Or at least get some reprieve because it’s Christmas?)

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Paul and I were exhausted. Presents had been stock-piled far away from child eyes for weeks — Will has developed an “exploration” habit — because we couldn’t risk a security breach. So, it was a last minute effort to pull it all together. The effort would have come off without a hitch, had Kate’s tea cart come with both a right side and a left side. Instead, it was equipped with two left sides and a nice note on the receipt asking buyers to please return the items by December 15th if there were problems. The item? It’s no longer available on the seller’s website.

This is yet another reason why doing Christmas shopping early is SO OVER-RATED. Next year, I am totally waiting until the last minute.

Here’s another behavioral surprise for the day: the kids also took turns giving out gifts and watching others open them. (With constant reminders, but still.)

I did manage a few surprises for Paul, despite his finding out about his Very Special Surprise, which I had worked for months to acquire. (By months, I mean reading a few internet articles and wiki forums.) So when he opened the awesome astronomy binoculars I researched and planned for, he was underwhelmed.

Wait. Why did I work so hard for weeks in advance?

BUT. I did surprise him with this little cutie. A piece by a local folk artist:

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It says:

“I loves you once
I loves you twice
I loves you more than
beans and rice”

Yea, you rite!

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Kate loved her surprises. A Belle dress from Will, dress-up box and Fancy-Nancy book from Nana, princess puzzle & bracelet from friends Dave, Shelly & Zoe, cute socks from Aunt Deb & Uncle Gary, games from Uncle Skip & Aunt Emily, toys from cousins Brayden & Maggie…. and CINDERELLA’S CASTLE from Santa.

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At it’s opening, I was expecting an ear-splitting scream, followed by a fainting episode. This didn’t quite happen, though she was definitely excited. Who wouldn’t be? The castle lights up. And plays music.

Really, we were all enthralled.

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Will’s interest in it was a bit different. He was looking closely for things to push later on, for the purposes of driving his sister crazy. A skill he is VERY adept at using.

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Also? There were one of a kind hand-made gifts!

Nana made a BEAUTIFUL matching sweater and hat!

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Gwen made felt SUPERHERO capes!

Super Will…. with his pants unbuttoned.

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And Super Kate, too.

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Holiday Photos and the Quest for Eerie Perfection.

Picture-portraits have been a key part of our holidays for the past few years.  Specifically, I take holiday portraits for families as a fundraiser for our beloved preschool.  There is always a little craziness around it — what is the best way to give families the most options of photographs, what to charge that makes enough money for the school to be worthwhile without being out of reach, how to minimize the amount of one-on-one coordination and money collecting, and so on.  This year, I think we struck gold in the set-up: weekend portraits scheduled in back-to-back 15-20 minute time slots over a few hours.  Families come, sit, have pictures made, and leave.  For a set fee, I send out one favorite JPG with all the bells and whistles of color enhancing, teeth whitening and booger removal.  The money goes right to the school, and each family gets a photo for their holiday cards.

Sounds simple, right?

Right, except that *I* am involved… and nothing I do is ever simple.  Part of the problem is me, myself.  I live to please and I love to photograph… a dangerous combination.

And then there is the insecurity around my inability to guarrantee THAT photograph.

You know what I’m talking about.  THAT photograph is the one every family wants.  It’s the one that you want.  It’s the one that I want.  The one where you and all your kin sit around looking lovely.  Everyone is looking into the camera.  Everyone is smiling their nicest, brightest smile.  It’s PERFECT, THAT photograph.  Eerily… perfect.

It’s not that it is always impossible.  THAT picture is much more likely once all kids are older and sort of get that it is in their best interest to look their bright and shiny best for photographs.

But when they are little?

It is even a realistic expectation?  And further, should it be?

Yeah, I can get that adorable little child to smile for a fraction of a second and be ready to capture it with my shutter… but I’ll promise you dollars to donuts that Mom or Dad or Sister Sue is talking, waving a hand, or closing their eyes at exactly the same time.  And we can fire photograph after photograph all day, but the bottom line is that kids can’t handle more than 10, maybe 15 minutes of posed portraits before they explode.  Literally, explode, right their in their parents laps.

The bottom line is that every moment of being a parent of a small child means, well, parenting that small child.  And the camera captures reality.  Not some eerily perfect moment with everyone doing exactly the same thing and looking in exactly the same direction and smiling their exactly the same perfect smiles in their perfectly beautiful matching outfits.  It sure looks pretty.  But our eyes know what families look like.  They are crazy and wonderful — arranging, calling, clapping, laughing, encouraging — all to make one moment of stillness and calm.   If it works and we see THAT picture, we know that there is something a little… surprising about it.  We wonder, How did they do that? How did they get that picture?  It looks pretty, but… what story does it tell?  And is the story it tells an authentic one?

I’m not sure it is.  Authentic.  How can it be when it comes from my shouting, LALALALALALALALA look heeeerrrrrrrrreeee babbbeeeeeee!  — MOM, EYES UP, DAD, DON’T TALK — LALALALALALA baaaaaabbbbbbeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!  And if I’m really lucky, this is combined with Paul in the background jumping up shouting PEAK A BOO from behind me.

All this, to get THAT photo.  It’s no wonder it looks eerie.

But still.  I work and work and work for THAT picture and beat myself up when it doesn’t happen.  I mean I really feel guilty.  I feel like it should be something I can do at will — that it should just HAPPEN.  I have the stuff… the toys in the bag, the comb and tissue and wet ones.  I have an eye to see when things are off and can fix them.  But still… I manage to capture reality.  I can’t seem to create that fleeting moment of eerie wonder that everyone wants.

And then?  I feel like I’ve let someone down.

Even with photographs of my own family.  Just look.

But.  Maybe.  Just Maybe…

… this is better?  Cheesy, yes, but gives a bit more personality…?


I mean, compared to this?

Don’t my children look miserable?  I mean, honestly, how can we expect them to SIT for FIVE SECONDS?  It’s no use bribing.

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That look below is suppose to be Will’s nice smile.  I will find a way to make him pay for this during his teenage years.  And where is Kate?  Also, might I consider getting a hair cut and touching up highlights more often than every 8 months?

Can you tell I’m running back and forth setting the timer on the camera?  (A remote trigger would be a nice touch, Santa.  Ahem.)

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So, maybe, instead, we should stick to this?

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It’s messier than the posed family shot, sure.  Personality over perfection.  Maybe I’ll feel better if I lead with my strengths?


With that, if I were to photograph you and your family — what would you want?  What do you look for in a photographer?  What kinds of photographs do you want after a sitting?  What do you expect to pay and what kind of flexibility do you want?  Is there such a thing as a good holiday photo that isn’t “perfect”?

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Giant Potatoes


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Rocking Teeth

Brushing teeth and combing hair is a total drag to kids.  I know this because it seems doing each regularly involves resistance.

Which is why, when Will screamed ‘nooooooo, noooooo, NOOOOOOOOO!!’ as I brushed his teeth last night, I assumed he was fighting my brushing.

“Will!  What is WRONG?”

“Mommmmmm!  You’ve stopped the concert and now everyone is LEAVING!”

Apparently, my brushing had interrupted his ROCKSTAR mirror concert.  Brought to the mirror by the ROCKSTAR hair I’d given him prior to the toothbrush interruption.

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Naturally, we had to remedy the situation by having a full-blown post-toothbrushing ROCKSTAR concert.

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Kate, too.


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Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

When I was a kid and my Grandparents worked for Disney, we were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to spend summers with them.  In the many, many times I’ve visited the parks, I had never been there for the fall and winter holidays.

When we went last spring during Mardi Gras, we decided to try to go during the kids’ fall break.  Lucky for us, the break coordinated with the Magic Kingdom’s Halloween celebration.  The park was beautifully decorated.  Even cast member costumes held subtle changes to reflect the fall season.

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The party is after-hours — and features special parade, fireworks, character greetings, dance parties, and trick-or-treating.  Costumes are encouraged.

Like we could say no to that!

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Take a moment of pause at my 5-year old sweetheart above, who DRESSED AS A WHITE RABBIT to support his sister’s costume.  Also?  He made his own clock.  And?  Let me draw a nose and whiskers.  I couldn’t stop looking at him all night, thinking that this is probably the last time he’ll willing put ears on his head.

Kate was over the moon.

It took a few seconds for folks in the crowd to take in our whole ensemble.  But when they did, we heard many, many compliments.  The kids were thrilled.

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We took a prime spot in the front of Cinderella’s castle for the Villian’s show (they take over the night) parade (featuring the Villians taking over Main Street) and then the Fireworks!

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See Paul and the kids below?

For the record, Disney parades are truly a spectacle.

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The fireworks, too, are amazing.  Some of the best (if not the best) I’ve ever seen.  (Including the 4th of July fireworks on the Mall in DC.)  I thought that this display was outstanding.  I loved the images flying up the castle, the music, and surprises of fireworks not only behind the castle, but coming up around Main Street — lighting up the entire park for a few seconds.

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We rode a few rides, too — including Alice’s Tea Cups (of course).  When we stumbled off the tea cups (the kids went crazy on that spinning), we ran smack into our dopplegangers!

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The Tweedles spent quite a bit of time playing with our caps, spinning the propellers, and straightening our ties before insisting on several different posed shots with us.  Cute, very very cute.

What a fantastic time to visit the Magic Kingdom!

Happy Halloween!

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Back to New Orleans.

Once you open a loaf of bread in New Orleans, you have approximately 15 minutes to devour it completely before the humidity sucks out all the soft goodness and turns it into a wheat rock.  What a loss of good bread.  Our solution?  Throw it into the freezer at minute 14 — just in the nick of time — and save it for the animals in the park.

Like this guy, who I think just heard us tell Kate not to eat the moldy bread because it was for the squirrels.


Today’s high was 81.  In September, a high of 81 means it was an absolutely perfect fall day.

Way too beautiful to spend the afternoon inside.  So we picked the kids up from school and brought them straight to the park for a picnic.

Is this squirrel sticking is tongue out at us?


If you’ve spent time in Audubon Park, you recognize these three.  They are the park social committee.  We like to think of them as Agnes, Edna, and Beatrice.  They squawk with British accents.


The wood ducks are back (my favorites).  Will referred to the swan that followed him around as “big guy,” as in, “I need more bread to feed the Big Guy.”


Will also played around with the Photovoice camera and asked if I could set it on a timed release “so that we can get some family pictures.”  Okay, Will.  He set the camera on the cooler and got to work.


He was very serious.  So serious that we had to capture the intensity.  For the record, Kate totally and completely listened to every darn word the kid said.


Paul and I are barely holding it together, just seconds away from exploding into hysterics.  The Kid is directing us to put our heads together.


See?  I wasn’t listening.  I was suppose to move closer.  Okay, Will.


What unfortunately isn’t easily seen in this picture is the underside of Will’s cast.  He took a marker and wrote “DAD MOM KATE” in a line on the inside of the cast.  Underneath he wrote WILL, except that he made the W upside-down.  So really, he wrote “MILL”.  When he realized the mistake (“Will, who’s ‘Mill?'”  “What?”  “Mill.  M-I-L-L.  On your arm.”) he laughed like a loon and then simply wrote his name (complete with W) underneath.  DAD MOM KATE MILL WILL.

If that doesn’t sum up the age of 5, I just can’t think of much more that can.  Awesomeness.


I humbly requested a photo of Kate and Will.  This is the only one where one of them isn’t lifting the other, picking a nose, or bent upside.  It also showed that I am the only photographer no one listens to.  Not that this was ever in doubt.


Happy fall day, New Orleans! So good to be home.


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Let them eat cloud!

Today is Bastille Day and, as one might expect for a French summer camp, there were school-related activities.  Sometime last week, Kate’s teacher sent home notes asking the students to wear costumes for Bastille Day for their party and parade.  Accordingly, I planned on not thinking about it until 8am this morning, roughly 30 minutes before leaving for school.

Thanks to a tu-tu stuck in the back of her closet, Kate was a cloud:

She is holding a Christmas ornament with a picture of herself in it at age 7 months.  I have no idea from where she took said ornament or why she insisted on posing with it this morning.

The white bracelet?  She made it at school last week.  I thought it gave her outfit just the right touch.

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While the bugs were biting…

… this is what we were doing.

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