Friday, December 30, 2011

Crocheted Angry Birds hats

I finished these Angry Birds hats for the kids just in time (or, in barely enough time---Kenneth was laughing at me for bringing my "knitting," as he called it, to the basketball game with me) for Christmas.  I spent much time gazing at image searches, pulling out and re-working eyes and beaks, and trying to make each one look just right.  In accordance with their favorites, Abe is the bomb birdie, Seb is the red birdie, and Malachi is the tiny blue birdie.  Daisy got the yellow bird because she would have been sad if she didn't have one, and Junie got the tiny piggy because I thought, doted on by her brothers as she is, she was safest from actual bombardment.  Let us hope that optimistic assessment proves accurate.

I herewith mark this occasion, as probably the last time I will make something for them which fits within the magic trifecta of being something
a.) they like
b.) their friends also think is cool
and c.) I don't disapprove of.
We will enjoy it while we can!

(with beanbag bird from Kenneth and Sheila)

Patient gaze

Oh, what a sweet baby!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Build a bridge out of her!

I overheard Sebastian saying to some little friend of his at a party the other day, "Do you know what a span is?  It's the section between two supports of a bridge."  I hope he really wowed her with this statement, but I don't imagine it's exactly the sort of thing that will win him lots of friends.  It is exactly the sort of thing he likes to talk about, however.  It is partially attributable to our reading lots of books about bridges lately, and I also (and perhaps this will prove to have been a grave misjudgement on my part?) showed him some videos of "Galloping Gertie," which I recalled fondly from various physics classes over the years.  This has inspired Seb to new heights, and he has been filling the house with architectural renderings, some of which I have collected here for your enjoyment.  Here is the "Monken Gate Bridge" under construction, above.

As you can see in this close-up view, the supports are formed in the shape of monkeys.
It supports a busy roadway

Here's a shot looking down the length of the bridge.  A marvel of engineering!

But . . . oh no!  What's this?  The engineer did not take the phenomenon of resonance into account!  Torsion waves are beginning to rock the bridge!  The middle span is beginning to fail!  A car (containing, sadly, a small dog---but no people, thankfully!) plummets toward the water below!

This picture (entitled by Sebastian, on the back, "TOTAL COLLAPSE") shows suspension cables twisted and dangling as the roadway disappears under the water, more cables raining down along with the actual rain, and only the two main supports remaining in this terrible storm.  If you think this is scary, you should see the dramatic re-enactments using actual blocks and toy cars.  Harrowing!

I don't know if all this means that he's going to be an engineer . . . or that he should never be an engineer.  Perhaps someone wiser can enlighten me.  I do know that I am always excited to see what he's going to draw next! :)

Christmas Village

Just in time for your holiday festivities (next year), I'm pleased to inform you of a fun place to see Christmas lights: the Christmas Village in downtown Ogden.  I had read about it and we decided to give it a try, and we loved it.  I love Christmas lights of any sort, really, but this was extra good---much better than the drive-through scaffolding-lights at Thanksgiving Point, which gave me a sort of "isn't-this-cheating?" sort of feeling the year we saw them (a few years ago, admittedly, so maybe they're better now)---and certainly as good as the Temple Square lights, which, though always beautiful and enjoyable to see, have been kind of sparse lately (haven't they?).

At this Ogden Christmas Village, basically there are a bunch of tiny houses decorated with lights on the outside, and little scenes inside.  You walk around and peek into the houses to see what's inside---many of them show elves doing Christmas-y things like building toys, but there's lots of variety.  I think each house is sponsored by a business or city department, so sometimes they are themed around that---Fireman elves in a fire station, for example, or elves eating in an ice cream parlor.  Some are animatronic (is that the word I want?) and some are more like detailed dioramas.  Sam said it was just like a parade, but better because you could go at your own pace and get close-up views of all the "floats."  We loved the house that held hundreds of tiny nutcrackers, and the one with dozens of stuffed bears sitting around a fireplace, and the one with elves throwing snowballs at each other.  The kids thought it was just magical.  They loved climbing up on the little steps and peering through the windows to see what they could see.  And it was such a fun, Christmas-y atmosphere---hot chocolate for sale, and a few firepits for warmth, and a little snow falling.  We want to go again next year!  (Here is where I read about it, by the way.)
Seb liked the railroad arms, of course

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Random Thursday thoughts

Golden Gate Bridge
∙ Have I talked about how Daisy is exactly like her brothers?  People keep telling me how different raising girls is from raising boys, but so far it's almost laughably similar.  All day long, Daisy comes running to me saying, "Will you come see my thing?" which is, of course, what her brothers say when they've built something they want to show off.  I asked her what she'd built in the picture above, and she told me "the Golden Gate Bridge".  As you can see there's one car driving on it. :)  She was quite pleased with herself.

∙ Another "thing" someone built (Sebby, I think).  Everything is so meticulously placed, and each part means something---I think this was a city of some kind? but I can't remember)---and the boys have to tell me what each part is and how it works, and I just wish they didn't get out every single tiny thing available to them, but they do.  Of course they do.  [What is that monkey in the bucket? I wish I knew.]

Junie and Balunie
∙ We ate at Brick Oven in Provo awhile ago and the Balloon Man made balloons for all the kids.  Malachi asked for "a pink baby Juniper," and the man obliged (he even drew clouds on her little balloony suit to match the real Junie).  It was very lifelike, as you can see, and made me wonder if there is a market for balloon family portraits? "Capture childhood's fleeting moments in Latex?"

∙ I feel like the "child-playing-with-nativity-set" image is a popular sentimental favorite this time of year---usually some soft-focus vignette showing how the child has carefully positioned all the figures around Baby Jesus, or some such heartwarming scene.  What these depictions leave out is the 1,000 other arrangements in which the child also places the nativity set.  The other day ours had a sheep on top of the stable, the angel and the donkey standing companionably inside, and Baby Jesus consigned to distant reaches under the couch.  I tried without success to imagine some heartwarming reason for that arrangement.  Then, later, there was this:

It comes of having too many people who have too many of their own ideas about things.  I try to discourage any such independent ideas but nobody ever listens to me. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Christmas Chronicles

One of the best things about having been a family for all these years now (ten and a half) is that we are starting to have lots of our very own traditions.  I love it.  I love looking forward to things "we always do," and hearing the kids talk about them excitedly to each other.

Something new for this year is that we've been listening to The Christmas Chronicles on KBYU, and I can already tell it's going to be something we want to do every year.  I think we'll buy the audiobook, but for now the episodes are online so we can fit them in between all the other things we have going on.

It's a story by local author Tim Slover (he came and spoke to one of my English classes one time at BYU---we studied a story of his I like a lot, called "Jim of Provo," based on the story of Job in the Bible.  He also wrote the play "Joyful Noise" about Handel's writing of Messiah; perhaps you've seen it?) about the history and origins of Santa Claus.  It is simply delightful.  Funny, interesting, moving, witty---we are loving it.  Abraham is so involved in the story, he can hardly stand the waits between episodes, but Sebby loves it too and even Malachi seems quite captivated.  I highly recommend it!  There are 8 segments of about a half-hour each, so it takes some time to listen to, but I guarantee you'll be wanting to stay up late to hear "just one more" once you get started (especially if you have hot chocolate to drink while you listen!).

And just for a bonus, here are some totally gratuitous and unjustified shots of various elves and Christmas dresses.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Texture

A few more thoughts on this slipping away of Fall (December will never be Fall to me).  It struck me again this year how important texture becomes at this time of year.  We feel it intuitively (everyone starts liking things like velvet and burlap for their decorating, right?) but I wonder if it's more that there are more textures around us, or just that we notice them more?  When the variables of color are taken away, maybe our eyes just become more discerning---the same way when you're putting a puzzle together, all the sky pieces appear indistinguishable at first, but after staring at them for long enough they begin to sort themselves into gradients and differing shades until you wonder how you ever missed the differences.

It's almost like I've been staring at some truth all Summer and only as Fall fades into Winter does that truth  suddenly spring into sharp relief, formerly smooth and uninteresting platitudes suddenly revealing themselves to me in all their terrifying complexity: "Time quickens as you age;" "Youth is wasted on the young;" "Life is short."  When the colors fade, suddenly I can see the textures---and they are beautiful, but certainly many-layered, complicated, harder to classify.  Unsettling.  Which is maybe why I want so desperately to BE settled in the winter, to pull in, to gather myself, to let my thoughts run their long winding courses through the long cold nights, to keep my family close and safe.

There's a song Abe's choir sings right now, a Manx Lullaby, where the mother sings over her baby: "Oh hush thee my dove, oh hush thee my rowan, oh hush thee my lapwing, my little brown bird.  Oh fold thy wings, and seek thy nest now, Oh shine the berry on the bright tree.  The bird is home from the mountain and valley."  I want to fold my wings over my little birds and keep them warm, and I will---but I see the complexities of it too, see how temporary and how small our little nest is against the many-layered world.  And even, I see how it's best that way.  But it doesn't stop me wanting to freeze things just how they are now: the golden air and the glow on the horizon, sending sparks of light over those bright little heads.
I didn't understand that line "Oh shine the berry on the bright tree" until I saw this tree.  It was completely covered with yellow berries, like little bright coals.  It was unbelievable.  I couldn't get close enough to capture it sufficiently with the camera, but the effect of all those tiny berries en masse was staggering.

You can kind of see them here, maybe, if you click to enlarge

I love the textures in the pond here---the layers formed by the different thicknesses of ice, and then overlaid with reflected trees--sky--clouds.  Layers upon layers.

There is color here, especially in the light, but since the colors are all so similar, each variation is exaggerated, and the overall effect is still depth.

Another berry tree.  Red this time.

Berry clusters against sky

You would think the lighter parts would be easier to see here, but it's actually the shadowed areas that seem to hold more information.  Again the details come out when the contrasts are lower.

Those furry grasses show up on the picture almost like sunflares: hazy and glowing, like they were transposed onto our eyes by some magical effect and not through mundane reality.

These reds have a brave, desperate quality to them: holding on against the inevitable end 

Back-lit, these grasses turn into feathers, or wings

Velvet-textured seed pods, rimmed with gold

More glowing sparks: luminous pussywillow-lookalikes here, almost translucent in the last rays of light

Reluctance

Melissa reminded me of this poem last year and I've had it on my mind all season long.  I tend to be melodramatic (inside my own head) (or do I mean melancholic?) anyway, and it only gets worse when the seasons change.  I was watching my little bears and birdies running around in this short-lived liquid-gold light, feeling like I could watch them running right out of childhood before my very eyes.  I felt so contented and yet so sad at the same time: "Why does it all have to go so quickly?"  That flash of brilliance before the sunset in winter is so short!  If you turn your back you'll miss it---and I have too many days where I do turn my back, busy with futures and unknowns and perceived immediacies, too distracted for the actual immediacy of the moment.

I like the way Frost puts it, though, with his usual brevity.  This is more than the usual "enjoy-what-you-have-while-you-have-it" chiding; he fully acknowledges the loss that accompanies a change of season.  But yet he reminds us that when we cling to the past, we aren't really preserving a colorful, living reality---we're clinging to a dead world, to something that is actually already gone.  I can't help but sense some religious angst here as well---the man "descending" back to earth like a fallen God, the allusion to Christ's "it is finished," the subordination of grace to the cold hard hand of reason.  But I think for me the poem is more of a reminder that accepting the end of something is also acknowledging a beginning.  No need to cling to the dry stalks of things gone when there are new things preparing to emerge, gestating under the seemingly dead surfaces.  Better to "yield," as Frost says, to the natural progression of things.  I don't think "the heart still aching to seek"  needs to STOP seeking---but it must learn where to seek, and that's in the future, not the past.

Reluctance
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm going to build this when I get home

One of my favorite things about my boys is their insatiable need to build things.  Every time---and I mean every time---we go anywhere remotely out-of-the-ordinary, they start saying (before we've even left the place), "Ooh, I'm going to build this when I get home!"  I love it because it results in them playing such funny, interesting, creative things; and because it shows such genuine enjoyment of and interest in what we're doing.  Every activity feels "worth it," because we're experiencing it not just once but multiple times. :)  

Anyway, this love of re-creation is how the carwash obsession got started (they wanted to build their own carwashes after going to a real one with Grandma) and it has led to them building everything from tumbling gyms to Squaw Peak to Disneyland to pendulums to doctor's offices to swimming pools to temples to the Red Barn/Pumpkin Patch.  

They use the blocks constantly, but they also build with anything else that's to hand (unfortunately, now that they are tall and can climb on chairs, everything is "to hand") and they build in any scale: fwuffball size, monkey size, boy size.  Sebby likes to build something on the block table and then climb up to the top bunk (in the other room) and say, "I can see it from the 'Y'!"  Anyway, I love seeing what they build.  (Even though I am sometimes roused from my bed on Saturday mornings to come admire.)  Sebby, particularly, has such attention to detail and he uses so many creative building materials that he genuinely amazes me with his re-creations.

Here are a couple of Sebastian's recent "Monkey San Francisco"s.  (Monkey San Francisco is much like the real one,  with a few additions, and name changes such as the "Monken Gate Bridge.")