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March 2009

Ruby Falls

Have you ever been to Ruby Falls? It's in Chattanooga, Tennessee, about 90 minutes from where we live now.

Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall. You take an elevator down and walk through the cave for about half a mile to get to the falls. It's a constant and pleasant 60 degrees down there, which makes it great to visit during the summer. Since it's a cave it's pretty dark, so I'll spare you most of the grainy, low lit photos I took - but I have a few highlights, like the Elephant's Foot. Skinny elephant, he'd be.

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This is one of my favorite formations - it looks like giant strips of bacon hanging from the ceiling of the cave.

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And here's another super healthy treat - tobacco leaves.

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Once you get down to the falls, they have the lights off so they can flip the switch and astound you. I've been to Ruby Falls several times in my life and I never tire of it.

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V loved it too. She's just now almost able to be patient enough to go on short tours like this. Almost. Fortunately, most of the people who had to listen to her constant comments (hmm, I think I could stand a cup of tea) were charmed.

She loved walking behind the falls and feeling the spray - it made her hair all curly.

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As you turn around to leave the falls, this is what you see. That silhouette is a guy pointing up in amazement.

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If you have a moment, tell me where your favorite natural attraction is in your home state. I love to read about cool places on the Internet, even if I can't always visit them in person.


Random thoughts

I think I may have spent more time outside than in today. V had two baths to wash off the mud. It was a good day, but my feet really hurt. We need chairs for outside.

We have a dogwood. It doesn't look very healthy. I need to see if there's anything I can do for it.

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I've unpacked a lot of the kitchen, but there's so much more to do. There aren't enough hours in the day - or I need too much sleep. Yeah, that's it.

We also have violets scattered throughout the backyard. Oh how I love violets.

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This house is bigger and grander than any I've ever lived in. That's not to say it's that big or that grand, just that I'm used to living in tiny, cramped places that don't have any drawers in the kitchens or bathrooms. It feels like I'm staying over at a friend's.

Today, V and I put out a new bird feeder. Chickadees were chomping on seeds within 10 minutes. That was pretty cool.


In the muddy mud pit

Even though we are in packing chaos here, we have to find some time for V to get outside and play every day. This almost-spring, she has discovered the joys of playing in mud puddles. Splash!

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Here I'm saying, "Don't jump in!!!"

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Not really. She was just jumping up and down for me. She likes to jump.

Check out her cute new hat.

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I knit it from the Cloudy Day Cloche pattern from my dear friend Kim. The pattern is $4 in her Etsy shop. I think it's lovely.

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The pattern is for a baby or toddler hat. V is 3 years & 5 months, and I think it's big enough to fit her for another year, or even two, at least with the yarn I used (I know it's Sublime dk yarn. I'm pretty sure it's Sublime Cashmere Merino Silk DK & the color is called "shade" but I haven't found it online anywhere. Got it at my LYS). I'm thinking I'll make a bigger one for myself. Of course I keep saying that and then I just end up making something else for V.

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I know V is going to love our new backyard. One of the first things I want to do in the new house is start a garden. Yesterday I found a new-to-me blog, Compost Confidential, where Joe Lamp'l is going to try creating a garden that will feed his family of four this summer for just $25. I'm really looking forward to seeing how he accomplishes that!

Ours will cost a bit more than that, since we'll have to buy every garden tool from scratch. But I know V won't mind getting her hands dirty.

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This is my dad's cat. I love her. And she loves Violet to bits. I'm going to miss her too - and her mousing prowess. Her name is Cat and she's a tiny little thing (unlike my own two fat, indoor-only cats).

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We're closing on our house tomorrow and moving in on Saturday. I can barely sleep, I'm so excited.

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While I'm gone, I'd love it if you'd check out the Tanjore painting my friend Sharanya has been working on. Amazing detail and so lovely - she's been working on it for six months! I love Sharanya; she shares the most wonderful and interesting things about India with me. The Internet is a wonderful place.

Until we see you again, take care!


Missing you

missing

Things I will miss about this place:

  • The way the sun washes over the front yard in the afternoon
  • Being close to where my granddaddy grew up
  • Finding random things outside to play with like pretty rocks, moss, an old horseshoe
  • The freedom V has to walk around outside in whatever state of undress she chooses - there's nobody around to worry about
  • Drives in the country to see the old barns and farmhouses


Things I will not miss about this place:

  • Five minute showers (19-gallon hot water heater)
  • The 25 minutes it takes to drive to the nearest store (Wal-Mart)
  • Mice (though we've only seen one)
  • Having all our good/fun stuff in boxes and living with the bare minimum
  • No Super Target

Chimley

This is the same chimney I've written about before. I drove past it the other day when we were out and stopped for a pic or two. You can also see it large, should you so desire.

chimney

When my brother was a kid, he said it chimley instead of chimney. In fact I think he still does; he's silly like that.

It's chilly and rainy here and the yard is full of mud. We've packed up most of the kitchen so we're having pizza for dinner. Can't wait until this part is over - the unpacking is going to be a lot more fun than the packing!


Catnap

Didn't last long, but it sure was sweet while it lasted.

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If I'm scarce over the next two weeks, it's because we're moving. We're starting to pack this weekend and moving next weekend. Yay! And let me know if you wanna come and help. Ha!


This old house

I've added this post to this week's Hooked on Fridays at Hooked on Houses. Please join us to see what everyone else is hooked on this week!

***

If you're driving out in the Georgia countryside, as V and I were doing yesterday afternoon, you will see an awful lot of farms. Chicken farms, cattle farms, different crop-growing farms, lots of bales of hay. It's lovely. And many of these farms have a really old farm house somewhere on the property.

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I take pictures of as many of these as I can. Often the problem is that the grounds around them are no longer kept. The trees grow and grow and grow. Makes for quite the picturesque scene, but difficult to take a good photo of - at least the way I do it, all out my car window and everything.

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Last week, I was driving home from my mom's house and noticed a very small, old house that looked like it'd been tossed away like into the woods. Like maybe a giant had been playing with a cardboard box, tired of it, and tossed it aside. Oh how I want to take a photo! But the road there is busy, there's no real shoulder but a really big ditch, and the trees and brush are thick. Sadly, I don't think I could do justice to the scene with my camera.

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But this house, which is next to a large farm, has a very well-kept yard. Some people know when they've got something good. There is also a nice, level shoulder off the road so I actually got to park and take these pictures. That was a nice change from how I usually do it.

Notice anything else unusual about this house?

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They have put a newer roof on it. Most of the houses I see like this have a metal roof. It's nice that the owners put a new roof on it when it was needed. I hope they keep this house up for a long time to come.

I also hope they see this post and invite me over to take pictures of the inside, but I won't hold my breath on that one.


My LYS - LYLAS

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I love going to my local yarn shop (LYS). People who own yarn shops know how to knit and crochet. People who know how to knit and crochet also know how to make a place feel homey. So it follows that yarn shops feel homey and that there are lots of lovely spots to sit and knit.

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So many yummy yarns.

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So many bright colors. It's a treat. Here's the wall of Noro.

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Main Street Yarns and Fibers is in Watkinsville, GA, in an old restored barn. I dare you to pass by and resist it. Go on - I dare ya!

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Here is the back - who wouldn't want to knit outside here this spring?

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Sure, you can go to a Big Crafts Shop and buy your yarn, but are they going to look up your pattern on Ravelry for you and show you exactly how to accomplish the bits that are giving you trouble? Yesterday, Ruth showed me how to to make the thumb for a fingerless glove (so easy!), and she told me to bring the piece in if I have any trouble.

And then I had a homemade cookie from a fresh batch someone brought in.

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Back inside, here's a basket full of locally handspun yarns.

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And some drop spindles if you'd like to try spinning a bit of your own.

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Wherever you live, your LYS should have classes on knitting, spinning, and dyeing like Main Street Yarns does. I'm hoping to take a class on something this year. I'd love to work on my knitting skills, but I'd also love to learn to spin and dye.

What about you - do you ever visit your local yarn shop? Is it as homey and wonderful as mine?

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People I have known: looking for Ivy

I'm an ace Google researcher. If I have your name and one or two other details about you, I can usually find you on the Internet if there's anything out there to be found. The problem with Ivy is that she has she has an incredibly common last name. Maybe she's not on the Internet. Maybe she's married. Maybe she's moved to another state. I've checked Google, Facebook, MySpace. Can't find her.

Ivy was my best friend in middle school. She had more guts and more imagination than anyone I'd ever met. We went to a very small school at our church - there were just three of us in our grade. Poor Michelle - always the third wheel. I can't say we were very nice to her.

Here's a picture from one of my birthday parties. Michelle is on the left and Ivy is on the right in the blue sweater, with two of her three sisters beside her. Her youngest sister, Sherika, was too young to be at the party. I'm the one in the lovely yellow and orange sundress with the yellow t-shirt on underneath. I'm looking in a hand mirror and combing my hair - one of my birthday presents.

my birthday party

Ivy and I were always together, except that on Saturdays I went to the church and she went to the black church. Mount Olive, it's called. I went there a few times, or she'd come to mine, but for the most part our Saturdays were separate. I knew that Mount Olive had better singing and a more engaging pastor. I wanted to go there and sit and not listen with Ivy.

As shy as I was in middle school (and high school, and college), Ivy was my exact opposite. Outgoing, sharp, witty, superfuncrazy. She came up with the games we all played at recess. One I remember was called "orphanage." We were all a family - our parents had died and we were on the run, trying to escape social services so we could stay together. Sounds terrible now, but what I remember is Ivy and I holding hands, running like the wind: sisters.

Ivy was impatient. No call waiting in those days, so if I was on the phone with another friend when she wanted to talk to me, Ivy would call the operator and have her break through on the line, telling me there was an emergency. I have no idea what we talked about - school or TV, I guess. There were no boys our age at our school. I think we were both bored out of our minds, restricted by circumstance and our overbearing religion. These were good times and bad for both of us.

I stayed over at Ivy's house one night. We played outside with her youngest sister, who was probably 2 or 3 at the time. Sherika was dancing and we were laughing, I remember. She was a lot like Ivy - charming, outgoing, fun.

At dinner, I was so very afraid I was going to spill something. They had plastic on their sofa, plastic on the seats of their Ford Escort. We weren't allowed to act crazy inside. I really wanted her parents to like me. I ate and drank carefully and kept quiet.

That night, I was 11 with a brand new training bra and an extreme case of shyness. When it was time for bed, Ivy changed into her nightgown in the closet so that I wouldn't be embarrassed to do the same. I went next. As I was walking out, her older sister Shauna walked into the room, "Oh, she doesn't want black people to see her get undressed!" I was mortified. I was so embarrassed about my body, but I couldn't explain that to her. Instead, I turned 17 shades of red and didn't say a word. Ivy protested that it wasn't like that but Shauna just walked out, laughing at my stupidity. There was no way we could've explained to her that we were sisters. That we understood each other. She wouldn't have believed us.

After two years of being best friends, her family moved to Atlanta. I was devastated. We promised to keep in touch, but never did. As I was going through high school and college, I thought of her. When I hated my life, I wished I could talk to her. When things were good, we couldn't celebrate. Then one day 13 years ago, she called me. I was about to graduate from college. I was living with my mom, asleep in my bed, and the phone rang. My mom got it, brought it to me, and said, "It's Ivy."

I couldn't believe it. I was joyously happy to hear from her.

She told me that she was thinking of going back to school. She had moved back to our hometown, but might be moving back again to Atlanta, depending on which school she wanted to go to. She had three kids, had never married. She sounded stressed.

She was the same; she was different. She was grown up; I was not.

I asked about her sisters, her family. I forget what she said about Shauna; we never were close. Her younger sister, Tasha, who I also loved, was doing well, living in DC. I asked about Sherika. She was surprised I hadn't heard. She'd passed away while still just a child. I forget what she had - cancer? It tore the family apart. Her parents divorced. She did anything she could not to be home. Then she got pregnant...

I don't remember what I said, but I can tell you how much this hurts. That I didn't know while it was happening. That her family didn't survive it intact. The pain she must have felt, the anger. That Sherika is gone. That I could've been there for her and wasn't.

She gave me her phone number, but said she was moving soon. We were going to get together. When I called, I got a machine. When she called, she got mine. When I called again the next week, the phone was disconnected. I dreamed that I went to visit her mother in Atlanta so that I could find Ivy, that I hugged her mom and told her I was sorry to hear about Sherika. Then Sherika was outside in the sunshine, dancing in a butter yellow dress, ankle socks, and patent leather shoes. I watched her and thought, oh, she's fine, just fine!

I have not yet found Ivy again, though I hold her close to my heart and continue to look. No matter the time, the miles, the circumstances, she is my sister. I hope that somehow, she feels that way too.

***
I'm entering this post in Gayle's Monday Memories at Planet M Files. Please join in, if you can!


House beautiful

Beautiful, ain't it? I often pass by it on my way to town. They have a wrap-around porch with lots of pretty white rocking chairs too.

not my house

All the snow is gone, and it is now pleasantly warm outside. This weekend, we have lots of papers to sign/mail, a grandparent for V to visit, empty boxes to pick up, a park to play in, some cleaning and laundry to do, and if I'm lucky, a few pictures to take (unfortunately, that last one is low down on the to-do list). Fifteen days left till moving day - better rent a truck while I'm at it!

And what are you up to this fine weekend?


How I learned how to shoot pretty pictures, part 2

I've entered this post into Julia's Hooked on Fridays party. When you're done here, feel free to saunter over and see what everyone else is hooked on this week!

***

While writing this, I'm mainly thinking of people who have a dSLR but haven't gotten away from using it in Auto mode. If you're more advanced, well, you probably don't need me!

Ok, here's the breakdown.

1. Get a dSLR. I like Nikon. Plenty of people like Canon. And there are other good brands too. I say get the best you can afford. But then I'm camera crazy and my head is already buzzing with the idea of upgrading (shhhh...don't tell my husband). My personal opinion is to wait until a new model comes out of the camera you want, then buy the old model. Like when I bought my camera? The body only was almost $1k. I have the Nikon D80. Now that they've brought out the D90 ($1179 on Amazon today), you can get the D80 for $649 on Amazon. Makes sense to me; wish I'd thought of it before.

It also makes sense to buy the body only (if the camera comes for sale that way - some are only sold as part of a kit: body + one lens). Why pay extra for a cheap kit lens? My opinion, of course.

2. Get a 50mm, f/1.8 lens. The absolute most bang for your buck - $134 on Amazon and worth so much more. You might be able to shop around and get it for less. I think I paid $109 when I got mine (which I've since sold in favor of the f/1.4).

This is a prime lens - it doesn't zoom. You move your body forward or back to frame your shot. Takes a bit to get used to if you're used to zooming, but it's widely considered the best lens to learn photography with. It's light, fast, gives great bokeh. (Bokeh is the pretty, blurry stuff in the background.)

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3. Shoot in auto until you get sick of knowing your camera can take so much better pictures.

Then ...

4. Switch to aperture priority. In A-priority (A on your Nikon, Av on your Canon), you set the aperture and the camera does everything else (except the ISO - you are in control of that as well, see #5). Set the aperture as low as it will go. If you have more than one lens, check them all and pick the one that goes the lowest, put it on your camera and then set it as low as it will go.

The next time you take pictures - does the shutter sound fast? You're in good shape. If the shutter sounds slow and the photos are blurry, you need to find more light. You can do that by going somewhere with more light, turning on more lights, and/or raising your ISO (see #5). If you've only ever used Auto and this is your first foray into A-priority, try taking some photos, upload them to your computer, and ask me if you have any questions. Then just keep practicing. It feels weird at first, but it gets better quickly.

5. Set your ISO:
    100-200: Outside with lots of light
    400: Outside in the shade
    400: Inside with lots of light
    800: Inside with low light
    1600+: Inside with very little light

The idea is not to have to use your flash. You need the camera to be able to catch enough light to have a fast enough shutter speed so that your photos aren't blurry. That's the goal (though sometimes blurry photos are good, but that's a different post). The very first thing I do when I turn on my camera is check my ISO. Get into that habit. Otherwise, you'll take a ton of pictures and they'll all be white - or black - and you'll know you forgot to set your ISO. And then you'll be bummed because there's no way your kid will be that cute again for at least another 20 minutes.

6. Set your aperture as low as it will go. I know that sounds like a repeat, but what I really mean to say was that if you have a lens with the lowest aperture at 3.5, then set it there. But if you have a lens that goes way down to 1.8, then you might try setting it at 2 or 2.5 or 2.8. You'll still get great depth of focus, but the lens will be just a bit faster/sharper than if you set it all the way down to 1.8. When I set mine all the way down to 1.4, it's either because I need to catch more light or because I just want to see what it looks like. I could set it there more often if I used a tripod, but my tripod stinks so I hardly ever use it.

The higher your aperture, the less light the camera can grab. The lower the aperture, the more light gets into the camera.

7. Learn how to change the focal point in your camera. Ok Amy, this is how I compose my shots - with the focal points in mind. I have 11. I love them all. I wish I had more. I really think I need more. My absolute dream camera has 51!!!! Excuse me while I go daydream for a bit ...

...

I almost never put my main subject in the middle. Hardly ever. I tend to favor the bottom left or the top right.

Bottom left:

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If I'm taking a picture of a person, I always try to focus on the eyes. Clear, sharp eyes are where it's at!

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You can see this one larger here - I'm focusing on her left eye and you can make me out holding the camera in it. Pretty sharp! Woot!

So when I'm composing a photo, I think about what is the most interesting aspect of the whole object - that's where I want my focal point. Then I think about what's the most interesting part of the rest of the photo - I want that part to fill the rest of the frame. I might try a few different shots, focusing on different areas. Or I might not be sure at all. In that case, I try to back up so that I can make my decision by cropping the photo later. A lot of what people have told me are my best shots have been cropped - from your average photo down to what's actually interesting.

And when I'm driving around taking photos of houses, I just shoot, shoot, shoot and work out the details later.

8. Take a bunch of pictures and call me in the morning. But seriously, if this has helped you at all, please let me know - and send me links to your photos! If you think a friend might be able to use this info, email it to her or mention it on your blog. It's hard to write about photography; I hope I've been clear. If you have any questions at all, leave me a comment or send me an email (springtreeroad [at] yahoo [dot] com). I'm always happy to help. Sometime soon I'll tell you how I learned to use my camera in manual mode almost all the time.

Bonus tip: If you're really interested in learning more and don't have the time, money, energy, or inclination to actually take a class, you might try what I do. I get three books. An easy book, a hard book, and a fun book. Then I read all three, rotating among them. When I get as much information as my brain can hold from the hard book, I switch to the easy or fun book for a few days. Then I go back to the hard book. It seems to reinforce my learning, give me time to digest the more difficult things, and keep me motivated to get through all three books.


If I were going to be in a story book, I'd get all dressed up too

Someone was trying to be just like Daddy this morning. I don't ever use emoticons on my blog, but this definitely calls for a :(

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So we cleaned her up, sprayed some medicine on, and read The Bunny Book.

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My favorite part is where she names the different kinds of bunnies: Dutch, Vienna Blue, Flemish Giant, Cottontail, and Chinchilla. It's hard to say Flemish Giant when you're three, but really cute to watch when you're the mom.

We all know what bunnies really like to do in their spare time, right?

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She hardly notices the scratch now, but I know her Daddy is going to have a big :( when he sees this. It's really not that bad - could've been a lot worse. Sweet girl. It can be so hard to grow up. I'm giving her lots of kisses today. Makes things much easier - on me.


Crunchy snow day

I have envied many a blogger's wintery, snowy photos. Now I have a few of my own. Of course by tomorrow morning, all we'll be left with is a muddy yard. But hey, at least it'll be warmer again.

These first two are from the first day, when it was still snowing. I like the amber color of the fungus in the first one - it's growing on the branch of a cedar tree. It looks like the branch is wearing a necklace. I also like the crazy contrast of the cedar fronds.

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Falling. Love it. Want more.

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The second day, the snow was all crunchy. Several of the limbs from one of these cedar trees started cracking and falling under the weight of the ice about two minutes after V and I walked out from under them.

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Looks better large.

Here's V under the tree, being sweet, as usual. (She didn't get those eyelashes from me.) I love her little frosty nose. Didn't bother her one bit; she'd only be still for a minute when I wanted to warm it up.

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Ice-covered cedar tree branches. So heavy, they touch the ground.

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Frosty Sweetgum ball. Everyone complains about these trees, but I like having them around. My grandparents had a tree at their house, and so they remind me of them. I used to gather them up off the ground to play with.

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The pink sun flare makes me happy.

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Very few icicles around. I remember pulling them off the side of my grandparents' roof and eating them when I was a kid. Kind of yuck to think about now, but I loved that. Today, V was handing us chunks of icy snow to eat and calling them Smarties. R brought some home for me from Canada a couple of weeks ago. They're my absolute favorite. (If you've got any Smarties you need to get rid of, email me and I'll send you my address. Like, seriously.)

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After all that, what could we do but come in and have some hot chocolate with marshmallows?

PS: My animal track mystery has been solved by Kim from Beartracker's Animal Tracks Den. Thanks, Kim!


Snowfall

So busy lately, working on getting everything in order so we can buy our first house. Closing is on March 20th. We three are so looking forward to our new adventure!

Yesterday, we had to slow down a bit - it snowed! Here's the view from my window.

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I wasn't going to go out in it because it was coming down so fast, with orange-sized clumps of snow. I didn't want my camera to get wet. Plus it rained a lot before the snow and the yard is mud soup with crackers.

So I stood with the back door open and took this.

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But, as with a pool in the summer or an apple pie fresh out of the oven, I can't stop myself from going in. When I noticed that it was relatively safe under the cedar trees, I went out to stand under their canopy. I stayed there as long as I could take the cold. The snow was so quiet. Beautiful.

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On the way back, I saw this and took a quick pic. Slushy.

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And this. A sweetgum ball. Also took that too quickly to worry much about focus or settings.

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More tomorrow, but in color. Hope you're keeping warm, wherever you are.

PS: If you know anything about animal tracks, please see if you can identify this one. It was in our front yard this morning and it's kind of weirding me out.