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Paul often reads to me while I cook. With holiday preparations underway for Christmas 2016 Eve supper there was ample time for this week’s headline story in our small town newspaper of childhood Christmas traditions recalled. That led inevitably to stories from our own childhoods.

Sugar Plums first and then the Christmas tree

When we were young trees were decorated and packages arranged only after children were asleep in their beds presumably with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Children were expected to wait to be called or at least past a certain early morning hour before Christmas could begin.

Bells in the family

We’ve always had bells in the family, not the thin metal, cheap ones but real harness bells, weighty and resonant. My parents prized a strand of five woven into a red rope that hung from a hook on the back door. On Christmas morning they were rung to signal me and three siblings that it was time to come downstairs accompanied by Santa’s deep-throated gravely, “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” Our mother’s voice was never recognized in any hint of tone or timbre. Our father was by nature too guarded and serious to be so playful. Long after I knew their secret, it remains a special memory and a phrase like music that I can recall perfectly. Whether I say the words aloud or not, tomorrow morning the memory will connect me once again to Mother.

Who Santa really is

I was the eldest of four, each of us born five years apart. My parents grew concerned as I neared age seven that I might learn and tell the larger truth about Santa to the youngest. That Christmas Eve as they tucked me into bed, they revealed who Santa really is: the season’s love and generosity openly expressed and shared in gifts and greetings among cherished family and treasured friends. Parents, they said, are the real elves, surrogates who do the magic work themselves. They invited me to join with them for the sake of my siblings. The words were gentle and honest, words I emulated with my own children as they too began to participate in Christmas magic. But that night I closed my eyes and held my breath until my parents tiptoed away. And then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of reindeer who could fly and a red-suited stranger who visited all the world’s children in the night.

Guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet

Paul recalled a Christmas in Bronxville when his older brother waked him early on Christmas morning, “Wake up! Don’t you want to go down stairs to see what’s under the tree?” Paul was very young but savvy enough to see darkness outside and mistrust that it was past seven o’clock. “Just come look at my clock then!” which big brother had slyly set forward. So both boys navigated the wide staircase and flipped the switch to light the tree in a vision of sparkling light and color. That’s a strong, visual memory that Paul carries today. At long ago Christmases the children’s gifts weren’t wrapped but arranged openly beneath the tree. That year a train and a sled demanded immediate play. Tired after a while of their too early adventures, they went back to sleepy beds where their parents found them and when guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet’s deep pile gave them away.

Wishing you joy and peace and kindred souls

However you enjoy these wintry days, take time, as will we, to remember those who taught us by their example to love, respect, and be generous of spirit. Home is wherever and with whomever you rest your heart. May you be blessed with joy and peace and kindred souls. Merry Christmas to all!

Happy New Year

New Year blessings

As last year turns into 2016, once again we’re struck by how fast it went, a reminder to celebrate each day with joy, be grateful for our blessings and for all those with whom we share our lives. May your 2016 be filled with love and laughter, may your trials be light and few, may you have your heart’s desires fulfilled.

Treasures

Tomorrow begins the work of putting our holiday treasures away. If you haven’t already done so, consider cataloging the small things that reflect your family’s history, that carry holiday stories into the future, that bring you, your children, and your grandchildren joy when the boxes open, the tissue comes off, and the scene is set for another celebration of Christmas or whatever your family enjoys at year’s end.

A small boy looks at Christmas at Nana’s and Grandpa’s house!

There’s an eager, cheerful child in our lives who gives us a special reason to begin cataloging our seasonal treasures. The song is very familiar to him from Knutsen and Ludvigsens Beste album that helps put him to sleep each night. Apart from the happy lilt of the music, it says “Hallo! Hallo!” to each of you from both of us. So here are some of the Christmas treasures most meaningful to our family! It’s a mix of several cultures collected over a lifetime. Each item has a wonderful memory attached or several. There’s a book for a boy in the making with more to add, much to improve, a beginning . . .



 

Best photos come from best practices

The photographer in me shares a quick list of best practices:

  • Indoor photos in low light pose challenges to photography. Tack sharp comes from using a tripod, a chair back, a table top, whatever works to stabilize the camera. It matters! The eye is drawn where the focus is sharp so use it to emphasize the most important details. The opposite is also true; soft focus can be used to minimize the background and/or less important features;
  • Good light and saturated colors can be used that way too as the human eye is drawn first to brighter and more saturated areas of an image;
  • People are interested in other people! Children are always intrigued by faces even–and maybe especially so–when they belong to caricatures;
  • Move in close to your subject; walk to zoom so the subject fills the frame;
  • Before you click the shutter, check to see if you’re reflected in the shiny surfaces you’re shooting and move or adjust if that’s not intentional;
  • It’s always best to get color right in camera rather than afterward. Auto white balance works well in most modern cameras, but the mix of indoor lighting–incandescent lamps, compact florescent bulbs, and modern LED decorative lights–compounds the trouble. If your photos look weirdly color cast, perhaps overly blue or orange, you have a white balance issue that can be improved either by pre-selecting a camera program like tunsten or florescent or after the fact in software where temperature and tint sliders can work well;
  • Let your shots tell a story. Most of all be creative and have fun.

 

 

Southwestern Wisconsin in the winter is cold. Colors are muted but there to be found. In the bottom of the creek bed are ancient sedimentary rocks cast there by massive forces, worn down by wind and water, tweezed apart by swelling frost. Green mosses thrive in all months while grass grows slowly under the snow.

Nighttime lit by the moon or Sylvania casts golden shadows and bounces lens rainbows into the blue-dark sky.

Some creatures are built for speed even in their heaviest coat. (Click any image to see them full-sized)

                        

This is a Standard Poodle named Piper who came home for the holidays! She’s a bundle of exuberance and smart; the normally sedate, resident house cat tried to stay aloof but enjoyed the interloper’s antics enough to come down from his high perch repeatedly to watch, interact, and get chased back up again. Apparently great fun for both!

Poodles were first bred in Germany and recognized as a distinct breed by the 1500s. Did you know that this breed is known especially for its water retrieving skills, but equally capable in finding rare truffles and as a circus performer? The poodle has a curly coat that makes the doge more buoyant but requires regular clipping because it has hair rather than self-shedding fur. The traditional pompom haircut with close-cut hind quarters served to help the dog swim faster and the joints stay warmer.

Piper is a true athlete, already at three months old she has a large working vocabulary and is attentive to her humans. This breed wants to please and Piper is no exception. We’re quickly getting the idea that she believes she’s one of us, a full-fledged human being. No one intends to tell her otherwise.

She runs, galloping or pronking, really a kind of bounding, springing lamb-like movement. The enthusiasm of a puppy, especially this one, is contagious!

Request your own image on a USPS postage stamp. Email Sharyn@lightpixiestudio.com to find out how she can help you create your own one-of-a-kind design:

  • Make every letter special
  • For any occasion
  • Reasonably priced
  • Wedding announcements
  • Birthday invitations
  • Holiday cards
  • Promotional advertising
  • A unique and special gift