A Sailing We Will Go!

Bob called early this morning and asked if we wanted to go sailing!  The plan was to take the boys in the morning, so we settled on gathering at the boat at 10 AM sharp.  IMG_5444

The Greta is a 35′ fiberglass sailboat that Bob & Margaret (My In-Laws) have owned for as long as I’ve known them.  The came to Alaska aboard her and toured SE Alaska until the decided to settle at the Senior Village in Haines. IMG_5462 Back before we had the boys, when bob was trying to go sailing once a month, he’d often bring me along to help man the lines or to steer while he set the sails.

The Greta (short for Margaret) is in immaculate condition, as Bob is quite faithful about polishing the hull each year and also varnishing the teak when it’s time.

Boats are great places to learn tons about the weather, physics, water, wind, and life in general.  IMG_5469Plus they’re great places crawl around and explore.  Margaret fed the boys peanut butter and jelly sandwiches down in the galley while Bob set the main sail to the second reef as we headed out of the harbor.   There were quite a few whitecaps on the water just out past the protection of Port Seward.  As a matter of fact, one of the reasons the Pluckers decided to stay in Haines when they were casting about for a home all those years ago, is that a decent sail is to be had just minutes out of the small boat harbor.

In the picture below, it looks like Bob was doing all the work.  But in reality, it was Bob at the wheel, me taking pictures, and Margaret on kid duty.  You do the math.

IMG_5508 Both Luke and Mark got a brief chance at the wheel before it got a little to windy for fun and we headed back in to the harbor.  Basically we made a straight shot for Skagway, then came about into the wind and headed back home the way we came.  Distance one equals distance two.

It was slightly overcast/scattered clouds when he called this morning, and we had three adults for three kids.

Portrait time!

I’m not sure why I like pictures and making them so much, but I do. 

There’s just something about taking a photo that feels like finding, or making, a treasure that will last forever.  IMG_5395 cThe goal is to take an excellent image–not just any old picture.

Admittedly, the goal today was just to take a family portrait, but even that needs to be done with care.

The lighting needs to be soft for little ones, since I don’t have a scrim, we couldn’t shoot the picture I wanted (the boys in a field of daffodils) during the last week.

We wanted them in matching clothes, which was difficult, but not impossible.  When we go to Wal-Mart and buy clothes for the boys, we always try to get matching shirts, pants and shoes for the boys so we can take family portraits.  We buy white and black turtle neck shirts, some brown pants, and some blue pants and some black pants–for formals, we bought little tuxedos for them on ebay for $24.99 a piece for the x-mas shot.  The way we figure it, we only need to buy one per year for Mark, the others can always just wear his hand-me-downs.

Another big problem was we wanted them all pretty happy–so that meant taking the picture in the morning before 9 AM, because usually after that the naps don’t coincide to make them all both pleasant to be around awake.

We have a few photos like this of when I was young that my folks took–I think you know the kind of photo I mean, the ones that took a little bit more work and that do more than just document the ages, hair  styles, clothing, and relative sizes.

Today, with all the daffodils at about their maximum growth, and a nice overcast day, we just had to get out and take the beginning of summer photo.  Two hours after we took the photo, the workers came out and all the flowers had all been mowed down.

I want to be five and a half… with you.

Yesterday, Margaret was over with the boys and the two older ones were playing in the living room.

Luke, who looks at Mark often with stars in his eyes, said to him, “Mark, I’m two and a half, and you’re five and a half.”

Mark said, “Yup.  that’s right.”IMG_5570

Luke said, “I want to be five and a half with you.”

Margaret had been listening to all this, and had her heart strings pulled a bit, so she came over and joined them on the floor where they were playing and scooped Luke up and said, “And I want to be five and half, with you and Mark too.”


I think this is such an interesting dialog because when Holly originally told me the story, I thought Margaret was going to scoop Luke up and tell him how much she loved him and how two-and-a-half is a great age and she loved him just as he is.

Well, that would have been my first thought anyway.

The question of what Luke really meant is fascinating because to me there are two options: Luke could mean that he doesn’t like his current age and wants to be the same age as Mark or it could be that Luke thinks it would be fun if he was the same age as Mark so they could do more things together

I think it’s great that Margaret can see things from Luke’s perspective, or Mark’s, or even John’s (six months old).  This process of seeing words and behavior from the perspective of the other person is sometimes called Mentalizing and is a very valuable skill in any social situation whether it be in school, in a family setting, on the playground, in the workplace, or in a relationship according to Robin Grace who gave an inservice to the faculty this spring on the topic.

Mentalizing helps people get along better and is best learned by having someone else do it to you.

So, what do you think Luke meant by saying to Mark, “I want to be five and a half, just like you.”

Lisa Murkowski visits Haines (for the Beer Festival)!

On Friday, the last day of school, I was surprised when someone walked down the hall saying that Lisa Murkowski was touring the new school with Mayor Fred Shields. 

IMG_5160 cropedAt first, I wasn’t going to stop cleaning up my desk and just poo poo the whole ‘famous politician comes to town’ thing, but then I thought to myself, “Hey I’m a photographer.  I wonder if anyone is even taking pictures?  Well, if there is someone taking pictures, I can probably take better pictures with my equipment than they can with theirs.”

So off I went to find Fred and Lisa.  Of course it was easy to find them, as Fred was in fine form with his gregarious personality kicked up high after his recent moves in the assembly and securing a new city manager.  We thanked her for he votes on the safe school act and also on the waiver of ultra smalls schools needing their teachers to be highly qualified in all areas. There really is no way that schools like Stebens or Mountain Village can affordably hire 4-5 high school teachers that are highly qualified in each subject to teach under 30 kids, and there’s no reasonable way to expect a single teacher (that is teaching there for a few years) there to get highly qualified in every subject.  It’s often easier to just move to a bigger city than it is to pick up multiple certificates.

Anyhow…  I was surprised that she remembered me from her last visit.  She said, I remember you from before.  I frankly don’t remember meeting her last time, but people like her have a way of remembering people like me.  I was holding my camera with the flash mounted and the fongosphere installed and looking conspicuous, so I could see how someone would recognize that.

At first I tried to find something intelligent to say, but then realized quickly as I sifted through my memories that I have absolutely no idea what’s going on on the national level with education or politics, what kind of votes she’s made, or where she stands on any of the major wedge issues etc.  I did notice the recent check I got from the treasury and also the battle the dems are having for the presidential nomination.

So I started to focus on getting a good shot.  At first it was tough finding a good shot, because she was walking through darkened halls and there were no kids around, just teachers and they were almost in their work clothes.  But then Ashley invited her to throw the opening pitch in the first little league game and I knew I had my shot there. 

Here’s an Oil Painting I did today…

I like this one.

It is particularly fun to mix and blend colors, to swoop and swirl them, to go clock-wise one time and counter-clockwise the next, to pick muted colors and blend them in with rich colors and then pop them right next to some outlandish vibrantly bright colors.

Colors are cool.  BAM.

Capture1Here’s a picture of the screen when Ink Art is running. In the lower left-hand corner is the tool selection tool, and just above that is the tool size selector, it’s currently set to the oil paint brush that is 52% of it’s maximum size.

In the lower right-hand corner is the color selector tool.  To use this layout,  one selects the desired color from the vertical line spectrum, then then selects the tone of the color from black to white and everything in between. The red 1/4 ring near the bottom lower right-hand corner tells which color is currently selected.  There’s an eye-droper tool at the top of this tool which you can probably barely see that is very useful if you want to duplicate a color you already have in the painting or on the reference photo you can import.

If you haven’t gotten a cool painting program, I recommend Ink Art to you right away for oils.  If you want to do pencil sketches, use Alias Sketchbook Pro, as it has much better pencil algorithms than Ink Art.

Painting is cool.


Is Oil Painting Dead?

Yesterday, I downloaded Ink Art from Microsoft’s Tablet Experience Suite and have to say that I’m very impressed with it.


Here’s what I like (keep in mind, I’m a math teacher/photographer not an artist):

  • The strokes actually look like brush strokes.  BAM!  People look at the screen and say, “Wow, it really looks like an oil painting!” 
  • The oils blend in a natural way.  Notice the blending in the swirls: Cool.
  • The brush gets contaminated with all the various colors and has to be cleaned to get new colors (or it can be set to auto clean on each stroke) 
  • The colors palette is huge: anything from vibrant, to muted, or lively to dreary can be selected in an instant.  I don’t have to mix up each color, just pick them from a spectrum.
  • The user interface is simply a masterpiece of software engineering.  Hands down, this is the easiest software to use that I’ve come across.  Kudos to the designers. When I want a wider brush or chalk, I simply make it wider with a flick of the pen, want to switch colors, BAM! you’ve got a new color.
  • I haven’t done this yet, but the program has a tracing paper function that is probably quite powerful.  The basic idea here is that if you have an image on your computer that you want to paint you can simply load it into Ink Art  and have it directly beneath your artwork.  It can be set to auto select color from the image, or not.
  • It runs really fast on my Tablet PC, which is an 2005 vintage Motion Computing LE1600 (Centrino 1.5 Ghz, 30GB HD, with 1.5 GB RAM).  In other words, it only has a single core processor.
  • It has a really cool WOW factor with the kids.  They see the paintings, think they’re cool, and want to draw their own. 
  • Drawing tools included: pencil, crayons, chalk, felt tip pen, oils, and you can scrape with an adjustable knife.
  • There are nine different ways to select your colors.
  • Pressure and stroke of the pens is VERY adjustable, instantly.  It feels very natural to draw on the screen, almost like drawing on paper.
  • The best thing about Ink Art is that it’s a free download on Microsoft’s site.

Here’s what I don’t like:

  • No Mac Version.  Actually this is a bit of a plus.  It turns out that Ink Art is almost identical to a PC/Mac program called Art Rage 2.5 which is also a free download.  Take note that there is a Pro version which costs $25.
  • Ink Art will not run on Windows Vista.  But this is not a problem since it’s nearly identical to Art Rage, which is a free download for the beginner version.
  • This program is designed for a Tablet.  Whereas you can use it on a regular PC, it is very tough to find the pointer when using a mouse, point stick, or or track pad, since it’s a very tiny dot.  This is not a problem with a tablet/stylus setup as the pointer is always right beneath the stylus.
  • I don’t see any way add multiple layers.  If you outgrow the beginner version, pony up $25 for the Pro Version of Art Rage and add layers to your heart’s content.
  • No actions (Macros)
  • I don’t see any customizable brushes.
  • The *.ptg file format is not an industry standard but the program does export files to *.bmp, *.jpeg, or *.png files.  These options are easily accessible in the file menu.
  • The program could benefit some with a higher end computer or tablet interface, I think.  When I’m doing really fast swirls where colors are blending, sometimes the brush skips over the paper.
  • The default image size is just about screen size for most things  and is given in pixels so output sizes need to be calculated outside the program.  It would be cool if one could designate an 13″x19″ image at, say 300 dpi and it would automatically calculate the pixel size for me (300×13 by 300×19).  I haven’t even tried working on a file that big yet, as I’m sticking to smaller ‘desktop’ file sizes for the time being (1024×768) which would only print as 4×5″ outputs.

These cons are just niggles.  Ink Art is a compelling program.  For Windows XP users, I don’t see any reason not to download Ink Art and start having fun (unless the baby is crying). For me, Ink Art is a load of fun. It draws me in to the creative process and time flies. 

I highly recommend it for anyone who has never tried digital painting.  I’d love to see what an experienced person could do with this type of program and I think it’d be a real HOOT to take a painting class.

Review by an artist: Chad Essley

I’ll upload some more paintings in a bit.

Prom 2008

IMG_4294This year, Prom was held in the Fort Seward Lodge, which has new ownership this year.  It’s kind of a lodge for snow boarders and extreme sports dudes in the spring now, whereas it used to have a wider appeal. 

The main dining room has a balcony around the top for more private seating where the food was placed, the central downstairs section served as the dance floor, with the booths being the primary hang-out spot for those that didn’t necessarily want to dance, or that didn’t have dates.  This stairway was really the only place to shoot a group shot of the four couples in the royalty without shooting down on them.

IMG_4081e All of the elected royalty was there for the coronation, but I almost missed it because no one came to get me.   The kids looked wonderful (some were more dressed up than others), and mostly had a good time.  There were a couple of mopers that sat around the periphery, but then again, aren’t there always a few of those who didn’t wind up getting a date with the one they liked?

I shot formal shots downstairs and had a real fun time doing that.  At first they wanted me upstairs, but I scoped out a place downstairs that had more room so I shot there instead.  I used two lights, one key light, nearly on axis, and an accent light above the subjects to the left (they’re right).

Overall, I think the effect was  fine, and the kids had a wonderful time.  Overall, I think the photos were pretty good, all things considered (they asked me to shoot the photos four hours before prom began.  But it would be nice to have some professionally done words that say “Prom 2008” or some such, so that later on people know what year it was. 

IMG_4185eOne thing I messed up on was an orange cord that ran down through the right-hand side of the frame.  It’s in a high percentage of the shots and could have easily been covered with black Gaffer’s tape which requires that I open up each shot anyone buys in Photoshop to clone out the offending orange cord.  On that note, I think I will just cover those cords in black tape the next time I open those bags–either that or buy about a ten foot black extension cord to add to the end of my other cords.

John Caleb is almost sitting up

Check out this video from Thursday night.

He’s almost crawling too.  He does what we call ‘commando crawling.’

Haircut day!

Is this a cute haircut, or what?

Mark & Luke needed haircuts, so I got out the flowbee.


He’s got Business on the sides and party on top!

I used the FlowBee on the sides while holding my hand on the top of his head to keep the hair up there from getting sucked up into the vacuum.

Then I got out the beard trimmer and set it to 3/8 inch and did the sides of the head and around the ears.

It’s got tags and other faults, but I think the curls, the big smile, and the curious eyes push it up over the top.


Nobody cares what we ate for dinner!

Tonight was left-over night…

One of the books I really want to get is a blogging book entitled: “No one cares what you ate for breakfast”  As you can tell by this post, I need to buy that book.

IMG_0094Tonight, Holly and the older two boys ate left over beans and rice, with chips and cheese and I ate left-over pasta with olive oil & parmesan cheese.

When I was growing up, Dad bought a dairy farm and everyone thought that milk was necessary for healthy bones and strong teeth, so we bought milk by the gallons.  With current research it’s pretty well established that the societies that consume the greatest amounts of milk have the highest rates of osteoporosis.  Interesting.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the milk was actually neutral, in terms of its contribution to health, but it turns out that much of the evidence points to milk actually contributing to poor health, especially as we get older.  Bummer. 

Now, the only time I buy milk now is when family comes from out of town to stay with us (and I’m happy to do it, ’cause I love ’em).  I figure we save about $10 per week by always drinking water with our dinners.  We do buy powdered milk to cook with.

I’m not a total idiot though, Milk still has it’s rightful place at the table: tonight, the only thing John Caleb ate for dinner was milk.