Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A friend asked me for some advice about macro lenses, and I took these pictures this afternoon to show her what a 50mm macro photo looks like.

You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

These were both shot with a Canon 50mm macro lens at f/2.5, and the focus was set to be as close as possible to the subject, so this is as tight as one could possibly make the frame and keep focus.

With a 50mm macro lens, you have to be a lot closer to your subject than you do with an longer (higher number) lens.  I tried to photograph a fly, but it flew away before I got the shot, because I got too close.  Sometimes I like shooting these kinds of pictures with a zoom lens at around 100mm because I can stand a little farther away, and the shot still looks just as close.  But, a 50mm lens is very versatile, and wider shots (like portraits) that are not macro look really good with this lens.

It is fun to shoot with the lens at the widest aperture setting, because the part of the picture that is in sharp focus is so narrow.  You have to be very precise with your focus, and this makes the part in focus really pop out.  It also makes it harder to get the exact shot you want if you or your subject are moving.

I know some of you will find this post incredibly boring, but if you made it this far... sorry, you're a photo nerd -or- congratulations, you're a photo nerd in training!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Oh, wheat! Lots of wheat! Fields of wheat.

I recently took this portrait of a beautiful little girl named Petra.  Her family had a small patch of wheat growing in their front yard.  In Los Angeles.  Isn't that cool?

Saturday, July 24, 2010


The dioramas in our Museum of Natural History are breathtaking.

If you stare at them long enough, you will see the animals move.

Other times, the taxidermy itself becomes an element in a two dimensional painting.

Before you leave the museum, they send you all over the world.

Although museum dioramas were conceived before photography and world travel were everyday occurences, they still have a magically transporting effect.  Is it because every leaf and grain of sand is scientifically accurate?  Because, like a photograph, they have captured a unique moment in a changing world?

Is it because the scale is 1:1, neither larger nor smaller than life, thereby making it easy to see yourself inside of it?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bones and Bouzouki

I could not stop taking pictures yesterday at the Natural History Museum.  Bones make me giddy, and they had lots of them.  The old dioramas are stunning, and we were all so excited by them.  I had one of those perfect, happy moments watching my family appreciate the African Mammals while I laid on the floor in the middle of the hall so I could get my shot.

The brand new Age of Mammals exhibit has just opened, and it was spectacular.  Lots of these guys are older than forty-one.

After the museum, we went to Papa Cristo's, the best, best, best Greek restaurant, and we were treated to to some beautiful bouzouki with our gyros.

Tomorrow, I'll show you some more museum pictures and tell you more about Papa Cristo's, but for now, I'll just say thanks to my family for making this one of my best birthdays ever.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Soot Sprites

Julio has been busily playing with the dried fruit pods from a Liquid Amber tree.  I collected a big pile of them last winter, and he has been putting them into and taking them out of an old glass pickle jar, rolling them on the floor, and covering them up with a shoe box.  He might even love them more than his pine cone collection.

According to  Wikipedia, the Liquid Amber fruit is nick-named: "space bug", "monkey ball", "bommyknocker", "bir ball", "gumball", "conkleberry", "cukoo-bir" or "sticky ball."

Around here, we call them "soot sprites," after the creatures with that name in our favorite children's movie, "My Neighbor, Totoro."  When I noticed that Julio had spread them out under the couch, they looked so much like soot sprites, that I had to try adding some stick-on eyes.

If any of you Totoro fans want to make your own soot sprites, you could paint them black and then stick eyes on them.  I think they would make the best decorations!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


In spite of all of my dreaming, sketching and planning for this project, our tipi turned out to be so easy to make.

Someone gave me some free bamboo.  (Most people who grow bamboo would like to give you some free bamboo.)  Okay, the sawing, transporting, drying and hacking off leaves with a machete were not so easy, but they were fun.  Hopefully, you can get your hands on some clean, dry bamboo.  I just started experimenting with it today, and this easy version worked perfectly: 

Use five tall poles (mine are 12'), some twine and several blankets and sheets.  Lay the bamboo in a pile on the ground and tie it tightly together about 2' from the top.  Then, stand it up and just start spreading out the base until it is stable and feels like the right size.  One person can manage this easily.  This probably works best on grass or sand, because the poles will not slide open.  If you look up from the middle, it should look like this:

Finally, take your sheets or blankets and start draping them around the frame.  To secure them, use clothespins or clamps or just tie them together.  This whole thing takes less than ten minutes to build, and less than five to put it away.

You can play there all day, and then eat dinner!

This was the first, but hopefully not the last time I could say, "Come on, everyone!  Sushi in the tipi!"

I'm making a 6' version for inside the house, but I love the giant one.  You can see the small one draped in grey on the left.  The kids attached it to the side of the big one so that there would be another 'room.'

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Complicated Equations

Now, I'm not a homeschooler or an unschooler, or even a Waldorfist or Montessorian (I might be making up some of those words), but I love reading and thinking about all kinds of early childhood and elementary education.  I am crazy for Summerhill, and Reggio Emilia, and I am glad that I can pick and choose from all of these amazing systems for each of my own children.  I thought I was anti-homework until my kindergartener was in love with his, acting as if his teachers were giving him a new coloring book each week.  Go figure, and another great example of how frequently a know-it-all like me is turned into a know-it-nothing by my kids.

Our summer vacation is a big, long stretch of unstructured time.  There are no camps or classes of any sort, only the occasional "wanna go?" with destinations like library, park, hike, beach, airport, or museum.  I like giving the kids blank pieces of paper and all kinds of art materials like pens, paints, crayons, yarn, string, pencils, ink, glue, cardboard boxes and rubber bands.  Our house is full of beautiful little things for them to play with.  They invent games together and spend a couple of hours reading daily.

I saw my son's former kindergarten teacher yesterday, and I had to ask her for some suggestions about how to keep his excitement for math alive over the summer.  He keeps asking for "complicated equations," and I wondered if I needed to have more math materials on hand.  She said, "Draw boxes and have him fill in the numbers!  Just put some pluses and minuses and an equal sign in there and tell him to balance the equation.  The more open-ended, the better.  Better yet, let him fill in his own mathematical symbols, and you can just put the equal sign.  It will help him to recognize that there is never only one right answer."

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to Get to the Living Room Without Stepping on Burning Hot Lava

This works, too:

I wonder if this is one of those universal games, played by children in every culture.  We never mentioned it to our kids, but we both remember playing it ourselves.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Julio!

You amaze me, my little love!  So beautiful, the way you looked around, heard us sing your name and realized that this time it was for you.  When the song was over, you tried to blow out your candles before we could even show you what to do.

A Dinner with History

Many years ago in Cornwall, England, the wives and mothers of the local tin miners would wake up early to bake a special lunch for their husbands and sons to take down into the mines.  They would dice potatoes and onions, meat, carrots and rutabagas, or whatever they had on hand, pour it onto a rolled out round of pastry dough, fold it in half, crimp it and bake it in the oven.  They would often sculpt an initial out of dough and stick it on one corner of this pie so that the miner who was going to eat it would remember which one was his.  Sometimes they would put a sweet fruit filling in the corner under the initial, separated from the meat and potatoes by a little dough wall, so the miner would have both lunch and dessert in one tidy package.

It was cold down in the mines.  The miners would take their hot pies, called pasties, and put them inside their jackets to keep their bodies warm on the way down to work.  There was arsenic in these mines, and it would get all over the miners' hands.  To avoid poisoning themselves, they would only hold their pasties by the crust on the corner that had their initial on it.  They would start from the other end, eating first the savory and then the sweet until they got close to the handled corner.  This last bit of crust they would throw on the floor, to appease the gremlins or ghosts that they suspected were responsible for the many tragic accidents of the mines.

Pasties (pronounced pas-tees) date back to at least the 1100's.  They are mentioned as one of Robin Hood's foods in the ballads of the 1300's.  They came west with the Cornish miners who migrated to the United States to mine for copper in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where they are still a regional favorite.

My kids were so enchanted by this history, that we decided to make one for a special lunch for Papa to take to the mines (his real estate office).  His pasty had the classic filling, but I'm pretty sure you could put anything you like in there, although you might have to change its name to Samosa or Empanada.  They say the Devil himself avoided Cornwall because the women there had a reputation for putting anything and everything in their pasties, and he did not want to be baked in a pie.

Diego and I had a good laugh when he realized that the dough that separates the sweet side was not made of corn... he was expecting a "corn wall."

Papa did not save any of his crust for the gremlins.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Enough with the gloves, already!

Here are the gloves we gave to our little friend for her third birthday:

I wish I could tell you that a five-year-old did the stitching, but no... that was me.  The kids did help with the design, though, and we picked colors to match her cape.  She was very excited when she saw them, and said, "These could be my pirate gloves!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Strange Rainbow

These rainbow fragments appeared over our house on Saturday evening:

What is going on here?  They were only there for a few minutes.  The upper arc was upside down (shaped like a smile), with the red on the bottom and the violet on the top, the lower arc appeared to be a fragment of a regular rainbow.  We live in southern California, almost 10 miles from the ocean, so I think that rules out circumzenithal arc or reflection rainbow.

Any meteorologists or shamans out there who can tell me what this means?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Animated Shorts

Sharing a love of comics and wordplay is only one of the many things I enjoy about spending time with my fabulous nephew, Leo.  We created this together a couple of years ago, right after he showed me several of his fascinating original computer animations.  He had just turned eight.


This was created using Comic Life.  Special thanks to my beloved niece, Anna, for being the best supporting actress!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cat's Cradle

Did you play string games when you were a child?  My mother taught me how to play Cat's Cradle when I was about 5 years old, and I'm now having a great time playing it with my own son.  It is such a quick and portable game that we've been playing it wherever we go.

I had to look up the history of Cat's Cradle, and was surprised to find that this clever game is played by children EVERYWHERE.  Its origin is unknown and it has been found in wildly diverse indigenous cultures from the Arctic to Europe to Indonesia.  It is probably one of the oldest games in the world.


1.  Buy a pie from a nice bakery that ties string around their pie boxes.

2.  Carefully untie string, eat pie, reserve string.

3.  Cut a piece of string that is about 5' long.

4.  Tie the two ends tightly with a square or granny knot and trim extra string.

5.   Learn to play, or if you already know how, teach someone!

You can find plenty of instructional photos and videos online, but I recommend carrying your string around and asking people if they know how to play any string games.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Up, Up and Away!

I have to take back what I said about favoring the all black gloves.  Diego really had a vision for these, and they rock.  I love how he thinks that he might catch Julio.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cramped Quarters

                                                              from 'To Give Them Light, The Legacy of Roman Vishniac'

This is the basement home of a porter and his family, photographed in the late 1930's in Warsaw, Poland by the legendary Roman Vishniac.

If I ever complain that our house is too small, please kick me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

How Do I Glove Thee?

Here's a golden nugget from my years spent as the private costume designer for my kids:

Sometimes all you need for a fantastic costume is to wear something special on your hands.

When our costumed kids look in the mirror, they are delighted to see themselves as someone else.  But, imagine it from their perspective: as they freely run around they can keep looking again and again at their hands and their wild young imaginations will effortlessly fill in the rest.

A pair of grey, brown or black socks on the hands can be an entire animal costume, and if you stitch on some simple claws or fur, it's even better. 

These easy gloves have been a long-lived favorite in our dress-up closet:

These can, of course, be any color, but there is something wonderfully open-ended about all black.  Ruben has worn these every day for months.  He calls them his Batman gloves, but they have also been used for witch, police officer, pirate, knight, motorcyclist, Robin Hood, Zorro and many other generic super heroes.

Diego is eager to make some sparkly multi-colored ones, and we'll probably make some fancy pink ones to match the cape of our little friend who is about to turn three, but Ruben's favorites are definitely the black ones!


Tips & Tricks:

Make sure the part of the felt that goes around the wrist of the glove is a little loose, enough for a tiny bit of stretching when putting on the finished gloves.

Young children might need a little help when they are first learning how to put them on, but they'll soon be able to do it themselves.

I got the gloves at Target at the end of the winter season.  They were 6 pairs for a dollar!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How I Look

Diego took this picture of me yesterday:

I wish I could also show you what I was looking at, because it was about the cutest thing ever: a grinning five-year-old photographer, squinting into the viewfinder and leaning back to compensate for the weight of a camera that was almost as big as his head.

I love this picture, and I'm very excited about having another photographer in the family.  Thanks, my sweet boy!

*Bonus points if you can guess the designer of the shirt I'm wearing, and extra bonus points if you are the designer!*