Thursday, February 13, 2014

Boo-yah!

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This is Mia's reflection entry for this school year.  I took her out to a place across the street where I've shot some amazing pictures.  I have taken a picture of this same tree but in my shot, it is of the tree alone.  I was amazed at how Mia framed her picture.  This picture is actually taken a good distance away from where I had shot my picture and because of her perspective in her picture, she got tips of trees and other foliage.

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Well. . .her entry was sent to Districts AGAIN!  I cannot believe how much this girl wins.  I feel like every year I'm blogging about the same story but it is true.  Mia is just really talented and I love helping her discover her talents and helping her in anyway.  She doesn't realize how big it is getting to Districts.  Each school judges and sends their entries onto the next level.  There are over 30 schools in our district alone.  From there, the school council judges the entries and chooses which entries make it to Districts.  In Mia's age group and category, there were only 5 entries.  I am still so amazed that Mia has made it to Districts 3 years in a row!  Amazing!

And if that wasn't enough. . .BOO-YAH. . .science fair!  Well that's what Zoey would say.  She's been saying boo-yah alot lately and it is the cutest thing ever!

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Mia and Xander came home yesterday so excited with how their science fair presentations went.  They have to present their science projects to the judges.  Mia said hers went so well and that she had to do it twice to two different judges.  Xander said they said his was "brilliant"!  He was so cute presenting his project on how the body moves.

Today was the night where the parents were able to come and see all of the projects and the announcement of the science fair winners.  Mia got all dressed up and put lipstick on.  She was ready!

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The time came for the announcing of the winners.  Xander and Mia both won first place in their grade level and Mia's is going onto the District science fair.  Unbelievable!

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Christmas

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December was a great month for our family!  We were very busy but still squeezed in our family traditions. We added making gingerbread houses out of graham crackers to our family traditions this year.  Mia made one for Activity Days and so everyone was super jealous.

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We also made our traditional ornaments for our tree.  This year we used glass ornaments and the kids could paint them or stick things inside them.  Zoey loved sticking things inside hers.  She had so much glitter and beads and other things inside her ornament, I didn't think it was going to stay on the tree, but it did!

I also made ornaments for my friends this year with their family pictures in them.  Since my friends are so nice and hire me as their photographer, I have many of their pictures.  I copied the pictures on a transparency and rolled it and stuck it into the glass ornament. The hardest part was getting the right size circle to fit in the ornament.

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We did our sibling secret santas, and we encourage our children to look for opportunities to serve each other.  Service is something that I would like to focus more on.  Service to each other and those around us. I want them to see how serving others and making those around us happy can bring us true happiness.  We had a wonderful experience this holiday season.  I've been wanting to find a family who could not afford to go to Disneyland and give them tickets so they could.  We found a family and I wanted to give it to them with our whole family present so they could see what happiness comes from doing something for others. It was a great and special moment.  The family we gave them to were so happy,especially the mother.  I learned that Disneyland is the "happy place" that this mother envisions when she is going through a tough time.  There young family has experienced so many trials and it was wonderful to give them something that would bring them some smiles and happy times.

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After Christmas, we headed to Utah to visit Ben's family.  His parents just moved recently so we got to see their beautiful new home.  It's huge!  Well everything is huge to our family who lives in about 1100 square feet.  It's funny because when we go to someone's house that is just a normal size house, my kids ask if it is a mansion.

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We really had a wonderful time visiting with family.  I love that there are always someone for my kids to play with when we come and visit.  I got to take some pictures of Ben's brother and his family as well as his sister's twins, who are so adorable.  I really miss his family and appreciate them so much more living away from them.  They are a great bunch of people!

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I squeezed in a visit with one of my friends from Alameda who moved to Utah about the same time we moved to Concord.  We also got to visit some of our long time friends that we have known for over 10 years now.  We are very lucky to have such wonderful family and friends.  I'm excited for 2014!  It's going to be a great year!

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Gobble. . .Gobble. . .Gobble till you wobble. . .wobble. . .wobble!

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We had my parents in town for Thanksgiving.  Holidays are just so much better when you are surrounded by family!  I also LOVE cooking big dinners.  I spent probably 5 hours straight cooking and eating the food took about 10-20 minutes depending on who you were.  Mia helped me make the table decorations which were fun to make. We made place settings for everyone.

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The day after Thanksgiving, we decided to head to San Francisco.  It was such a beautiful day!  I couldn't believe our luck!  It was the best weather I have ever experienced in San Francisco.  Blue skies, no fog, and no wind.  I wish I could have stayed the whole day there!  We headed to Crissy Field and took some family pictures quickly. I love taking pictures but when it comes to my own family, I can never get the shots I want because I have to be in the photo.  My Mom helped us out this year which was nice.

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Xander, Mia, Grandma and I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was awesome!  There was a ton of people there that day but we still had fun.  Grandpa wanted some yummy clam chowder so we got some food to go since I had a photo session that day.  I wish we had more time to spend in San Fran, the weather was just so awesome!

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Grandpa Armstrong's birthday was the next day.  We surprised him with a train ride on the Niles Canyon Railway.  It was a steam train with decorated lighted cars.  It was fun to see my Dad in his element. He used to work for a railroad company and helped repair the trains.  I think he had a really great time!

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The kids also had a wonderful time. I don't think they have ever been in a train like this before.  We've ridden in smaller kiddie trains or the BART train but this was an experience that I think they will remember for awhile.  Santa also visited each of the cars and the kids got to visit with him.  Grandma and Grandpa had alot of fun with him too posing for pictures and Grandpa pretended to kiss him on the cheek!  I think Santa was relieved when he moved onto the next family!  We're a little crazy!

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Christmas came early for the kids and they got to open presents up from Grandma and Grandpa.  They each got the perfect gift and were so happy!  Zoey got a makeup kit and absolutely loves it! She puts makeup on almost each day and I am subjected to her makeovers almost daily.  CJ got her batman pants that she was dying to get.  Xander got an Electronic playground for the scientist in him and Mia got some baby dolls.  She is pretty much obsessed with babies these days.  

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While Grandma was here, I helped her get started with online banking and even had her join Facebook.  She loves it and it is weird to see my 70 year old Mom "like" my status or picture.  One time I saw her comment with "lol", now that was even weirder!  Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for coming!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Deck the Patch. . .fa la la la la, la la la la

Deck the patch with orange and black
fa la la la la, la la la la.
Take along your goody sack

fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our weird apparel,
fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Toll the ancient pumpkin carol,
fa la la la la, la la la la.


See the goblins rise before us,
fa la la la la, la la la la.
As we sing the pumpkin chorus,
fa la la la la, la la la la.
Follow them as they ascend,
fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Join with all your loony friends,
fa la la la la, la la la la.


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October was yet another crazy month!  We even squeezed in some Halloween caroling.  This time, to Ben's relief, I invited several families to join us. Ben would rather sing in a large group than with just our family because mostly, it is just him and I singing.  We had fun caroling, decorating cookies, and drinking hot chocolate.

CJ had fun at the Stake Youth Halloween dance and I had fun taking pictures of all the youth in their costumes.

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October was also filled with school Fall Fest, our traditional Halloween pizza night, a painting night and raking leaves.

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Xander and Mia had a parade at school. . .

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And Xander had a crazy hair day during Red Ribbon week.  He looked super fierce when he went to karate that day!

This month it was very hard for Ben and I to get on the ball and put up the Halloween decorations.  Luckily, we have done it enough that the kids will constantly remind us about putting up the decorations.  Also, the kids are great at knowing what they want to be for Halloween.

Zoey wanted to be a supergirl. . .

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CJ wanted to be batgirl. . .
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Xander wanted to be a mad scientist. . .

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Mia wanted to be a gothic vampire. . .

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I'm glad we survived October. Now if we just can survive the month of December!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Scary Things


I'm getting old.

 I don't really feel old, but I just attended my 20 year High School Reunion, so all evidence points to me being old.  Then again, I'm the same age as these people, and they don't look old, so maybe I'm not that old after all.






Anyway, while planning my trip back to my hometown of Louisville, KY, I found that my airplane ticket would be much cheaper if I stayed a couple of extra days - even after considering the cost of a couple more nights in a hotel and car rental.



So there I was, about to spend 5 days in my hometown.  My reunion was only going to occupy a single evening.  What would I do with all the extra time?



Well, since it's October, it only made sense to visit some Haunted places.  Did you know that Louisville is generally considered to be the city with the most Halloween events (per capita) in the country. There are a lot of spook alleys!   But I didn't want to spend a ton of money visiting all of them.  Instead I decided to visit some actual haunted places.



I'll share a few with you.



The Goatman of Pope Lick Trestle





I don't have the time to talk about all the legends and theories about the Goatman, but here's a quick rundown.

    The Goatman has a hairy body of a human and the head of a goat.  He haunts this trestle and the area surrounding it.  He is said to cause people to have an overwhelming urge to want to try and cross the trestle on foot.



It's a VERY bad idea to try and cross it.














The trestle is 700 feet long and nearly 100 feet high.  There are no handrails or walls of any kind along the track.  There is no floor under the track, and the spaces between ties are big enough for a grown man's foot to fall through.





Additionally, the geography of the area makes it nearly impossible to hear or see a train coming until it's right on top of you.  People die trying to cross it.



When I was a teenager, my Mom overheard us talking about going out to see the trestle.  She didn't like the idea one bit.  I wasn't planning on actually trying to cross it, but my Mom was very adamant: "Promise me you will NEVER try to cross the trestle!"  I promised.



 So here I am 20 years later at the trestle.  I'm not dumb enough to think I could actually cross it successfully, I had no intention of even getting close.



 ...



But then again, I found myself here:





I don't know what that sign says because someone scribbled it out with spray paint.  And the chain on the gate is really lose, I could easily slip through without even sucking in my ample gut.  And it's only about 20 feet to the track.  I could quickly climb up there onto the track and not actually go more than a few feet out on the trestle.  I would be safe if I had to jump off because of a train.  And think of how awesome the picture would be - taken of the TOP of the trestle - out across the valley.



I was ready to do it, but then I had 2 thoughts.  The first was my Mom's voice making me promise to never try to walk on the trestle.  The second was "I don't think the cops will believe that I couldn't read the scribbled-out sign and I might spend my week seeing the inside of a jail".



So after a bit of an internal struggle, I decided to walk over and get some pictures of the forrest all around:  The Goatman's territory.



I walked about 20 feet (the same distance I would have gone if I went up to the track).  I heard a noise in the woods.



The Goatman?



I raised my camera with a zoom lens to see if I could see anything moving around in there.



The a huge racket sounded over my right shoulder!







Yes.  A train crossed the trestle.



If I had gone up there, I would have reached the track right as the train did.



Twenty years later, my Mom saved my life.  Thanks mom.



Now I'm trying hard to remember all the other things you told me when I was a kid.  I hope it didn't all just fly in one ear and out the other.



After my heart settled down I walked under the trestle and got some more pictures.  Like this one:





This picture is unique.  No one will ever be able to take this same photo if they go and visit the trestle.  I'm not going to say why.



Hey, did you know that some Airport security people think that heavy, rusty, a-little-bit-sharp hunks of iron, like, I don't know, a railroad spike, might be used as a weapon on a plane.  And their bosses might think that it's no big deal because what are you going to do with it really, so you can go ahead and continue on as you were?



It's true.



Eastern Cemetery



This cemetery is east of Cave Hill Cemetery (the place where Colonel Sanders is buried).  People began being buried here in the late 1700's, but it was officially incorporated in the 1830's.

The significant thing about this place is that it can hold about 30,000 plots. But there are actually about 130,000 people burried here.




Um, how is that even possible?

I'll tell you - and it's horrible!

Bodies are buried as much as five deep!  Now, I don't mean five coffins stacked on top of each other, I mean that they buried someone, then later, using a backhoe, dug them up, destroying the coffin and bones.  Then they buried someone else and filled it in with the dirt,coffin,and bones fragments. Then they did this again a total of five times!










The result is that sometimes when it rains, coffin parts are exposed.  Also, burrowing critters like groundhogs often push out bones and coffin pieces in their dirt.  You literally have to watch where you are walking to avoid steping on someone.

The incorporation that owns the cemetery is bankrupt and has done nothing to maintain the cemetery for decades.  Luckily there are some good souls who volunteer their time and money to try to keep it presentable.

Eastern Cemetery is filled with broken headstones.








And headstones covered by shrubbery.












And headstones that don't have a place.







And unmarked graves of slaves.







There is supposedly the ghost of a woman who wanders around the area where babies where buried. She apparently takes care of them.



I wanted to take home a souvenir from my visit here.  I found a tiny bone near an animal hole.  I almost took it, but then I thought that these poor people have been disturbed enough.  Anyway, for all I know, it was either an animal bone or just a piece of wood. So I left with only these photos as a souvenir. 



That's good enough.



Waverly Hills Sanatorium



If you ever watch any of those Ghost Hunters-type shows, you've probably heard of this place.  It's considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world. 

I got many of these pictures from the internet because they are very picky about not allowing photography (unless you pay them ridiculous amounts of money first).







I first visited this place 20-ish years ago with my brother and my cousin and some friends (I really can't remember exactly who was there).  It was very overgrown.  We parked some distance away and picked our way along a trail on foot.  There was a trail wide enough to walk single file, but you could tell it was cement or pavement.  It turns out, it was a full sized road that was just overgrown.  It's cleared now and you drive up on it.



So have the trees and brush that had grown up close to the walls.



I remember how terrifying that place was when I went as a teenager.  I didn't even know it was supposed to be haunted.










Waverly Hills was a tuberculosis hospital.  As many as 63,000 people may have died here.  There are tons of ghosts in it.  You can pay to do an overnight ghost investigation almost anytime of the year.  However, in October, they put on a spook alley on in the first floor to raise money toward the preservation of the building.   So you can't do any overnight tours.  But they do offer "mini-tours", where they lead you through the second, third, fourth and fifth floors. The tours last about 45 min.



I did this.



And it was AWESOME!



And I saw ghosts!













The entire tour is done with the lights off.  No flashlights, no cellphones, nothing.  Your eyes get used to the dark and you become sensitive to slight changes in light and any movement that may happen.

On the fourth floor, I saw many, quick moving shadows and the shadow silhouette of a man.



We stopped at one end of a very long hallway.



There were open doorways all along both sides of the hall, so there were rectangles of moonlight along the floor - all the way down.  As we looked toward the end of the hall at the rectangle of a window, we would see periodic shadows moving toward us very quickly.  These light shadows would block the light coming from both sides of the hall, so the shadows were originating in the hall.



At the end of the hall, beside the window, I could see the silhouette of a man standing against the wall.  I thought it was one of the two tour guides.  We began walking down the hall toward the shadow figure, who seemed to be leaning against the wall, waiting for us.  When we were about 10 feet away, I was distracted by a noise to my left, I reflexively looked to my left, then realizzing it was nothing, looked forward again.



The man was gone!



In the time it took for me to look away and back again, he disappeard.



And there was nowhere for him to go!  No doors, no opened windows.



Freaking AWESOME!








After the tour, you could pay to take a "Coffin Ride".  You get locked into a coffin hooked up to hydraulics that lifts it and shakes it.  There are night vision cameras inside so the spectators can see your face throughout the ride.



Other Scary Locations:


U of L Old Medical School.




 

This was the site of "The Resurrectionist".  That was a guy in the early 1800's who would rob graves and bring the bodies to the medical school for research.  He would then dispose of the bodies by dropping them in a well a couple of blocks away.




The Hanging Tree








 

Now its just a fountain, but there used to be a tall tree here.  It was the site of numerous lynchings and several suicides.  Including a suicide in the early 1900's where a guy hung himself 50 feet off the ground.  It took 3 days before they were able to get him down because there were no ladders tall enough.



The Old Colgate Factory (Indiana)

 

The rumor is that those people who worked in the basement were paid extra for being brave enough to work amongst all the ghosts!





Other Things.

Here are a few other pictures of not-so-scary places:



My childhood home.





The Woods I Used to Play In.





The Tree We Built a Tree House In








The Belle of Louisville







Churchill Downs





Louisville Slugger








The Ohio River (and Indiana)





I got to catch up with several friends from school and church while I was there.  I love that place! I had an awesome time!