Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just a Reminder—It's great to be a kid!

I love these photos that my Mom got last week. I remember wheel barrel rides with my sister. Those were the days!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Recent Family Photo Shoot

We got some great new family photos taken a couple of months ago. Just wanted to share a few here and show off the talents of my favorite photographer - Lauren Larsen! She makes us look so good!!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thank you Winkflash!

Once in a while I find a company that stands out in quality and customer service. It’s rare, but this one just screams to be bragged on, especially recently.

Back in 2005, with the coming of our first son Nathan, I made the switch to digital photography. I know, I’m a graphic designer, so I should be all over those high-teck advancements, but I also grew up the daughter of a professional photographer. There are film processing chemicals in my blood (really)! Film is the only way and Kodak is the only brand! Photography was our life!

But I was finding out that film photography was getting very expensive and I knew I would want to take dozens, hundred, well - okay thousands of photos of our new little boy! So right before our last vacation as a couple - to my favorite place, New York - I settled on a camera. I guess since I was leaving the comfort of my film photography roots I decided to go all the way and after a lot of research I bought a Pentax! And I still love that little camera - now passed onto my parents. It takes the best photos ever but is just slow on shutter speed and you cannot take a photo without the blinding flash!

All that to say, with a new digital camera, I needed to find a new printer for those photos I would be taking. I did my usual www.dogpile.com searches, read a lot, decided against the more popular sites with the cutesie fish/bug/shutter names and landed on a site that was almost as new as I was! www.winkflash.com

I’ve been a loyal customer and it’s been my only photography home since the beginning. I was attracted to them for the price - at that time 8 cents for 4x6 - cheaper than anyone else. Now they have a permanent coupon for 6 cents a 4x6. Beat that! They used to offer 99 cent shipping no matter how much you ordered - and I really miss that. But usps just keeps raising their rates so who can blame them for charging more too! So their price got my attention but the production made me stop. All digital images are printed with real film processing and chemicals and printed on Fuji paper! They had addressed my biggest fear - I didn’t want to order from someone and get crappy printing off a laser printer or something that would fade over time. Sure enough, with my first order came real photographs that look just like what I used to get with my film camera! I was thrilled.

Over the years I have branched out to create their books, purchase photo Christmas cards from them and I LOVE their canvas transfers! I’ve seen stuff from other digital places and Winflash beats their quality every time (and usually their price)!

Now that’s enough to keep me happy and make me stay. But what has me here bragging is their customer service! No foreigners you can’t understand, no attitude, no problems. You call, they help and you will be amazed!

I think the first time I called was when I ordered one of Nathan’s annual photobooks. This is a little project I took on after Nathan’s first year and it has become a Christmas tradition for the Grandparents and Great Grandma’s. When I finally finish creating the book (of course I have to put my designer’s touch to it - can’t use their templates) I order 10 copies - not cheap. Luckily each year they offer a great coupon at the time I need to order and that saves me a bundle. The second year my big box of 10 books arrived and as I anxiously flipped through one I saw a blank page. I almost passed out - surely I didn’t cause that mistake! I ran to the computer and was relieved to see that the page I intended was on the saved version on their site and should have printed. I called them up after 6 pm not sure what to expect. What I got was a really nice guy who apologized up and down, said quality control should have caught that and to just throw away the books - they would be printing all new ones and sending them out the next day! Wow. From that moment, any time I had a question or concern I called. Always nice, always helpful and I even got a $5 credit once because I told the lady how much I love them.

Well, that’s not the reason for the brag here! This happened a couple of weeks ago. I’ve gotten woefully behind on my photos and needed to order a ton of them. So I finally got it together and ordered over 500 photos - $50+ for that order. I didn’t think much of it and went on about my business, fully expecting to see a big box in 3 or 4 days. Instead, the next day I got an email from the manager. Because of an error on their part, some of my photos were not printing so they were refunding the whole order and sending them all to me. The blank photos would be the ones that did not print and I could reorder them later when they fixed their problem. WHAT! I just got a $50 order for free? I couldn’t believe it and wondered just how many was a few blank photos? Turns out there was about 50 photos that didn’t print - that’s $3 plus shipping. But no, they refunded the whole price! Can you believe that! I called them later and was told that they were updating some of their servers which meant that some of the photos were not available at print time, but everything was safe and would be available again soon. Since we were being inconvenienced, they were refunding the cost of everyone’s photos during a certain time period! I was floored. Refunding the images that didn’t print would have been plenty and completely acceptable in the situation. But instead, they contacted me before the package shipped, refunded the full order cost and sent me all the photos! Unbelievable - but very true.

So, Winkflash, you have my business for life (although you already did)! And even though I brag and recommend you to everyone that mentions photos to me - I will be bragging about you even more now!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Truly Beautiful - The Grand Hotel

My Dad got back from a vacation at the Grand Hotel in Michigan a couple of weeks ago. I have been working through his photos (cropping and color correcting) for about a week now and each photo reminds me of just how beautiful the Grand Hotel is.

We all got a special treat two years ago when we took a big family vacation for my Dad’s 70th birthday. I was so taken with the place that I long to go back and love to see photos of it.

My sister and I first sent my parents to the Grand Hotel for a vacation when we found out how stressed my Mom had become after years of caring for our grandmother who suffered from alzheimer’s. James thought of the place because he had been there once on a vacation with his Dad and he knows how much my family enjoys movies. The hotel was the setting of an old 1980’s film called Somewhere In Time. If you haven’t seen it, check it out - it’s a GOOD film. Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour - very fun and the hotel is gorgeous! After that one trip, my Dad was hooked and this vacation makes 5 trips to the Grand Hotel for him!

The Grand Hotel was built in the 1800’s on Mackinac Island, Mi. The island is very beautiful and has been well preserved because they do not allow any cars! It feels like a step back in time and I think that adds to it’s charm. The island is not too large and has one main shopping area so most things you would want to see or do are easily reached by walking - and a beautiful walk it is! Some people ride horses and there are horse drawn carriages that you can catch like a taxi.

Of course the hotel offers beautiful carriages that can become very fancy.

Many locals ride bicycles which can also be rented for the day.

It creates an amazing atmosphere of quiet and rhythmic clip-clopping of hooves, fresh air (except for the occasional horse smell) and a relaxed environment. Perfect for a simple vacation. To add to the fresh air, Mackinac is known for their fudge and lilacs!

I love lilacs!

They are not very common in Texas, but I did grow up with the most beautiful purple lilac bush in our backyard. It would bloom once a year and I would go to that bush and just stand over it and inhale! It is by far the sweetest most wonderful flower smell there is! I was amazed at the lilacs on Mackinac Island when we visited. They were just starting to bloom and the island smelled like heaven! But what amazed me was to find they were lilac TREES, not bushes!

These beautiful trees (that might remind you of our Crepe Myrtles in size and color) were so heavily laidened with blooms that they almost drooped. I could not smell them enough!

So, I guess you could say the Island is a memorable experience for the senses - sweet smells of chocolate and lilacs, clip-clop of horse hooves, the beautiful sites of a tree and flower covered island with a very old-world feel and the feel of cool breezes from the lake. And taste - well, if you don’t get full on the fudge, the Grand Hotel offers a menu to die for at breakfast and dinner!

To me there is so much to enjoy about the hotel. All my growing up, we stayed at the occasional Best Western or Holiday Inn on family vacations. I’ve always felt that a hotel is where you sleep and that’s all. Simple rooms and no reason to stay there a moment more than necessary. Anyway - the point of most vacations is to go and see, not sit in a stuffy old hotel room watching bad tv. Not so with the Grand Hotel!

To start, you have to take a ferry or private plane to the island. It is a beautiful ride with much to see and as the island comes into view you instantly notice the large Grand Hotel.

As the island grows closer, you can sense just how large the hotel is. Once on the island, as a guest of the Hotel, you climb into a beautiful horse drawn carriage that slowly winds through the town, house lined streets and up to the road leading to the hotel.

Everything about it is Grand!

The road is wide and lined with trees as you come around the curve and get the first glimpse of the Hotel, it should take your breath away!

I am a detail person - I love little touches and things that could be left out but when present make something all the better. The Grand Hotel is full of those things. There is just an air about the place.

Flowers are colorful and routinely changed, employees are uniformed to the 9’s and everyone is polite and professional. The Hotel is exclusive - if you are not staying you can’t visit unless you have dinner reservations or come for a paid tour. So, from the moment you step off the carriage, you know you are special. The logo of the hotel is a carriage and that or their “G” can be seen everywhere. Even the outdoor ashtrays have the G stamped in the sand! Once in the room, the logo is stamped into the first piece of toilet paper, folded neatly, their towels say the Grand Hotel, there are soaps and toiletries, chocolates on your pillow and the covers are turned down, a satin cloth for your shoes, peppermint sticks by the bed...it just goes on and on. The hotel also has a signature flower - the Geranium. You will see them on the grand porch, in flowerpots, in the custom carpet pattern and other various places - and everything smells of Geraniums, even the soap!

Walk every floor of the hotel and you will feel like you are in a museum. There are photos and artwork that range from old and foreign movie posters to historical photos and letters about the island and the hotel.

And because of the fame it gained from the movie, there are some items and photos from Somewhere In Time. Including the hat Christopher Reeve wore.

The artwork and paintings are lovely and just the size of the place is impressive. The lobby area goes on and on with plenty of chairs and couches to relax.

The front porch was in the Guiness book of world records for it’s size and it is lined with white rocking chairs and American Flags. As if that is not enough, there is a beautiful garden/lawn that you can look down on from the porch and a wonderful view of the lake and a light house. Each step is a picture postcard waiting to be made!

Dining there is an experience. Breakfast is a generous buffet or you can order off the menu - several styles of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and french bread, fruit, cereals and pastries. Dinner is a 5 course meal and you have 4-5 options to choose for each course. All very fancy and very delicious served by mostly Jamacian wait staff that comes to the island each year for training and experience. And on your way out the door, a doorman presents a serving platter stacked high with gold wrapped chocolates (with the carriage printed on the wrapper).

All this to say...as the weather grows hotter and you get an itch to travel or go on a unique vacation, consider the Grand Hotel. There is no place else quite like it and everyone should go at least once! Maybe one day we’ll get back there ourselves.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Check us out!

You can go to my friend Lauren Larsen's blog to check out two great photos of us! http://laurenlarsenblog.com/

We had a family photo shoot with her a few weeks ago and I am anxiously awaiting all the pictures. She does such great work!

Soon we will have new photos for our fireplace and great family pics for family Christmas gifts!

Thank you Lauren for your beautiful work!!!

The Grace of God

We had a whopper of a storm here on June 11th, last Thursday. It’s probably one of the worst I have been in and brought with it lots of problems and complications. Just a simple reminder that we are not in control (of even the simple things like dinner time) and we tend to value “things” too much. Yet when we see how easy it is to lose much, we are grateful when we only lose a little.

If you’ve ever talked weather with me, you will soon learn that I have little respect for the TV weathermen or expect too much from their forecasts. They are just too wrong too often. Don’t even get me started on their false ice storm predictions just to get more air-time! So when I heard 30% chance of rain to severe storms for Thursday night, I thought we’d be lucky to get a drop. James was surprisingly home early (before 6:30 pm is early to us) that night and Nathan was convinced he had seen the neighbor boy out front. I was doubtful because of the rain and it being dinner time, but since our dinner was almost ready I thought a little walk might be nice. At least easier than arguing with an almost 4-year-old.

So we left Evan inside with Dad and went down the street. The sky ahead looked grim, black with mounting clouds and I quickly convinced Nathan that everyone was inside eating dinner. We were going to step up to our neighbor’s yard to say hello to their puppies on our way back when the city emergency sirens went off. Nathan and I ran back to the house and I grabbed a bag of toys, box of books and a few flashlights as we scooted into the powder bath with Dad and Evan. (Sorry Daphne - you’re on your own. She’d never let me catch her anyway.)

The storm came up fast and the electricity went off immediately. I entertained the boys with stories and Nathan determined that this was very exciting and he liked storms even better than rain! James checked outside a few times to see if it was safe to come out and finally the storm passed over. Being inside, we didn’t have a real sense of how bad it was but James looked concerned and said the wind was really bad.

The one thing I hate about our city’s emergency sirens is that after they sound for a few minutes, they go off. Then you are left to wonder if it is safe to come out or not. In some storms they have sounded and turned off several times within 10 minutes. So then I wonder did the first sound mean take cover, the silence mean wait and the next sound mean all clear? Or did the first sound mean take cover, the silence mean all clear, then the second sound mean take cover again? So many things in life should come with a manual!

When the winds had died down and we finally came out, we decided to have a candle lit dinner. Luckily I had gotten home early enough to have dinner ready and it was still hot when the storm past. We ate dinner in the flickering light, listening to the rain and thunder without any TV to distract. Funny how dependent we become on electricity! We waited about an hour and when the power didn’t come back on I called my mom. She lives 20 minutes away and she said the storm there was not as bad and she had power. So we decided it was time for a sleep over! Even more fun for Nathan.

James and I took turns gathering clothes and items we would need to sleep over at Grandma’s house and still go to work the next day. On a plus side, the kids would already be at Grandma’s so James could get right off to work. When we were ready to go, James had to figure out how to open the electric garage door manually! We took both cars so we could get to work and I chatted with one of the neighbor’s sons while I waited for James to close the garage and lock everything down.

We were grateful to see that our fence was still standing since it is the original fence that came with the house - paper thin and leaning in places. In fact, as we drove out of the housing development, we only noticed one large tree was down on the street below ours (more on that later).

As the evening developed and I thought through things, I realized what a good idea it was to go to Grandma’s for the evening. Without electricity and no idea when it would come on, we would have a hard time not having monitors to hear the boys at night. They would not have night lights to make their rooms less scary if they woke. Our bedroom is down stairs so we can’t hear them without a monitor. To add to that, my Dad had taken a vacation alone to the Grand Hotel and was due back that night. Mom had planned to just drive by the airport to pick him up. When we got to her house, she had called and found out that the flight from Detroit was diverted to Kansas and would be coming in later but not sure when. James quickly decided that he was going to the airport to wait for my Dad.

Evan fell asleep on the way over, so I slipped him into bed. Anticipating that the drive would put a sleepy guy out, I already had him in his pj’s. But he woke for a bottle while I was getting Nathan in bed. Mom was so great to get Evan back to sleep. I had forgotten how bright my Mom’s house is and how loud the old ceiling fans are, so I had a hard time falling asleep. Plus the storm was still raging outside with constant rain and thunder. Nathan slept like a log and I was up and down calling James to check on him and listening to Evan's baby monitor giving feedback.

James said the airport was one of the worst he had seen. Lots of people looking lost, canceled flights because all the planes were grounded and the boards were not updated so no one knew when or were things were coming in. There was also no one to ask at any of the desks - I figured they were hiding in the back somewhere. When Dad finally landed and they arrived home after 2 am, I found out that he left Kansas around 9 pm, circled the airport until they ran out of fuel, went to Oklahoma for more gas and came back to circle again until they landed. Dad looked a little worse for the trip, but he was holding up well. He had a great time at the Hotel so that helped a lot. We all crawled back into beds to try to get some sleep.

If I fell asleep at all, it was quickly ended by Evan waking - not crying but more of a quisical “ohhh? Ooooh, Uhhhh?” I grabbed a bottle and was up with him until he finally fell back to sleep after 6 am. He wouldn’t let me sit at all, so I walked the whole time expect for when I gave him the 3 bottles I hoped would make him sleep.

I maybe got 2 or 3 hours of sleep so I decided to take the day off, go back home to see if we had electricity and get some sleep. Good thing I did! After hearing a lot about the trip from Dad and looking a the photos in the digital camera, I returned home about 9:30 am.

Street lights were working, which was a good sign, and as I drove into the development I thought how nice that the city had picked up that big tree already (yeah, more on that).

I noticed a street sign leaning, a speed sign flattened and the community mailbox on the ground instead of it’s pedistol. It was when I rounded the corner that I realized things were not as we had left them the night before. People’s fences were down!

Not just a few panels or in one direction, but all over. I got to our house to find 3 sections of fence on each side down, wooden fence posts snapped off at the ground or bent until uprooted and our backyard stuff everywhere.

I found the grill cover, lid and sandbox lid at the side of our house. Nathan’s slide was halfway across the neighbor’s yard! I was glad to see the back fence was still up although leaning a bit more than before. Over all, we fared better than most!

I talked to the neighbors on both sides and found out that electricity came back around midnight and the second and worst storm came through at 6 am. Both families hid in interior rooms and said their walls were shaking. They heard 75-90 mile an hour winds! I was so grateful the boys where not there to experience that! Oh, and that tree we saw down on the right side of the street when we left at 9 pm was the tree from across the street (normally on the left side) it had been uprooted and dropped across the street with the first storm, then blown down the road and across a major intersection with the morning storm! When I left that afternoon, I saw it laying across the intersection in a different person’s yard!

You can see the round bricks where the tree used to be...

Now it is outside our housing development, across a major street!

What a wild storm! I spent the morning taking photos for the insurance, moving and putting things away in case a new storm came that night and talking with the neighbors. By the time I called insurance and ate lunch, I got about a 2 hour nap before I had to go pick up the kids! Oh well, sleep is overrated.

James got to spend 7am-4pm Sunday mending the fence on one side by himself. Our really nice neighbors on the other said they would take care of it since they have older boys and they kind of owed us for the fence extension we had done several years before. So, at least we only had to do work on half the fence. I was frustrated that I couldn’t help James, but someone had to watch Evan (Nathan could run around on his own and be fine) and it was just too hot to be out.

We did find out today from the insurance adjustor that our roof is in great shape and because our deductible is $1,000 they wouldn’t give us anything for the fence. But we did learn that trees are covered without any deductible and one of our pear trees lost a limb. He said they give $250 a tree for damage, so that will cover our fence costs! Had we lost a whole tree, that wouldn’t be much, but since we just lost a small limb, we are feeling more than blessed!