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Christmas Card - Behind The Music

  • Sunday, December 11, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari

  • Presenting our Christmas Card picture for 2011. We are quickly coming to the realization that we are reaching a creative point in our pictures that we probably cannot sustain.

    This is particularly exemplified in this year's card. The short of it--approximately 3 weeks of concept development/execution, two location changes, three photoshoots, and two editing sessions for the final product.

    And the long version...

    First of all, the concept itself. Jeff was very disappointed with himself this year. Every picture previously taken to this year Jeff came up with the concept himself. Despite starting the brainstorming weeks in advance, his ideas this year were lame. He finally came across a picture similar to our own on the internet site Flickr. The immediate appeal to Jeff was the complexity of the shot itself. However, the original picture had some limitations (ie distracting background elements, no color, etc) that Jeff thought he could improve on. Little did we know how long an endeavor it would soon turn into.

    First off, the ornament itself. In order to make everyone somewhat visible we had to find a pretty large ornament that was also extremely reflective. As you can see from Rachel's finger in the picture, the ornament was pretty good size (8+ inches in diameter I'd say). It required an entire trip in to town by itself just to purchase the ornament.

    Second, Jeff wanted nothing distracting in the background. This proved difficult as the ornament reflected >180 degrees of scenery. Luckily, we live in an area with plenty of farms around.

    At least it seemed easy on the surface. But, Jeff wanted color--larger than life colors. The original area we picked out had a perfect little pine tree on it. The only problem was the grass itself. For those outside of Texas, we experienced a record drought and heat wave this summer. As a result, the majority of the grass in the area was an unflattering brown. We wanted green for Christmas! So the hunt continued. We found a neighboring irrigated field and commandeered it.

    Our next hurdle was the weather. Our first attempt was frustrated by grey skies. Our second attempt produced some decent shots, but 20+ mph winds blurred the already grainy reflection. That and the fact that little Rachel couldn't keep her exposed finger out in the 30 degree weather for very long. We had to wait for another week or so for the weather to cooperate.

    Lighting our faces was the next hurdle. Flash photography was out because you could see the flashes in the shot. We therefore had to shoot the picture at dusk when the setting sun would still light up our faces without casting shadows (hence the glowing faces and rim of sunlight around the ornament). We had a 10 minute window or so of cooperating light. Also, dusk was also the only way to get a frontlit picture with a super blue sky behind us.

    Of course the most difficult element was wrangling the kids and dogs for those few minutes of vanishing light. While not as crisp a shot as Jeff originally wanted (he was wanting to have another crack at it), it was good enough for the masses.

    And the final question? Where's the camera? It was mounted on a tripod in the field a few feet behind us. We were all standing about 2 feet from the ornament and Jeff was pushing a remote behind his back to fire the photos. It was tough to keep the boys' hair out of the frame, but after almost a hundred shots the only editing that was done was to crop the camera out and put grass back in its place.

    So, there you have it. Definitely our most technical shot. Definitely our most labor intensive (as far as finding a location and then getting all the elements to cooperate in turn). Probably won't be topped--but then again Jeff has 11 months to start planning the next one...

    Merry Christmas, but now the models are going on break!

    2011 - Year in Review

  • Thursday, December 8, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • Well, it's that time of year. For most of you reading this, you have (or will shortly have) received our family Christmas card. Can you believe it? We actually got our card out early this year--such an accomplishment! However, we were forced to play the age old game of printing a family update. Some view an annual update as pretentious or boastful while others welcome the ritual recap. Last year we were of the former mindset and thus forewent the update. This year we were undecided and so took the middle road--we saved some trees and for those that really care what we are up to we give you a blog update (complete with ugly dog pics).
     
    Our family highlights of the year are as follows:


    First (and foremost) we hit Disney World over Spring Break. This was a first for our family. Most of us had never been to Florida or Disney World (or on an airplane for that matter)! Regardless of how cliche it may be, Disney really did make some great memories and I don't know how we'll top that vacation anytime soon.
     
    This summer we were able to get together with some of Jeff's siblings down in San Antonio for a couple days as well.
     
    Bomber (the first Smith family member) past away this summer on the hottest day of the hottest year in Texas. The grief felt by all was eased by the addition of Bunker (aka Bomber Jr) earlier this fall.
     
    Hot on the tail of reading the Book of Mormon as a family last year, the kids repeated their success by finishing the New Testament.

    We met a (semi-)celebrity favorite at our house--Alton Brown of the Food Network show "Good Eats"! He signed a copy of each of his books for each one of us.
     
    And probably the biggest change of all this year was courtesy of Hannah. Hannah decided to go vegetarian at the start of the year. Despite all our doubts, she stuck with it and in turn dragged us all (some of us kicking and screaming) in. At this point, the boys plead for meat and savor the weekly bacon we have each Sunday with our traditional waffles.

    As far as individual family member updates:

    Rachel started first grade this year. As a result, we have three of the kids at same school for the first time ever. Rachel is definitely the family social butterfly--she will engage anyone at anytime about any topic. She is following after her older sister in degree of selectivity in her clothing. She learned how to tie her shoes this year, but still has not learned how to ride a bike without training wheels.
     
    Jonathan got baptized this summer. He enjoyed having his cousins all come down and having his aunts and uncles participate. Jonathan loves riding his bike to school everyday--in fact, last year he and his brother were the lone riders and had to get special permission from the school to even allow it. This year they've recruited two more riders to their two-wheeled uprising. Jonathan is always trying to find someone to play outside.
     
    Jacob decided to join Hannah this year in the eyeglasses club. It may be due (not really) to the fact he wears his eyes out reading so much every day. Or it might possibly be the ever growing taste for video games. Jacob continues to receive countless comments about his goldilocks and thus he allows his hair to grow in Samson-like fashion.
     
    Hannah is trying to sever her ties to childhood. While only 11, she pines for the activities of teenage lore. It might have to do with the fact that she started middle school this year. Everyday is a new battle for the perfect outfit and the perfect hair. Shopping has become her vehicle to attain her goal of perfection (much to her mother's delight). Middle school has brought countless new clubs and opportunities for our ever distracted oldest.
     
    Jeff continues to work as a solo family physician. Despite trying to rein in the scope of his practice, his time constraints continue to narrow. As a result, his time to find new hobbies has diminished and so rather than delving head first into new hobbies, he's skimming the surface of other family members' hobbies--like taking Hannah's vegetarianism to the extremes of raw/veganism and back. Or dabbling in Kari's running. Give him a month and he'll move on (or steal yours).
     

    Kari continues to rule the roost. But with power comes great responsibility--mainly responsibilty for the animals (humanoid or not). She continues to pop into Jeff's office from time to time to keep the dust off her nursing scrubs. As far as what goes on behind the scenes at home--she likes to keep it underwraps.
     

    Well, that's the latest for the year 2011. Here's to wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas this holiday season!
     

    I STINK AT THIS

  • Sunday, September 11, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • So I'd like to do a "Back to School" post but seeing as I haven't done anything since March I've got a lot to catch up on.  I'm going to try it in short but sweet picture posts. It may or may not be in order because I'm too old to remember when things happened, I do have a middle schooler you know. 
    Trip to the new dallas aquarium. It was small but had some neat exibits.
      

    Fishing at a friends pond.
    Jake is now done fishing.

    We've discovered how much fun geocaching can be.

    Hannah played the viola for one year. Just one.

    At Fishcamp in Rockwall. They were catching fish left and right.

    Lego land!!!!
    This is Jonny's idea of heaven.

    Lost a tooth.

    Mesquite Roedo.

    Jonathan got baptized.

    Jonathan's birthday party.



    Jeff and I got to take a trip to Cocoa Beach and visit the famous "Ron Jon Surf Shop".

    They were really hungry.      

        This concludes our summer in pictures part one. I may or may not ever get part two up. We'll see.

    WDW slideshow

  • Sunday, March 27, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • Walt Disney World

  • Jeff and Kari














  • It's a daunting task to try and highlight the events of the past week or so, but we'll try and hit the highlights.

    So, we promised the kids probably two years running that we we would take them to Walt Disney World. We knew it'd be pricey and we wanted the kids to be old enough to enjoy it. Unfortunately, the only time we could get away this year was Spring Break (one of the busies times of year for Disney), but decided to do it anyways. The following short synopsis doesn't do justice to the amount of time spent planning this trip. For those planning a future trip or frustrated by past trips, we highly recommend the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. It definitely made our potentially stressful trip a whole lot smoother. Hannah had it practically memorized and any time we had a question about dining options or rides, Hannah could step in with the needed information.
    The family on their first flight together



















    So, the trip started with a flight. We knew we would save a lot driving, but we would arrive tired and depart even more tired. Besides, none of our kids (except Hannah as a baby) have flown and I think the kids were almost as excited about the flight as they were Disney World. We flew out on a Wednesday and arrived that evening. We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter--we highly recommend this hotel. We had no idea how spread out some of the hotels were at Disney and were glad that this hotel was pretty tightly compacted. Our first night there we took a boat ride down to Downtown Disney--a mess of shops and dining. Jonathan enjoyed the Lego store and all the kids enjoyed the massive toy store. We got snacks and headed back to the hotel so we could get an early start on the next day.
    Rachel on the morning of our first day-already tired!
    Day #1: Our first day was spent at Disney Hollywood Studios. The best way to tackle Disney is to to get there early and ride the popular rides first. As a result, Jeff took the 3 oldest kids to the Rock N' Rollercoaster. None of our kids have ridden a rollercoaster and they rode Disney's scariest first! It shook Jonny up a little, but unfortunately for us, turned them into adrenaline junkies the rest of the trip. The second ride was Tower of Terror which Kari and Rachel joined the group for and found it to be scarier than the roller coaster! We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and then had a New England clam bake dinner.

    Day #2: Animal Kingdom. Part zoo, part amusement park. The kids' favorite ride was Expedition Everest--like Disney's Matterhorn ride on steroids. They rode it twice. One of the neater rides was the Kilimanjaro safari ride that took you on an African savannah safari. We felt the crowds a little bit this day and missed some shows as a result, but still had a good time. We ate an African buffet at Animal Kingdom lodge--a hotel with a African safari outside the rooms. That was pretty neat.
    First in line at Magic Kingdom!















    Day #3: Magic Kingdom. The park everyone waits for! By this point we had the Fast Pass system down. We got to the park early and racked up the rides for the first several hours. In fact, we had seen most of everything and actually went back to our hotel for a midday nap for the kids (and the adults)! Refueled, we returned that evening for some more rides, dining with Winnie the Pooh and friends, and fireworks! Favorite ride this day: Thunder Mountain Railroad--Rachel made us ride this ride 5 times total! The kids even road Space Mountain twice!
    Jonny was picked by Cinderella to dance at one of our dinners!















    Day #4: No parks. Our day of rest. I don't think the kids would have made another early morning. It was nice to just spend some time together as a family outside of the park this day.

    Jeff and the kids in front of "Germany" at Epcot.















    Day #5: Epcot. We should've done this park first. Being the most "educational" Disney park, by this point of our vacation the kids were looking for their next "coaster fix". As a result, Epcot was not as popular with the kids as it could've been. Favorite ride: Test Track--a car test simulator ride. This was the closest the kids could get to a coaster and were disappointed we only rode it twice. Jeff was excited to eat his pre-birthday dinner at the Biergarten--a German family buffet restaurant. Kari and the kids finally got to taste some of his mission food. I think the kids just tolerated it for Dad!

    Big Thunder Mountain - a consensus favorite!















    Day #6: Magic Kingdom-Round 2. Our last day of vacation and we had already visited this main attraction once. As a result we hit the few rides we had missed the first time and revisited our favorites. In all, the kids rode Space Mountain 5 times and Big Thunder Railroad 8 times! Not bad for Spring Break crowds! It was Jeff's birthday this day and Kari and the kids got him a Disney birthday button that he wore the whole day. Every Disney worker (and even some patrons) that saw him wished him a "Happy Birthday!" After the park, we caught a bus back to the airport and flew home. We hit our beds in Sulphur Springs at midnight only to sadly wake up for work and school the next day.

    Rachel braving the front car of Space Mountain.















    We loved our Disney vacation. We did have the sad realization that perhaps we had waited too long to take the kids--we thought Dumbo would be the popular ride and the characters would be a big hit, but the roller coasters won out! The kids are already pushing for Six Flags this summer!

    Jeff's birthday has become a travel day as of late (we spent it travelling back from El Salvador last year).  As a result, we celebrated it as a family this last Wednesday.  Jeff's brother Kurt and his family were in town for their Spring Break so it was nice to see them as well.

    Jeff and the kids making 35 wishes!

    Countdown to the Magic...

  • Sunday, March 13, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • Spring Break has sprung upon us--where does the time go? It seems like just last weekend the basketball season started and now it's over and the next sport has started.

    We're still in the midsst of basketball fever at our house. College basketball is definitely our favorite sport to watch. Kentucky had a decent season (it's funny how if they aren't top 10 in the county we think they're doing poorly). BYU has definitely captured our attention. Despite having the best team in decades, they still managed to unravel going into the post season. Although we love watching the NCAA tournament, our teams always tend to disappoint. Is it sad that Jeff is actually a little disappointed that our vacation will overlap the first round of tournament games (that's when all the excitement happens he says)?!

    Which brings us to Disney World. We've promised the kids for the last two years that we would take them to Disney World. Rachel is 6 (and the rest aren't getting any younger) so we are finally making good on our promise. Unfortunately, Spring Break was the only time that really worked with our schedule. So, our "relaxing" vacation may be battling the masses. But, that's alright. The kids are excited about the multitude of firsts they will be experiencing--their first plane ride, their first Disney World trip, their first set of luggage, and their first freedom to eat whatever they want for a week a straight!

    We'll keep you posted. While we're gone, keep track of BYU for us--you might even have time to learn how to "Jimmer" (terrible music but decent highlight reel). NPOY

  • Sunday, March 6, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • Here's a post for ya...You're driving me nuts! (This post is meant exclusively for Jeff.)

    February 2011

  • Sunday, February 27, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • Falling behind on this thing again.  Yet another whirlwind of a month this last month.

    Recap.

    The kids have been playing basketball.  Much to their father's (and mother's for that matter) delight it seems that all the kids are progressing nicely in the sport.  Poor little Rachel though--she can't get the ball up to the net.  In fact, all her shots look like little passes.

    Although, Jeff has only really seen them actually play once.  Their first game he was on call.  The next Saturday was cancelled due to snow.  Then a medical conference and call again.  The perks of fatherhood.

    Although, it's not like little Rachel has had many chances to play.  February has plagued Rachel with illness.  First she had strep throat and had to miss one game.  Then the next week she came down with chicken pox (and, yes, her dad vaccinated her).  That was a fun five days home for Mom.

    Apparently, the germs spread to our vehicles as well.  After going back and forth with a repair shop for a couple weeks with brake issues, the Suburban's ball joint decided to go out--luckily after we had exited the freeway!  The day we get that car back, Jeff's car goes out.  The kids are taking these as signs that we need new cars--they want a "swagger wagon" like Uncle Brad and Aunt Karrie.  For now, they will just have to be content with the video...

    January

  • Sunday, February 6, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • It only took a year for the dogs to be BFFs

    Well, our New Year's blog resolution has stood up about as well as our other resolutions.

    Let's catch-up--shall we?

    Well, Jeff's last living grandparent passed on 1/11/11.  And one day later our youngest living child turned 6--time goes by so quickly.

    Having missed his grandfather's funeral last summer due to Jake's finger surgery, he felt like he should pay tribute this time around.  So, Jeff flew back to Utah for a quick visit for the 2nd time in 3 weeks.  He enjoyed the quick trip seeing all the extended family--despite the circumstances.  Jeff related at the funeral that his fondest memory was spending his Thanksgiving's away at college with Grandpa and Grandma Johnson.  But perhaps an even better memory were those childhood memories of picking raspberries in her backyard or building a dam in their creek with his siblings in near zero snowmelt.  Grandma Johnson will be missed.

    The Kent Johnson girls
    The Dee Johnson crew
    Graveside Dedication
    Unfortunately, the funeral and Rachel's birthday party were the same days.  Which meant that Jeff missed a flurry of 12+ six year olds tearing up the house (we know he was heartbroken).  You know the neat thing about Rachel--she doesn't mind having a birthday so close to Christmas.  Despite racking up plenty of presents two weeks earlier, she took it in stride, and forced herself to tear open a dozen more.  Jeff's most favorite recent memory of Rachel was having her curled up on his lap while watching the movie "Ratatoiulle" (does it bother anyone else that the entire movie is about cooking rodents?).

    A portion of the monster burger that led to Jeff's illness during his stay in Utah
    Rachel blowing out 6 candles
    What else?  Snowstorms a plenty.  Sulphur Springs got hit with record hitting snow a couple weeks back--more than 6" in a single day.  Not to be outdone,. we got another batch this last week.  We think Kari may have had something to do with the last snow dump.  Kari was asked to speak in our local Stake Conference to take place in Gilmer, TX (over an hour away). She spent several late nights preparing her talk.  Two days prior to the event the snow came.  Our little branch was told we could watch a broadcast of the conference at  our building, but Kari would still have to come down to deliver her portion.  Literally hours before the event, our Branch President made the trek down and declared the roads too unsafe.  Kari was called and let off the hook--the only speaker at Stake Conference not to speak.  Her topic was the "Scriptures", but apparently it should've been "The Power of Prayer"!
    What do all kids do in snow?  Eat it--check.
    Make snow angels--check.
    A new tradition?  Kari's snow ice cream recipe for FHE.

    Here's a clip of Jeff teaching the kids a few bad habits in the snow:

    Is it really necessary?

  • Tuesday, February 1, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • You know what bothers me? The way Jeff feels the need to put my picture first in the scroll across the top here. Just because I'm 6 mos older. He wants to do it with our Christmas stockings too. He's taller. He weighs more. So I ask "Is it really necessary?"

    Christmas Reloaded

  • Sunday, January 9, 2011
  • Jeff and Kari
  • Alright...3 posts in one day...that's what happens when it snows in Texas and they cancel church early.  Things get done around the house.

    Christmas was actually pretty low key this year.  Usually we at the Smith house have a two day extravaganza that includes Christmas Eve with Jeff's extended family and then Christmas Day at the McClanahan homestead.

    It all started with us scrambling to make it to Utah and as a result we didn't have a chance to get the usual Christmas decorations/traditions accomplished in time.  As a result, we didn't even do our traditional gingerbread decorating until well after New Year's and Kari and Jonathan were still stringing pine boughs around the house the week of New Year's!

    Jeff's siblings were all outside of Texas this year.  As a result, it was just us and Grandpa and Grandma.  In some ways, it made for a more intimate Christmas--playing games as a family and reflecting on our Savior.



    Kari's mom had just been hospitalized the week before and was getting over a sinus infection.  The majority of the cousins were away as well, so Christmas Day happened Christmas afternoon.  Again, it was a day of playing games and eating.


     Not much to say about New Year's.  Jeff was on call and we barely saw him the entire weekend.  He commented that it was fitting that at midnight on New Year's Eve he was in his car driving back from the hospital.

    We had a chance to get down to the Dallas Temple yesterday.  We were walking the grounds afterwards and ran into two freshmen from Lake Highlands high school that were working on a religion project for their social studies class.  They were asking us about the temple and wanted a picture to symbolize it's meaning to us as Mormons.  We explained that one of the ordinances that happens in the temple is marriage where husband and wife are sealed to each other for eternity. They had just missed a happy newlywed couple that had been posing for wedding pics outside, so they asked us to be in a pic with them.  We snapped a pic of our own--the place where we were married for time and all eternity 11 years ago...



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