Vision achieved: A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

It’s been about two months since I first decided to create a Wonderland for my kids. I blame the random searches of the internet for my obsession. I was browsing through Etsy – like I often do – and happened across an adorable mini top hat in pink and lace splendor. It was 100 percent NOT me, but 100 percent perfection for our little lady. Despite my best efforts to have a budget, I splurged and bought the chapeau.

So, having purchased a hat for my little hatter, I decided she should be completely adorned in “madness” wear. I contacted my favorite custom ladies, Amber and Nadine, the mother-daughter team behind Nana’s Creations with Love, and shared my then-sketchy vision.

The two were up for the challenge of making an ascot and lace romper that resembled a collection of storybook sketches I’d found of the hatter. And the result? Pastel perfection.

My Alice couldn’t be traditional, so I asked a boutique to craft a purple outfit just for our adaptation.

The kids and I made several trips to Pier One, where I scored mini tea cups for a discount (the metal holder needed slight soldering to be stable). Two large designer mugs and our handpainted tea pot completed our collection.

I found an awesome pattern for a felt rabbit mask and set to costuming my hares. Already-owned collared shirts and ties set the formal mood.

My final touches included sculpting a mushroom and crafting an always six o’clock time piece.

We chose a “scenic overlook” as our setting and carried our party up the aged wooden steps in muggy 90 degree weather. The temperature was motivation enough to shoot efficiently as my four models’ enthusiasm quickly withered in the sticky climate. theyy performed their parts perfectly and our images are more than I’d imagined.

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Beyond the Fence

Summer is an incredible opportunity to discover the great outdoors with your favorite animals. Dog Fence DIY encourages exploration beyond the fence!


We live in a dog “un-friendly” neighborhood. While it seems like every one of the townhouses that surround us has a furry family member, neighbors really aren’t that into canine communes. Nevertheless, in the quiet of early evening, the many prized pooches can be heard bellowing to one another a la ‘101 Dalmatians’ from house to house.

Nero is lucky. He’s one of the few dogs with a fenced in yard. In good weather, he can explore the small area free of the confines of his leash and harness. He can jump, run, sun bathe without a care. But it’s a luxury that most others aren’t afforded.

Venture outside in that golden hour just before sunset, and the sidewalks and grassy common areas are replete with dogs of every breed, size, color, and age. We dog people – as vilified as we are in every Home Owner’s Association memo and newsletter – are tenacious about our pets. We tote bags in our pockets – some to pick up after “the business,” some to pack away little doggy treats from our people-only visits to local restaurants. We plan whole family escapes to “pets welcome” establishments and locations with open spaces and slow moving vehicles (or reduced traffic volume). Often it takes a little more planning (and sometimes additional deposits or fees) to include our furry son, but for long trips it sure beats kenneling.

Let it snow!

They promised a little dusting – – reward for enduring the 12 degree temperatures the last few days.We awoke to a blanket of snow across the ground, the powdery snow that wafts in the winds. It floats from the sky into the soft glowing street lights and is illuminated like fireflies. We layered and bundled – piling on clothing to protect from the biting morning cold.And we played. We tossed fluffy snow. We ran. We laughed. We made snow angels. We grew wet and cold quickly and scurried indoors.

Incognito: the Trial Run

As we’ve tried to do every year, we’re building our October’s end personas on a budget. A tight budget.

My girl ‘Kea, just gave birth to her beautiful baby girl, so we didn’t get to craft costumes for our “womb mates.” Trust when I say I missed it.

So, the eldest (who still needs a blog moniker) wanted to duplicate his “Killer Clown” from the family day face painting event last spring. He found a stocking-material mask already embellished as a spooky character for $1. We’re working on perfecting the look and ultimately will have added two tattoo sleeves and a hat of some sort.

Hubs elected to show off his gifts from our summer cruise to the Bahamas – a “Surrender the Booty” pirate shirt and a custom made walking cane. (I love it that Ya calls the shirt “Kill the Butt.”) We added tattoo sleeves (it’s cold at night) and a Captain’s hat to complete his style.

JD, who had no idea what he wanted to be and who has never really had the “Trick or Treat” experience, stood in the store looking at costume accessories in awe. He picked a few $1 pieces to create a law enforcement theme. Adding a long sleeve shirt and a burst of personality, he surprised us.

Who knew thirft stores offered so many gently used costume selections? Oma makes an almost weekly run through the two large stores in our area and found several adorable costumes for under $5 each. As usual, we’ve acquired one more than possible to wear, so Chi insisted on a photo shoot in the costume it’ll be too cold to wear on Halloween evening.

And then there’s me… the portly clown. Oversized, ill-fitting pants, tee, suspenders and dundundununun Afro circus wig.

Flies bite and balloons burst

It was barely 11:30am when we pulled into the slightly shaded parking spot. Chi, holding tightly to the dozen freshly filled helium balloons as wind gusts threatened to whisk them away, trailed behind me as I traipsed across the gravel path towards the beach-like water’s edge that seemed far closer to us than it was. The littles followed her, each still sputtering and gagging from the mist cloud of bug spray I’d saturated their arms, legs and heads with – – man that stuff lingers in the air and flavors it awfully.

The goal was a simple one: capture the boys for their 6th and 4th birthday portraits. The balloons were a gimmick, true, but one that I was certain would elicit some genuine expressions and carefree un-posed images. The beach setting would be beautiful, the balloons would add vibrant color to each image. Perfect!

The task proved difficult, though, even with the prior agreements from the youngest to cooperate and let Mommy shoot him. I suspect he’ll be telling strangers I “shoot at him” too much and he’s tired of it (and they might not realize he means with a camera).
First, Ya refused to be first. Instead of grabbing hold of the balloon bouquet, he splashed into the water, grabbed a handful of sand, and hurled it seaward. Instant attitude showed across his face and complete defiance radiated in his posturing. He was having none of this portrait-making business.

So I moved to the just-shy-of-six-year-old. JD isn’t used to the camera. He thinks I will command a smile (I suspect some drill sergeant with a camera belted out demands for school photos one too many times). And when he forces an expression, well, it isn’t exactly appealing. Think “I just ate something nasty and I’m waiting for you to turn around so I can spit it out,” that’s the expression.

At this precise moment, some nasty little fly landed on my leg and stung me. I swatted at him and moved into the water, cursing myself for not having tried to wear those silly preggo jeans that I have to keep hiking up every few seconds. He repeated this attack several dozen times and all his neighbors joined in. So much for that bug spray effectiveness test.

Clearly it was time to rev up my tactics if I wanted to salvage the shoot. I barked, “Mean face! Happy face! Sad face! Mad face! Jump! Skip! Play!” JD was confused. He hid.

And then, just when I thought I’d lost my opportunity, he peeked through his clutch of balloons with a mischievously blissful smile. Gotcha!

Granted, it’s not the traditional kid portrait, but it speaks volumes about who JD is at this age, at this time in his life.

I begged Ya to take hold of the balloons, bribing him with the gum (I’d unfortunately left it in the van, but he didn’t need to know this). He begrudgingly complied and complained about being so obligated to pause for a few clicks of the shutter. How dare I?

The flies continued to sting my legs, making capturing the in-between-the-complaints expressions truly difficult. So I suggested he jump. And jump again. And again. While he insisted that he’d cooperate if he could just pop the balloons.
Meanwhile, little cherub was collecting seashells. The first ornate shell still had its occupant inside, and after squealing in surprise, she returned it to the water with an apology. She then resumed search. I thrust the balloons at her and freed the completely disgruntled Ya to play without restriction. Obviously I have to devise a better plan to get his portraits.

Click. Click. Done.
At some point, I convinced the boys to pose together for a portrait. As I encouraged them to pretend they were enjoying this photographic torture, Chi met a friendly insect and convinced herself it was chasing her. She ran haphazardly through the water, splashing up spray as she swiped at her head with her hands.

All attention to the camera was lost. There were bugs on attack? The boys shot up from the log perch and joined in Chi’s crazy antics.

So, I gave up trying to compose portraits. Switching to my kit lens, I suggested the boys shed their fancy button down shirts and get comfortable in their tee shirts. The flies swarmed my legs and, I think, were actually being attracted by the sent of the bug spray rather than being repelled by it.

Chi composed herself moments later and resumed her shell search. The boys helped, forming a small pile of interesting sea-discards they intended to carry home with them.

I suggested they shed some energy (secretly thinking Ya needed to be tired if I hoped he’d nap). A race? Fun. Except the youngest bellows, “Guys! Let me win!” And that was just not happening.

So we packed up and hiked back to the van. The windows remained up to prevent the balloons’ escape. And the odor of the empty shells the kids so carefully gathered quickly permeated the cabin. We probably should’ve photographed and discarded the funky little things. Or, perhaps, carried the bleach bath they’re now soaking in to the sandy shore?

Heat break for playground monkies

The sky looked a little cloudy Sunday. The sun, temporarily hidden behind plush clouds, wasn’t blazing down upon our little pseudo-suburbia with the ferocity of the last few weeks. Could we finally dare to venture outside to a park for some much needed energy release? Well, yes, if we avoided the heat-reflecting metal slide or the incubating rubber play things formerly known as tires. My kids, however, are very brave souls. They don’t mind a little heat on the bum if it’s a byproduct of their playtime fun. And fun is exactly what they had.

It seems that despite being cooped up indoors for much of the summer’s daylight hours, they’ve not lost their gusto or their agility. (And they like to show off for the camera, who knew?)

Where was Ya in all this show? In the sandbox playing with his monster truck – which seems to be the next big toy obsession.

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