Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh, Boy!

I have a half-naked three year-old climbing on me as I attempt to type this with one finger, and it seems fitting, since this August has been almost unmanageable.

The Captain brought his army gear home recently, and it is all over the front hallway. I literally have to trip over metal boxes and boots to get out the front door.

Worse still has been the behaviour of Firstborn. Oh. My. God.
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Firstborn is my calm, quiet and thoughtful child. Usually, Rosemary's Baby is the one raiding the refrigerator, looking for adventure, and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. He's a little like the tasmanian devil, now that I think about it. Firstborn is the one I can usually count on to think before he acts, and to do as he's told. But this past couple of weeks, it's been Firstborn who has led me around on a non-stop wild goose chase of naughtiness.

On Friday, I took the boys to Booming Metropolis for a quick trip to the health food store and lunch at a friend's house. While we were out, I have to admit, there were no major incidents. Rosemary's Baby was his usual noisy, adventure-seeking self. No surprises there. And there was a lot of whining and complaining coming from Firstborn's direction, but he didn't actually do anything terrible. By now, I've figured out that he's out of routine and so ready to go back to school, so making it home without a major meltdown was about the best I could hope for. But it's what he did when we got here that made me shriek. There was no tantrum or outburst to warn me. He just walked into the living room and went quietly about his business. This is what I found on the wall when I came to check on him:


He calmly informed me that it was a monster. I calmly informed him that he'd be in big trouble when his father got home.

And then came the email incident.

Yesterday, after Firstborn had spent way too much time on my computer (largely because I'm tired of the tantrums when I tell him it's time to get off my computer), I got online to check my email. There was just one waiting for me--actually for the Captain. One of his coworkers had been a little confused by a rambling and incoherent email he had received from my account, signed by the Captain. We had to stare at the bizarre message for a few minutes, wondering if we had some sort of strange virus, before we realized that Firstborn, with his rather impressive computer and writing skills for a first-grader, had signed himself into my hotmail account and proceeded to send several people in my address book messages, composed by him, but signed by one of us.
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The lecture we felt duty-bound to give him (while stifling our giggles. Come on, the whole thing was pretty amusing!), he received badly, and we had to endure yet another tantrum. Now I know why my mother used to count down the days to back-to-school starting in early August. The seconds are ticking away in my brain.
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And now for the good news. My photography project ends today! This doesn't mean I'm done taking pictures or using the manual settings on my camera. I'm surprised to find that I really like the way my pictures come out when I set them up myself. So, I'm going to attempt to continue taking daily manual photos, and just relaxing the rules a little. I've exhausted my brain's limits where the self-portrait is concerned.
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For my final self-portrait, considering what the boys around here have done to my brain this month, I thought it'd be nice to get a shot of me with the only other female member of the family.

Who needs stinky boys, anyway?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

They're Goin' Back!!

Firstborn is not returning to school until September 11th this year. For me, this constitutes cruel and unusal punishment!

However, I know some of your kids are going back this week, and some have already been back for a week or two at least (you lucky jerks!). So, in the interests of getting this school year off to a good start, I'd like to share with you a few gems I learned as an elementary school teacher. Here, for your perusal, is my list of things not to say to your kid's teachers:

"His teacher last year was terrible. I hope you'll be a little better." This one will put a teacher immediately on edge. Firstly, she is bound by a code of professional conduct not to gossip about other teachers, so she can't discuss it with you. Secondly, it makes her wonder what you're going to say about her to next year's teacher. Not cool, and definitely not a way to get off on the right foot with someone who will be spending upwards of six hours a day with your child. And would you like it if her reply was "Yeah, that teacher said the same thing about you."? Instead, talk about the things you'd like to see your child doing this year. It'll keep you from becoming a source of juicy teacher-gossip in the staff room.

"I've taught my child to defy conventional wisdom." Seriously, I heard this once from a father who was trying to explain away his 6th grade son's bullying of first graders on the playground. I could just picture him sitting his boy down for a heartwarming father-son chat. "Son, despite the school telling you not to do it, if you're the only kid left intimidating the kindergarteners, you'll have the monopoly on all the good trading cards. How do you think Wal Mart got started?!" Scary, scary stuff, people. Also, teaching your kid not to listen to anything anyone tells him will not help him pass math.

"My daughter acts out because you're not challenging her enough! She's smarter than everyone else! She needs to skip a grade!" While I'm very aware that some gifted children goof around and act naughty, I think this is a theory that has become ridiculously overused, sometimes because parents don't want to deal with the fact that their kid has a behaviour issue, sometimes because they put too much importance on having a gifted child, and sometimes because they heard it used once on a sitcom in 1978 and believed it to be a true and common reason for behaviour issues. Here's the reality. I worked with many, many gifted children. A few of them were manipulative little monsters, some of them loved goofing off and yelling things out to make people laugh, but the vast majority were very interested in their learning, liked participating productively in class discussions, enjoyed sharing their work and interests, and were not in the least bit disruptive in the classroom. I believe that most classrooms in the civilized world are now implementing new educational practices that attempt to meet the individual programming needs of kids at all learning levels, and very few schools are willing to skip kids (or hold them back) anymore because we know now that it causes more problems for kids than it solves. If your kid's school is still working on a model created in the dark ages, then yeah, that might be a big part of the problem. But in general, to tell a teacher that your kid's behaviour is entirely his fault for "not challenging her enough" will not get him on your side. And you want him on your side. No two kids are the same, but I ask you to really be honest with yourself about your reasons for wanting to pursue this one. Is it because it's the best thing for your kid? Or is it because it's the best thing for you?

I knew I was going to get long-winded on that last one...

Lest you think I'm slagging off parents, let me just say this. 99.9% of parents I ever encountered were fantastic. They wanted to work with the school for their child's benefit. And any good teacher welcomes input, questions and opinions from parents because they know it's a partnership that can immensely benefit the kids that they are being grossly underpaid to educate. But when you get that rare parent who has issues of her own, sometimes things from her own school days that were never resolved in her mind, it becomes difficult to implement any kind of action plan that will really benefit the child. So as your kids head back to the classroom, I beg you to try to keep the interaction with the teacher positive. If you like a good confrontation, restraining yourself may cause you to rip all your hair out with frustration, but it'll do your child a world of good.

And in the end, that's the best reason to do anything.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One Shopping Trip Down...

Crazy week, and it's only half over! Things here have been a little busy, and a little emotional. Roll on, September!

So yesterday, I made it through my first trip to Wal Mart on the new spending diet. And I made exactly ZERO impulse purchases! It didn't hurt that the list of things I actually needed totalled well over two-hundred bucks. Between the jumbo bag of dog food, the two big boxes of diapers, school shoes and grocery items, there was no room in my cart for anything frivolous. Thank heavens for the distance between our house and Booming Metropolis. Knowing I won't be back there for at least two weeks forces me to make a huge list before heading out the door.

The problem with a place like Wal Mart is that when I do need to go there for baby wipes and toilet plungers, I have no choice but to pass racks of cute new purses, shoes, clearance-priced clothes from last season, and makeup I will never wear. And not being allowed to buy it doesn't make me want it any less.

But something strange happened. I promised myself that I'd go home and think about anything I saw that I wanted, and if I still wanted it the next time I was in town (assuming it was still there), I could get it. Which was not part of the original deal. But it made me refrain from grabbing at things just because of the amazing prices. And guess what? Now that I'm home, I can't even remember what any of it looked like!

I think I've made a huge breakthrough here. I do not need to shop! And all this former shopping time I have left over has afforded me a few minutes to start thinking about Firstborn's upcoming birthday party next month. So now I can spend all that extra time making decorations, putting together the invitations and planning a fantastic cake!

Oooh, it's going to be hard to stay out of Michael's...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ahem...

As you may or may not recall, I've been taking a self-portrait a day all month in hopes of learning how to use the manual settings on my camera. I've been having a lot of fun with it, and until yesterday was starting to feel that I had a really good, perhaps even expert, understanding of my camera. Here's what changed my mind.

On day one (August 1st) I switched the camera to manual and proceeded to take my first self-portrait. The shutter took an inordinately long time to kick in. I figured this must be some strange feature of the camera when set to manual, and thought nothing more of it.

For the next 19 days (August 2nd through August 20th), I took photographs of myself in various poses, waiting patiently each time for the shutter to take its sweet time going off.

On day 21 (August 21st) I was fiddling around looking at the information on the display screen. It was only then that it dawned on me. I'd had the 12-second self-timer on the entire time...

Please note that in my self-portrait for day 21, I'm looking a tad sheepish.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Treasures

For those of you new to the craziness I call my life, I publicly proclaimed about a week ago that I was going to make no more non-essential purchases for the rest of 2009.

Now, I'm not a spend-a-holic, but because I love, love, love a bargain, the idea of refraining from making three or more impulse-purchases online while buying school clothes for my kids, or not picking up my 489th clearanced t-shirt during a pilgrimage to the grocery store disturbs me just a bit. I'm still not sure I can do it, but things are going alright so far. Mainly because I haven't left the house yet.

So, yesterday I was feeling just the slightest itch to buy something new (or used. I'm not picky.). I successfully stayed away from the Sears outlet site and instead found two novel ways to curb my desire for something new and shiny.

The first thing I did was to organize my dresser drawers. Until yesterday, I wouldn't have thought for a second that this would substitute for anything remotely fun, but it was totally therapeutic! Not only did I tidy one of the black holes of disorganization in my house, I found all the t-shirts I own that I haven't worn all summer because I forgot they were even there. It was like finding a bunch of new things to buy, without having to spend any cash! And the next time I feel the urge to score a bargain, I'll go through my closet, then the hall closet and then my bottomless pit of purses. I bet I'll last a good month on my closets alone!

Next, I went through a few of the boxes in the garage. Being a military family, we have moved a lot over the past six years, and there are things that haven't been unpacked in that entire time. Here's what I found:
Around the time the Captain and I got married, there was this song on the radio that my father couldn't listen to because it was about a father walking his daughter down the aisle. I thought it was the height of cheese. But after that, for about a year, every time my mom found something butterfly-themed at the large fabric chain where she worked, she'd pick it up for me. And these boxes were one of those pretty little gifts. I still cringe at that song, but I can't help being drawn to butterflies.
This was wrapped in newspaper next to the butterfly boxes. It used to be on display, candles lit and floating every night, in our first apartment. When we had kids, and those kids started ice skating across the kitchen tile on our CD's and throwing the breakables in the air to see what would happen when they hit the floor, I packed up stuff like this and eventually forgot it ever existed. Now, we're not past the point where I might conceivably find Rosemary's Baby rolling this down the driveway, but I'm thinking if I keep it in the kichen (where I am practically chained up anyway)-- just to remind myself that I do own a few pretty things--I might be able to keep it from being used as a football. But, let's be honest, it'll probably end up wrapped back in newspaper and safely stored away within the next week.
When Firstborn was a baby, my mom bought him an electric tank with plastic fish, which enthralled him. For some reason, it never got unpacked after a couple of moves. When I found it yesterday, I suspected it was the perfect way to get Rosemary's Baby to stand still for five minutes, and I was right. By lunchtime, he'd graduated to opening up the lid and pulling out all the plastic fish (note to self: he's not ready for real fish yet!), but I'll definitely take a little wet mess on the counter over a frantic chase down the highway when he figures out how to shift the truck into first gear.

And, oh my lord, I have had this compendium of old-fashioned board games since I was a teenager! Finally, something that will pull my five year-old away from the computer this summer! Uh...does anyone know how to play parcheesi?!

And the urge to shop has been curbed. For now...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thanks for the Love!

Holy Hoopla, Batman!! I'm practically famous!

A big thank you to Tamara at Mad Boastings of a Cheapskate Mom for featuring little ol' me today. If you haven't checked out her blog, you really must. Funny and frugal are a deadly combination!

And I've loved reading all of your wonderful comments. I fully expected a few scoldings for my horrific negligence yesterday, but it would seem that there are a lot of very understanding folks out there! There's nothing better when you feel like World's Worst Mom than hearing that other people have screwed up too!

I have every intention of checking out all your blogs, for I am always on the prowl for new blogs to love. But bear with me on this one. If I spend more than two minutes in one sitting on the computer, I have to worry that Rosemary's Baby has taken the riding mower for a cruise down the highway...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bad, Bad Mommy!

If yesterday's agenda was supposed to look something like this...

7:30 AM: Forget, for the first time in over a year, to lock door behind husband.
7:45 AM: Leave kids playing and watching TV and go about business of checking email and cleaning kitchen.
8:00 AM: Notice Rosemary's Baby isn't where I left him. Start looking.
8:01 AM: Simultaneously realize with horror that the door was left unlocked, and notice car pulling into driveway.
8:02AM: Retrieve Rosemary's baby from friendly, understanding neighbour who was passing and found him at the end of the driveway, looking to cross the highway.
Rest of Day: Live in the disturbing and humiliating knowledge that I am the worst mother on the planet.

...then, mission accomplished!

I'm starting today with a clean slate. Right after I lock all the doors...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On This Date in History...

...a blogger was born!




Over breakfast this morning, the Captain asked Firstborn if he knew how old I was. Firstborn took one good long look at my face and said:


"40?!"


Sigh. Close enough...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Theology of a Five Year-Old

I generally stay as far as I can from politics and religion here. I prefer not to alienate people, as those topics tend to do. So I hope I don't offend when I say that I am currently not a church-goer.



I was raised by Anglican parents in England, and we attended church from time to time, but not regularly. My memories of the times we did go usually include a grumpy old man at the front warning of hell and damnation, and my siblings and me bored stiff and giggling hysterically in the back, every adult in our immediate vicinity very rightfully giving us the evil eye, my parents embarrassed and uncomfortably reminded of why we didn't do this every week. What I don't remember is feeling particularly spiritual. This is not to say that I couldn't feel spiritual in church, and I believe there are many dynamic ministers (or the equivalent, depending on the faith) out there today who want to keep their religion relevant to modern life. If I ever find a church that I think is a good fit for me, I'll happily go.


As I've gotten older, I've come to my own conclusions about my spirituality. I still associate myself most closely with Christianity, and I try every day to live a Christian life. However, I won't discount the ideas of other religious groups, because I firmly believe that claiming my own religion to be the true religion and any other as false would be the height of arrogance. I believe I'm what you'd call a Unitarian.


In any case, I feel that one's spirituality is a very personal matter, and one not to be reached through fear or forcefeeding. So when Firstborn reached an age where he had questions about his own mortality and the fate of his soul, it was a tricky business.


The Captain, who is more wise and logical than I am, met my arguments about not wanting to overly influence our kids with the very good point that a little boy can only comprehend so much, and that maybe the idea that there is a heaven would be comforting to him. The Captain is a smart guy, and if it wasn't for him, I probably would've made some hippie-dippy statement about "figuring out your own belief system, man" which wouldn't have helped Firstborn at all. So, we told him that there is a God who created the whole world, and that when you die, you go to heaven because you were good, and then you get to do whatever you want. And since he learned this, he has walked around here talking about God and heaven with all the enthusiasm of a born-again Christian on a mission to save the souls of everyone around him.


Firstborn says a lot of funny things, about everything you can imagine. Last night, when he couldn't remember Pat Sajak's name, he called him "The boss of Wheel of Fortune." Hysterical! So of course, with his newfound religious convictions, there have been a few moments that have left me stifling a giggle. Here are my favourites:


"Does God have a last name?"


"Does God have legs?"


"I want to write a letter to God. We'll have to get a plane to get it all the way up there though."


"When I go to heaven, I'm going to eat cookies all the time!"



When my kids say and do the hilarious things they do, I marvel at the power they have to create joy out of nothing. They are a gift from God indeed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ANOTHER Project?! I Need a Job.

As you may know, I like to give myself little projects. Being a stay-at-home mom, living in the middle of nowhere, and often having no husband around for company is not as mentally stimulating as one might think, so I take a photo a day for a whole month to learn how to use my camera, or I start a blog for my mom to read and still find myself at it almost a year later, or I bake or sew or knit, just to amuse myself. Over the last couple of days, two minor incidents have made me think I need to stretch myself just that much further. First was the bag sale.

I'd never heard of a bag sale before moving out here, but every little local thrift store around these parts has one from time to time, and I've noticed people doing it during the last hour or so of their yard sale as well. You get a big grocery bag and anything you can fit in there can go in for a grand total of five bucks. For a thrifty treasure-hunter like me, putting a "Bag Sale" sign in front of the store is like waving an ounce of crack under the nose of a hard-core addict.

So yesterday, while Rosemary's Baby was at daycare for a couple of hours, Firstborn got on his bike and we had a pleasant summer jaunt over to the thrift store. As always, I was not disappointed. It takes a fair bit of digging in these places, and there's plenty of stuff that no one in their right mind could possibly want (WHO donates their old underwear?!), but in the end, I found two shirts for Firstborn, a book for Rosemary's Baby, a pair of Gap jeans and yet another purse for me, and of course Firstborn was allowed to pick himself and his brother out a toy. Not bad for $5.

But then I came home and immediately felt guilty about the purse. I am a purse nut, and I have a very big tub of them in the hallway closet. I do not need one more purse. So I started digging around in there to find a few I could throw into a donation bag, you know, to even out the score. Once I'd done that, I felt much better, because what is more freeing than getting rid of clutter? Every time I walk past that closet, I can hear my purses whispering to me, reminding me that they're all stuffed in there ruining my feng shui and begging to be used. They're supposed to make me happy, but they just end up stressing me out.

And now we come to incident number two. This morning I was looking for some file or other on the computer and I came across a little table I'd made to track where all our money is going from month to month. I updated it, filling in all the banking info from June and July, and took a good look at this year's spending. We do well on groceries and we're very good on gas, especially considering every single errand out here has to be run in the car. But it was the "Miscellaneous" section that scared the bejeezes out of me. During the renovations (I count anything from Home Depot as miscellaneous), that number soared into the thousands, which isn't really surprising. But even last month, when the Captain was mostly away and we hardly went anywhere or did anything, there was no less than $250 worth of miscellaneous spending. Now, some of that is stuff like shoes for kids or bug spray or a box of pens or something, but my first feeling when I saw that number was guilt, and that tells me that some of those expenses--probably at least half--went towards clearanced sweaters I didn't need, or fast food meals I really could've done without, or six inch heels I couldn't possibly ever use but had to have because they were on sale for $10. I have more things right now than a lot of people on this planet will own in a lifetime, and still I buy junk on impulse because...I have no idea! Do I think I'll never find such a great deal again?!

So I want to try something, just to see if I can do it. From now until the end of the year, I'm going to try not to make any unnecessary purchases. This means no slipping a t-shirt into my cart at the Superstore and figuring it'll get eaten up by the grocery bill. No swinging through a drive-thru because I know I have food at home, but I want to eat a fatty burger while I'm heading back there. And no jumping at something I don't need and won't use (and that was probably made by a nine year-old living in poverty) just because it's on sale. Can I do it?

If you see a dishevelled woman sobbing hysterically at the Wal-Mart checkouts, with nothing more than milk and bread in her cart, you'll know it's looking good.

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Wonder Raspberries are So Expensive at the Store!

The garden is blooming! In another couple of weeks, the hundreds of pounds of tomatoes out there will be ready and I'll be pulling out my (grey) hair trying to get it all canned, frozen or eaten (the Captain has now been conveniently scheduled to go on an exercise for a couple of weeks right in the middle of harvesting season.). I'll also be battling a surge of potatoes, onions and peppers. And don't even get me started on the summer squash. This year, my goal is to not end up composting squash that got hastily thrown in the freezer to be dealt with another day. Unless I'm doing something very wrong, that stuff is never any good after having been frozen. This summer, we will be eating a lot of it fried, in soup and in muffins. And if anyone out there has any other ideas, let me know. I need them!

Here are a couple of shots of what's come out of there so far:

We planted raspberries and strawberries two years ago, and I cannot recommend these plants enough! I think if we let them, they'd take over the entire garden. This year, the raspberries have really taken off. I currently have two of those bulk margarine containers filled and in the freezer and I've given raspberries to my neighbours too.

On the topic of raspberries, I was out picking the other day and I heard a sound, which I'm now convinced was just a moth batting its wings. But at the time, it sounded like something was growling at me. Not wanting to get eaten alive by a bear hiding in the raspberry bushes (because that would make for a really embarrassing obituary), but also not wanting to get laughed right back out of the house by the Captain when I ran in screaming, I backed away slowly and picked some peas instead, occasionally looking over my shoulder in case the bear was creeping up on me. When I plucked up my courage and went back the next day, I had a good look at how those plants grow, and I'm pretty sure even a little fox couldn't fit under there, let alone a bear. Even if they could squeeze in, the stems are really prickly too--I'm covered from ankle to shoulder in scratches from raspberry-picking. Surely no animal with an ounce of sense would hide under there in the hopes of having me for dinner. Besides, I'm all fat and gristle anyway.


Okay...everything in this picture (please ignore my burnt cooktop), with the exception of the carrots, came out of our garden. I tell you, there's nothing quite like making a stir-fry out of stuff that just came in from outside. It tastes better, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that your produce didn't have to make the epic journey to your dinner plate all the way from Mexico! From the left, we have Swiss chard, carrots (from Mexico?), tiny potatoes the Captain accidentally dug up, and various summer squash. Take that, bowel cancer!

If I disappear for a while, you'll know the garden has completely taken over. If I return with a post that looks more like an animal with large paws just came in and started smashing the keyboard, you'll know that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Local Nutjob Photographs Town

Wow! The number of people following my little blog has doubled in the course of about a week. What fun! Thank you all for your awesome comments!

My photo project is coming along pretty nicely. I had this morning completely to myself, since Firstborn is in a summer program, and Rosemary's Baby goes to daycare one morning a week for "social reasons". So, I took the opportunity to enjoy the warm weather and get a little exercise in the process. Naturally, I brought my camera along.

Small towns offer all kinds of great backdrops, and lots of great subjects too. There are actually a couple of houses in town that I just love, and would love to photograph, and I know from my days as a journalism student that it is technically legal here to take a shot of a house from the sidewalk. But can you imagine looking out your window one morning to find some local crank immortalizing your home? Creepy! So I stuck mainly to self-portraits and public places, like churches and the park.

What was I thinking boxing myself into a self-portrait project?! I HATE looking at myself in pictures. My lopsided eyes! That clown nose! All those chins! So I've been creative with the interpretation of a self-portrait. On day one, I took this:


After an enchanting morning of picking up dog poop in the yard, I settled into my $10 Canadian Tire folding chair and put my feet up on the barbeque pit. Eat you heart out, J.Lo!

Aside from the occasional 70's film-like graininess in shots that are slightly underexposed (which is a quality I'm kind of in love with!), there hasn't been much difference in the end-result for me. However, using the manual setting has become almost second-nature, and I'm only four days in. I'm fiddling about a bit with the pictures once they're uploaded, and some cropping and playing with colour really does make a big difference. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I got those sandals at the Sears outlet website for $9.99!


Anyway, I will spare you the artistic interpretation of my 12-years of marriage to the Captain, and the photo of half my butt, which was supposed to show, in classic sepia, the merits of my favourite pair of jeans. Today, I got a lot of good landmarks, even if I got no good pictures of me. Here we have me in front of the old abandoned grain thingy:

Note the creative cutting out of half my face. Trust me. It's for the best.

Between taking pictures all over the village, I ran an errand or two and got myself a little exercise. Slowly but surely I'm getting the hang of manual photography. And, as long as I don't turn up as a "suspicious person" in the town paper's Police Blotter section, I should be okay.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Instructions

Glancing back over my last few posts, I realize I'm in one of my rant-y moods (Don't swear on Facebook! Keep your internet comments friendly!). I don't know what it is, but every so often, things that don't really matter much (usually Facebook-related) send me into a tizzy and I feel the need to blog about them, or write a public "note" on my Facebook page (WHY am I still there?!), and then three days later when the irrational rabies-like madness fades, I look back at this stuff and wonder if the Captain slipped decaf in my coffee mug that morning. I don't much like an etiquette cop, but especially not when that cop is me. So, let's get back to what this blog is really all about. The many reasons I suck!

This list is longer than the grey hairs I keep finding on the top of my head, so there's a lot to choose from, but there's one that drives the Captain crazy about me. Something he's nagged me about for years: my inability to read instructions.

It's not that I ignore them completely. If I have to, say, put something together and I have absolutely no idea where to begin, I will skim the instruction manual, usually looking for a diagram so I can get my head around the basics. But if I can look at an object and see how it should logically go together, there's a good chance I won't even give the instructions a glance. What usually happens here is that I get the thing together and feel great about my natural mechanical ability. For about a minute. Because it only takes that long for me to notice that there are two extra parts and a nut left over at the end. Unless it's a serious safety issue, those extra bits and pieces will usually be whisked away to a drawer somewhere and no one but me will ever know the difference. This is why the Captain generally just likes to put things together himself.

Reading the instructions is boring. I want to take my shiny new thing and start playing with it right away. I don't want to wade through pages and pages of safety warnings and information about things I shouldn't do if I want my warranty to be honoured, blah, blah, blah. Besides, don't they know that telling me not to plug in the circular saw while I'm taking a bath will just make me want to do it more?!

For my birthday last year, the Captain bought me the greatest gift ever: my camera. When we were youngsters, I had this dream of being a photographer. But after a bad experience working at a portrait studio, I switched to a compact point-and-shoot and never looked back. However, the Captain knows I am driven by only one thing in life, the need to be creative. He calls it "living in Cut-and-Paste Land" but let's not get caught up in semantics. He bought me an Olympus E-510 with two lenses and some awesome accessories. It also came with a book of instructions. I admit, I did skim through this book, but eventually I kind of figured most of the camera out on my own. In the end, an automatic camera is an automatic camera. It does the focussing, speed and light stuff for you. All I have to do is find a good subject and set it up all pretty-like. But my camera does have one setting I didn't figure out on my own. This camera can be set up like my manual SLR of old. I can choose exactly how my pictures come out. It just takes some experimenting and, of course, reading the instructions to figure out how it's done.

So, I pulled out the old instruction manual and got to work reading up on the whole process. As it turns out, it took only one small page for the manufacturers to explain the two buttons I have to press to run my camera on manual. After almost a year of using the thing nearly every day, I have to say I'm a little embarrassed it took me this long.

This doesn't mean I know what I'm doing yet. Reading the instructions isn't the comprehensive education in photography one might expect. I do need to do some playing with this stuff, and that's the fun part. In order to learn the manual functions of my camera inside and out, I'm embarking on a little project. I recently came across a story in a magazine about someone who had decided to learn about her new camera by committing to taking it everywhere she went and taking one self-portrait a day for an entire year.

Now, I think we all know that I don't have the attention span to stick to one thing for an entire year, but since August has just begun, and it's my birth month, and it's the month we got married (12 years tomorrow!), and all the stuff in the garden comes up this month, I'm thinking I could come up with a lot of interesting ways to photograph myself (no nudity or boob shots, that's my written guarantee!). So, every day this month, I'm going to take at least one self-portrait using only the manual settings on my camera. I expect the first week, at least, will produce a lot of under/over-exposed, fuzzy, off-centre "art", but if I create anything noteworthy, you can be sure I'll post it here. Let the clicking begin!