"Two thousand eight. I can't believe we have to wait until 2008 for new episodes of Battlestar Galactica."
"Yeah, I know. Sucks."
"That's like nine months!"
"You made a whole baby in nine months!"
"I KNOW! And the new episodes won't even be as good as a baby!"
"Well, hey, let's not jump to any conclusions..."
A self portrait of me reading this book. Taken with the help of a tripod and a camera remote control.
I like to think I do okay at this parenting thing, at least when just faced with my two kids. But I recently discovered that I clearly have limits. Yesterday the weather was really nice, which brought Sam, myself, and a bunch of other neighborhood kids outdoors. I started off swinging Sam on her back yard jungle gym, and before long Sam's sometimes friend, the neighbor girl, wandered over and joined her. Fine, I can handle a couple of three year olds. Then the girl's older brother --named "Duck" or "Drake" or "Gooseman" or something along those lines I can never remember-- came over. This is a nice kid: very well behaved, friendly, and mild mannered. So we all four played and talked.
Then I looked up and like three other boys had suddenly shown up and were swarming all over the jungle gym. They were climbing on top of the things and screaming and kicking at each other like little Spartans seeking glory. I kind of edged away from the playground, suddenly uncomfortable with my implied role as guardian of so many children and wondering if "schoolmarm" was one word or two. At this point Mallard or whatever his name was decided in what I gather was a rare moment of assertiveness for him on an attempt at the monkey bars, which ran across the same beam that supported the playset's four swings. Only he made it about halfway across before the other kids jumped on all the swings and effectively blocked his path forwards and back like obstacles in some video game. Obstacles that laughed and jeered at him. One of these children, I should note, was Sammy.
So Daffy just hung there, apparently too high up to drop and and unable to get past the deadly pendulums on either side of him. He just kind of looked at me, and I just stood there looking back.
"Um," he said.
"Hi," I replied, brilliantly.
"I can't get down."
I stared at him a bit longer before seeing what he was getting at. "Oh! Oh," I said. "You, uh, want some help down?"
He looked ahead and then back over his shoulder at the deadly swing chains. "Yes, please."
I navigated my way through the giggling deathtrap, reached up, grabbed the kid under the arms, and plucked him like an oversize fruit. I then just stood there, holding him at arms length and wondering what to do with him.
"You can set me down over there," he provided after a moment.
So, yeah, I can handle two kids --two girls-- just fine, but I'm not quited ready to be ganged up on just yet. I'll watch any future impromptu playground gatherings from between the slits of the basement window's vertical blinds.
So while I can't speak for any kids stuck dangling from the monkey bars, my two are doing mostly fine. We have some weird kind of allergy or cold going around where we're all hacking up stuff and sniffling, but it hasn't arisen beyond annoyance levels. Mandy is being much more interactive, which is both fun and draining. She's gotten to where she wants more attention, but the only game she really knows how to play is round after round of "Get Down Here and Get in My Face So I Can Smile At You," which she always wins. Still, we put her down in front of a Baby Einstein DVD, and it held her attention for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Hooray for trade offs!
Sam is also getting better at games, both literal and figurative. She can actually play through a whole game of Candyland if she's in the mood to pay attention and doesn't suddenly decide everyone has to swap pieces or gang rush the Liquorice Swamp. But she's also getting better at various activities and memes that I teach her. And this seems as good a place to admit to the following list of things that I have tought Sam purely for my own amusement:
- To shout "OH NOES!" at the slightest provocation
- That ducks eat bugs, duck food, and other ducks
- The following song, which must be sung in the bathtub at maximum volume: Three deaf mice! Three deaf mice! / They couldn't hear themselves toot in a bucket! / They couldn't hear themselves toot in a bucket! / Three deaf mice!
- To sing "Oops, I did it again!" while banging the crap out of her little electric keyboard.
Not really a bad list, all things considered, but she's young.
I'd never call myself a great photographer of children or anything else --look here or here for examples of what I consider superlative child photography-- but I can definitely say that I'm better than I used to be. I mean, compare these pictures of Samantha:
A note about photos in this post: Thumbnails are often cropped down to squares, so click on them to see the full-sized images.
I could find more examples, but you get the idea. Some of this is no doubt due to acquiring better gear, but that's only part of it. In three years of taking pictures of Sam and Mandy I've learned a few tips on my own and picked up some more from reading books or websites. Below are what I consider to be 5 of the most basic and easy to implement lessons for getting better pictures of your kids. Or someone else's kids if you're a kind of weirdo stalker creep. I'm not judging. More experienced and talented photographers may sneer and sniff into their glass of port wine at these perhaps overly basic tips, but the average mom or dad with a camera may find more value.
Tip 1: Get Down, Get Close
Unlike the rest of us wrinkled and aged folks, kids --especially babies-- don't have much to hide from the lens. They look good up close almost without exception. Start the process of getting in close by squatting down to eye level with the tyke so that you can get more of her in the shot and so that you don't look like some deranged, camera toting giant from her point of view.
From there, you have two options. The first is to zoom in with either feet or camera. Try filling the whole frame with just the kid's face or upper body if he's not doing anything particularly interesting. Otherwise, try to have in the shot only what's interesting --a toy, another person, a burrito, whatever. Here's a few examples:
Of course, sometimes you don't have the luxury of composing the perfect shot. Sometimes you've got to shoot now or never and you end up with bizarre composition and things in the shot you'd rather not have. In these cases, try cropping in post production. This is the main reason why I take pics in the highest resolution I can: so that I can crop down quite a bit before losing detail. Just about any photo editing software will have a simple crop feature, so get familiar with it.
Too bad about cousin Emily getting cropped out of that second set of pictures... But of course, even when zooming or cropping in, you're probably going to have some background elements in the shot. So on to the next tip.
Tip 2: Pay Attention to Backgrounds
Sometimes we're so focused (har har, that pun never gets old) on the subject of our pictures that we forget to look at what's behind them. The results are shots that we've all seen (and taken) where you can't tell what the photo is supposed to be of given all the clutter and mess and lack clearly defined subjects. So, learn to pay attention to backgrounds and deal with them in two ways. The first tactic I use is to simply chose or relocate shots to backgrounds that are plain and non distracting. Hardly revolutionary, I know, but it works. Also don't be afraid to alter the environment to improve it. Drag furniture out of the shot, take pictures off walls, and tell other people to get the hell out of the way. Here's a few examples:
A second tactic for dealing with backgrounds is to blur them out while keeping the subject in focus. This is a little more technical and requires some practice, but it's great for scenes where you can't relocate or exercise any control over the environment. Before I get into the how-to, here's some examples to illustrate:
There are a variety of ways to create this effect (called a "shallow depth of field") but here's some of the easiest tactics that can be used in combination for best results:
- Switch to manual or semiautomatic mode and use a wider aperture (i.e., smaller f-number like 4.5 or less)
- If you're using a point and shoot camera and can't do #1, switch to "Portrait" (or whatever) mode
- Have your subject move further away from the background, say by dangling a cupcake in front of him
- Move back and use a longer focal length (i.e., zoom in)
Getting the hang of this will really improve your pictures. There's a big difference between a picture with a shallow depth of field that draws attention on your kid and one that makes viewers want to try and make out the titles of books on the shelf in the background. Also, you'll feel all cool and sophisticated when you start talking about bokeh at your next play date.
Tip 3: Stage a Shot, Make a Shot
Look, don't be a wuss. Don't limit yourself to taking pictures of whatever the world deigns to present to you. Get out there. Assert yourself! I mentioned moving crap out of the way in the tip on backgrounds, but don't stop there. Get into the habit of taking the time and effort needed to stage shots. I know, I know --kids are hardly cooperative subjects, so it'll be tough. But you'll surprise yourself with how many fun pictures you can get out of providing your kids with some simple props (like, I don't know, TOYS) and letting them go at it. And if you're going to do something like wash the car, bake cookies, or rob a liquor store, get the kids involved! Even if they aren't really helping, it'll entertain them and give you a chance to photograph them doing something other than just sitting there.
Tip 4: Do Some Basic Post Processing
I cringe every time I see digital pictures with "red eye" in them. You can't buy a camera these days without it coming with some basic photo manipulation and touchup software, and even if you don't want to pay for better programs like Photoshop Elements there are free ones you can download like the excellent Google Picassa. Most of them come with one-step red eye removal tools that will clear that case of demon possession right up. Use 'em, at least just a little. Because you were going to crop anyway, right?
But wait, there's more. These programs also have tools for doing things like boosting contrast or color saturation (though don't overdo it), sharpening (please don't over do it), and even straightening out those shots where the horizon line leans like a drunken toddler. Spend just a few minutes polishing up your pics in these programs and the results will be worth it. And eventually you may even want to move into more advanced stuff.
Here's some before and after shots to serve as examples of what I mean:
Tip 5: Pay Attention to Subject Placement
For some reason, it's just really tempting to center your kid in the viewfinder and snap away. It's unfortunate, because it's often boring. Try to pay attention to where your subject (or parts of your subject) are in the frame when before you stab at that shutter release button.
First, don't put the kid dead center, including for close-up portraits. Instead, try placing him a little off center, probably to the right:
Second, experiment with the use of empty space above, below, and next to the subject. Empty space draws the eye, and this can be used to impart a sense of momentum to the subject, as in an action shot. Or it can be used to convey something about relative size or distance:
Finally, learn to compose according to that favorite axiom of photographers, "the rule of thirds." Briefly, this composition technique says that you should imagine a tick-tac-toe board over your viewfinder such that the scene is divided up into equal thirds. Where the lines intersect are natural points of interest where you should try to place your subject or important parts of your subject (e.g., the eyes, face, middle finger, etc.). Geralyn's camera actually lets you overlay the viewfinder with such a grid, and it's fabulous. Also bear in mind that you can crop an image in post processing to take advantage of the rule of thirds, as I often do --particularly in deciding where the kid's eyes should be located. I mean, besides in her head.
So, that's it. Take these five basic tips and see what you can do with them. Some day, long from now, I hope you can sit down with your grandchildren, flip through your archaic 2-D photographs, and say to your loved ones, "Look, sonny, see how this picture of your mother sitting on her training potty and bawling her head off has a nice shallow depth of field and is composed according to the rule of thirds?" This is my gift to you and all your future generations.
I actually read It by Stephen King once before, when I was around 15 years old and it first came out. Back then I thought that it was one of the best King books I had read mainly because the book had so many powerful (and icky) images and the heroes were a bunch of misfit kids trying to stop a child-murdering monster that prowled their home town below the sight line of most adults. Now, 20 years later, I've re-read the book and once again think it's one of the highlights of King's career, but for additional reasons.
What King really, really nails here is what it's like to be a kid. Most of the book is set in 1958 where a group of 11-year old kids become the only ones to realize that a rash of killings in their small town is being caused by a shape shifting monster they simply call "It." The titular monster preys on children because they have such imaginative and elastic minds, but it turns out that these same qualities are also what saves these self-proclaimed members of the "Losers' Club." As with the first reading when I was a teenager, I'm impressed by the accuracy with which King portrays what it's like to be a kid in the world of adults. Parents and other elders simply look past you most of the time, not taking you too seriously and not putting much stock in what you say or do, nor the very real dangers of school bullies. All you've got are your friends, who know what it's like and who know how to stick up for each other.
Now compound all that with a monster who eats kids after taking on the shape of their worst fears --from giant, blood sucking bugs to werewolves to a psychotic clown-- and you've got a recipe for a horror book that should resonate with most people who can remember what childhood was all about. I mean, just think about how frightening it would be if everything you were ever scared of turned real and none of the adults around you could not (or, worse, would not) help. That's powerful stuff that King hits squarely on the head.
It is also impressive from a structural standpoint. King interweaves the story of The Losers' Club with the story of the same kids as adults, coming back to town to face old fears and finish It off for good. And even then, King breaks up those two main threads into strands for each character, deftly manipulating and pulling on each until the cohesive whole comes together in the last few hundred pages. It's the kind of stuff that I like to point at when people scoff at King and suggest that he's a no-talent hack.
Even still, my good will towards the whole book is almost completely undone by a disturbing scene late in the book where Beverly, the only female member of the pre-pubescent crew, resorts to some cringe-inducing acts to calm down the other Losers. I don't want to go into too much detail for fear of Google's automated indexing of certain undesirable words with this site, but suffice to say that that scene is amongst the most reviled by Stephen King fans, more so for its complete absurdity and unnecessary nature.
Still, really good book. It's among the first that I'll recommend for anyone looking to dabble into Stephen King, even though it's one of his longest at 1,100+ pages.
A chandelier from the Chihuly exhibit last year.
It's a new thing with Sam every week. Or in this case, two new things. One is a regression to a kind of gibberish language, especially when she gets excited. Her favorite word is "goggle" as in "Daddy get GOGGLE-GA-GA-GAAAAAAA! GAAAAAA!" Explanations that goggles are things you wear on your face to protect your eyes while engaging in arc welding do not deter her from these antics.
The other new thing is particular to story time, and only slightly more exasperating. Sam has developed the habit of looking at a page full of characters in a picture book and asking what each one is thinking or saying. At first, I was delighted, because I've read that this is the best way to read with your kids --to engage them in speculation about characters' inner thoughts, the reasons for their actions, and the anticipated outcomes of those thoughts and actions. Knowing that Horton hears a who is all fine and dandy, but kids' minds are really stretched when they think about what Horton thinks about his situation, why he's trying to protect his tiny friends, why those Wickersham Brothers are such monumental jerks, and how the whole book is a thinly veiled polemic on the right to life debate. She's managed some of these mental feats, but not all.
So this kind of added inquisitiveness is great in theory, but when stretched to extremes over pages and pages it results in exchanges like this towards the end of a book:
"At first, the other animals just saw an ugly spider, but with Wilber's help they realized that Charlotte was gentle and kind."
"What's Golly saying?"
"Charlotte is gentle and kind."
"And what's Ike saying?"
"Charlotte is gentle and kind."
"And what's Samuel saying?"
"Charlotte is gentle and kind."
"And what's Templeton saying?"
"Charlotte is gentle and kind."
"And what's Charlotte saying?"
"I've fooled them all. Now that I have lured them into a sense of false security it is time to execute the next phase of my master plan for world domination."
"...Noooooo. That's not what Charlotte is saying. That's silly."
I may not win any parenting awards, but at least I amuse myself. And at least Sam calls me on it.
As far as Mandy goes (which isn't far, since she can't walk or even crawl), she too has developed two fantastic new powers. One is drooling, which began happening as if someone had suddenly cranked a faucet handle and accidentally snapped it off in the "full blast" position. We could irrigate citrus crops with this kid.
Mandy's second new trick is reaching for things, which is pretty cool since it marks her transition from "cute lump" to "cute lump who can play with you." She's not very good at it yet, but she's getting it. Ger had her lying on her little play gym, looking up at the toys dangling above her. After a brief demonstration of how it was to be done, Mandy tried to reach for the toys herself. She did so inch by inch, letting loose with a low, sustained yell like some spiky-haired anime hero powering up for an ultimate super move that culminates in gently tapping a smiling stuffed ladybug.
The awesomeness of this magnificent display of power cannot be overstated.
So I've finally done something new to boost my geek cred: I installed a build of Linux on one of my computers. I had an old laptop that used to belong to my dad, and since it had an install of Windows 2000 Pro that was flakier than a fresh-baked croissant and had for some reason been sitting in our pantry for the better part of a year, I decided to give it a shot. I figured the worst that could happen is that I would have a computer that would never work instead of one that would only occasionally work, and I could just put it back next to the cans of stewed tomatoes and forget about it again.
For those of you that don't know, Linux is an operating system for your computer, just like Windows or whatever fruity thing that Apple users have. The big difference is that the various Linux-based operating systems are developed collaboratively by hobbyists and other enthusiasts under what's called an open source software agreement, so they're completely free to download and use. The caveat is that they sometimes require a bit of work and specialized knowledge to install and use.
Actually, in my case that wasn't true, since I used the extremely user friendly Ubuntu distribution that didn't require me to even "decorn a colonel" or whatever it is the hardcore Linux geeks like to talk about. Just download the installer, burn a CD-ROM, and pop the CD into the drive of the laptop. That easy. Well, maybe not easy, but at least straight forward. The installation process ran EXTREMELY slowly and locked up a couple of times, but I attribute that to the aged hardware. The third time was the charm, though, and I eventually had an Ubuntu install that worked perfectly.
In fact, I'm pretty impressed. Ubuntu is easily as slick, professional, and easy to use as any operating system I've known. It also comes packed with TONS of applications, all of them free. There's word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software from OpenOffice, there's media players, and there's web surfing and webmail through FireFox. It all worked perfectly once I had the system installed, and it was all FREE. In reality, though, I just wanted a laptop to keep in the kitchen so I could browse the web over breakfast or other moments of free time, and it's working just fine for that.
So as far as first experiences with Linux go, this has been a good one. I'm impressed and it essentially saved an old computer from the scrap pile. Of course, there's a one-word reason why I would never switch my main machine to Linux: "Games." They just don't make AAA games for the platform, so I'll stick with Windows XP on my desktop. But still, for a secondary computer Ubuntu is working just great.
Finally, if this has piqued your interest, there's a pretty good article entitled "30 Days with Linux" that goes through a LOT more detail than I've provided here. It's a good read.
A lily pond, which if memory serves me is one of the last pictures I took in San Diego. It was at the waterfront resort that Ger and I treated ourselves to on our way out of town.
My sister Shawn has recently done two things. One, she (and her husband Brent) moved to London. Two, she started a blog about it called News from the Mews, which takes its name not from cats, but from the style of house they ended up in. Like myself, Shawn and Brent are from the American Midwest, and she's got several stories about the culture shock and adaptations that they're having to go through.
My favorite so far: the story of how the chipper British moving man had to balance their humongous American-sized dresser on his head and use a ladder to fit it through the second story window. I'm not kidding. There's a picture of him doing it. But I mostly liked the story because it involved this picture of Shawn trying to push her palms through her face and out the back of her head as she watched said event:
I remember that look. Mostly from when Shawn was supposed to be taking care of me and I had climbed up on the roof or set the drapes on fire or something. Good to see it's still around!
Spring is finally here, slipping in like a latecomer to the party, already tipsy and all like "Hey, guys, what's up? You all look totally cold." This, coupled with daylight saving time, has meant that we can go outside, an activity that Sam is almost spastically excited about. I took her out to the back yard last night and discovered something new: Sam has an almost compulsive need to gather pine cones and place them in neat little piles that she called "pine cone families." While I stood and watched, she zipped around the back yard, gathering up the prickly treasures and finding homes for each batch.
Then, all the pine cones relocated to their homes like little displaced refuges, she moved on to pine needles. She gathered dead, brown needles from the ground and she yanked a few bunches of green ones off the trees. These she also started to arrange into little families and even schools, but when I suggested that maybe some of the brown needles should intermingle with the green ones, Sam got very vexed and insisted that NO, there would be NO CROSS CLASS MIXING OF THE PINE NEEDLES. The green and brown needles would stay in their separate but equal homes and schools. I like to think that this kind of thing has more to do with a developmental drive to organize, sort and classify things and less to do with any kind of pine needle apartheid. I mean, she's never even seen a green man.
And speaking of developmental drives, Geralyn took Sam to some kind of assessment center the other week and brought back an interesting report card. I was dubious about the whole concept at first, perhaps fearing that Sam would come back with disheartening results like "Criminal" or "Future Bathroom Attendant" or "I Can't Understand What the Hell This Kid is Saying." But that turns out not to be the case. As far as I can tell, the assessment consisted of an examiner with a clipboard sitting down with Sam and issuing a series of commands cleverly disguised as play activities. So we found out that Sam has trouble hopping on one foot and enunciating her "S" sounds, but she excels in tasks like recognizing letters or numbers and following three-step directions. For me, this is invaluable information, has it has already allowed me to significantly narrow down her graduate school applications. Basically, her chances at a hopscotch scholarship are shot.
Mandy, on the other hand, seems primed to get by on her charming personality if nothing else. This is the most smile-prone baby I've ever seen, and I've seen several. Basically all you have to do is get close enough to her for her to see you, and her little mug will erupt in an ear to ear, chin to brow smile like she's just heard the funniest joke ever and you'd totally bust a gut too if she could only let you in on it. I'd try to capture these moments on film, but apparently things get a lot less funny when the human face in her field of vision is swapped out for the black, unblinking hole of a SLR camera lens. Drop the lens, smiles come back. Raise the lens, smiles go away. If I didn't know better, I'd think she's doing it on purpose.
Finally, you may have noticed that there is much St. Patrick's Day merriment going on in the photos this week. With a name like "Madigan" I feel it's my right to dress my kids up, though I promise you that even on St. Pattie's Day I'd never give them anything heavier than a nice, light pilsner. Fortunately, Geralyn would never give them anything more than a mug of apple juice.
We also went to a kind of madhouse disguised as a family friendly celebration at our church, where I ate something that looked like boiled shoe served with soggy yard clippings, and where Sam insisted on getting into a giant, inflatable obstacle course they had set up in the parking lot. She went in, and then I pretty much lost track of her for fifteen minutes. I could hear what sounded like a dozen or so kids bouncing around in there and I occasionally caught a glimpse of a cow-licked head of hair popping up over the inflated vinyl wall, but that was it. I was just about to move all my hopes and aspirations fully on to Mandy when Sam came bounding out of the exit, giggling and grinning. She wanted to go in again, but by that point they had started to break down the contraption and judging by the toddler-sized lumps moving around under the collapsing plastic I didn't think that was such a great idea.
This is my first annual memorial breakfast for someone I miss very much. It's what he ate for breakfast every single morning for years and years. It is my fondest hope that Sammy and Mandy will some day honor me by breakfasting on donuts and Diet Coke.
The one aspect of parenting that I don't think we've gotten quite down is striking a balance between paying attention to our kids and, well, everything else in life. Surprisingly, though, the problem seems to be that Sam gets too much attention. In the last few weeks she's been demanding it like a junkie obsessing over a fix. It's to the point where if we're not playing with her or doing something for her, she just spazzes out and starts screaming her "request" at us. This makes having a conversation with another adult or even simple chores a monumental undertaking, and forget about trying to rest.
So lately we've been getting firm with her, saying that we're busy and that she needs to play by herself. The effectiveness of this tactic can best be described as "laughable" since Sam just ignores us and continues to chant "Play with me play with me play with me!" and pull on our various limbs until we acquiesce. We've tried to teach her to say "Excuse me, please" when interrupting someone, but all that's done is make her shout the phrase at the top of her lungs until we give her what she wants. Of course the next floor serviced by the Escalator of Discipline is usually the one containing harsh words and time outs, but it's hard to bring myself to chew my daughter out and make her stand in the corner because she wants to spend time with me. It seems cruel and I'm pretty sure that would turn her into an ax murderer or performance artist of some kind. So I'm out of ideas.
Well, except for one: the TV. Popping in a DVD or bringing up her shows on TiVo always works, and would be the perfect solution if it didn't also conjure up guilt over my child's mental well being, especially if employed for longer than an hour or so per day. But it does deliver respite in small doses, and sometimes it seems like we have no choice.
Still, there are some boundaries on the TV as a babysitter to which everyone should pay attention. In fact, this conversation between me, Ger, and Sam after picking Sam up from the grandparents' house kind of illustrates the point:
SAM: Grandma and Grandpa bought me a movie about bunnies!
ME: Bunnies? Really?
GER: Yeah, they got her Watership Down on tape.
GER: Watership down. The cartoon movie about the bunnies.
SAM: Yeah! It had bunnies!
ME: The cartoon movie about the bunnies that die horribly and violently?
ME: Geralyn, that movie is really violent and graphic!
GER: I don't remember that. It had a Simon and Garfunkle song in it!
ME: So did A Clockwork Orange!
GER: It did?
ME: How should I know! But there's a scene in Watership Down where a construction crew digs up the rabbits' burroughs and kills them by filling their warren with poisonous gas. There's a big rabbit that mauls and murders other rabbits, and toward the end there's a dog that slaughters a bunch more. It's really bloody! Like, there's bunny blood all over the place!
GER: Really? Crap. It's been a while since I've seen it. I don't remember all that.
ME: Maybe she didn't watch the whole--
SAM: THERE WAS A DOG THAT ATE ALL THE BUNNIES!
ME: Oh, goodie.
On the other hand, Sam reportedly enjoyed the scene where the rabbit Blackberry figured out how to cross a river by using a piece of wood as a raft and in which no rabbits were murdered, mauled, savaged, poisoned, asphixiated, or eaten. And I admit, it was a good scene.
(Actually, I'm holding out hope that she saw the more kid friendly 1999 animated TV series instead of the more graphic 1978 movie. But Sam's "dog that ate all the bunnies" comment creates a certain amount of doubt.)
At any rate, Sam seems fine. So is Mandy, thanks for asking. this is my new favorite picture of her. I staged it because I was getting really tired of taking nothing but shots of her in her bed or bouncy seats, a condition brought about by her not being able to stand or sit or even hold her head up for long. I just noticed that all the stuffed animals seen in the shot are gifts, too. The purple dinosaur was a gift from Ger to me in college. The Paddington Bear was to Sam from Aunt Shawn and Uncle Brent (bought from the actual Paddington Station in London!). The brown mass in front of Mandy is a brown bunny that I bought for Ger on our second date. The little girl doll was a gift to Sam from friends David and Michelle. And the pink monkey was made a gift to Sam by her grandparents when they visited the zoo. So, none of those toys actually belong to Mandy, but she didn't seem to mind.