Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 1.141: The panes had gone

(from sight)...or Home Alone 2 perhaps.

After a very quiet, relaxed and sleepy morning we took Exile #3 to a play-date with one of her school friends. When we got home, E5N1 went to bed leaving Exile #4 and I to pick up where we left-off yesterday with the 'yard-work'. The picture represents most of our labours. This morning the same shot would have had over-head foliage hiding most of the view and new growth on the shrubs in front of the house almost entirely obscuring the first (ground-) floor windows.

I was reasonably happy with the results even though a thunderstorm interrupted us and sent us scurrying back indoors. Soon after Exile #3 was dropped back home, Exile #2 arrived back and we all went out for tea.

I went out about an hour ago after the storms had passed to take this, and this all leads me to say that it is pop pun #57 for title watchers. Clearly now the rain has gone.
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Friday, May 30, 2008

Day 1.140: Home alone

Exile #2 is on a retreat with her MOPS group. Since I was home early from work, and was left in charge I decided to do some pruning. Exile #4 helped me pile up the cuttings. It was quite a pile as you can see.

Soon after this, Exile #3 arrived home on the bus and we hurtled headlong into tea, bath, bed, Rock Band night (yes - second time this week!).

Blogging has been delayed by computer problems combined with tiredness this evening. Ah well hopefully it will publish this time and I can get to bed.
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Day 1.139: Eye strain

Today started with bad news from the UK - one of my uncles had died following a short and sudden illness. If we were there there would be little if anything I could do. From here, it's the same thing but more so. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, children, sister and brother and all who loved him.

This is another picture from our visit to Storm King on Day 1.134 - also sculpture free. Don't strain your eyes trying to make sense of it.

I went to the opticians for probably the first time ever today - I think the only other eye-tests I've had have been at school or when applying on two continents for a licence to drive. It turns out that my eyesight is fine which is a relief but also means that my increased frequency of headaches recently is unexplained. It may be allergies - it seems that Spring's rapid arrival and continued verve causes quite a few problems for the pollen-sensitive residents - maybe including me.

There was no ice, but it's more of a land-train than a tram (which is what they called it).
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Day 1.138: Cheese & Peas

A few years ago, a business contact from Vancouver in Canada introduced me to Wasabi Peas - green peas coated with wasabi-paste (Japanese horseradish) and roasted. So good. They were very hard to come by in the UK, although I did track them down once or twice over the years. When we arrived here, I was delighted to discover that that particular delicacy was available in the local grocery store.

A few days ago, Exile #2 came home with this. Now, I love cheese, but I'm allergic to cow's milk, so we have to shop creatively. But cheese ... that I can eat ... with wasabi?! It had to be tried and - oh yes - it is good!
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Day 1.137: Unbridled insanity!

You've won... LEGENDARY STATUS. Wow.

That was the reward for 6 hours of solid commitment to Rock Band yesterday. The 'church band' Killasaurus Monday (normally only heard on alternate Fridays) actually played a Monday gig for the first time in its short history. It was quite a gig. It started with a new three-piece line-up (since we had a microphone stand to hand, I played guitar and vocals - for the first time in Rock Band - although I did previously do it in a rock band). Later there were more of us, at least 11 people participated for at least one song. In total we played 58 songs back-to-back (well mostly back-to-back anyway).

This was of course, the "Endless Setlist" - as failed by Exile #2 and myself (as Electric of Nouns) some time ago. Ah well, we both played a part in this success, so our self-respect is in tact.

The descent as the afternoon wore on into evening from enthusiasm to exhaustion was something to witness - I hope this helps to capture it at least in part:

Congratulations to us on having that rare combination of skill and unbridled insanity!
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Monday, May 26, 2008

Day 1.136: Mothers on parade

This year's Memorial Day Parade had an important addition - for us anyway - Exile #2. She was riding on the float with the local MOPS (Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers) group. Their theme this year was 'Mothers through the decades' and Exile #2 was dressed in a lovely 1950's outfit. You can see another picture here.

All this left me to get all three kids to the parade route on my own. After getting them all dressed, sun-creamed and out of the house that is. We chose to shun our motorised transportation and instead my legs carried all four of us. I carried E5N1 in the backpack, and pulled the girls in the wagon. It's about a mile. Amazing how much turns out to be uphill when you're pulling a heavy wagon. In both directions. Here are the girls at our chosen shady spot about two thirds of the way along the parade route ready to see the veterans/sports teams/local businesses/church groups/police/fire departments and all go by (and catch some liberally scattered candy of course).

On the way home we were ensnared by a yard-sale - canny timing! - the girls begged to be allowed to choose something from a large connection of small soft toys. At first I pointed out that they have hundreds of such things and we really don't need any more, but since they were 50 cents each (and I had resisted the call of the ice-cream van earlier) I relented. They duly appeared with their choices and I glanced back at the sign - 50 cents each or three for a dollar. Suddenly my desire for an uncluttered house disappeared and I was determined to get my money's worth - go and choose another one!

The rest of the day was spent at a barbecue with folks from church. As well as the normal cook-out activities, we played some Rock Band, but perhaps I'll tell you about that tomorrow.
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 1.135: D-Day

It is an interesting coincidence that by the time most of you read this it will be (here in the US at least) Memorial Day when Americans remember people killed in action in the armed forces. However, it is just a coincidence, I am not going to be writing about that D-Day.

No - rather I am reflecting on the fact that if I had made a different decision 134 days ago and if we had not shunned the numerical stylings of ancient Rome, today would have been Day D.

In honour of all this looking back - here is a picture of an old-guy. If you don't know who it is, try rolling the mouse pointer over him. Exile #2 thinks 'he' looks like Davros which is quite disturbing all round. In fact I created this image after following a link to a viral-advertising site - it looks like it's really aimed at teens and I was frankly bemused, but there you go. I will spread the 'virus' (it is quite safe - I assume!) by suggesting you check it out and if you want to create your own Davros, you can do so here.
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Day 1.134: Looking-up

We had a rough morning - had to unmake well-laid plans at short notice, then got grumpy then cross with each other. Anyway, shortly after lunch we sorted ourselves out and found ourselves at the rather dramatically-named Storm King Arts Center.

It's a huge site full of mostly-huge sculptures - here are the 'giruls' looking up at one of them. We were permitted to photograph there (the rules imply - as long as the pictures are not too good) but we are not allowed to 'publish' the pictures - whether this little blog counts as publishing is moot, but I'll be good (for now at least) and direct you to this page for some pictures. We had a great time. We met up (partly intentionally) with some friends and colleagues for part of the time and the girls walked (and rode the 'tram') for miles with surprisingly long-lasting enthusiasm.

Apart from the sculptures, the park and the setting are spectacular - with meadows, woodland, mountain-views. The paths are a mixture of gravel and mowed grass and are unobtrusive, unlike the structures that appear around every corner. Eventually I found somewhere I could photograph that was sculpture-free to give you a feel for the place.

The whole trip lasted from 11 am to 9 pm. Ten hours roughly divided into three driving, two eating and five looking at sculptures. Not bad at all really.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 1.133: It's a wind-up

I was playing a game with the girls - we were all having fun. Exile #2 suddenly said from the kitchen, "Is [E5N1] with you?", "No...?" It had been suspiciously quiet for a while. Of course, he was in one of his favourite places - the downstairs 'bathroom'. He had already unwound a whole roll of 'bathroom tissue' and was now enjoying playing in the conveniently situated water-play area.

We normally keep the door closed - but not everyone is careful every time.

I remember Exile #3 and a friend unwinding a roll of toilet paper (we were in the UK then) and the subsequent jokes about exclusive hand-rolled paper. Actually rolling it up (even to this standard) is quite a tricky task and, if I was being paid the minimum wage to do it, would make this quite a valuable commodity. I think Exile #4 must have skipped this particular activity - one out of three is not too bad I suppose.
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Day 1.132: Morning play-time

Some mornings (like this yesterday) I get to spend some nice time with the kids playing while we wait for the school bus. It's a really nice time and Exile #2 gets to get ready without company.

This morning I virtually carried Exile #3 out to the possibly-illegally waiting bus with her shoes on the wrong feet and no coat.

It's not all our fault - there are significant up-stream fluctuations that mean we are always guessing about when it will come - fortunately we more often get it wrong in the direction of making time to play than in missing it (or very close calls like this morning).
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day 1.131: Every vote counted?

Just over a week ago I decided that a joke was worth more than my pride and on a whiteboard in our office on which some key sporting events had appeared to add to the all-important squash ladder - the Premiership, the Stanley Cup and today's Champions League final- I added an event close to my own heart also occurring today.

Like the Stanley Cup entry, it was still not clear at the time who would compete in the final, but we learned a week ago that this would be the archetypal David vs Goliath David battle. I am talking of course about the American Idol Season 7 Finale. Like the upcoming presidential elections we did not get to vote in this - although to be fair that is only because we got the engaged tone every time we tried.

The competition this year was very high quality and rather than trimming out the bad singers (with a few exceptions) it was a process of waiting for the talented ones to choke, stumble, choose terrible songs or otherwise self-destruct. It started before the live shows (and before we started watching with any regularity) with Josiah Leming - who stayed up all night trying to decide how to throw-away his sure-fire pass to the next stage of the competition. When the live shows started, we loved David Cook and Brooke White, but Brooke in turn proved herself not cut out for the competition by psyching herself out week by week and producing more and more shaky performances. Sad though we were to lose her, it was a relief in some ways to think that she could finally relax.

In the end, the from-day-one favourite-to-win David Archuleta met the Exiles' favourite David Cook in the final. In most of these competitions the interesting ones turn out to be a bit lacking in talent and rightly (but disappointingly) fall by the wayside. This year - the interesting one won. Hooray! (also, Simon Cowell got it wrong - for once).

Even though my vote didn't help the winner - the 50 million others that he received helped him squeak through! Some of you heard it here first (maybe!).
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 1.130: Bugged - Screened

We have become people who never answer the phone. This is not completely true of course - but not a bad approximation. The reason? Rampant tele-sales and charity calls.

The charity calls are the worst - they give you their blurb followed by "So, [my name said like I'm your friend], can we count on your support this year?". "No I'm afraid not, sorry." "We're not asking for much [another sincere name check], think of the [sick-children/victims of crime/other genuinely needy bunch]...". "No, thank you. Goodbye."

It's not that I don't care about these groups. It's not that I'm not willing to give to charity. Far from it. But don't cold-call me at home in the evening. I'm not buying. Whatever it is. I'm not buying.

Now, unless I'm fooled by your caller-ID, I'm not even answering.

Wow, I've been ranting a lot recently - sorry. As you can see E5N1 is on his feet at the slightest provocation, but still showing little sign of actually walking. He has developed a wickedly fast crawl though and his standing-up means that he is trashing a whole new level of the house. I said to Exile #2 today that he is going to be trouble. "What do you mean 'going to be'?" Fair point. He's already trouble, but just so cute with it.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Day 1.129: Round and round

At work today I was involved in a multi-recipient email discussion that went, from my point of view, one email too far. As if to push the point home, the day started and ended with discussions of another email discussion and subsequent meeting about a matter of disagreement amongst the parents at the school - so this is by no means a preserve solely of the work-place.

I suppose that many of us have read warnings about email - how it seems like a throw-away spoken-word type of medium, but the words we write are probably as permanent as anything is these days. This two-fold nature is certainly part of the problem. What someone writes in haste can be studied at leisure, picked apart and thrown back at the originator in what sometimes becomes a personal attack. On the other hand, the quick off-the-cuff nature of it allows us to communicate often and in a relaxed way - and the permanence means that we do not have to interrupt what someone is doing to talk to them there and then - unlike a phone call. The other problem is the lack of non-verbal cues of course - no amount of emoticonating :-p can substitute for tone-of-voice and looking someone in the eye. All of this is only made worse by cross-cultural issues - which affect most of my conversations these days.

Ah well, hopefully tomorrow will not see a continuation of the vicious cycle that started today. Here are the girls and their friend going round and round in a no more constructive, but altogether more enjoyable way yesterday.
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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Day 1.128: Roly-Poly Pudding

Although Exile #2 and I watched the last hour or so of Miss Potter yesterday evening, this post will have no further mentions of beer-tricks or Mr Samuel Whiskers. I should also say that 'pudding' to me means the sweet course after the main course - not just the subset of these that involve suet.

At lunchtime we were at a park in Troy (this one not that one) for a 2nd birthday party of the little sister of a school friend of the girls. Unfortunately it was a cool wet time - quite a contrast from yesterday. Everyone had a really good time though.

One of the things that surprised me at the first birthday party we attended over here was the serving of ice-cream with the birthday cake. However, we have subsequently learned that this is absolutely normal practice. Today was no exception, but there was a significant innovation. This is (believe it or not) a picture of Exile #4 helping to make the ice-cream. Inside the ball is a cannister with ice-cream ingredients in it, surrounded by ice and salt to freeze it. The rolling action mixes and churns the ingredients while they freeze. The ice-cream looked convincing - I can't comment on the taste.
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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day 1.127: Ungravelling community

In the heat of a sunny late-morning all five of us went to a community work day at the girls' school. The task we undertook with another parent was to spread this huge pile of gravel around the play area. Or make a start at least. In the end we moved a lot. There is a lot still to be moved. It was heavy work shovelling the gravel into a wheelbarrow, transporting, dumping and then raking it out. We kept it up for about two hours in the heat of the day then went in search of some lunch. You can see some of our efforts below.

After lunch Exile #2 reminded me that I had undertaken to look at the garage door openers. Our house inspection noted that they did not seem to auto-reverse when obstructed and with ever taller children both living here and visiting - with potential access to the controls - we decided that we now needed to do something about it. I now know a lot more about these devices. I have turned down the closing force on both of them - that was the easy part. One of them had much more significant problems however - a very dodgy coupling between the motor and the door (which turned out to just need a screw that was hidden in a nearby mass of cobweb refitting), a mis-wound sprung return-cable and a bent rail. With these things addressed (with varying degrees of difficulty), both doors now open and close smoothly and also reverse if they are obstructed as they are closing - result!

While I was tackling the doors, Exile #3 went off with the six-year-old girl from two-doors away. When I went to get her at tea-time, the neighbour from the house in between was also over there. It is really nice to have adults and children alike in and out of each other's houses and happily tramping through the front yards inbetween. In fact, it's real neighborly!

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Day 1.126: Drummy Mummy

On my way home from work I went to pick Exile #3 up from a play-date. I arrived at 6 pm to be told (by the kids) it was too early and invited by the parents to sit down by the fire and have a glass of wine. At 7 pm I finally managed to get us both into the car. Also at 7 pm, our fortnightly (that means every other week for US readers) Rock Band night was supposed to be starting at our house.

It got under way soon enough and finished at about midnight. We had lots of fun. Even this marathon event would not (by at least an hour) have been long enough to complete the Endless Setlist - not that we had any intention of attempting it today.

Exile #2 shuns the guitars (both lead and bass) despite playing the real thing and previously having shown willing to have a go, but likes to sing and play the drums, well one or the other anyway- although I suspect doing both at the same time wouldn't be impossible for her.
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day 1.125: Ripping yarn

No, I haven't got another story for you. Rather I am about to engage in a rant about verbing. I have previously defended or even engaged in this dubious practice, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I am drawing it here.

One of my favourite observations is that making a past participle out of a noun tends to give a reasonable euphemism for being drunk - usually when you say this people look around the room and try it out (it helps if you add "I was completely...") and come up with chaired, salted, buildinged (see?). Incidentally I can't remember which stand-up comedian did this - if anyone knows I'll happily pass on the credit. Eventually someone looks at a picture on the wall and says "Framed?" at which point you have to point out that it doesn't work for nouns that already double as verbs. As I have pointed out, in this country that is virtually every noun, but that's another issue.

If only the people at Banana Boat had had me there to point out that you cannot make the noun tear (a drop of water that falls from your eye) into a verb meaning to shed a tear because it already is a verb meaning to rip. There is no way that this 'Tear Free' product can pronounce 'No Tearing' without it meaning 'No Ripping'. There's the line right there. Verbing may weird language but tearing will never mean the same as crying.

(I wonder how Odiogo-man will do with that one?!)
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day 1.124: Working the swing shift

A few slow-news days in a row have left me trawling the archives - this picture is from Day 1.097.

I had wondered about the strange pylons on this bridge (which normally looks like this) ever since we arrived here, although I'd never given it much thought. The fact that this section swings to let tall boats through doesn't completely explain the pylons of course - but at least it shows why they have to hold the wires so high. In fact the bridge was not open for a boat, but for maintenance work of some sort. Somehow the people working on it looked very small. Later we saw it closed again as a train went across. The river traffic was quiet though.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Day 1.123: Watching the grass grow

Remember we planted some grass by spreading strange blue paper pulp on a bare patch of earth? Well, it may not be perfect, but it's definitely grass now, and it's been cut and Exile #3 has declared it to be not really noticeable any more and OK to run on. So that's OK.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Day 1.122: Best of both twirls

One of my regular readers pointed out that the last couple of posts have seemed a bit down. That's fair I suppose. My suspicion is that we're still recovering from the disrupted week of being down to one car, but as Exile #2 says - there's always something. She's right we'll get back to equilibrium and I'll have a business trip or one of the kids will get sick or something and we'll start to slip behind again. Hopefully we have a plan to make life more sustainable.

The kids get affected as well of course - but they're pretty good at letting off steam - this was at the Tulip Festival on Saturday evening. Yesterday at one point Exile #3 put on a sequinned dressing-up skirt and went into the front garden to do an amazing hip-twirling dance. "I'm being Hannah Montana" - she'd never seen the programme, so really she is doing one of her school friends being Hannah Montana. OK, let's be honest, she's doing her school friend being Miley Cyrus playing Hannah Montana. No wait, Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart who's stage-name is Hannah Montana. Ouch.

Just then Exile #4 went out wearing the other sequinned skirt and joined in - copying Exile #3 doing her school friend being Miley Cyrus playing Miley Stewart being Hannah Montana. I wonder if Exile #3's school friend saw the show herself, because if not she could be...

Enough! Anyway, it's cheap-tie-in pop pun 56 for title watchers. In some ways you're just like all your friends.
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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Day 1.121: American Mom?

We started the day with a slightly haphazard marking of Mothers Day. The girls brought cards and pictures and flowers and a sun-hat and E5N1 brought his dripping milk-cup up to find her in bed and wish her a happy day.

We had a stay-at-home day, but mostly a happy one. Exile #2 managed to plant some seeds and I spent a fair amount of the afternoon using some of her words to put together a short film for our gathering this evening.

After we got back, the girls felt in need of a bedtime snack - what else would a Mom give her kids but milk and cookies?

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day 1.120: All's well that ends well

We've had a mixed day - nice breakfast time, bad mid-morning (multiple breakdowns for the girls as they tried to play together), nice late morning/lunch at the birthday party of one of Exile #4's classmates, OK afternoon, grumpy tea-time.

Fortunately we managed one more day-redeeming activity with a trip to the Albany Tulip Festival. We arrived just as most people were starting to leave - how many of them had been watching the headlining Spin Doctors set I don't know. This timing had the welcome side-effect that we were able to park within a couple of miles of the action unlike last year. We had quite a nice time for no particular reason and felt tired but reasonably positive about the day when we put the kids to bed.
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Friday, May 9, 2008

Day 1.119: Bug - wiser

As I was about to leave for work this morning this creature caught my eye - it was about 2 mm long and crawling on our bathroom wall. It took me several attempts to get a decent picture of it, then I caught it and disposed of it.

My first reaction was to wonder if it was a tick - it was about the size of an adult deer tick - although the long mouth-parts/pincers did not look right for a tick. Sure enough, it turned out when I researched it that my 'disposal' of it was 'unnecessary carnage' although the 'unnecessary' killing of bugs that wouldn't harm us is hardly unusual.

Still, I have nothing to be proud of. It was a pseudoscorpion and apparently although harmless to humans, these tiny creatures have been known to catch and eat much-larger-than-themselves house flies. For some reason (perhaps my stature) I am inclined to cheer for the little guy or maybe it's my British leaning towards supporting the under-bug.
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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Day 1.118: I don't believe IT

Let me tell you a story (that's what you're here for after all).

Once upon a time an engineer went on a business trip. When he got back to his office, he filled in a form describing his expenses, made a copy of his receipts, sent them off and received his money back.

Ha ha ha.

That is how our so-called system is supposed to work - except that:
  1. The expense database is a separate web-application so I first have to find the email with the obscure web address and then spend half an hour recovering the password I haven't had to use for several months.
  2. When I come to use the perfectly reasonable system for attaching my receipts (scan them then attach them as a PDF document), it gets stupidly, unnecessarily clever-clever:
    "To view these receipts...", this is not what I want to do - there are none yet, I simply want to upload some, " need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed."
    There is one option - a link to the Adobe website. I already have Reader installed, so I assume this is a Microsoft conspiracy to stop me using Firefox and start-up Internet Explorer. Same thing. So I try to install Reader - 10 download minutes later - Adobe Acrobat Reader cannot be installed because a copy is already installed. Aargh.
  3. After what feels like most of a day messing around I finally give up and email the PDF to our processing person with a very frustrated message.
That was yesterday.

Today I had a very sweet reply telling me that there is an 'easier way' to attach my receipts to the expense claim. I did not believe my eyes when I read it. All I have to do is:
  1. Click on a link on the expense report to print out a cover sheet.
  2. Print out my scanned receipts (or re-copy them)
  3. Fax (FAX - seriously??) the cover sheet and the receipts to the California number on the cover-sheet.
  4. It's bad so far - what is this the 1980s? - but this takes the biscuit (cookie?): the fax will be received, a bar-code on the coversheet will allow some software to automatically attach my receipts (turned back into a PDF presumably) to the expense claim.
I wish it was a joke - I have to print it and then fax it over an analogue telephone line so it can be re-digitised, have some rather clever software interpret it and attach it to my electronic expense claim. Really? Really. All because some web designer wrote broken code that won't let me attach a PDF unless it can tell that I can look at it again afterwards. If I want to. Thanks.
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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Day 1.117: Shooting him shooting her

I was looking back through the archives and discovered a few pictures taken from one end of the beach of this odd couple at the other end.

It was back on Day 1.099. I noticed them when they arrived because they weren't acting like day-trippers. In fact they stayed for less than 30 minutes I would guess - she posed in a bikini and he took pictures. As you may recall, or be reminded - the lake looked rather nice and it would have been quite easy to make her look like she was all alone - despite the nearby kids playing in the sand and picnic-gazebo-occupying folk.

I remember seeing pictures at a friend's house in my college days taken by her uncle (I think) of a model he had hired by the hour to stand in a swimming costume in a waterfall. It seemed strange and a bit sad to me (although he took a nice photo). I'm still not sure what to think about it really - I don't see anything wrong with what either of these two was doing, but it still makes me uneasy - who is taking advantage of whom, or is it just a simple business transaction and everyone gets what they wants?
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