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My 52nd Birthday

August 16, 2011

My daughter Anna was having a fun time last Sunday poking me in the ribs during an announcement regarding a get together of the Senior Saints at our church.

Kids these days…  Little did she know that I have been eligible for membership among that august group for a couple of years now.

You know that it’s bad when it takes more than one of your kids to light all of your birthday candles.

This is a home school tradition.  We put simple math on all of our birthday cakes.  If the birthday boy (or girl) can’t do the math, they have to repeat the last year.

You can also tell this is a home school family by noticing that the number candles show ample evidence of having been previously used.

Are we ready?

All set ??

Ok.  Here we go.  I’ll huff.  And I’ll puff.

Got ’em.  (Isn’t that a great picture!)

You’ll never guess what I got for my birthday.  I got a new steam cleaner for our carpet and a 4 quart Crock Pot.  I’m not making this up.  You can ask Terrie.

It’s OK, though.  Next year I intend to get her a new drill press and some great new apps for my iPad.


Lydia and the Phone

August 15, 2011

I figured that it was about time to blog about Lydia, and it took just over 2.5 milliseconds to figure out what the theme would be.

The common perception of teenage girls is that they spend an inordinate amount of time on the telephone.  This perception is completely accurate.  What I don’t get is: what in the world could they spend so much time talking about?

Lydia is our third daughter, and from what I can see, she definitely has a future in telecommunications.

Here is an oft-repeated conversation at our house:
“Lydia, are you on the phone again?”
Then she gives you a look like this:

Followed by “<<Cara, wait just a second>> What?”
“I said ‘Are you on the …’ oh, never-mind.”

Of course, there is always the problem of the nosy ears of a little brother or sister, whereupon Lydia will escape to the relative privacy of the front porch.

What I want to know is what girls did before the advent of Alexander Graham Bell.  Oh well…

We love you, Lydia.

2011 Snow Days

July 27, 2011

I was driving home yesterday in this dreadful heat, longing for cooler weather and thinking cold thoughts. Thoughts of snow. I was thinking about the contrast between the snow days that we had back in January and the sweltering days of July, and I thought that a few snow pictures might help us all chill out.

Most of these are my photos. Terrie was just waking up as I stepped out into the frigid air to capture a few images.

It is important to leave the bees enough honey to keep the home fires going. They burn energy all winter to keep the cluster of bees warm. The queen resides right in the middle of the cluster.

The pasture is particularly beautiful after a snow. It gets better the second day after the snow melts and then freezes back, leaving an expanse of shimmery ice.

Penny had a big time with the white stuff, but she always seemed relieved to come in and get the snow out of her fur.

It is always a wonder to me how such a tiny little creature can survive a cold winter. You’d think that it would freeze to stone. God’s care for the birds is a great testimony of His greater care for us.

This one is a favorite of mine. Terrie made this shot during a trip we made to Kentucky a few years ago. We drove through the Smokey Mountains on US441 and encountered snow just a little south of the Gatlinburg area. The kids and I got out to play in the stuff. Never turn your back on your Dad when he has a snowball in his hands.

Notice Anna’s superior throwing style.

Snow never fails to bring a smile. I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

Joe and the Swimming Hole

July 26, 2011

Terrie and I had been teaching for three years in a small town north of the Mason-Dixon when we decided to return south to raise our family.  We began our hunt for a place to call home with a few things in mind, of which one was a desire to live somewhere that would provide open area where the kids could play and explore.  When we found our place, as rough as it looked from the outset, we knew we had found home.

The three oldest boys covered the woods and the creek pretty comprehensively.  They played army and hide-and-seek and other such fun and games as boys are wont to do in a forest and stream.  But I believe that Joe has found the holy grail of creek adventure.

Graze creek runs across the edge of our neighbor Henry’s property.  His grandsons Seth and Josh are friends of Joe’s, and the three of them have dammed up the creek and built themselves a old-fashioned swimming hole.

They refer to this as red-neck swimmin’ and have nick names for one another.  Seth and Josh are Flovis and Cletus (though I am not certain which is which), and Joe is known as Cephas.  They have a rope swing that arcs out over the water as well as a zip line that stretches all the way across the pond.  Henry made them a raft out of a couple of old barrels and some decking lumber.

All day long there is all manner of whoopin’ and hollering from down by the creek.  In a day and age where many folk think it irresponsible to ride a bicycle without a helmet, this is really a throwback to another time and era.

I think we all need memories that will last a lifetime, and I am glad to see that Joe will have his.

How the Grinch Almost Stole Sunset Beach

July 20, 2011

We re-discovered Sunset Beach in 1999.  Terrie and I had actually spent our Honeymoon there in 1981, but we had forgotten about it until years later when we took the family there for vacation.  We have returned every year since.  Here is a picture of our arrival at the beach a few years back.

In the few days just before I leave for our annual beach vacation, I always write a poem for my co-workers to sort of “rub-in” the fact that I am headed for the beach for a week.  Usually I write a sonnet or sometimes a few verses of Haiku, but never a limerick.  One year, however, I was inspired by Dr Seuss and wrote this little piece.  I hope you enjoy it.

How the Grinch Almost Stole Sunset Beach


With profound apology to Theodor Seuss Geisel .


All the kids at the Zell’ house
Loved Sunset a lot
But the Grinch –  from three houses over – did NOT!

The Grinch hated beaches
And any vacation
To places with sand and abundant hydration 

Don’t ask me why
There’s no body that knows
But he was a crank from his head to his toes.

He watched them for days
With his hand on his hip
While they happily packed all their things for their trip



“Those kids at the Zell’ house”
He said with a sneer
“Have packed all their stuff like they do every year.

“For days they have bought things
Like shovels and pails
Crab nets and fish hooks and houses for snails.

“Their dad has compacted
and smashed with a squeeze
And shoved all their junk in their van without ease.

“The bikes – Oh those bikes!
They’re all hung on the back
With bungees and straps and all sorts of clap-trap.

“Their surfboards and beach chairs
Umbrellas and kites
Are stuffed here and there and held down with old tights.



“On the top of the van
In a Sears Es-Car-Go
Are their bags full of clothes and each kid’s own pillow.

“They’ve packed lots of snacks
Like peanuts and chips
And enough cookies to fill several ships.

“In the morning they’ll leave
For the white sandy beach
From the cares of this world they’ll be safe out of reach.”

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
The Grinch got a wonderfully awful idea!

“I know what to do”
Said the Grinch with smile
“I’ll ruin their trip – every last little mile”



Sometime after midnight
He crossed through the gate
And approached the big van with his eyes full of hate.

He loosened the straps
That held the bikes tight
He hid all their buckets; poked holes in their kite.

He undid the carrier
On top of the van
And scattered their clothes wherever he ran.

He ate all their peanuts,
Their cookies and snacks.
He crumpled and smashed all the chips in their sacks.

He pulled the distributor cap
With a jerk
And stole the plug wires so the van wouldn’t work.



And then just to make their dad
Madder than fire
He put a long spike under each brand new tire

He climbed in the driver’s seat
Just for a look
When he saw something stuck in the fold of a book

“What’s this?” said the Grinch
With a quizzical sneer.
“A note to remind them of some new sort of gear?”

But the note wasn’t that.
It said something quite new
“Don’t forget to invite Mr. Grinch this year, too.”

The Grinch just sat staring
And feeling all wrong.
“Why – this year they all want to take ME along!”



And what happened next –
The Grinch got an idea
An awfully wonderful new good idea.

He brought back the plug wires
And distributor cap
And polished the windows with an old stocking cap.

He patched up their kite
And brought back all their pails
And vacuumed and dusted their houses for snails.

He tightened the straps
That held on their bikes
And from under their tires, he removed all the spikes.

He ran down to the Bilo
And bought them new treats
Each kid had some cookies on each of their seats.



And then about dawn
When the sun was a peepin’
And from all their beds, the kids were just creepin’

The Grinch stayed around
Walking down, walking up
And thinking out loud, “Come on kids, now GET UP!”

Then out from the door
With a hop and a flip
Jumped three little Zell’ kids all set for their trip.

When Joe saw the Grinch
He let out a “Hurray!
Mr. Grinch, please come here, we have something to say!”

“That’s right Mr. Grinch.”
Said their Mom with a smile.
“We hope you will come to the beach for a while.”



The Grinch then just stood there
With nothing to say
No one had ever been nice just that way.

“Why, yes.  I would love to”
The Grinch simply said.
And completely uncranked from his toes to his head.

That week at the beach
They had so much fun
And the Grinch even smiled when he burned in the sun.

And to everyone’s shock,
With hand strong and facile
He – he himself – the Grinch carved the sand castle.





Anna and the Red Suitcase

July 19, 2011

Those of you who know Anna know that she has always had somewhat of a flair.  In some respects, it a little hard to describe.  It is not just an odd eccentricity or anything like that.  It’s cheery and optimistic, a little daring, sort of subdued sometimes, but always fun.  Add whip-cream and a cherry and you got Anna.  I suppose its part of the artist side of her, but she always adds a splash of color to any room she’s in.

So she manages to find an old red suitcase.  A really, really big old red suit case.  This thing is from the 70’s, I suppose.  But it’s simply Anna.  The thing is much bigger than she is, and she can fill it with more stuff than you can shake a stick at.  I spent a week in Germany one time with little more than what I could carry in my pockets.  But not Anna.  If she is going to spend the night at a friend’s house, she takes far in excess of her own body weight in clothes and hair appliances and makeup and shoes and books and pillows and blankets and snacks and gum and who-knows-what-else.

This suitcase came with a set of wheels, not wheels that were attached from the factory.  No.  There was this little kit – still in its original packaging – inside the suitcase when she brought it home.  It looks like it might have been one of those Saturday afternoon TV offers.  But the previous owner must have thought, “That’ll never work.”  And so they were just thown into the suitcase.

Anna surely must have known how heavy this suitcase would be, but having seen the wheels, she was confident that it would all work out.  So the night before she went off to aviation camp over at the university, we glued the wheels onto the bottom of the suitcase.  That’s right – glued them.  I always hate to be the curmudgeon about things like this.  But the engineer in me agreed with the previous owner who had the good sense to just pitch the whole package of wheels into the suitcase and never bother to attach them.  Nevertheless, we followed the directions and glued them onto the bottom of the suitcase.

I think that they lasted about 200 feet in total across bumpy sidewalks and down carpeted hallways.  Since Anna did not want to attach the pull strap, she had to push the thing everywhere she went, and it always pulled to one side.  By the time Terrie and Anna got that suitcase home, one of the wheels had popped off.  I tried to re-glue it, but that did not hold either.

So now just this last weekend, Anna left for two weeks at camp up in the mountains of North Carolina.  And now without the benefit of functional wheels, she had to scrounge a little suitcase dolly.  Terrie took her up to camp and shot several pictures and a short video of Anna trying to get the suitcase out of the back of the van.  It was all very entertaining.  I am certain that Big Red had her by at least 20 pounds, but she managed to wrestle the thing out of the van and hustled it up to her cabin.

There is no telling what all she has in that thing, but you can rest assured that she will wish she had room for more.

Hurry home, sweetheart. We miss you… and Big Red.

Terrie the Shutterbug

July 18, 2011

Sometime around the year 2000, our friend Don bought a digital camera.  It was one of the nicer cameras that you could purchase at the time.  I think it had maybe 2 or 3 megapixel resolution, and had some very nice features.  Most of the consumer digital cameras up to then were about 640 x 480 resolution, or about 0.3 MP.  So 2 or 3 MP was big stuff.

I had been trying to convince Terrie that we should get a digital camera, but she had only seen some of the lower resolution models and was not impressed at all.  Too pixellated.  Bad color.  And besides, who wanted digital pictures anyway?  There needed to be some way to print the pictures so that you could look at them.  Computers in those days were not much beyond Windows 95, and ours was a 486SX with DOS and Windows 3.1.

Then she saw Don’s camera and the resolution problem went away.  Suddenly she was interested, but the price of cameras in those days was still out of sight for us.  We went for several months while I schemed and connived to get a camera she would be happy with.

Then it happened.  Staples ran an after-thanksgiving sale on the Kodak Easyshare camera with a docking station.  I think it was about 2 MP.  We bought it and it changed our lives.  No kidding.  Terrie got ‘hold of that thing and started shooting pictures left and right.  We had owned a really nice Minolta XGM single lens reflex film camera for several years, but she did not like using it because of the development expense.  Now she could shoot til her heart was content.  One day she shot this picture of Joe and she was fatally bitten by the shutterbug.

A few years later we upgraded our computer and bought a Nikon Coolpix 8800, which was one of the most advanced point and shoot cameras you could find.  This was just about the time that digital SLR’s were showing up on the consumer scene and were still very expensive.  The Nikon make wonderful pictures, giving her control over shutter speed, aperture and film speed.  She was shooting a lot of really nice pictures and I was putting them on my screensaver at work.

My buddy Doug who works across the hall from me noticed several of her photos and asked me if we had ever thought about submitting her pictures to a stock photography site.  I had never really heard of stock photography.  So we checked out a couple of different stock sites and settled on Shutterstock.

Shutterstock is a rather picky outfit.  It often takes photographers several attempts to be accepted as one of their submitters.  The hot-button issues include composition, exposure, focus, digital noise, and a host of other problems.  As it turns out, Terrie was very fortunate to have been approved on her first try.  Here is one of the 10 images in her first batch.

She started selling her work on Shutterstock in August of 2005.  Since then she had upgraded her equipment twice.  But the best part is that her earnings have more than paid for her equipment.

I have included her top five selling photos below.


This one was a bit of a surprise.  Her sales had pretty much reached a plateau by the fall of 2006.  She was trying different composition ideas and asked the kids to lay in the grass like spokes on a wheel. She got up on a step stool and made this shot.  Immediately after we uploaded it, it make the weekly top 50 sellers on the whole site.  It stayed there for a few weeks before dropping back.  For several years, it remained a top seller within its category.

The image above made it to within the top 3 or 4 images in the category “education.”  She took this picture of Joe and Lydia at our local library.  This was not posed, they were both working at the computer stations there at the library when Terrie caught this image.

This is one of my favorites.  This was a junk photo that we almost threw out.  The colors were all wrong and the whole photo went dead.  I had seen a picture where they had make everything black and white except a single focus object.  So I thought I would try it with a very light sepia tone rather than black and white.  This was the result.

Terrie caught this image of Joe and Lydia floating in the pool.  I liked the shimmery outlines that the water made about them.  The bright colors seemed to pop and make the whole image fun.

This is one of Terrie’s favorites.  She got down on the ground and shot upward, catching Joe’s odd expression contrasted with the girls’ smiling faces.

She has not uploaded much in the past year or so, but the site keeps making money for us.  Not a lot, but enough to let her buy a new piece of gear every now and then.  If you want to see more of her work, you can see it here: