Celebrating Nature

The weather is gorgeous right now, and the flowers and trees are blooming. It’s a beautiful time of year, and we’ll be celebrating Easter this weekend too.

I love sitting outside on our front porch or taking a long walk through the neighborhood on days like this. Unfortunately, I also get allergies, and the last couple of days, it’s been bad. So I’m taking a break from going outside, and I’m staying inside with the air filter running…I feel much better. But how sad I am not outside!

I thought I might console myself by pulling out some of the best photographs I’ve taken over the years of our journeys and discoveries in nature. Some of them were taken in my yard. Others were taken at nearby parks or on trips. They bring back a lot of memories. They are my favorites, and I hope you enjoy them too.

Click a photo to enlarge and scroll through.

I hope you’re having a beautiful and memorable springtime, and I hope you’ll tell me how you’re spending your recent/upcoming days. If you celebrate Easter, I wish you a Happy Easter. If you celebrate passover, I wish you a Happy Passover.

Find Me Elsewhere Today

Just a short post today to tell you that I’m happily sharing more of my photography on the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog today. I’m flattered that they want to share my work! These are some of my favorite images from our trip to Amelia Island, Florida a couple of years ago. We were celebrating my in-laws 50th anniversary. Check that out by clicking here.

And, the Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair found my post about the seven-year-old’s first science fair project, and they asked me if they could feature it on their blog as an example of how to get kids involved in science! Way to go, seven-year-old!! Check it out by clicking here.

Find Me Elsewhere Today

I’m very honored to have some of my photographs from a nature walk featured on the wonderful, new nature blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors. I hope you’ll pop over there and take a look.  Click here to see my photos on Mud Puddles to Meteors.

In addition to this, a short article I wrote along with some of my photographs of the William Harris Homestead has been published in Atlanta Homeschool magazine. Check out page 22.  This is an awesome magazine that homeschoolers anywhere and non-homeschooling locals can get something out of. I’m honored to be part of it.

The Chicago Botanical Garden Butterfly Habitat

On our recent journey to Chicago to help my in-laws in an unfortunate circumstance, we took a couple of days to go out and do something fun. One of our favorite places is the Chicago Botanical Garden. We went last year when we were in Chicago visiting our relatives, and it was nice to go back feeling like we didn’t need to see everything. It’s a huge garden. One of our favorite spots within the garden is the butterfly habitat, and this year, especially, it seemed like a fitting celebratory ending to our experience raising Painted Lady Butterflies this spring. We spent a long, leisurely time in the habitat this year, and I was so excited knowing that my six-year-old fully understood the butterfly life cycle and because of that, it had more meaning for him.

I thought you might enjoy the photos I took of some of the butterflies in the habitat. The photographer in me was so delighted with my subjects.

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Inspire Kids: “Strange Worlds” Photography

This inspiring video was sent to me by Coleen. Thanks, Coleen!  Unfortunately, I can’t embed it into my website, so you’ll have to follow the link below.

By day, Matthew is a professional fashion photographer. By night, for the last five years, he’s been creating large dioramas of tiny environments and photographing them. If you knew nothing about his process, you’d think his photographs were of real life places. ~ ‘Strange Worlds’ photographer aims to trick the eye

What I really love about this is that the artist talks about how discouraged he can get creating these dioramas, which can take 3-7 months to build. I stopped the video during that part and tried to emphasize it to my six-year-old because I’ve been trying to find ways of showing him that all artists and builders have to work through frustrations.

“But I found that making mistakes was the best thing for the work because I was able to discover methods and strategies to build future landscapes.” ~ Matthew Albanese

It didn’t seem like my six-year-old was really listening when I tried to emphasize that, but he did enjoy the video.  At any rate, I’m glad to have this on hand for future reference.  (After all, there have been times when I thought my son wasn’t interested in something I was trying to tell him, but at a later date, he’s brought it up again.)

Click below to go to the video and article, and Enjoy!

Strange Worlds’ photographer aims to trick the eye

pink columbines This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

The Merry Toymaker: A Retired Toymaker’s Story and His Beautiful, Handmade Wooden Toys for Children

Note: This column was printed in the April 18, 2012 edition of the The Barrow Journal.

Sometimes it pays to have connections.  At least, that’s what my boys thought when a friend of mine invited us over to meet her husband, a retired toymaker, and play with his handmade, wooden toys.

Jack Dohany worked in the electronics industry as a field engineer from 1962 to 1970, but after seeing the Vietnam War up close, he became a pacifist and eventually left his job. He met a craftswoman who took him to his first crafts fair, and he noticed that there weren’t many good toys there.

“I was looking for a way to support myself that was fun and peaceful, and it seemed like toymaking might be that way. It was.”

He ran his business from 1970 to 2009, and he called it The Merry Toymaker.  It was located in his home or wherever he happened to be living, and he sold his toys chiefly at craft fairs.  He did no advertising.

In California, there are huge craft fairs such as the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in the spring, a fair in Northern California in the fall, and the Dickens Christmas Fair and the KPFA Crafts Fair in Berkeley in December.

After Jack and his wife, Winston Stephens, moved to Georgia in 2001, his business shrank because there are few good craft fairs here.  So at that time he sold to stores, and The Idea Factory in New Orleans was his best outlet.

The first toy Mr. Dohany made was of a train engine, and he still owns it.  (See photo below.) All of his toys were circus-oriented.  He says his favorite is the two-hand top, but the circus train and squeeze acrobat come in close seconds.  He has wonderful memories of entertaining children at the craft fairs.

“I’d spin a top on a plate, flip the top high in the air and then catch it still spinning on the plate.  Then I’d put the plate on top of my head and do my silly toymaker dance while the top was still spinning.  Kids (and their parents) loved it.  One of my fondest memories is of a kid here in Georgia who managed to do this trick perfectly on his first try!”

My boys loved playing with the wooden toys.  For me, these handmade toys are much more special than the plastic toys the boys receive for their birthdays with all the bells and whistles.  I asked Mr. Dohany what he thought about that.

“Handmade wooden toys have some human warmth built into them which is lacking in factory-made toys,” he told me. “They also encourage the development of manual dexterity, and in my humble opinion, they are just more fun to play with than plastic toys are.”

If you want to buy one of Mr. Dohany’s toys, you’re out of luck because he retired in 2009.  He gave his entire workshop to John Thomas who was one of his helpers in California and good friend.  John stays home with his young children, and he’s planning to sell his toys over the Internet. When it’s complete, the website will be at http://www.merrytoymakers.com/.

Until then, Mr. Dohany likes to tell everyone, “I’m not the only toymaker in the world. If you Google handmade, wooden toys, you’ll find lots and lots.”  He also added, “Next to meeting and marrying up with Winston Stephens, toymaking is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

To see more photos of Mr. Dohany and his toys, you can go to my photography blog by clicking here.