Christmas Preparations

Thanksgiving was a quiet day at home.  But on Friday we started gearing up for Christmas.

Heather and I put the lights up on the house.  And I think her "help" actually did reduce the amount of time it took instead of increasing it.  This was probably a first.  She held and handed me zip ties when I needed them.  She retrieved strings of lights for me when I needed them.  She's pretty good going up and down the ladder (though I still spot her coming down, sometimes she loses track of her feet).

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We added to the Christmas spirit this year with a set of sleigh bells to hang on the front door:

IMG_20141129_092524asThey have a nice sound and it seems like good quality materials. For only $~20 on Amazon they were a great buy.

On Saturday we went to get a tree.  The drought was rough on the trees this year and they didn't see much growth.  The farm we go to didn't have much of anything over 6-feet tall.  But we found one in the shade that filled out nicely at least even though it's a little short.  Heather found one she liked, but we decided not to get it.

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I made a wreath out of the remnants cut from the base of our tree.  It's not great, but it smells nice.  And it has the added benefit of covering the name of the previous owners on the door knocker (we intend to replace the entire door, but just haven't gotten around to it).

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We got the tree in and set up on Saturday, but then it was bedtime for Heather.  So we held off decorating until Sunday.

Heather "helped" me string the lights by climbing on my back.  It was super helpful.

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After decorating the tree Jess and Heather worked on making another countdown chain.

P1010339asI think we're just about ready around here.

2011 Reith Lectures - Securing Freedom

p01h6bc5We were asked to listen to Eliza Manningham-Buller's 3-part lecture series titled "Securing Freedom" as part of the terrorism course I'm taking right now.  She's a former head of MI5 (the U.K.'s FBI, more or less).  Her talks were given as part of the 2011 Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4.  It's a fantastic set of talks.

You can listen to or read them on the BBC Radio 4 website:
Listen Online: Part 1 - Terror, Part 2 - Security, Part 3 - Freedom
Download (MP3s): Part 1 - Terror, Part2 - Security, Part 3 - Freedom
Read (PDFs): Part 1 - Terror, Part 2 - Security, Part 3 - Freedom

She joined MI5 in 1974 and was Director General from 2002 to 2007.  She knows the goings on of terrorism.  She lived and worked in that world for over 30 years.   Here positions and opinions have been thoughtfully cultivated during that career.  A career in an organization that has been trying to grapple with terrorism for decades and has learned a great deal that the U.S. has chosen to ignore.

She presents an incredibly well spoken, calm, rational discussion on terrorism.  There are some minor aspects of her talks that I disagree with, but even so I think she gives voice to a levelheadedness the world has been lacking.

I think the U.S. would be in a better place in terms of national security, civil rights, and human rights if we had some people like her over here running things.

I think her biggest point of departure from U.S. rhetoric is the acceptance that you can't solve terrorism with the military alone.  You can't shoot your way to peace unless you're willing to shoot every man, woman, and child who might ever disagree with you.  And I'm not suggesting that we should do so.  You have to make some effort at resolving the underlying dispute that has given rise to the violence.  And I can already hear the disgusted remarks about how we don't negotiate with terrorists.  Which is the point.  If you don't you will never have peace.  Negotiation doesn't necessarily mean sitting down at a table and signing a peace treaty.  But it should mean addressing root causes and trying to make potential terrorists feel like such actions are unnecessary.

I appreciate her adamant position that torture is unacceptable regardless of its efficacy simply because it is wrong to do that to another person.  And, yes, sadly this means sometimes innocent people may be injured or killed.  That's the price a nation must pay in order to uphold the belief that all persons have a right to humane treatment.

I especially liked her discussion about how an intelligence organization can operate effectively in balance with civil rights.  There is a need for oversight and perhaps you shouldn't give intelligence organizations arrest and detainment capabilities.  Holding people in prison indefinitely with no trial, as the U.S. has done to hundreds at Guantanamo Bay, is a massive breach of civil rights and the rule of law.  If the rule of law is broken then you erode faith that the system works.  If you don't believe the system works then you become incentivized to operate outside the system.  The rule of law is what prevents civilized societies from devolving into violence and anarchy.

If you have some time, read the lectures.  I listened to them while driving to and form work for the last few days.

Halloween 2014

Heather has been anticipating Halloween ever since her pirate costume arrived a few weeks ago. She would tell us all about how she was going to dress up as a pirate with her pumpkin bucket (which she remembered from last year) and go to houses and get candy.

On a whim I decided to try using off-camera flash for a few of her pictures.  Luckily they came out fantastic.  This is my favorite picture (Jess held the flash on-level with the pumpkin about 10 feet to my left; and this was with that 50mm prime lens that I think is just fantastic):

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Pentax K-7, Pentax DA 50mm. f/8.0, 1/100s, ISO 100. Off-camera flash ~10 feet to the left.

Heather "helped" design and cut the pumpkin. It came out pretty well. Sorry for the slightly fuzzy picture. We discovered (by looking at these pumpkin-carving pictures) that Heather had smudged Jess' camera lens.

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No idea what she's doing in this picture. Possibly trying to match the pumpkins' faces.

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From house to house she would do this adorable little trot/run thing.  She fell once and some candy fell out of her bucket.  She got a little scraped up and had a minor meltdown (mostly about the candy).  Then she decided to best way to feel better would to get up and go to the next house.

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This is the walkway to our front door.  I had the lights off to get this picture the way I wanted it.

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After we returned home Heather still had a blast handing out candy.  She may have actually enjoyed handing it out more than getting it.  Often she would refuse to give out any candy until a kid told her what they were dressed up as.

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Heather's Birthday 2014

We delayed celebrating Heather's 3rd birthday until the 29th because she had been sick all weekend and was just barely recovering. We figured she'd have more fun if she weren't exhausted and if she were able to eat more than bread and crackers.

Every time we go to the grocery store Heather wants a balloon so we promised to get her one for her birthday.  We went to the store while I was home for lunch to get it.  Unfortunately, the first two she picked were not in stock (seriously, really hard to keep them in stock or remove them from the display?).  She finally settled on this one, and it's hardly left her side since she got it.

IMGP2311asThat evening we had cake, presents, and a video chat with grandparents.  Heather helped decorate the cake with the sprinkles.

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Heather is in love with Hi-Ho Cherry-O.  She figured it out pretty quick and wants to play it all the time.

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The doctor outfit is a big hit.  She'll give anyone a checkup.  She's always careful to explain that the shot might hurt just a little bit.

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Playing with the stamp kit.  She loves "arting" as she calls it.  With the crazy week of her being sick, her birthday, Halloween, and a party on Saturday she hasn't been able to do much.  So she'll be glad when things calm down again and she gets to play with all the art/craft supplies.

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We're having a party today (Saturday) for her friends for which she is super excited.