Liam’s 6th Birthday

Our baby boy turned 6 years old Saturday. I can’t believe how fast he’s growing up!

The theme of this year’s party was Finn McMissile / Secret Agent. It was a pretty easy theme to work with: Cars 2 and spy stuff. We took a risk and booked a pavilion at Liam’s favorite park for the party. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and the plans went as scheduled.

The main activity we lined out was for each of the kids to build their own marshmallow blaster (a.k.a. the RoboBlaster® — thanks Dave!). Per Bob Schmidt’s instructional video, Rob cut the ½" PVC pipe into the various lengths needed and Liam helped sand the burrs off of the cut edges, then we made Ziplock bag kits that included a homemade assembly diagram. The kids & parents assembled them at the party, then we passed out bags of ammo (mini-marshmallows) to all the kids and turned them loose. The kids had a blast (rimshot!) playing with them and it made a nice party favor for each of them to take home.

Below is a video slideshow of some of the party highlights and I think you’ll agree from the kid’s faces that the party was a big success. I know we had one happy, exhausted boy when we got home!

Gotcha Day – 4 Year Anniversary

We celebrated Liam’s 4th Gotcha Day by going out to Rosa’s for dinner. I’m guessing he picked Rosa’s because he LOVES their chocolate cake. On the way home, we stopped by Donna’s house to take our annual stairway comparison photo (see below) that shows Liam in 2008 on his way out of the baby home compared to today. It’s a reminder to me every year of how much he has changed and how fast he is growing up.

We got off to a rough start this year with Kindergarten but since the Christmas break things have been going great at school and his after school child care. They informed me today that he has been picked to be the Star of the Month at the child care because he did so well in January and his Kindergarten teacher gave him a reward for his good behavior. I’m so happy that he is finally adjusting to all the changes he had this year.

Most of all, I think he has learned the most important thing in life…that chocolate will always put a smile on your face!

The Tooth Fairy is Headed Our Way

One of Liam’s bottom front teeth has been loose for a few weeks now. I decided yesterday that I better get to the craft store and figure out something cool for him to put the tooth in for the Tooth Fairy. I found this Melissa & Doug Wooden Treasure Chest and we went to work on painting & decorating it this morning and we were both pleased with the finished product:

Tooth Fairy Box

Tooth Fairy Box Inside

We finished it just in the nick of time! Not 2 hours later, Liam came in the room holding his tooth. I’m not 100% convinced it was coincidence that it “fell” out as soon as the box was finished, but either way, the Tooth Fairy will be paying us a visit tonight for the first time!

Liam's first lost tooth

Going for the Gold

This past weekend the weather was very nice and a perfect opportunity to let Liam burn off some cabin fever. We took him to the playground of what will most likely be his school next year (sniff). He had a great time playing until…

He was swinging and all was going well. He’s started to figure out how to lean back and pump his legs to keep himself going on the swing. Well somewhere in the midst of using all his new skills, he forgot the most basic one—to hang on! Yep, he let go as he was leaning back and did an almost perfect Gainer. I looked up about the time he was finishing his flip and on his forward lunge face-first into the dirt. My heart stopped and I just knew there was going to be blood everywhere when he got up. Rob scooped him up and after close inspection, we could not find blood anywhere but his face and mouth were full of dirt. We got him home and all cleaned up and other than his nose being scraped, he was fine.

I wonder how many more of these incidents I have in store for me. I’m afraid to even think about it because I know the count is going to be high. I took the picture below tonight while he was giving me his “I need sympathy” look.

Liam's scraped nose

Cloudy Forecast

Cloud computing is a concept that—if you haven’t already been hearing about—you’re certain to be inundated with in the coming months. Even the U.S. government has dubbed 2011 the “Year of the Cloud.” But there’s another type of computing cloud that’s also been looming on the horizon, building momentum, and is becoming popular even among non-techies: word clouds.

A word cloud (sometimes also referred to as a “text cloud” or “tag cloud”) is a visualization of word frequency in a given text (news articles, blog posts, love letters, whatever) as a weighted list. These graphical representations of words are usually constructed out of individual words (although short phrases can also be incorporated) and often use varying colors, font size or letter weight to emphasize more frequently-used words. A cloud can be free-form, but often the text is used to “draw” relevant shapes, so it’s sort of a hybrid of an informational chart and an eye-catching graphic.

(You can see my first foray into word clouds in my Word Up! post from a couple of years back.)

A couple of months ago, I discovered Hardy Leung’s fantastic new word cloud tool called Tagxedo via one of my favorite blogs, Gerard Vlemming’s The Presurfer.

Tagxedo is a web-based app that turns words—famous speeches, news articles, love letters, your website, whatever—into a visually stunning tag cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text. It offers nearly-infinite customization of over a dozen different variables allowing you to create some truly unique & artistic word clouds.

For the best results with this, you’ll most likely need to tinker with the contrast and brightness of your source image. To achieve the desired effect, I punched up the contrast, converted Liam’s photo to greyscale, and applied some filters to make the shading even more sharply-defined. Once in Tagxedo, I found that I got better results with a larger pool of text that I had manually removed some of the really common words from (like “the,” “and,” “or,” and such) but I believe there’s even now a way to configure the app settings to do this for you. So the progression went something like this:

Word cloud image prep progression

So, armed with the cropped and heavily-tweaked version of a recent studio portrait of Liam, the text contents from our Russian Adoption Journal, and Tagxedo, I went to work. Once it had generated a cloud that I was especially pleased with, I saved it and printed the image on a very high-resolution laser printer loaded with high-grade linen paper. I used paper with a very pronounced texture to give the text a bit more character & interest. We mounted the print in a floating frame and hung it in our Den. The end result is, I think, really impressive!

Up close, the grouping of the word cloud text is interesting but it’s a bit tough to visualize the shading and form being suggested by the placement, size, and weight of the text:

Tagxedo word cloud image detailTagxedo word cloud



I urge you to visit Hardy’s Tagxedo blog for some usage tips, the Tagxedo Gallery for some stunning examples of what can be done, and finally, the 101 Ways to Use Tagxedo document for an in-depth tutorial.

I’ve discovered that, in the few weeks since I did our word cloud art project and started drafting this article (a few blog posts got pushed to the backburner in the hustle & bustle of the holidays), Hardy has made loads of additions and refinements to Tagxedo. But be forewarned: Although these updates do simplify and speed up the process, you can still easily fiddle away a few hours playing, tweaking & adjusting. But chances are, your cloudy results will blow you away!

A Texan in the Making

Texas ProudAs you may recall back in November of last year, Liam was working on his Texas Pride.

I’m happy to report that yesterday he officially used the word y’all in a sentence. It went something like this; “Mom, are y’all both going in the store?” This of course made me beam with my own Texas Pride.

Now, if we could just get him to like hot sauce, his Texan transformation would be complete!