Now that I have video capabilities in my new 70D, it’s going to turn into new opportunities for me to explore my artistic side, such as it is. I’ve taken a few short videos, but once you get them out of the camera, you usually have to tweak them before posting to Facebook, YouTube, etc. A lot of people put raw footage online, but I want to do more. I do not see myself ever going beyond the simplest of edits because I find video editing tedious and time consuming. I’ve been using iMovie, which is beginner/consumer level software, but I find it frustrating because I can’t remember how to use it from edit session to edit session because let’s face it, I don’t do this everyday.

But I saw this tutorial on using Photoshop for this purpose and wowee, I couldn’t wait to try it. We just got back from vacation and I brought back some short video clips I’d taken at our nephew’s wedding. I wanted to combine the 3 clips into one movie. Photoshop was awesome for this purpose. I played around with creating and adding an outro to my movie and I actually figured it out on my own. Woohoo! I don’t know if I did it the “right” way, but it worked.


That said, here’s my movie:

(The back story: this is my son Brian dancing with his cousins’ children, who love him to death, as you’ll soon see. They like to play Dance Party video games at family get-togethers, so they thought this was just more of the same.)


robin_siggy-comic book

Birthday apron

Granddaughter Anya celebrated her 4th birthday a few weeks ago and Nannie had been asked to make her an apron. This is what I came up with:




The print fabric is directional but it goes in all directions. Some of the Minnies were vertical, some sideways. So I wasted some fabric trying to figure out the best way. There is also some text that ended up upside-down but I figured Anya wouldn’t really care. She can’t read it yet anyway LOL.



I’ve been working on the family histories since 1989. I never went into this with a plan. Honestly, I started it because we bought our first PC and I was looking for something to use it for, you know, to justify the expense. I had seen an article about the LDS church’s genealogy software that you could buy for $35 (Personal Ancestral File for DOS) and that seemed like a fun thing to play with. And I never looked back.

But I’m not getting any younger and it’s time to think seriously about my legacy. What do I want to leave behind? I’ve always said I wanted to publish my research, but in looking at what I’ve accomplished, I realize that I am one of those “name collectors,” so reviled by many in the genealogical community. They say that doesn’t make me a family historian, that I’m not writing the story of my ancestors’ lives, just documenting branches on a tree. Well, I’m not ashamed of my work. I have laid the pathway for others to write the stories. Of course, all my work (and all anyone’s work) needs to be verified. I try not to jump to conclusions, but sometimes when faced with fact discrepancies, you go with your gut and write down what you’ve found, how it conflicts and which fact you think is the correct one. Just think how much time I will have saved someone if they don’t have to build the trees from scratch, they can look at my work and verify or discount.

On my father’s side, my goals have always been to discover where the immigrant ancestors came from. I don’t care to go any farther back in time than that. I’m not looking for a link to royalty or Charlemagne. And I’ve done that with our HOFF, SCHMIEDER, SCHMITZ and WEBER lines. A cousin found the birthplace of our BACHMANN line, so I make no claim to that. GRIMM and WELTER have so far eluded me.

On my mother’s side, all lines can probably be traced to colonial-era immigration. Some of these families have been researched by other cousins and I’ve been verifying their work as much as I can. What fun it would be to be reincarnated as a young person, to be given another lifetime to research where the older me had to leave off. The next few generations will see an explosion of data and records digitized and put online and they’ll be able to find things that for now are hidden away in courthouse basements, libraries, rotting old newspapers, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly feel blessed that I’m living in a time where so much is already available to me online as I’m able to afford to pay for it, as opposed to those who’ve gone before me and had to resort to recording data on index cards and  travel to faraway places to visit those basements, libraries and cemeteries. I hope and pray that the politicians who are so intent on locking up our vital records will relent and laws will change to a more open atmosphere. If not, it will be several more generations before anyone can access them.

So now I need to set some goals, doable goals. Yes, I want to keep working away on the GRIMMs and WELTERs. On my husband’s side, I want to be able to confirm that he is a direct descendant of John and Priscilla ALDEN of the Mayflower. Because that makes my children and grandchildren direct descendants also. I “inherited” a lineage from John’s grandmother but it only has a handwritten list of names, no notes, no sources. I don’t know who wrote the list or when (just that it was prior to 1980). Gram was long gone when I started this quest and John’s mother told me about the list but she didn’t know what happened to it, she was afraid it was tucked into a book that she put in her mother’s casket. Well, great! A few years ago, after John’s mother died, my sister-in-law found that paper in her garage as she was cleaning out stuff after her husband (John’s brother) died. The list was exactly the same as what I had come up with in my independent research and my heart soared that it could be right.  I want our kids and grandkids to know for sure, one way or the other.

I want to visit where the KASPAR family came from in what was 19th century’s Austria, today’s Poland (the area surrounding Nowy Sacz). I’ve been to the HOFF and SCHMIEDER birthplaces  in Germany (Thuine, Neidersachsen and Kappel-Niederschach, Baden respectively) and I want to visit where the WEBERs came from in Rhineland (Üdersdorf). After I find those GRIMMs (likely in the neighborhood of Neuhütten, Bavaria) and WELTERs (either Luxembourg, France or Germany), I want to go to those places, too.

And I want to put all this stuff in print, some way, some how. It’ll do no one any good if it’s buried on my computer. I have a plan for putting it online but that’s down the road a bit. My database could use some cleanup first.

So I feel good that I have made this list of goals and my next step is to get organized.

Heaven help me, I just bought a portable scanner (ScanSnap S1300i) and a database program called Paperless. I’ve been thinking for years how I can get all my piles of paper that are on the floor digitized in my lifetime. I’ve bought several scanners through the years and the ScanSnap seems to be the most usable for this project. It scans 2-sided and can handle multiple pages in one feed. I don’t have to use Paperless if I don’t want to but for genealogy stuff, it seems the most practical. I was playing with the scanner this weekend and I was able to scan directly to Evernote, although each document went to the Miscellaneous notebook. If there’s a way to direct a scan to the proper notebook, somebody please let me know. It’s easy to change it in Evernote, but that is one more step.

Next steps (per the Mayflower Descendants group on Facebook): contact the Virginia chapter of the Mayflower Society and get their guidance on this documentation journey. I looked into Society membership years and years ago and they were working on documenting the Alden’s first 5 generations. I’m told this is done now, so I should only have to connect our lines to theirs.




I love surveying my garden in the early morning. I’d say mine skews more heavily to spring blooming plants, but I do have some things blooming now, now that the azaleas and rhodies have finished.

I love, love, love day lilies. But my back yard is getting too shady for all the blooms my plants have the potential for. We limbed up most all of our oaks last fall in an effort to reduce the shade on the grass, but that hasn’t been enough. As much of a tree hugger as I am, I would like to remove some of them to let more sun in, but wow, that is so expensive. Also, my next-door-neighbor’s yard has mature oaks that are blocking a lot of sunlight on that side of the property. If I could, I’d remove her trees.

Despite my efforts to preserve the variety names, I’m afraid this one is lost. Isn’t it beautiful?

IMG_1368 IMG_1369

A friend gave me some of her run-of-the-mill orange “ditch lilies” as she calls them, a few years ago. They’ve done well and filled out the space I planted them in. They are blooming well right now. No pictures today as they all closed up over night and the new ones haven’t opened yet. But you know them, I’m sure. They grow wild everywhere around here.

We had a surprise freeze in late-April, right after what’s supposed to be our last frost date. I think it played havoc with my Nikko Blue hydrangeas, as all 8 of the plants along our driveway fence are smaller than normal and not one single bloom on any of them. They are in full shade and don’t bloom very profusely anyway, but this is downright sad. The foliage looks nice and healthy, though. I have one plant at the house, which gets more sun and usually does very well. It, too, is smaller than usual but does have a few small blooms. Over the years, a couple of low branches managed to attach themselves to the ground and have rooted. I cut the smaller one off a few weeks ago and potted it up. The other one is quite a bit larger and I’ll have to look around for a place to put it. Maybe it’ll fit somewhere in the front where there’s more light.

My Bluebird hydrangea is doing great! At least that’s one consolation. The flowers are truly blue.



I was surprised to find this Astilbe peeking out from some azaleas. I had planted two of these next to the azaleas when they were new and everything was small. I didn’t see them last year, and assumed they’d gotten crowded out. Nice to see one has survived! I probably should move it…


This end of a flower bed is under our cherry tree. There are several varieties of Hosta, a Korean Spice Viburnum (which never blooms because it’s in shade, but I took that into consideration when I planted it, I just wanted something to fill in) and this Autumn fern. I think it’s an Autumn fern, maybe it’s a Japanese painted fern. If I’d known it was going to get this large, I would have moved it back toward the fence. But maybe it’s doing this well because of where it is. There is a little tiny fern back behind it that is barely hanging on, I’d better move it before I lose it altogether.


And, last but not least, John had to replace his Chuck Hayes gardenia because we lost the old one (and another one) to the late freeze. He keeps hoping the old one will come back, but the green leaves it still has are sickly looking and are turning brown. It’s a goner.


I was playing around with a photographic technique of creating a black background even in the daytime. What you’ll need for this is a camera that will do full manual and a flash or speed light and a tripod (although this isn’t mandatory). If you have the equipment to take your flash off camera, you’ll have more flexibility. I have a light stand that I bought specifically for my flash, a gizmo with a cold shoe (I think that’s what it’s called) to mount the flash unit on the stand, and inexpensive remote flash triggers (Yongnuo brand).

Here’s the gist of how you do it:

Set your camera on manual. Set your shutter speed at the sync speed of your flash (check your user guide), I set mine at 250. Set your aperture for the highest number, at least 22. Set your ISO as low as it will go, 100 or lower. If using a tripod, turn off stabilization if your lens has that. Set your focus to manual and adjust that. Easiest way is to focus on your subject with auto and then turn it off.

Without the flash, take a test shot. You should get a solid black rectangle. This is your ambient light and in this experiment, you don’t want any.

Now, enable your flash. Fire away. Commence experimenting with different settings and positions for your flash. I have a Canon 580EX II and it offers ETTL (through the lens, rather automatic) and manual settings that let you dial down the strength by 1/3 stops, down to 1/32. I found that full strength was too harsh, anything lower than 1/4 was too low.  I set the light stand to camera left of my flower. I moved it all around, even took the flash off the stand and used it hand-held so I could get some overhead lighting.


This is the best of my shots and it’s not great. I tried every position I could think of to get the shadows out of the flower and I must have missed the one position that would have accomplished this. And I do admit to cheating a little by adding some highlighting to the flower in Lightroom.


I have a lot of work to do to perfect this. But it was fun playing around with it and using the gear. I recommend the Yongnuo flash triggers. I don’t know what the pricey Pocket Wizards do that the Yongnuo doesn’t, but these worked for me just fine. My only gripe is that when you attach the flash to the trigger, you have to remember to turn the trigger on first because the flash covers up the power switch. Same for turning it off.

By the way, this plant is a Streptocarpus, sounds like a disease or virus. I bought it last year when the Richmond African Violet Society held a plant sale at Lewis Ginter. I wasn’t familiar with this one and for the longest time, I was just trying to keep it alive. They were selling 2-piece plastic pots where you fill the bottom with water up to the line and then insert the part with the plant in it. I was so tickled when it bloomed, because it sure didn’t do much for the whole time since I bought it. They come in pink, blue and purple. Maybe I’ll get some more at the next plant sale.

robin purple-magenta siggy


If you have no interest in genealogy or family history, do yourself a favor and skip this post. It’s long.

Working on our family research is a big part of my life, so I can’t call this blog “allthingsrobin” without talking about it from time to time. Today’s story recounts a local Richmond woman who was my husband’s 3rd cousin once removed (don’t understand all that relationship stuff? Just Google it, there are a number of explanations on the internet).

When we moved to Richmond it was a job transfer only, we had no idea there had ever been any family living here. I was gifted with a photocopy of some family information that had been written down by another relative, long deceased, by one of my mother-in-law’s cousins . That paper said that William R. ETTENGER, a brother of my husband’s great-grandmother, Julia ETTENGER HESS, had lived in Richmond. The ETTENGER family originated in Philadelphia, so far as I’ve been able to determine, so a relative in Richmond was pretty exciting.

William ETTENGER lived in Richmond from 1850 to his death in 1895. He was part owner of several different companies here, most notably ETTENGER & EDMONDS, who manufactured steam fire engines. I’ve read several historic newspaper accounts of this company and they even went to St. Petersburg, Russia to sell their products. One article said that they supplied Richmond’s first steam fire engine. He and his family lived on E. Broad St. which is in a neighborhood called Church Hill (because it’s hilly and the famous St. John’s Church is there). The modest house is still there. The company was located at 19th and Franklin which is in Shockoe Bottom. I’m not sure if the building is still there. An 1870 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch talked about a great flood of the James River and the company was listed as one whose building(s) were flooded and sustained damage. The company apparently also was a foundry that produced armaments during the Civil War.

Researching William and his descendants several years ago led me to one of his great-great-grandsons who lives (or did at the time) not far from us and his two daughters went to high school with my daughter.  Cue more excitement. I’d never lived near anyone I was researching before.

But the subject of this story is one of William’s great-granddaughters, Beulah ETTENGER COBBS. Born in 1918 in Lawrenceville, Brunswick County, Virginia (between South Hill and Emporia, near the North Carolina line), Beulah was the daughter of Laura Belle ETTENGER, who was the daughter of Joseph Harry ETTENGER, who was the son of William and Mary ETTENGER. I was noodling around in the historical newspapers on GenealogyBank.com  this weekend (you need a paid subscription for this) and found several society articles about Beulah. She attended what is today Longwood College in Farmville (I think it was a teacher’s college then), visited her grandparents in Lawrenceville several times, got engaged to a local minister, had several bridal showers and then married Howard Clinton COBBS in 1942.

What struck me was that in so many of these articles, her mother was mentioned but never her father. And Beulah was always called ETTENGER. According to the 1920 census, Laura Belle was married, living with her parents and her daughter, but no husband. She was listed as an ETTENGER and so was Beulah. In 1930 and 1940 Laura Belle was listed as divorced. I got to wondering if she had actually really married; back in those days an out-of-wedlock baby would have been shameful so it would have been easy to tell the census taker she was married or divorced. There were probably a lot of tongue-waggers in their small town. One with a secret had to be careful.

But as I did more research on Beulah, I found that she died in January of 2013 at the age of 94. I found her obituary online at the Harrisonburg (VA) Daily News-Record. She and Howard had two sons, one of whom lives in my old stomping grounds out in California. But what caught my eye was the notation in the article that Beulah was the daughter of Laura Belle ETTENGER-CALLAHAN. No mention of a father. This was the first time I’d seen Laura Belle with a different name, had she remarried?

This is where I could give you a “long story short” explanation, but I won’t. I looked all over ancestry.com (subscription service) for Laura Belle Callahan and came up with nothing. And here’s your lesson for today, don’t limit yourself to just searching through Ancestry and Familysearch: I Googled Laura Belle’s name and up popped an entry from an index at the website of the Library of Virginia. A 1921 chancery court record from Mecklenburg County VA that listed Eddie L. Callahan as the plaintiff and Laura Belle Callahan as the defendant. Of the other names mentioned in the record, one was ETTENGER. Bingo! I found Eddie in the 1920 census, listed as single, living with his parents and siblings. Remember, Laura Belle was listed as married that year. Interesting. This gave more credence to my theory of the out-of-wedlock baby. But I needed a record of the purported marriage, or a divorce. Virginia’s vital records are not very open, so I didn’t think I’d be able to get either one of those, if they existed.

I work within walking distance of the Library of Virginia, so I went over there on my lunch hour today. I found the chancery record, the original paperwork from 1921, not even on microfilm. I didn’t know what to expect but I was hoping it was a divorce. And it was. Yippee! Included in the file was Eddie’s deposition, their 1917 marriage certificate and the testimonies of 2 character witnesses for Eddie. There was nothing from Laura Belle’s side of the story.

According to Eddie, he was working out in the fields on his parents’ farm when a car pulled up to the house and Laura Belle and her mother got out. Laura Belle went in, got out a suitcase and started packing. Eddie was apparently blind-sided; he asked her why she was leaving and she didn’t answer him, except to say that she was going back to live with her parents. This was in May of 1918, she was already pregnant with Beulah (he knew that) but only later heard through the grapevine that a baby had been born. He never got to see his daughter, who was referred to in the documentation as Beulah Callahan. He asked the court to release him from the marriage and any commitment for child support. Apparently both were granted.

According to Eddie and his character witnesses, he was a model husband. I wish Laura Belle’s deposition, if there was one, had been included to explain her abandonment of Eddie as he described it. But I can take away from this that there must have been something about Eddie or the marital situation she found herself in that made her want to get out after only 6 months, take back her maiden name and give it to her daughter. I wonder if Beulah ever got to meet her father. Obviously her children must have known about him because of the notation in her obituary. A little more research on Eddie shows that he remarried and had several children.

From Beulah’s obituary and the news articles when she was young, I think I would have liked her a lot (she was Presbyterian, after all LOL). There is a picture on her findagrave memorial: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=103174984. She looks like a nice lady.

#Ettenger #Callahan #Mecklenburg #Boydton #Brunswick #Lawrenceville #Virginia #EttengerandEdmonds


Light Painting





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