Thursday, October 29, 2009

Excel! Excell! Will there be a Ka-Boom Ka-Boom?

Remember this post? Our House Might Explode ? (Worth another peek to see me with Wella 411.)

A year ago, yesterday, we got a phone call from our local station telling us about this. And yesterday, one WHOLE YEAR later, this was going on outside my door as I got ready for work.
So now we have a pit where we used to have a side walk (just in time for Halloween!).

. . . . and another mystery hole here (in the ground, you dirty minds!), as well as several more in our yard.

But, in THEORY, our house should not explode now, like the house in Fargo, and the many houses in Minnesota, and Iowa, and. . . .

Other states were much quicker at replacing the exploding gaslines, but we don't have an exactly immense population here in North Dakota. So our law suits tend to be cheaper, although personally, I tend not to think of any of our bodies as exactly expendable.

I talked to "the guy" in my driveway a few days ago, as they were again placing their mystery markings of "Doh" and "Pec" all over our sidewalks, with brightly-colored little flags, about what was what. He said that Excel was going to be fined a huge amount of money if this wasn't done before January 1st. They finished in Minnesota last year, because their deadline was January 1, 2009.

Would have made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside if I thought Excel was just doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, given the 13 people they blasted in Fargo last year.

But I do hope they didn't do a rush/sloppy job with these gaslines. . . .

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Beautiful Ms.Bonnie says there are some Sad things in life

The Beautiful Ms. Bonnie read the book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. She doesn't have a photo of the book, because she already lent it to someone else, so she's showing a self-portrait with her kleenex. She says she needed it for this book; she cried as she read this book. She said she started out thinking she was going along for a light-hearted read, and then was sucked into the vortex of one of the saddest times in modern history, the German occupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, just off the coast of England, during World War II.

Bonnie said she enjoyed the quirkiness of the characters, although some have criticized that the voice of the individual characters are not distinctiveness. They were still fun to get to know! It's just that she found if very sad to get this glimpse of human cruelty and deprivation.

Bonnie's also feeling sad these days because her foot hurts. She's a determined trooper, and can be quite playful even if it does hurt. She turns 15 years old this month, and just had to take a little ride to the vet; the vet said she has a tumor in her paw, and that if the oral steroids and antibiotics don't seem to be making a difference for her next week, surgery or "maybe it's time to talk about other alternatives" are on the horizon. :(

And yesterday, Shannon asked about whether I bounced the flash, or used a diffuser. I did use a diffuser, but don't remember if this particular shot was bounced, or direct flash. Unfortunately, I can't find metadata included in Bridge on the flash settings; this might not be encoded in the shots. Does anyone know?

And Shannon is right! Bouncing a flash (aiming the flash toward a white wall, or ceiling, so that a large area of light is reflected onto your subject) tends to make a much more pleasing shot, with less harsh shadows. I think my shot may have had some shadows that were coming from the sunlight behind it, and bounce may not have prevented all of this, but especially in a dark room, bounce is best!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flowers Just Because

Several times a year, I get a nasty 48-72 hour migraine. This weekend, that, coupled with some arthritis flare-ups, left me rather. . . . subdued. My dear, sweet, husband, for no reason at all, bought me flowers!

The perfect thing for practicing with my external flash! I shot toward a bright window, ISO400; f 18; ss:1.3", exposure compensation on camera -.33, and I think the exp compesation on flash was set to +.7.

I've been trying to figure out a good approach to using my flash. Here are the 3 methods I've found, at least in the way I understand them:

1. Set your camera to ISO: 400; f 4.0; shutter speed 1/40 and shoot. The reasoning is that ISO and shutter speed control the ambient (background) lighting, and the burst of light from the flash will "freeze" the action so the slow shutter speed will be fine. The slow shutter speed is suppose to allow the background to have at least some light. With this, I think that sometimes an f of 4 will be ok, like for one person, but in other situations, on want much more of an area in focus and want more than an f of 4.0.

2. OR, With ISO 400, first take a shot in P mode, of the background area, without your intended "model" in the foreground, and the flash off. Look at what the settings are that the camera picks. This is going to determine a good exposure for the background, which will be controlled by the camera settings. Now, set the camera in M mode, using the same settings determined by this "test" shot, turn on the flash and shoot. Camera may set flash correctly, or I adjust the exposure compensation + or -. What I don't like about this is that I'm not sure I'd always like the aperture (f) chosen by the P mode. However, I do have more control over the ambient lighting (background) than I would in the first method.

3. OR, With ISO 200 or 400 (depending on light conditions), shoot in A mode. I pick the f stop that I want. Set the camera exposure compensation at -1.0 (this will slightly darken the bacground); set the flash at +.7 and shoot. Again this may be exactly what you want, although may decide to increase or decrease camera exposure compensation, or flash exposure compensation. It might take some adjusting the exposure compensation on camera and on-flash to get what I want, but I should have more control over the outcome.

So, what do all of you think? Playing with external flash(es), what kind of settings do you tend to use?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Fortuitous Disagreement

"No, I paid for the flu shots yesterday."

"No, I paid for them yesterday."

"No, really, I paid for them at the counter."

"No, I did."

Not that we normally care who pays for what in my household, but how could my DH have the receipt, when I paid for them?

Until we finally realized we both had! Two minutes apart! Sometimes, we really are like the key-stone cops together, Doug and I, but shouldn't the clerk have noticed she charged us both? So off we went back to the pharmacy this afternoon, with both receipts in hand, and easily got a refund!

And because I can't now just tell you, after looking at ugly receipts, "Keep on moving; nothing pretty to see here. . . ", I'll show you a few more photos from Como Park this past summer. Because there's really nothing pretty to see in my yard these days!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Thief in Grand Forks

I was too lazy to clean up the garden today. No problem. A thief returned to it, over and over again.

And snatched things from it!

He seemed to particularly like the horribly green tomatoes that came no where close to ripening.

I have no clue where they all ended up--but it was quite a mountain-ful!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The CrockPot in The Box Came Back; Does it need a passport????

How can the package I mailed to my daughter in a rural village in India get to her, but the box I mailed to my son, 300 miles away, in Minneapolis, get swallowed up by the USPS? Did it go someplace that required it to have a passport?

I mailed this package in July. True, it contains a crock-pot and the idea that my son might use it to cook real food may be delusional, but I don't think that that accounts for its being swallowed up by the mysterious United States Postal System! It came back to us this past week, 3 months after having mailed it, with $11 postage due for its return trip!

Oh, and the duct tape? When I first brought this to the post office, they told me that I could not mail a package that had merchants' markings on the box. They had to be covered up, and I could use duct tape. So the box went back home with me, and then took its second trip to the Grand Forks post office to be mailed.

My son swears he kept looking for the package, asking his roommates, his neighbors if they'd seen it, but no luck! After awhile, he gave up.

All I can say is that I'm very glad I thought better of throwing in a few potatoes and carrots. I thought "a week, tops--and if he has some veggies, he might actually make something."
But I'm not really sure what's in the box any more.

Did I put some money in it?
Wasn't there some puppy chow?
Or was it the veggies?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What to do with the Photos?

I have a process now for what to do with the mountains of photos I seem to generate. For the longest time, I wasn't printing out photos, was wanting to scrapbook, but not actually doing it, and having that nagging feeling that it was just a matter of time before technology changed and my digital images would become increasingly less accessible.

And then I came across Stacy Julian's, of, Photo Freedom. And this is how I'm putting it into practice:

First, I pulled out mountains of past photos, scattered in drawers, in incomplete photo albums, in boxes, and separated them from their envelopes. This was nerve-wracking! But I kept going, reminding myself that a.) the envelopes themselves are not archival safe, and b.) when, really, is the last time I've ever gotten copies of old film negatives made? In the last 30 years?

The negatives have all gone into an archival, plain, small, storage box, to be kept at my office, so the next time my house floods (hopefully never), or if Excel NEVER gets around to replacing the potentially-exploding gaslines, or the Cedar Waxwings attack my house, (get through the windows) and make a mad dash for my photo negatives (also hopefully never), they'll all be safe in my office, out of my house.

Next, I organized the photos in chronological order, roughly, first by decade, then year. And I threw photos out! Lots of photos, repeating the mantra to myself "Not all photos are created equal." The bizarro elbow shots, or apparently out-of-focus lunar landscape photos all bit the dust. The 15 shots of the same pose, most of which were terrible, got pared down to 3 or 4. And I threw the rest out. If they truly didn't make me happy, or bring back memories, or if I wouldn't have want to inherit (the task of tossing) this photo from someone, I tossed it. And it felt good!

Then, one chunk at a time, I took the chronological photos, pulled out many that were just "bleh" but I couldn't part with, and put them in archival boxes I labelled "cold storage." If I ever really want the photo, I'm welcome to go on a search through these boxes to find the "gem" that probably will never really be needed or wanted again. These cold storage photos are in very roughly chronological order. The photos that survive this cut are put in "storage binders", photo albums sometimes referred to as "3-up". The binders are, wonderfully, 3 ring binders that allow for re-arranging the order I have them in for when I realize that my 2nd son was actually born after my first, and so therefore should have been stored later.

The binders have 3 pockets per page, are archival-safe, and can store at least 4 or 5 photos in one pocket--so the duplicates that really don't need to each be looked at, but are beautiful alternate scowls of my lovely first-born, can still be saved. The albums you see on these two shelves are two different styles of the storage binders that I'm using:

As I put the photos into the storage binders, I come across photos that I really, really love--photos that I just know I'm going to want to use someday in a nice layout, or somehow feature in a special way. These photos I pull out, and put into one of 4 broad categories: People I love; All about Us (immediate family); Places we go (mostly trips); and Things We Do (things we do like work, parties, birthdays, graduations, but also stuff in our lives, like attacking birds, Sham Wow! adventures, gardening, recipes & food, Christmas trees, macro shots, etc.)

And these photos go into one of 4 category drawers, with tab dividers:

What I really like about the category drawers is that it frees me up from HAVING to conceptualize the photos in chronological order! These drawers are like staging grounds for eventual scrapbook pages, and I might do a page that features one of my children and their traveling adventures. . . and I can pull photos from the section that has photos of them (in the All About Us drawer, behind their name), across time periods, and perhaps from the Places we Go drawer as well.

Next, I create scrapbook pages . . . (and now I feel like I can create one from any time period I want, or around any theme I feel inspired to play with). . . without feeling compelled to continue some chronological "must scrap the next holiday" obligation. And I'm only using photos that really appealed strongly to me. . . . that call my name and make me think about them and the time when Scott. . . . . . . . . .

The photos go into scrapbook binders like you now see on this bottom shelf. There's a binder for each category: Places We Go, People We Love, All About Us, and Things (so there's actually a place for those very important, but random events, like Doug Cavorting and Gamboling--although they could find it's way into the "All About Us" album as well). The scrapbook binders are also 3 ring binders, so I can easily re--arrange pages as they unpredictably fill in (unlike the post binders). As one fills up, I'll start another binder for that category. If a section grows greatly, I can create a binder of it's own for that theme (Bonnie may end up with a binder featuring her, in all her cuteness, including some of her book reviews.)
OK, I know I've rambled on and on, but this has been so very helpful to me, using this system, that I thought I'd share it with anyone who's interested!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Beautiful Ms. Bonnie & Harriet & Isabella

The Beautiful Ms. Bonnie would like to bring another book to your attention. She just finished reading an historical novel, "Harriet & Isabella," by Patricia O'Brien, and wants to tell you a few things about this book. She says, "It's a good read, but if there's something else compelling going on in your life, it might be a bit difficult to get into initially. The book is about Harriet Beacher Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin", and her sister, Isabella Beecher Hooker, a late 1800s suffragist. They have opposing views about their brother, Henry.

See if any of this sounds familiar: Henry is a very powerful minister, with strong religious admonitions to his congregation about leading a righteous life. However, he's being accused of having an affair with a married woman. The trial about this is part scandal, part media circus, and part righteous, judgmental, indignation. In the process, women's lives are ruined, and one woman (Victoria) is thrown in prison for trying to speak up. She's quite unpopular because she's got the audacity to want women to have the right to vote; naturally, she's considered insane. It all turns out quite well for old Henry; in fact, he's really good at landing on his feet, and people practically swoon in admiration of him."

"Dang," says Bonnie. "I could swear I've heard this story before! It just sounds so familiar. . . so. . . deja vu!" (Don't tell Bonnie, but she has a horrible french accent.)

The book just really made her feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same in life--including some of the strides that women have made over the years. It seems like some of these really got lost somewhere along the way.

But, Bonnie also said that when she was done with the book, she was done!

Monday, October 12, 2009

October is Apple-Loving Month in Grand Forks, ND

If I can't have big things, then you can make me really happy with the little things of life! In Grand Forks, in October, when our weather turns foul and wretched, scaring the toes off of us for the things to come,(check out the weather pixie and her temperature now, and the snow), we get the Oregon Apple Man!

I literally put this on my calendar in the kitchen, on my palm pilot, and in google calendar for the email reminders, because I cannot miss the Oregon Apple Man!

I'm not the only person that feels this way. This week, on the local news, our mayor (who also happens to be an obstetrician, not that this is a necessary skill for a mayor, delivering babies on the side), gave the Oregon Apple Man the keys to the city.

The guy on the left has been coming to Grand Forks for 20 years, and the guy on the right has been coming with the truckloads of apples for 40 years! They stay for about 3 days, and their trucks are swamped with people eager for the apples. I bought a crate of Fujis and a crate of Braeburns, and no grocery store apple comes anywhere close to comparing to these apples! Both apples are slightly tart, with just the right amount of sweetness, and they shout "Fall" and "Crisp", and "leaves turning colors", "burning wood". They're the perfect thing to take the edge off all the beet trucks crawling through the town, day and night, dropping beets on the road, slowing traffic, and the unease of knowing the drivers work as much as 15 hour shifts and don't have to have commercial drivers' licenses.

I'm in "editing mode" as the weather drives us inward. Maria asked if I'd gotten CS4, and I have. Once I got my new camera, I discovered the data from the D300s could not be uploaded to ACR without an upgrade. But the upgrade only worked with CS4. I could not bear to give up shooting RAW and going back to jpeg! And I'm slowly acquainting myself to all the new features of CS4, and am actually quite excited about learning to use the adjustment brush tool. If it works like I think it will. . . well, I might end up AGAIN editing photos from previous trips!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Editing, One Year Later; and Variations on Winery Themes

What a difference a year can make in learning something! A year ago, Doug and I and Scott were in Seattle, and did some wine-tasting at The Tasting Room. (Take my IGNORANCE about wine tasting with a grain of salt! We ordered a flight of wine, which in this winery meant 4 glasses with a little bit of 4 different wines in each one, and you taste them. In Sideways, sometimes people spit the wine out. If I order something to eat or drink, I'm not about to spit it out unless something really horrible is in my food!)

Anyway, what I've learned this past year has not been about wine-tasting, but editing photos. I'm not in love with this photo, (tired, cold, bad hair day, make-up has done its voodoo vanishing trick) but what was I thinking in the first editing of this photo, back in October, 08? I suspect one attempt led to another, took a long time, and eventually I had this horrid mess, but probably thought it was pretty good. . .

This is a recent editing, using more the methods I tend toward now. I start in camera Raw, make a few white balance, exposure and initial sharpening adjustments. Then I head into CS4, slightly smooth skin and then run an action I created. My action converts to Lab mode, adjusts the a & b channel slightly, adds a brightness and contrast curve, and returns to RGB. Then I run another action I created, which uses a density mask, which helps preserve the detail in the shadows, and sharpens the photo. Then I add a touch of vignette, if I want it, and save, and prepare for the web. The whole process takes me about a minute.

And since I mentioned "winery" I thought I'd show you this sign that Barb made for me for my birthday. It's a platter that says "Angela's Winery" and now sits on my china cabinet. From the photo, I'm not sure you can see how 3-dimensional it is, with the grapes, the top of the "cork" and the wine bottle itself all being made of glass that Barb fired in her kiln!

I don't really have a winery! But I do have a bottle of red wine that Doug and I have been saving since Scott gave it to us as a Christmas present in France in 2004. I'm not sure we'll ever drink it; it's too special!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bonnie in Her Halloween Finery and Go Twins!

Bonnie accommodated us, as we got our carpeting cleaned, by spending the night at Doggie Daycare, and getting a bath in the morning. They spiffed her up with a Halloween bandana!

And she was quite pleased with all the attention this garnered for her! (But if my family sees this shot, they might be quite shocked by the fact that I let Bonnie climb up on the couch to pose for her portrait.)

She got to go for a little ride with me to through the prescription drive-through, and the pharmacist technician were very taken by Bonnie. She didn't mind at all that they decided to give her a very large dog bisquit.

And Doug was also somewhat jubilant on Tuesday, not for dog bisquits, but because of how well the Twins did in winning the game. I skipped photographing him on Wednesday, when the Yankees won :(
Truthfully, I get more excited about photography than baseball!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Missing Dianna (of course!)

I was treated to a wonderful phone call from Dianna last night! I miss my 21-year-old daughter immensely, and it seems almost surreal that she can be on the other side of the world, in southern India, right now! This photo is from this past April, with the fish, in Grand Forks, and I decided it was time to edit it. . .

Dianna tells me that she's very much enjoying this more rural part of India (compared to the more urban nature of Chennai.) She doesn't have much chance to be on the internet, especially not for composing emails, updating her blog, or uploading photos.

She's healthy again (hooray!!!!!!) and continuing to try to do research on leprosy. She also tells me that there are lots of bugs in her room. She's massively sprayed the bathroom with I-don't-know-what and now each am, she's greeted with piles of dead bugs. She takes a bucket of cold water, washes them down the drain, and then grabs out handfuls of the dead things to keep them from clogging the drain. (You should know that ND, being of its less-than-temporate climate, does not have a huge number of bugs. And even the mosquitos seem to have vacated the premises, given our protections against West Nile virus in recent years.) North Dakotans may be many things, but Bug Warriors, we are not! (But we do have those deranged Cedar Waxwings. . . . .)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Beautiful Ms. Bonnie & The Help

The Beautiful Ms. Bonnie was photographed showing her blissful reaction to this book. She'd hoped for another sunny day when the book itself could be photographed, but time and weather conspired against this.

But she feels very passionate about this book!

She says, "If you're only going to read one book this year, read this one. And then read it twice! It's even worth skipping a frolic in the compost pile and a rabbit chase, it's so good! This book is the first by the author, Kathryn Stockett, and I hope she writes another book soon!

'The Help' traces the lives of 3 women in Mississippi during the summer of 1962. The 22 year old Skeeter has just gotten her degree and wants to write. She is a naive young-un, and stumbles on the idea of writing what it's like to be 'the help' in the South during these years. The other two women who are followed in the book are Aibileen and Minnie, two of the maids who ultimately agree to be interviewed by Skeeter. This author really KNOWS how to write; I mean, really, really KNOWS how to make you fall in love with her characters, to see the world through their eyes, to make you root for the good-guys and wish foul happenings to the bad. . . ."

Bonnie also points out that if you had the horrendous misfortune to have read her previously reviewed book, "Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral," you're likely still suffering, and this book could well be the perfect antidote for that poison!