Building a Dream

So we’ve officially started down the path of building our dream home. We met with the builders on Friday. I should say potential builders, but I’m pretty sure we’ve settled on them at this point. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a bit. A few days after our offer on the lot was accepted, we toured some houses on the Parade of Homes. The third one we visited was a very modern house in South Minneapolis. With the exception of a few minor details, it was exactly the type of home we want to build. The builders (two brothers) were at the house, so we started talking to them. Next thing you know, we are running home to get the survey.

We just had an instant rapport with the builders and they are experienced in using modern building techniques and materials. Even more amazing, they were working with a couple who planned to make an offer on the lot adjoining ours. That wasn’t the only instance of serendipity in this process. While we were writing up the offer with the real estate agent, we found out that he graduated from the same high school the same year I did. He also lives a few blocks from our property. Then we found out that he was the agent for the lot where my dad built his home.

Everything just kept falling into place. Just before we met with the builders on Friday, I had a referral call with one of their previous clients. He could not speak highly enough about the quality of their construction and how good they were to work with. I had been dreading the process of finding a builder and now it seems that a perfect one has just fallen into our laps.

Which is good, because we still have a shitload of stuff to do. Right now we are talking about trying to fast track the design process so we could be pouring the foundation next spring. Our next step is to have a meeting with their architect and designer. In preparation for that, we are reviewing several file bins full of magazine clippings to cull them down to ones that are most relevant. We made some good progress over the weekend, but we still have a ways to go.

And don’t even get me started on the budget.

Strike a Pose

Those of you who follow this blog regularly (and I deeply thank all three of you) know that I am not especially fond of photographing people. I make exceptions, of course, for my volunteer theater work and for our niece, but actors are big hams who know how to pose and our niece is too young to react to the camera except for wanting to grab it from me. The three areas of photography I avoid at all costs are weddings, portrait work and nudes.

But even with that, there are exceptions. I’ve photographed one wedding for a family member. NOT as the primary photographer, mind you, but as a supplemental photojournalist style extra photographer. Now I’ve gone and broken my rule again, by shooting family photos for a good friend. She asked really, really nicely and was in a bit of a bind because the photographer who normally shoots her fall family photos was unavailable. Her backup plan was to borrow a camera from a neighbor and do a DIY attempt. Tricky without a tripod.

So during the weekend between our return from Chicago and departure for Arizona, I photographed her family for their Christmas card. And each of her three sons in lieu of school photos. And a few of her and her husband, for good measure. One of the many reasons I avoid portrait photography is that I lack the experience in telling people how to pose and that clearly showed in the results. The final images weren’t bad, they just weren’t great. Her husband had this uncomfortable look on his face in the group photo and her middle son looked awkward in his solo photos. I guess you do get what you pay for. But I’m sure she’ll be happy.

Would I do it again? Yes, for a friend and with the caveat that I can’t guarantee the results. My personal trainer has already asked me to photograph her theoretical 3rd wedding, should it ever occur. I told her I’d do engagement photos and then we could discuss it. I guess that means some of my boundaries are crumbling. Just don’t ask me to photograph you naked.

Strike

Baseball is one of the few professional sports that doesn’t have highly restrictive rules regarding fan photography. Pretty much any type of lens is allowed, as long as you don’t interfere with other fans. I wouldn’t recommend showing up for an NFL or NBA game with a 400mm lens, as I did in September for one of the last Twins games of the season.

5DM36474It actually turned out to be a little too much lens, as you can see. I couldn’t get the catcher fully in the frame and I would have liked a little more leading space in front of the incoming ball.

5DM36453Next time I try this, I think my 300mm will be just about perfect. Capturing the action at just the right moment was a little tricky, of course, and took a bit of practice and a bit of luck. But I was pleasantly surprised by how many really good images I was able to get.

5DM36484The timing on this shot was was perfect, but the focus was just a little off. The runner is sharp, but the baseman is a little soft. We were disappointed at the lack of action on the bases during the first half of the game. Then it started to rain. So after getting a lot of good batting shots, we decided to pack it in. We watched the end of the game at home and were annoyed to see that the rain had stopped and there was a ton of action on the bases. Be patient – lesson learned.

It was a good experiment and I look forward to trying again next season. Hopefully we’ll get to at least one game with better weather and a little more action.

Taxi and Takeoff

We flew back to Minnesota on Tuesday, just in time to enjoy the last gasps of fall. Apparently, the weather was beautiful here while we were gone, although a couple of windy days stripped a lot of the remaining leaves from the trees. So we’ve missed what was supposedly one of the more impressive displays of fall color in many years. Bummer.

I ordered a taxi online to drive us to the airport. The driver called about ten minutes before the scheduled time and I was somewhat surprised to hear that it was a woman. In many, many years of taking taxis to and from the airport, I’ve never had a female driver. She was confused about our exact address and I had to talk her through driving to the back of our townhome complex. A little odd, but the taxi company isn’t always good about including the precise building and unit number in the order to the driver, so I didn’t think much about it.

When I went outside and actually saw the driver, my first thought was “when did the taxi company start hiring teenage boys?” She seriously looked like a 15 year old boy. I almost asked to see her driver’s license. My confidence really took a dive when I told her we were going to the airport and she asked me if I had the address. The address? It’s the airport, no I don’t have the address. I’m pretty sure if you punch airport into your GPS, it will come up.

I assured her that we knew how to get to the airport and would give her directions. And so we did. Ridiculously explicit directions. (Do I take this exit? The one that says airport with the little picture of a plane? Yeah, that would be a good idea) I felt a little sorry for her. She was obviously a nice person but she clearly won’t last a month as a taxi driver.

I’d like to say that was our last little hiccup, but I ran into another snag at security when my boarding pass wouldn’t scan. Neither would the backup copy. (Yes, we always print two copies) The TSA agent gave me the choice of going to a Delta agent and getting a new copy printed or going through the regular line instead of the TSA pre-check line. Considering there was no one else in line, I opted for the latter. Let’s say it was a relief to finally board the plane.

Where the Green Things Are

As I mentioned back in August, each of the three Domes house a conservatory. One has a tropical theme, one has a desert theme and one has a generic pretty flower garden sort of theme. That’s not what it was called, but it’s not far off. The desert dome was lame compared to places we’ve seen in Phoenix. The tropical one was nice but sort of spoiled by the addition of plastic dinosaurs. I am totally not kidding about the dinosaurs. Pandering to kids.

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Since I had gone to the trouble of bringing my macro lens (although I can’t recall what compelled me to put it in the bag at the last minute), I took full advantage of it once we were inside the domes. It’s easy to avoid the dinosaurs when you’re focusing this close.

I tried photographing quite a few flowers, but none of them turned out as well as the greenery.

5DM34957The flower dome was the prettiest of the three, but didn’t yield any good images. No matter, I can take macro photos of leaves all day long and never get bored.

Under the Dome

When I wrote about our visit to Milwaukee back in August, I mentioned an art festival at The Domes. I was writing in real time, so I hadn’t processed any images at the time. My bad.

5DM34849I was mostly using my 100mm macro lens, so I played around with some close focus. This is a detail of one of the tables outside of the dome.

5DM34855Of course the 100mm isn’t just for macro work. This is a shot of part of one of the domes and the funky curved structure over the building that connects the three domes. I tried it in black and white but there wasn’t enough contrast to make it work.

5DM34902bwThis is an even tighter shot of the dome ceiling from the inside, converted into black and white.

A Few More Headstones

As promised, a few more cemetery photos. I just can’t get enough of this stuff.

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As cemeteries go, St. Mary’s is pretty modest. It’s nothing like the monster cemetery we visited in Indianapolis. But it is pretty and peaceful and has a number of beautiful monuments.

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Well, I have quite a few other images I haven’t posted yet, so I think I’ll give the cemetery a rest for now. Pun intended.

A Grave Omission

While I managed to get caught up with posting about our family vacation adventures, I neglected to write about photographing St. Mary’s Cemetery with my friend Jane back in mid-August. Jane has visited the cemetery numerous times and taken some truly stunning images there, so I was excited to join her for a short photographic expedition.

5DM34764I only used two lenses, but they were arguably my two best –  an 85mm and a 50mm both f/1.2. I tried to shoot everything wide open. What’s the point of all that aperture, otherwise?

5DM34773I converted everything to black and white. It’s a rare cemetery photo that benefits from color. I certainly haven’t taken one. I have quite a few good ones, so I’ll post more tomorrow.

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Out With the Old

We’re undergoing another home invasion here in Phoenix. The hideous carpet on our third floor is being replaced. You may remember when I wrote about our hardwood floor installation. That replaced the hideous carpet on the first and second floor. The carpet didn’t seem bad when we moved in, but it was cheap and poorly installed, so every passing year added about ten years to its appearance. It developed a buckle in the master bedroom that constituted a major tripping hazard. I’m lucky I didn’t wipe out during a midnight bathroom run.

The only reason we waited this long to replace it in the bedrooms is that it seemed like such a daunting task to move all of the furniture. When we put hardwood in the living room, we were able to stack all of the furniture in the dining room. There was no way that was going to happen with the bedroom furniture. The furniture moving needed to be paid for as part of the installation. Of course that didn’t get us out of all the work – we still had to carry down all of the dresser drawers and empty out a lot of the closets. That’s how we spent our day yesterday.

So now we sit here, listening to a tremendous amount of banging and praying for it to be done soon. They cut it outside in our parking lot, which made me paranoid that a bird would fly over and crap on it while it was laying on the ground. They did pretty much everything except the master bedroom before taking a lunch break, so I snuck upstairs and took a peek. It looks stunning and feels even better – like walking across a bed of little pillows.

Once they finish the install and move all of the furniture back, we have the fun task of carrying all of our clothes upstairs and restoring some sense of order. Not to mention cleaning up the dust that’s been tracked across the floors. At least we get to sleep in tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll be dreaming about our cushy new carpet.

Fallen

Did you hear that loud thud the other day? That was the sound of millions of leaves all dropping from the trees simultaneously. It’s fallen. Oh, we might get a few more nice days here and there, but don’t let that fool you, winter is right around the corner. I had to turn on the furnace the day we returned from Chicago – it was 59 degrees in the house. Today we put the winter tires on the cars. All harbingers of the impending cold.

But first we get a brief reprieve starting tomorrow, in the form of a visit to Phoenix. The forecast is for the low 90’s every day of the week we’ll be there. So tonight I’m polishing my toenails in anticipation of sandal weather. Our new carpet will be installed on Thursday and we have an appointment on Saturday to get measured for shutters in the guest bedroom and kitchen. Then we’ll be able to focus almost exclusively on designing our new home.

Exciting and scary as hell. You wonder why builders are able to sell expensive spec homes? Because the thought of making the million and six decisions involved in building a home from scratch is just too overwhelming for many people. It will be a full time job for the next year. Good thing we don’t have regular full time jobs. What we do have is an acre of dirt and trees and a lot of ambitious ideas. Wish us luck.