Sonoma (Aug 21)

We decided to go a little more upscale for breakfast and eat at a place where they actually wait on you and refill your coffee.  This required a bit of stalling, since the one place we found on the square didn’t open until 10 AM (Sat & Sun only).  The food was awesome, but the host had an incredible unibrow and it was really hard not to stare at it.  We arrived at the track just before morning practice and took the long shuttle ride from the parking lot to the pits.  The great food trend continued with an outstanding lunch at hospitality.  We have an ongoing joke that we only go to races for the food.

We were able to bum a ride back to the pits for qualifying with our new friend Tim Bucher, who was test driving an electric ATV for the weekend.  This is definitely a track that requires a personal transportation device for getting around efficiently.  We qualified okay – Dario 3rd and Scott 6th.  Unfortunately Will Power got the pole AGAIN!  Curse him!

On the plus side, Tim loaded us up with olive oil and vinegar from his other business – Dry Creek Olive Company.  It helped ease the sting.  I will be making some kick butt salad dressing when we get home.

I ran out and took a few photos of the lane and vineyards right around our cottage after we got back from dinner.  Here are two of my favorites.

Sonoma (Aug 20)

Today was our first day at the track.  It’s a pretty amazing facility.  It’s set in an area of rolling hills so the course has a lot of elevation changes and no real straightaway, which makes it extremely demanding to drive.  The Target hospitality was set up at the top of the Turn 7 Terrace and overlooked most of the track.  The only disadvantage was the long shuttle ride to get there.  We watched afternoon practice from the pits and Chip stopped by and invited us to stay for dinner.  Since we hadn’t found a restaurant on the way to the track, our lunch consisted of overpriced fast food so it was a pretty compelling offer.

Since security around the parking areas seemed pretty lax, we decided to take a chance on driving up to Turn 7 and parking next to hospitality.  Since we were early, we had the advantage of meeting a few people at a time as they arrived.  I actually managed to retain the names of 12 new people, which is probably a personal record for me.  Before the dinner started, Chip asked everyone introduce themselves and talk about their connection to him.  It was cool to meet so many interesting people, some of them dating back to grade school or high school.  We were the relative newcomers, only having known Chip for 15 years.

But the real highlight of the evening was a personal wine tasting given by the owner of Trattore wines, Tim Bucher.  He brought 4 wines from the 2008 harvest – Roussanne, Viognier, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.  I’ve never even heard of the first two varietals (both whites).  All of them were outstanding and besides enjoying the tasting and having the wines with dinner, we were given two bottles of the Zinfandel to take with us.  SCORE!  A totally awesome evening all around.

Our cottage has a hummingbird feeder on the patio and I have been tormenting myself every morning trying to get some decent photos.  Actually I have been trying for about 10 years to get that perfect hummingbird photo, at this point I should concede that it’s an impossible quest.  Here’s one of the better ones.

Sonoma (Aug 19)

Sonoma has a cute little town center around a square.  It’s sort of an upscale version of Prescott, AZ.  Unfortunately, most of the restaurants around the square didn’t open until lunch.  We were only able to find 2 that served breakfast – both were the order at a counter and they bring it to the table variety.  Both were tiny.  Both were packed.  We were able to grab a table at one by having Tim sit while I waited in line to order.  We were hungry and dying for caffeine, the restaurant did not disappoint.

The day started with a heavy overcast that gradually burned off.  Since we didn’t really have a plan, we just drove to the coast and headed north up Pacific Coast Highway 1.  The first few stops we made were sunny but then we kept running into large patches of fog that obscured our view of the ocean.  It got to be a joke after a while.  Every time we went a little inland it would be sunny and every time we got close to the ocean it would be foggy.  So Tim entertained us by driving really fast (meaning doing the speed limit) for most of the drive.  PCH 1 is one of those incredibly twisty, curvy highways with lots of blind corners and a speed limit of 55.  It takes both the right car and the right driver to pull off 55 for the majority of the drive.  This would not be me.  Most of the other drivers were polite enough to pull over and let the General pass when we started looming large in their rear view mirror.

These two photos were taken at our first (sunny) stop – Bodega Bay.  The pink and white stripe building is Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy.  (Yes, it’s delicious)

Sonoma (Aug 18)

There are race weekends where it’s all about the race (Texas, Iowa) and then there are race weekends where the location just screams for a race/vacation combo.  Sonoma is definitely in the second category.  Since this was our first trip together to the area, we decided to blow it out into a full week.  After enduring the econobox rental in Edmonton, we wanted something a little more fun to drive.  This turned out to be a Dodge Challenger.  For you non-car buffs, think General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard.  In order to get a reasonable rate, we used a nondescript rental company.  I started getting a little nervous as Tim waited in line at the service counter because there seemed to be a lot of unhappy people there.  One older couple stormed off in a huff complaining about rate increases and another couple had an issue when returning a vehicle.  The second couple got into some pretty nasty words with a woman who showed up and tried to cut in line, stating that she had waited in line for an hour previously and was “in the middle of the transaction.”  Not their problem, clearly.  Turns out her credit card had been declined when she first tried to complete the transaction.

I am continually astonished at the amount of time it takes some people to conduct a simple business transaction.  After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, Tim went up to the desk and was ready to go in 5 minutes.  Meanwhile two young women who had been at the counter when we arrived were still there when we left.  Really?  What is so fricking hard about renting a car?

Our flight had landed at 4:30, so by the time we had collected the rental car it was after 5:00.  This violated our second cardinal rule about flights – don’t arrive in a major city at rush hour.  Unfortunately, our only other reasonable option violated our primary cardinal rule about flights – don’t arrive so late that you are navigating to an unfamiliar location in the dark.  We made it to the VRBO cottage just before full dark and just before the battery on our portable GPS died.  Turns out the lighter in the General Lee didn’t work, so we couldn’t power our trusty Garmin off the car battery.  Fortunately we had brought a map of the area so I navigated old school style and we kept the GPS off as long as possible, until we really needed it.  Sent us down the wrong dam street anyway.

The cottage was a lovely little studio with a sitting area, comfy bed and kitchenette.  Unfortunately it also had NO A/C, a tiny shower, a huge fake tree that threatened to take over the bathroom, and no dresser for clothing.  A big closet with lots of hangers is great but it doesn’t do much for socks and underwear.  Plus we had to kill a HUGE spider in the bathroom.

So, it was lovely, but we won’t be staying there again.

And yes, the drive out of San Francisco sucked.

Off to Sonoma

We are heading out to Sonoma this afternoon.  I booked a VRBO cottage in a vineyard just outside of Sonoma.  It seemed like a better bet than paying $165 a night for a Comfort Inn.  This will be our first VRBO experience.  I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from people who have booked accommodations through VRBO, so I’m hopeful.  This race is a huge Target event with 400 people expected on race day.  That’s actually the main reason we’ve never gone to this race before.  There is a big contingency coming from TTS, so I may sneak into the tent and say hi to a few people.

I’m not taking my laptop.  It’s pretty big and doesn’t fit into my rolling carry-on bag, so it’s staying home.  I expect to experience some withdrawal from going offline for a week.  But I’m bringing the fancy notebook my husband bought me for Christmas to take notes for my blog.  So I’ll be doing some catch-up posting from Chicago.  (We are only home for 24 hours between these two trips and I’m afraid that laundry needs to take priority over blogging for that day)

Here’s a random photo for the day.  This is from the Phoenix zoo trip that convinced me to switch to digital.  It looks like some exotic little tropical village, but it’s just fake scenery for the Costa Rica exhibit at the zoo.  For some reason that makes me like it more that if it were real.

Shooting People

For many years I believed that I wasn’t good at shooting people (photographically speaking).  I was never happy with the results when I took photos of people and so I concentrated even more on landscapes.  With landscapes, it’s all about composition and lighting.  Except for rare exceptions, like those fleeting moments around sunrise and sunset, you can take your time and get the perfect shot.  People move and they frequently change expression.  Plus I have found that most adults don’t really like to be photographed, making them even more troublesome.  Landscapes just are – you can zoom with your lens or with your feet to change your relative perspective, but you don’t have to worry about the mountains shifting around or making a fake smile for the camera.  Kids are a little less problematic, mostly because they get bored quickly and start ignoring you, which automatically makes them easier to photograph.

I first started to realize that I might not be such a terrible people photographer when I switched from a manual to an auto-focus camera.  It seems incredibly stupid in retrospect, but I just wasn’t that fast at focusing and so I never really got the shot I wanted.  (refer back to the comment about movement and expression)  Most of my early “serious” work with people was centered around racing.  Pit crews and drivers are pretty focused on their work and they are used to photographers constantly buzzing around, so they completely ignore you.  I have some pretty decent images from the late 1990’s, which I’m sure I’ll get around to scanning in someday so I can share them.  But don’t hold your breath, it’s pretty low on my list and you know what happens to low priority requirements.

My second revelation in regards to photographing people came when I switched to digital.  When I would shoot a 36 exposure roll of film, I would be pretty happy if 2 or 3 of the images were really good.  I threw away about 70% of the prints that came back as being unworthy to keep even for my own amusement.  I only showed about 10% of what I shot.  With digital I can get nearly 300 images on one flash card using my 20 megapixel camera.  So it’s a numbers game.  If I can get 10-20 really great photos out of that 300 I’m happy.  It costs nothing to discard the others.  Or consign them to purgatory on my computer, which is more often the case.  Photo snobs will argue “real” photographers don’t shoot 1000’s of images, hoping for a few good ones.  Screw ’em.  Digital has freed me to be more experimental and try a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have when every photo had a cost associated with it.  As a result, I’ve become a better photographer.  Even with people.

This photo was taken in 2005 out of the window of a van while stopped for traffic in Beijing.  I would never have tried something like this using film.  I had enough time while the van was motionless to take this one shot. 

What’s My Style?

When I tell people I’m a photographer, they frequently ask about my “style” of photography.  This used to be a really easy question for me to answer – landscape.  I took this photo of a stand of trees dusted with snow  almost 20 years ago with my old Minolta.  It’s one of only a handful of film images I deemed worthy of scanning.  The original is color, but it works better in black and white, so I desaturated the scanned copy.  It’s still one of my all-time favorite images.

This classic shot of autumn trees reflected in a pond was taken 6 years ago, a little more than a year after I switched to digital.  These types of images dominated my photographic style for the 20+ years I used film.  Most people call them postcard photos.  They mean this in a complimentary way – they are the type of photos that most people want to be able to take.  Nicely composed, exposed correctly, in focus and “pretty.”  I have taken thousands of photos of like this, it’s something I can almost do on autopilot now.

This reflex comes in pretty handy when I’m on vacation, I always come back with lots of great photos that make entertaining slide shows.  It impresses people.  But over the last few years it’s become sort of boring.  So I’ve been trying to evolve my “style,” for lack of a better word.  If you look at the photos in the “Random” folder on my website photo album, you’ll get some sense of what I mean.  I also have a few sprinkled in with the conventional travel photos.  My husband likes to say that my favorite photo from any given trip is the one that looks like it could have been taken anywhere.  An old bike leaning against a building in Amsterdam, for example.  I think it’s because the photo with the recognizable icon (like a windmill) is always tinged by the postcard or snapshot feeling, no matter how good it is.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop taking the postcard shots.  Just that I’ll keep trying to go beyond them.

Blue October

My obsession with Blue October started innocently enough.  I heard the song “Hate Me” on XM and it felt like a punch in the stomach.  I can’t say that I related to the meaning of the song in a literal way (not having personal experience with drug addiction) but something about the incredible emotional pain being expressed touched a nerve.  I suppose a psychologist would have a field day with that.  At any rate, it was enough to make me go out and buy the album without hearing any of the other songs on it.  I ended up loving every single song on Foiled, so I went online and purchased  Blue October’s 3 previous studio albums.  Plus a live CD and concert DVD.

I started reading about the band and checking their tour dates online.  On October 13, 2007, my husband and I saw them perform live for the first time at the Myth.  It was amazing.  They are a heavy touring band with a very dedicated fan base and their live performances are mesmerizing.  At the show I ran into Jill’s daughter-in-law Carolyn.  It turned out that her brother was a huge fan and had introduced her and Dan (Jill’s son) to the band.  It was one of those wild coincidences that make you realize how small the world is sometimes.  Every time I mention to someone that Blue October is my favorite band, I get a blank look.  They just aren’t widely known.  And here I was a show, running into a family member.

That show marked a high point just before a very dark time in my family.  Four days later Jill died.

Blue October spent the majority of 2008 working on a new album, so we didn’t get an opportunity to see them that year.  Approaching Normal came out in March 2009 and they went on tour to promote the new album.  From mid May through mid June we saw them at the Rave in Milwaukee, First Avenue and the Hub in Fargo.  The shows were all great but a little “Groundhog Day” since they did every single song from the new album in order and only included a few older songs at the end.  The photo at top is of me with Jeremy Furstenfeld (drummer) after their show at the Rave.  One of the many really cool things about the band is that they will come out and meet fans after the shows, as long as you’re willing to hang out long enough.  So I have photos with each of the band members.  Plus an autographed t-shirt.  Yes, I’m a groupie and no, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I don’t understand it but I embrace it.  We all have our obsessions and this one is fairly harmless.

I started thinking about my history with Blue October recently because I just purchased tickets to see them at the Rave in Milwaukee again.  Wisconsin has banned smoking in bars and the band is doing more of a mix of old and new material, so it should be an even better show than last year.  The date is October 7th.  I’ll be thinking about Jill.

Mid Ohio (Aug 8)

It NEVER gets old.  It doesn’t matter if the drive was excruciating, the hotel appalling and the weather disgusting.  When you win, nothing else matters.  Being in the winner’s circle after a race is an experience that cannot be adequately described.  It’s nothing that can ever be taken for granted.

This was an outstanding weekend for Target Chip Ganassi Racing – the team took home wins at Watkin’s Glen in both Grand Am and Nascar and at Mid Ohio in  IRL.  Chip won every race he competed in this weekend.  I’m not sure any other team owner has ever won 3 major motorsports events in one weekend.  I doubt it.


We’ve got a long drive tomorrow and then just 8 days at home before we head to Sonoma.

Race results – Dario 1st, Scott 5th.

Mid Ohio (Aug 7)

Much earlier day today.  We stopped at Bob Evans for breakfast again, even though we could have made the free one at the hotel.  I’m getting to be rather fond of Bob.  We got to the track right around 10 am, just as the early practice was ending.   In the interest of fairness, I’m including one of the photos I took of Dario yesterday.  I could have included it with yesterday’s post, but it seems like cheating to have more than one photo per post.  As you can see, one of the tricky aspect of photographing drivers is that they are almost always wearing massive sunglasses.  I think your status as a driver is largely determined by the size of your watch and your sunglasses.  Keep in mind that most drivers are not very big guys, so the sunglasses and watches look even more enormous by comparison.

We were able to watch qualifying from the booth of one of the support races’ teams.  It was shaded and had 5 screens showing views of the track.  Which is nice, since Mid Ohio doesn’t think it’s necessary to have a jumbotron anywhere near the pits.  We also had a chance to talk to Scott’s wife Emma, who is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.  Both cars were fast, Dario qualified 2nd and Scott qualified 5th.  Overall, a great day.

Guess where we ate dinner?  No, not the fabulous martini bar.  We went back to Bob’s.  I am swearing off Bob’s tomorrow.  Of course that means breakfast will be at the Golden Arches.