I Hate Cold Weather

Oh the insanity!  After nearly 3 weeks of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s, we drove back to Minnesota.  This wasn’t some mad impulse.  We realized as we were packing to drive down at the end of October that it wasn’t going to be possible to fit everything we wanted to bring in the car.  So instead of stressing out about it and trying to make arbitrary decisions about what was absolutely essential and what wasn’t, we just decided that we would make another trip (in our larger, Phoenix based vehicle – a Nissan Xterra).  Most of this stems from our decision to spend the majority of the next 6 months in what was intended to be a “vacation” home.  So now all of the camera gear needs to be there, along with a lot of reading material, additional clothing, a good supply of wine, etc.  Plus we have a really nice Oriental rug that we don’t have room for in our Minnesota house.  Now that we’re putting hardwood floors down in Phoenix, I realized it would look great there.  And so it goes…

It gave us some time in Phoenix to think about what else we might need or want there.  It seemed like every few days something else would occur to me, so I would just jot it down.  Of course I have to be careful not to get too ambitious about what we can fit on this trip, lest I put myself back in the same situation.  We had commitments in Phoenix through the 16th, so we planned our departure for early morning on the 17th.  We were on the road pretty close to 6:30 AM and put in over 18 1/2 hours the first day.  Our GPS wanted us to take the northern route, through Colorado, so we ignored it and kept heading east on 40 out of Albuquerque.  Usually it will adjust fairly quickly once it realizes you have deviated from the originally suggested route, but for some reason it was incredibly persistent in trying to make us exit and start heading north toward Santa Fe.  Which is irritating because the voice keeps interrupting your music while it calmly tells you over and over to take the next exit and then the next one.  It’s also puzzling, because the time and mileage difference between going east then north vs. north then east is trivial.  So we shut it off and re-entered the destination, hoping it would choose a new route based on our having long passed the turn north.

And it finally did, but not exactly the one we expected.  The simple way is to stay on 40 until it hits 35, which is not the most direct path but it keeps you on the interstate.  I always operated on the assumption that it was better to stay on the interstate, unless it added a lot of extra miles to your route.  The speed limits are higher and you get two lanes, so passing is theoretically easier.  It turns out you can cut out 110 miles by taking a state highway from Tucumcari, NM to Wichita instead of staying on the interstate.  Who knew?  A lot of truckers, apparently, since that is most of the traffic we saw along the route.  We saved time and enjoyed some different scenery.  Plus had the added bonus of seeing a coyote cross the highway and the biggest raptor I have ever seen (excluding a bald eagle) sitting on the shoulder.  He didn’t even flinch when we drove by.  The only down side was a general lack of services along the way, but if you have a big gas tank and plenty of food in the car, it’s a great way to go.

OUCH (not for the squeamish)

I am a complete and total spaz.  Our bedroom dresser has an awesome feature – the top three drawers all have velvet covered inserts that lift out.  This makes it perfect for storing jewelry and I have way too much freakin’ jewelry.  It’s a completely awesome dresser in all other respects, but this little extra put it over the top for me.  I had to have it immediately, so we bought the floor model at the furniture store.  The two side drawers have small inserts that slide back and forth, so it’s relatively easy to get to the stuff underneath.  The insert in the center drawer is enormous  (24″ x 12″) and it needs to be lifted out in order to get to anything underneath.  (Yes, there is more jewelry underneath, did you really need to ask?)  I was hunting for something in the bottom of the drawer and instead of lifting the section out and setting it on top of the dresser, which is the sane and rational thing to do, I cheated by balancing it on the front of the drawer.

Do you need to ask what happened?  Of course as I was reaching for the desired item, I lost my grip on the insert and it fell to the floor.  Did I mention that the insert is made of wood and weighs just under 8 pounds?  (Yes, I put it on the dam scale)  So of course it didn’t just drop to the floor, it landed on my foot.  Specifically on the bone in my foot that connects to my big toe.  I now know what people mean when they talk about seeing stars.  My whole field of vision went white for a split second.  Then I was pretty much laying on the floor in agony while trying to pick up all of the jewelry that went flying.  I have a pretty high tolerance for pain but I don’t really like to test it out too often.

My propensity for self injury has become rather legendary over the years.  I have some pretty wicked scars on my left elbow and knee from the infamous scooter accident of ‘o3.  The best part was trying to mop up the blood and get ready for the cab that was coming to take us to the airport in 45 minutes.  (Leaving Phoenix to return to Minneapolis)  Nothing like flying with blood oozing through your shirt.  And of course there was the butter knife incident in ’95.  I wasn’t aware it was actually possible to cut your finger with a butter knife.  That was a serious amount of blood.  My then boyfriend (now husband) made me the cutest little finger splint so I could type without it hurting.

But I think one of the worst incidents was in ’06 when I took off most of the tip of my right middle finger in St. Goar, Germany.  We were checking out of our hotel and hauling heavy bags down a staircase and through the exterior door.  The  door was notorious for sticking so my husband told me not to shut it.  Of course I did it anyway and caught my finger between the door and the jamb.  It really made holding my camera awkward for the rest of the trip.  I was a little afraid I would end up with an ugly bump at the end of my finger when it finally healed, but it turned out there was so little flesh left connected that eventually the whole piece came off.  At that point the skin underneath had healed, so you can’t even tell I injured it.  Apparently fingers are pretty resilient.

Ironically, I’ve never broken any bones and I’ve only had stitches because of some minor surgery.  Although I probably could have used them on a few other occasions.  This history of self injury goes back pretty far.  There was an incident with a lamp post when I was 5, one with a pine tree when I was 8 (my most impressive scar) and one with a folding lawn chair when I was 10.  The first two involved climbing and losing my grip and the last one was a furniture jumping thing.  Point being, I didn’t get crazy stupid impulsive recently, it’s an inherent personality flaw.  Hopefully I’ll settle down a little before I get to an age where I have a high probability of breaking bones.

In the meantime I’ll just enjoy watching my foot turn pretty colors.

Not too Scary

Another Halloween has come and gone.  Our neighborhood at home has never been a hotspot for trick or treaters (our all time record was 17) so we gave up buying candy for Halloween a few years ago.  It’s not a good thing when I end up eating more candy than I hand out.  The weather in Phoenix is certainly more conducive for tiny goblins extorting treats, but we live in a small townhome complex with no children.   Almost no one bothered to turn on their outside lights.

We did stop by the house of a friend who is renowned for elaborate Halloween displays.  I honestly expected something a little on the garish side, but was completely blown away by his setup.  Full blown graveyard complete with hearse.  This year he did a pirate theme with a huge mast including a crow’s nest and a ship’s prow “buried” in the front lawn.  Plus a dead man’s chest and assorted pirate skeletons.  You’ve got to admire that kind of dedication.  One of the really cool effects was a projector that illuminated a large tree with thousands of tiny twinkling lights.  What a great way to light up a tree without the hassle of stringing tiny lights.

We’ve spent our first few days here in Phoenix running errands and organizing all the stuff we brought from Minnesota.  My bathroom linen closet is now neatly organized with clothing, books and photography equipment.  Amazingly, I got everything to fit.  We have 3 linen closets here (versus none at home) so we each get one of the bathroom ones for personal stuff and the hall one is actually used as a linen closet.  It seemed like we had a ton of space when we first bought this house, but it’s filling up frighteningly fast so I need to get more efficient about using it.

Sounds like a project…

Rabbit Proof Fence

Rabbits are the scourge of every gardener.  Giant rodents with fluffy tails and a voracious appetite for anything green.  I could live with it if they just nibbled a little here and there, but no, they will mow entire plants down to the ground.  One winter they feasted on the bark of our largest shrub, just above the snowline, leaving it with naked branches 30 inches from the ground.  It was a sorry sight come springtime.  Another winter they gnawed one of a grouping of three shrubs nearly down to the ground, leaving its two companions untouched.  Like a furry little tornado.

I used to think rabbits were cute, until I saw the destruction they could wreak.  Our backyard is heavily landscaped and surrounded by a cedar fence, with lots of rabbit sized gaps underneath it.  Before the landscaping was done, we would get the occasional rabbit passing through but they didn’t really linger.  The yard was largely grass with a few large trees.  Perversely, by landscaping and putting up a fence, we created a rabbit paradise with lots of hiding places.

My first attempt at rabbit proofing involved stapling heavy plastic mesh across the bottom of the fence.  This worked for a while, but if rabbits are good at anything it’s chewing, so they soon breached the barricade.  This was followed by an ongoing series of reinforcements, first with double and triple layers of the plastic mesh and then gradually moving to chicken wire.  Every time my mom or I noticed a new breach, we would patch it with the wire.  Re-doing the entire fence seemed like a depressingly large task, but last summer we finished all of the north side and a good portion of the west and south.

It seemed like we were starting to win the battle but the rabbit tracks romping through the yard over the winter told a different story.  A few weeks ago I noticed that nearly every time I went into the backyard, a rabbit would bolt out from under a bush.  I walked the perimeter and found a new hole in one of the few remaining unreinforced sections of the fence.  So today we embarked on what I hope will be the final round of rabbit proofing.  We buried a pressure treated piece of lumber under the gate opening to discourage digging and we stapled wire mesh over the rest of the south side and half of the west.  There are a few sections left with just plastic mesh, but only where the bottom of the fence is very close to the ground.  We’ve never had a problem with them getting through in that area before, but never underestimate the devious lapin mind.

Hasenpfeffer, anyone?

Me Pad

I’m embarrassed to admit I broke down and bought an iPad.  I’m not a Apple person.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, many of my friends and family are devotees.  I don’t own an iPod or an iPhone.  (Although I do have an iTouch, which is like an iPhone, but without the phone part)  But I’ve seen a lot of people with iPads, especially on the Target racing team, and they just look so damn cool.  People rave about their battery life and portability for web surfing or viewing photos and videos.  So when it was announced that Target would start selling them, I became obsessed with owning one.  After all, I would be able to use a 10% Target Rewards coupon plus get 5% off by using my Target Visa.  Since Apple controls the retail price, this would be the best possible price I could get.  I rationalized my need by saying how great it would be for displaying photos and for blogging on the road.  So on Friday I bought one.

For two days I let it sit in the box.  Partly because I was a little intimated by the idea of figuring out a new piece of technology and partly because I had some other things I needed to get done this weekend and I was afraid I would fall under its spell once I turned it on.  Last night I opened the box.  I expected it to need charging before I would be able to use it, but much to my surprise the battery was nearly full and I was able to start using it immediately.  After a few clueless missteps, I was able to get it registered on iTunes and start loading it up with photos.  I bought the model with the most memory – 64 GB – but at my normal resolution that won’t hold a ton of photos.  Fortunately, when I started posting photos online I downloaded a nifty little photo resizing application.  So far I’ve loaded almost 2000 and it’s using less than 1 GB.  Soooo, lots of room to expand.

The display is gorgeous and it’s a great compact way to do slide shows.  So if and when I do start my fabulous second career as a photographer (meaning I get paid for doing it) I will have a portable way to do slide shows.  Once I get some software that allows me to organize the order of the photos in a folder.  No the iPad is not perfect.  But it is damn sexy.

I look forward to getting to know it better in the near future.

Here’s one more photo from my fall drive last week.

Falling Down

I went for a fall drive with my mom today.  It’s too late in the season to see any good fall colors, but it was really just an excuse to spend the day together.  We drove down Highway 35 to a cute little restaurant in Alma, Wisconsin for lunch.  After lunch we took a circular route following some county roads in Wisconsin.  It was probably gorgeous during the peak fall colors, but even this late in the season it was still a very pretty drive.  Rural Wisconsin is full of rolling hills and picturesque farmsteads.  We pass them all the time during our many drives but almost never stop because there aren’t many good places to pull over the on interstate or any major highway.  Since this trip was on small country roads with little to no traffic, I had no problem pulling over almost anywhere I saw a photo op.

Farm buildings never get deliberately demolished.  Once abandoned, they go from pleasantly aged to derelict to decrepit.  The roof collapses and eventually there is just a pile of boards left in a field.  They make great photo ops right up until the roof collapse.  Once the roof gives out they just seem sad.  You can still get good close-ups of details but it can get a little dicey.  I’m not really that committed.  (No offense, Jane)

This is one of the first buildings I found.  I excluded a sad one to the left of it with a collapsed roof.

With the arched windows, this one looks like it could have been a church or schoolhouse at one time.

This one was a perfect example of an weathered red barn.  It killed me that the front side was in the shadow.  It would be gorgeous early in the day.  I would have gone closer and taken a photo of just the side in the light, but this was a working farm and I didn’t want to trespass to get a better shot.

I found this one just as we were starting to head home on 35.  I was lucky that it was right next to a side road where I could safely pull over.  I think it’s the best one of the group, probably because it follows one of the cardinal rules of a good photo – GET CLOSER.  Plus the light was gorgeous at that point.

A beautiful drive on a beautiful day.  Life is good.

Now that’s Better

It was 46 degrees when I got up this morning, so it finally feels like fall.  We decided to face the brisk air and go for a walk around the lakes.  There’s something a little wrong about getting in the car and driving somewhere in order to go for a walk, but it’s a lot prettier to walk around the lakes than our neighborhood.  We were about two blocks from the house when we saw a white squirrel running across the road.  It’s actually the second time we’ve seen him in the same area, but it’s still an extremely bizarre sight.  Apparently white squirrels are a relatively rare variation of the common eastern gray squirrel.  There’s a website dedicated to tracking white squirrel sightings – clearly a sign that some people have too much free time on their hands.

But I digress.  Our normal routine is to park near the road that connects Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet and do one lap around each.  This takes about two hours.  When we walk, I mostly concentrate on not running into people (or more typically, letting them run into me) and not stepping into poop (usually goose, sadly sometimes dog).  I am one of those people who will look in one direction (toward the lake) and end up veering the other direction (into my husband).  Don’t even ask about walking and chewing gum.  Fortunately, my husband’s powers of observation are much more highly developed.  Thanks to him, I’ve seen bald eagles, blue herons, turtles, an otter and numerous fish.  All of which I would have obliviously passed by if I were walking by myself.

I look at things in a completely different way when I’m holding a camera.  I’ve probably walked around Lake Calhoun close to a hundred times if not more.  As a pleasant form of exercise.  I’ve only done it once from the perspective of a photographer.  My husband and I participated in a photowalk two years ago.  It was a world-wide event and the Minneapolis organizer chose Lake Calhoun as the location.  At first I was a little disappointed because I have done the same walk so many times.  But I found that I saw things I had never seen before, simply because I was looking through the lens of a camera.  I was really happy with the photos and it reinforced the point that you don’t have to travel to exotic places to get great images.  You can take great photos in your own backyard.

Hot Enough for You?

The weather in Minnesota sometimes borders on the bizarre.  Today is October 11th and I was outside wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Our relentless travel schedule this summer means we missed a lot of the good weather in Minnesota.  Many of the races we attended experienced near-record high temperatures, so it seemed like we went from one heat wave to another.  I would see the more temperate forecasts at home and sigh with longing.  September is one of my favorite months in Minnesota and I was here for 10 days of it.  When we returned from the muggy swamp of Miami on October 4th, it was 61 degrees in the house.  After shivering for a day, I relented and turned on the furnace.  At that point the extended forecast was showing a downward trend in the temperatures, so it seemed safe.

When we got back from Milwaukee on October 8th it was 87 degrees out.  So much for the long range forecast.  I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, weather forecasting is about as scientific as reading tea leaves.  I have a hard and fast rule about not switching back and forth between the furnace and the air conditioning, so it’s been a little warm in the house for the last few days.  It’s not unbearable, we open up the windows at night and I think the highest it went in the house was 75 degrees.  In a weird way we are getting our Minnesota summer in October, which doesn’t suck.  Unfortunately, it means we will be moving from summer almost directly to winter and giving fall a miss.

In honor of the fall that hasn’t quite happened (at least for me) here’s an image from the archives.  This was taken at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of my favorite places in any season.

Horsing Around

We drove to Stillwater yesterday to see the newest addition to Dad’s little racing empire – a not quite 6 month old colt.  My dad owns five thoroughbred race horses in partnership with one of his closest friends.  Horse racing is called “the sport of kings,” primarily because it costs a king’s ransom to own and race thoroughbreds.  The newest colt is the second offspring of a mare named Bobsled who ran a few promising races before a leg injury prematurely ended her career.  The only horse currently racing is Bobadieu, but he’s doing well enough to keep the rest of the herd in oats.  We’ve seen him run at Canterbury Downs twice and both times he won.  It’s pretty cool when you are with a horse owner who wins a race – you get to have a photo taken in the winner’s circle with the horse.  Okay, it doesn’t rank up there with winning the Indy championship (still giddy on that) or any Indy race, but it’s still pretty cool.

Like many pre-teen girls, I went through a horse phase.  I don’t remember exactly when it started, but by the time I was 11 or 12 I had a large collection of Breyer horse figurines and had read all of the Marguerite Henry books multiple times.  I took horseback riding lessons when I was around 13.  The phase died out soon after that, a casualty of moving into the teenage years and developing a burgeoning obsession with Shawn Cassidy.  Ah, youth.

But I still love horses and they make great photographic subjects.  I’ve never really tried my hand at photographing them before, but after yesterday I have a new-found respect for photographers who use them as regular subject matter.  I used to think kids were difficult.  Horses are just as restless as children, but exponentially larger.  I was using a 50mm lens and almost every time I tried to take a shot they would either turn away or start moving so close to me that I couldn’t focus.  I’m guessing a better approach would have been using a long lens from the safe side of the fence.  But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

This photo was taken just before the horses were brought into the barn for feeding.  They always know when it’s suppertime.  It was late afternoon, so there were a lot of great shadows.  I like the shadow of the fence and the horses here.  I also like the way the direction of the horses leads your eye to the barn.  I would consider this a good photo, but nothing exceptional.  That sort of turned out to be the theme for the afternoon.

This photo was taken from the barn looking out to the corral.  I took another one that showed more of the inside of the barn, but due to the extremely high contrast between the dark interior of the barn and the sunny exterior, it lost a lot of the detail.  This one gives you the feeling of looking out but only shows the most well-lit portion of the stalls.  Again, a decent photo but not one that really wows you.  It does have a nice serene feeling that really conveyed the mood of the place.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, a couple of the colts starting playing rough with each other.  I was able to get one really good shot of them sparring.  It needed to be cropped quite a bit to get the composition I wanted (50mm lens, remember?) but one of the great features of having a 20 megapixel camera is you can do this and still have a pretty high resolution image.  It was a great end to a great day.  I’m looking forward to visiting the horses again in the spring and next time I’ll bring a longer lens.

Milwaukee and Back

October has been a rough month for raccoons in Wisconsin, judging by the amount of roadkill we saw on our way to Milwaukee and back.  There were more than a dozen in each direction along 94, including a few entire families that met their maker during an ill-advised attempt to cross the interstate.  It captured our attention because we have done this drive dozens of times in the last 15 years and have rarely seen more than one raccoon during any one trip.  With the exception of a few unlucky squirrels, they were the only casualties we saw during the two days.

The reason we drove to Milwaukee yesterday was to see my favorite band, Blue October.  (See my post on Aug 11 for more info)  It’s been almost 18 months since we’ve seen them in concert and since we missed our annual pilgrimage to the Milwaukee Mile (no race there this year) it seemed like a good reason for a quick road trip.  I was especially looking forward to it for two reasons – the band is now playing a mix of old and new music and Milwaukee has banned smoking in bars.  Our last round of Blue October concerts was in May 2009, about two months after they released their most recent record.  In a two week period we saw them in Milwaukee, Minneapolis (First Ave) and Fargo.  At all three shows they played every song from the new record, in order.  This was followed by 4-6 songs from previous records and then a 2-3 song encore.  Now don’t get me wrong, I like all of their music but I would not consider their most recent release to be as consistently strong as the previous two.  If I had known all 3 shows would be close to identical, I probably would have skipped the Milwaukee one.

So I was excited to go to a show that would be a more balanced representation of their work.  Not having to put up with the cigarette haze would be a real bonus as well.  Sadly, the show turned out to be sort of disappointing.  It was the shortest setlist we’ve ever heard – 15 songs plus 1 (1???) for the encore.  The 3 young kids sitting next to me were clearly only familiar with the last 2 records.  I know they were young because they didn’t have wristbands for purchasing alcohol.  They knew the words to songs from Foiled and Approaching Normal and almost seemed confused when songs from earlier records were played.  I have no issues with young and/or recent fans (I have only been a follower since 2006 so I fall into the latter category myself) but could you at least make an effort to get to know the history of the band?

This is the end of a long tour for them (just two shows remain) so maybe they were getting a little burned out.  Hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to see them somewhere in the Southwest this winter, maybe in their native state of Texas, after they’ve had some time off.  We did have two great meals in Milwaukee and a beautiful drive home on a gorgeous fall day, so it was still a great trip.  We are now starting a nearly 3 week stretch at home, the longest we’ve had since the beginning of June.  So my posts may become a little less frequent, as I won’t have travel or races to use for material.

But I’m sure I’ll still find things to write about.  I seem to have an opinion on just about everything.

It’s tough getting anything usable with a point and shoot in a dark bar.