Monday, December 30, 2013

Foray into Sausage

For Christmas I got the meat grinder and sausage stuffing attachments for my Kitchen Aid mixer (I love that mixer). Before you go and say that is a horrible gift, I actually asked for them due to the sausage making class I took earlier in the year at Sur la Table. Also making sausage is not that hard if you have mechanical help.  I would not be making sausage if I had to use a hand grinder, because that would be too much like work. 

Meat grinder attachment grinding up the pork

So today I made my first batch of sausage. I made one pound of sage breakfast sausage.  The recipe called for pork butt (I used pork stew meat), fat back (I got rid of that since the stew meat had plenty of fat), sage, parsley, black pepper, thyme and salt. I also added some garlic and some cayenne pepper it to give it some kick.  I cut the meat up into 1 -2 inch cubes mixed the meat and the spices together then ran it through the grinder twice, the first time through the course the second time through the fine.  I then took some and made a small pattie to cook so my husband and I could taste it.  It is rather tasty but I’ll probably refine the recipe a bit for the next batch.  I then took the meat and sandwiched it between two pieces of wax paper and rolled it out to get a uniform thickness then used a large glass to cut patties. That is the simplest way to make sausage patties. I got 18 patties that are about 3 inches in diameter about ¼ inch thick which are now in the freezer.  The whole process took a bit over an hour from start to finish. 

Sausage patties ready for the freezer

The next thing I’ll be making is sausage in a casing. The hard part of that one is going to be finding sausage casings they just don't sell them around here.  I already have a recipe for Italian Sausage what I need to find is a recipe for Kielbasa.  Sadly neither my great grandfather (who was a butcher) nor my grandparents wrote down their kielbasa recipe it was all done by taste.  Thus I will have to find a recipe for a base and go from there. 

I may not make sausage everyday,  but I think I'll make it for special occasions like holidays. However, I'll have to work on perfecting my recipes till then. I just need to find willing volunteers to taste and eat my sausage creations. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas thoughts

My Grandparent the foundation of many of our family Christmas traditions.
The Holidays a time to gather with family and friends and be filled with Holiday cheer. So as I do my final preparations for Christmas, I realized nobody I know ever has a Norman Rockwell painting type Christmas, they are more like the Griswold family Christmas, without cousin Eddy.  Everyone has their family traditions, and quirks but those are what make the holidays special.   Family traditions are steeped in history, and can come from the old country, can be passed down from generation to generation or just ingrained into your psyche as the only proper way to do things because “they have always been done that way” thus shape your view of the world. The traditions are what makes things feel like home or the occasion is complete.  So as we gather with family we should all take a step back and reminisce about the good times, and realize people grow up/old, traditions morph as the family changes and grows but never forget were we came from or how we got to where we are.  We should also not fear change as things aren't frozen in time and will never be perfect no matter how hard we try.  Just remember it is not perfection that makes the holidays special, it is the imperfections that make it special. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Movies

I looked at the TODAY show’s Christmas Movie bracket and have to disagree with the selection of the best Christmas movie of all time. I’m sorry the best Christmas movie of all time is not “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I know it is a well-loved Christmas classic, and people adore it, but it just not the best. I would of preferred to see a “Bishop’s Wife” with Carry Grant with that has many of the same themes, but it couldn’t of one because it wasn’t even on the bracket.  I also believe their bracket was flawed since they were missing numerous Christmas movies.  They were missing many of the great classics such as:

Then they could have had a whole side of the bracket dedicated to the different versions of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” from 1948 to the one with Patrick Stewart version.  No instead they filled the bracket with some very lousy movies that many people don’t consider classics.  I don’t think of “Home Alone” as classic or the movie “The Elf.”   Also I’m unsure how, “Home Alone” beat out the holiday classic “White Christmas”, how does a kid beat out the classic styling’s of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.  
Maybe I’m old fashioned (I’m in my mid 30’s) or maybe I was just brought up with a different version of classic Christmas movies. But I really think there should be a redo.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holidays at the Botanical Gardens

Capital Building at Botanic Gardens' Holiday Display
Every year the National Botanical Gardens put on a holiday display made of all natural/organic materials. In the main area they have scale models of important Washington DC landmarks including the Capital building, the White House and the Washington Monument all surrounded by poinsettias.  Then they set up a model train display in one of the wings of the building. This year’s theme was the “World’s Fair” which showcased the many of the architectural achievements from each of the fairs such as the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle.  My husband and I went to see the display last Sunday when it was snowing in DC. Actually one of the best times to go to some of the museums and exhibits is when it is snowing since locals don’t go out in the snow and the city seams almost deserted.  As little as an inch of snow seems to throw people around here into a panic. I'm from the north, so snow doesn't bother me, plus we have the metro here so it is even better no driving. 


I photographed some of the exhibit. (Botanic Garden Gallery)  It was a bit challenging due to the lighting. It was not exactly dim but the lights used through off metering. I ended up using an ISO around 800 to 1600 to compensate for the low light conditions but I was unable to really capture the trains how I would have liked. The nonmoving items came out ok. I also realized shooting at a high ISO isn’t that bad grain wise, especially since I don’t plan on blowing any of these photos up to poster size.  So they are perfect for the internet, basic photo sizes and card.   This showed me I don’t need to be afraid of high ISO values in the digital world. 
Botanic Gardens' Holiday Display

Holiday Party

Our little Christmas Tree
On Saturday we hosted our annual holiday party. While this is a small party in size it still does not diminish
the amount of work one must put into the preparations, since I do the cooking.  None of that catering for use everything is homemade from the ham to the cookies, except the chips (I have to draw the line somewhere).  This year we made ham soaked in orange rum (it was one drunken pig) with cloves and dried Valencia orange peel.  I also made Swedish meatballs with ground beef and pork sausage for the sauce I use the McCormick seasoning package in conjunction with the scratch recipe it makes for a more flavorful dish.   In addition to the two main dishes we had the traditional vegetable tray with ranch dip, a summer sausage with cheese tray which included a goat cheese wrapped in cranberries, pita chips, warm artichoke dip and cheese puff biscuits. I was surprised at the flavor and texture of the goat cheese, which was similar to a cheesecake texture and the tanginess, went well with the cranberries.  For deserts we had snowberries (white chocolate chip & cranberry cookies), traditional sugar cookies, orange rolls (like cinnamon rolls but with orange) and nut roll.   And of course drinks which I’ll discuss later.

I made most of the stuff the day of, and realized when I actually get a house I want a double oven, even if I don’t use it that often.  I also wished I had an industrial dish washer that can do dished in 5 minutes, because I did dishes around 5 times that day, while following the adage,
“clean as you go”.  Three other use full items where the disposable aluminum roaster for the ham (clean-up is so much easier), the crock pot liners (again clean-up is a snap), and finally the lowly mechanical mini scoop (it holds a little less than a tablespoon of water).  The little kitchen hand tool made dishing out cookie dough, biscuit dough and forming meatballs so much easier, provided a uniform size and sped up the process.  I love that thing.  Oh and the other thing that made my life easier is my large wooden kitchen board that I can place over the sink to increase counter space. I so need a bigger kitchen.

The little scoop

Now on to the that on thing that can make or break a party sometimes, the drinks.  This year we had several varieties of Scotch out from the not peaty to the very peaty. We also put out the special Scotch glasses, called the Glencairn glass, which is supposed to enhance the flavor of the Scotch. (Watch this video if you’re curious about the glass.) We also had Prosecco out, chardonnay, gin and elderflower liquor.  We actually mixed the elderflower liquor with the Prosecco (suggested on the liquor) to make a cocktail, then moved on to mixing the liquor with gin and tonic, both were good combinations. So everyone was in the holiday spirit so to speak.


Overall the party was a success. People liked the video of the  Yule log burning in the fireplace on the TV, it added to the Holiday Spirit. Overall people enjoyed themselves and I had very few leftovers.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Sonoran Desert

Desert Sunset
I am little late posting this synopsis of my most recent pictures sine I have been busy. I spent November 4 – 16 out in Tucson, AZ for work.   Thankfully I did not have to work the weekend and was able to get out and enjoy the desert and get some nice pictures.  I always take my camera on two week work trips since we usually get the weekend to ourselves.    Now some people like the desert and find it fascinating, but I find it doesn’t fascinate me. Thus I struggled a bit trying to get creative shots that didn’t seem repetitive.  





Seven Falls Pool
On Saturday I did an eight mile (round trip) hike in BearCanyon to see Seven Falls.  Most of the hike was pretty flat, a bit rocky and sandwiched between the canyon walls.  It was about the last mile to the falls were the trail started to go up the side of the canyon wall to the falls.  When I got out to the falls, it was more like the seven trickles.  I’m sure you’re thinking that is what you get for trying to see a waterfall in the desert, but I was assured there was water there. However the people that assured me there was water did not specify how much water.   I did get some nice pictures of the rock striations and formations.   Later in the day I headed up to Saguaro National Park to captures some sunset pictures.  According to the park ranger the best place to capture sunset photos was the interpretive nature trail which is a half mile loop, the ranger was right.   I was also glad I had my graduated neutral density filter, it made meter easier.  My suggestion is if you’re photographing in the desert make sure you have some type of neutral density filter.


Petroglyphs
On Sunday I head back up to Saguaro National Park, to see the petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings).  The petroglyphs were on rocks at the top of a rock hill.  Walking on the path that takes you up the hill you see a sing that states “Warning, entering rattlesnake territory.” This made me a little apprehensive about traveling on the path up the hill; thankfully there were no snakes out.    Then I stopped at the Sonoran Desert Museum.   After that little adventure I called it a day and just relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the weekend.    

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Anniversary Weekend

This past weekend my husband and I celebrated our 1st Anniversary. We celebrated by going down to a little bed and breakfast in Vesuvius, VA.  Which is in the county of Rockbridge (not Rock Ridge) but there was a railroad slated to go through Rockbridge but was never completed.  We stayed at SugarTree Inn, in their small cabin. The cabin itself was nice and spacious and had a Jacuzzi tub and large stall shower. (I’m so installing a Jacuzzi tub when I get a house.) The inn was in a pretty secluded spot on very curvy windy mountain road that would probably be fun on a motorcycle or a high end sports car.  Now the driveway, which seemed like a mini road, was ‘fun’, it had a steep incline and some very tight curves.   However the down side of the location was there was very little to no cell reception thus really no internet. Also I have had better breakfasts at Hampton Inns. The breakfasts were on the boring side basically eggs, grits, ham and baked oatmeal every day and only served for one hour in the morning. The other bed and breakfasts I have been too offered a better variety of food and a longer breakfast time.  While place was nice, I don’t think we’ll go back to that particular bed and breakfast.

Monticello (rear)
Over the weekend we stopped at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home.  Jefferson’s home is interesting but is smaller than Mount Vernon.  You could take pictures of the grounds but not inside the house itself.  Overall I would say it is nice but is a bit overpriced for the depth of the tour and what you actually get to see of the house. 






One of several waterfalls
Now since the government was closed, it meant the National Parks were closed. This changed our vacation plans, since we wanted to drive and hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Thankfully we did find a few things open in the area. We did a hike at Crabtree falls.  The hike was a 1.7 mile hike up the mountain with several little waterfalls dotting the trail.  The trail had several switch backs, I would consider it a moderate hike. The trail was an up and back trail so it was a total of 3.4 miles round trip. There was a beautiful view of the valley when you got to the top.  

We then went to see the Natural Bridge, which honestly should not cost 20 dollars per person to go see. I realize the admission
included the butterfly garden, Indian village and wax museum. But most of the stuff was not well maintained or and was kind of pitiful.  It defiantly fell under the category tourist trap.  




The next day we went to Cyrus McCormick Farm and the fall festival (it was free). The farm is a historical farm, and was the birth place of Cyrus McCormick which invented the first mechanical grain reaper.   We walked around that for a little bit then went into the town of Lexington, VA to wander around. In Lexington we stopped at a small private war memorabilia museum. It was owned and operated by a nice little old lady. It was a pretty extensive collection of items, which were collected by her husband.  She gave a very nice 45 minute tour.  After that we headed up to Rockbridge Winery for their fall festival and tasting. It wasn’t much of a festival but we did get to taste all their wine. I was surprised Jim actually tasted some wines and liked a couple of them.  That was the last thing we did on our weekend getaway.

Cyrus McCormick Farm
Overall it was a nice weekend, just wish we could have enjoyed the National Park. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Anniversary Dinner

My husband and I went to i Ricchi last night to celebrate our one year anniversary.  We had a living social deal for i Ricchi which gave us three course meal for two (2 appetizers, 2 main courses, and 2 deserts) which includes a glass of prosecco and a glass of wine.  My husband had the calamari for his appetizer and I had brochette for my appetizer, both were very good and the prosecco was nice and slightly sweet.   For our main course my husband had the brick roasted chicken and I had the pan roasted sea scallops, both were excellent. The chicken was roasted with skin on and was moist and juicy without being greasy; the sea scallops were perfectly cooked and firm and had a nice meaty taste.  For desert my husband had the chocolate pear tart and I had the raspberry gelato torte (like an ice-cream layer cake); what was extra special the restaurant placed little sugar happy anniversary signs and a candle on each desert (I noted in the reservation though Open Table it was our anniversary).


It was a nice evening and we defiantly would go back to the restaurant. The staff was nice and anticipated our need without being intrusive.  Also between each course they cleaned the crumbs from the table and replaced the burning candle any time it got past two-thirds melted. We went through three candles.   The place also had a nice atmosphere and while small it did not feel tiny or crowded.  

Breakfast at the Zoo

The male panda
My husband and I went to “Breakfast at the Zoo” which is only open to FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) and Smithsonian Associates members. I happen to be members of both.  The zoo is opened at 8:00 AM for this event for those who purchased tickets to the event, and they also offer special programs and children’s activities along with a very large and nice hot breakfast buffet.

This year I got VIP access tickets which gave us seating in the pavilion (general admission has seating on the lawn and the few tables set up) and access to the VIP buffet and if we had a child with us they would have gotten a gift bag. (I honestly think adults should get gift bags too or at least the person who purchased the tickets.)  The buffet this year had pastries, fresh fruit (I learned I don’t like star fruit), scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, sausage and a hash browns.  It also included your standard breakfast beverages including mimosas for the adults.  Plus, since this was the VIP buffet they had an omelet station, so you could have fresh omelets.  Overall the breakfast was very good.

The Caracal
They had variety of special keeper talks, animal feeding and animal enrichment events.  My husband didn't want to go see the sea lion release.  Instead we went to see the small-clawed otter enrichment (which was feeding them by hiding food in their yard). The little otters are all named after food except poor Kevin.  The otters ran out into the yard and started looking for their food and doing fun otter antics.  Since the zoo was only open to zoo members at that time we got to enjoy many of the exhibits including the pandas without huge crowds.  We also finally found were the zoo was hiding the caracal which is a cute cat.   

This was a good way to start off our day. We actually drove to the zoo instead of taking the metro, since they were doing major track work. The drive to the zoo wasn't too bad and we found parking easily enough, and it was free since we are FONZ members.  I like breakfast at the zoo it is a fun time, maybe one year we’ll take our niece and nephew they would probably have fun. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon
Yesterday I went to Mount Vernon with my brother and his girlfriend.  It was a beautiful sunny day and they were holding a Colonial Fair on the grounds.  There were several vendors showing traditional handmade crafts and several re-actors roaming the grounds.  We also watched the changing of the guards at George Washington’s tomb, which is done by re-actors.  I got several nice shots of the re-actors, however pictures are not allowed within the mansion.  I shot most of the using an ISO 200 on aperture priority. 

You can see all the photos from the day here

Monday, September 2, 2013

Day at Fort Washington

Living History Live Fire Demonstration
Yesterday my husband and I went to Fort Washington National Park, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.   The original fort was built in the early 18th century and was part of the overall defense of the area, but was burnt down during the War of 1812.  A new fort was built to protect Washington DC and the east coast after the War of 1812, which is the fort seen today. The fort was used in one form or another from 1872 through its deactivation in 1946 when it was turned over to the National Park system for preservation. This is a very well persevered historical structure and you can see they may upgrades the fort went through during its service life. Plus they do live fire demonstrations once a month in the spring and summer.


Old Drawbridge Wheel

I like this park, and the fort itself provides several unique photo opportunities, one just has to be willing to explore interesting vantage points.  Though some of the structures I would have liked to explore further were fenced off to prevent access.   I got some very nice shots.  I plan on coming back in the fall once the leaves start to change, it should look very pretty. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rubber Ducky Re-Do

Rubber Duck in Balloon
Never start a conversation with your husband with the sentence, “Tomorrow can you please lube up some rubber ducks for me and put them in balloons?” He will give you a very strange look then ask why. To which my response was, “so I can fill the balloons with water then drop them in the bathtub and take pictures of the resulting splash.”  

Initial Burst (no rubber duck)
I took my lesson learned from the last I did the rubber duck drop photos and improved upon it. This time placed a splash screen in the bathroom to collect and drain the water back into the bathtub.  The splash screen was a clear shower curtain hung slightly below the camera and a couple inches out from the bathtub with the bottom of the shower curtain in the bathtub.  This work very well. There was no big mess in the bathroom and I did not have to wear a bathing suit since it contained all the water. 

For this shoot the camera was mounted on a tripod looking down onto the drop zone. The camera was set at ISO 200, f11 and a shutter speed between 1/650s – 1/1000s and had a flash mounted on it.  I also used a shutter release.  I was going to use a flash mounted under the drop zone to light the water from bellow. 

However, I cannot seem to get the trigger trap app to trigger the flash; I might need the new version for it to work properly.  Thus I have a potential future project. 

I got some decent results from this set up. Of course it needs to be refined further but for the equipment and space I have I feel I’m getting some interesting and decent photos. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Water Balloons, Rubber Ducks and Lubricant

The set up
What does one do with water balloons, rubber ducks and lubricant? In my case you attempt to make photographic art.  I set up Plexiglas table in my bathtub (the bathroom works great when you don’t have a studio) and dropped water balloons onto it.  The rig consisted of two tripod stands, wood platforms, a piece of Plexiglas attached between the two, tin foil to act as a reflector and white back drop taped to the wall.  To guarantee the balloons would break a thumb tack was taped to the Plexiglas. The camera was pre-focused and set to use burst mode. I used an f/7.5 aperture, 1/650s shutter, and an ISO of 800 with an external flash. I tried using a timer but that didn't work well, the best  results I got were utilizing a shutter release. I hit and held the shutter when I released the balloon and released once the balloon hit.  I got some “ok” shots but I need to refine the setup further.  I used water balloons with and without colored water and also added rubber ducks to the inside of the balloons to make the composition interesting. Note to get the rubber ducks into the balloons you need to make sure they are well lubricated.

Lessons learned:
1.  This makes a very large mess in the bathroom.
Waiting water balloons
2. Find rubber ducks that float right side up.
3. Wear a bathing suit.
4. Use eyedroppers to get food coloring into the balloons.
5. Use a faster shutter speed.
6. Possibly make a splash shield to contain the water.

The result


Friday, August 2, 2013

New and Improved!

On Tuesday, July 30, 2013 SmugMug change the underlying code that supports the site. This change included an updated interface, look and feel to all the webpages they support. The change updated the site pages to make them look sleeker and modern similar to what Flicker and 500px did, but way better. (I really blame Apple for this sleek and modern look everyone is going too.) Thankfully they just didn’t do a mass change overnight to everyone’s photo site but gave people time to get used to the changes and update their sites accordingly. 


Since Wednesday I have been working with the new interface and bring my site up to date to make it look sleek and modern. It has the same basic feel as the old site it just looks new and shiny.  Today was big unveil day for my site.  It still may need some minor tweaks but it looks good and does what I want for the most part.  So please take a look at the new site (same web address http://munchkinphotos.smugmug.com/) and let me know what you think and provide me any comments.  Enjoy the new site. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lightning Luck

To shoot lightning you either have to have a whole lot of it or extremely lucky. Last night we had a fair amount of lightning (no thunder) and I must have had luck on my side because I got a decent number of shots.   I shot approximately 95 frames and got 16 good shots, while this isn't a great ratio for normal shots, for lightning it is pretty good. 


I was shooting out my window with a Canon T4i with an 18 – 200mm lens mounted on a gorilla pod. The camera was set at an ISO 200 and I alternated between an aperture of f/9 and f/11 with a shutter speed between 5 – 15 seconds. It appeared that the sweet spot was f/9 at 6 seconds.  However there was still a lot of luck involved capturing lightning bolts. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunflowers

Every year there are several sunflower fields planted at McKee-Besher Wildlife Management Area, in Poolesville, MD. The reached peak bloom on July 13 and should be at peak for the next two weeks.  So every year photographers and everyone else travels to the area to see around 48 acres of sunflowers.  Since I have been hearing about these field for the past couple years, I decided it was time to go and see them for myself.   So I got up around 6:30 AM to make the hour drive over to Maryland to see the sunflowers.

It was pretty easy to find the first set of fields because the parking lot was full, and there were lots of people loading and unloading camera, tri-pods and ladders. They use the ladders to be able to shoot down onto the fields, though the sunflowers are only about 3 – 5 feet tall depending on the field. I passed up this first area and headed further down River Road to Sycamore Landing Road where the other field was located.  I parked at the parking area then walked down the road to the field. I’m very glad I had the super strong bug spray (99% DEET) and my hiking boots because there were a lot of bugs and it was very muddy.  The sunflowers in this area were around 3 – 4 feet tall. There were also several bumble bees, which basically ignored me.   When I was done in this area I drove back to the first parking area, which cleared out, along River Road to do a little shooting there.

For this photo shoot I used both my 18 – 200 mm lens, 60mm macro lens and a graduated neutral density filter with me.  I did also pack tri-pod and ladder both of which I did not use.  The neutral density filter worked great on the sky.  I could meter off the sunflowers without blowing out the sky, thus keeping it nice and blue.  I was shooting at an ISO 200, with an f8 –f16, and a shutter speed around 1/150s depending on the light.  I ended up 71 shots that I liked.  Overall it was a very productive morning.   You can see the photos here McKee-Besher Sunflower Gallery.

As a side-note I would love to shoot in the area again, but with a model dressed in Civil War era sundress or maybe something more creative.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wildlife Photo Contest

I entered the National Wildlife Federation photo contest.  I chose to enter seven of what I consider my best photos that fit the theme, two of which were actual wildlife, two zoo animals and three are landscapes.  However I never  have high hopes when I enter photo contests because I never seem to win, but I keep trying.  Now with some of the contests I’m not surprised by the winners, but sometimes I wonder what the judges are thinking.  But photography is an art, and everyone’s tastes differ.


So if you have a chance please go and vote for my photos on the National Wildlife Federation contest site.  Thanks. I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was a pretty normal day for me, even though I live in our Nation’s Capital.  After you have lived here a few years it starts becoming a bit mundane and you start to get tired of fighting the tourists out on the National Mall.   This year my husband and I went over to a friend of ours for a backyard barbecue in the early afternoon.  It was nice, and we left around 5 o’clock to make it back into the city, so I could watch the fireworks.  Surprisingly, there was hardly any traffic.  The one thing that I do like about living here is watching the fireworks on the Fourth.

Viewing Angel from Air Force Memorial
I originally planned to go into DC proper to watch fireworks from the National Mall or over to Rosslyn to watch them from the Marine Corps Monument, but metro put a crimp in my plans.  The DC metro system was only going to run till its normal weekday time of midnight. While they would be running rush hour service from 6:00 to 10:30 for the festivities on the Mall, the trains would be utterly packed. I was hoping they would run there weekend schedule, run till 3:00 AM, thus providing more options. They can clear the Mall in usually less than 2 hours after the fireworks have ended.  However, I just did not feel up to jostling for a space on a very crowded metro strain, especially since all the trains I would be taking from either location would already have picked up people leaving the Mall.  So I went to my usual viewing location, by the Air Force Memorial.  This location does have a nice view and I got to hear the Air Force Band play before the fireworks. Also this location is in easy walking distance so I don’t have to deal with the herds of people trying to get on the metro. From this vantage point you are looking at the National Mall from an angle (see map) so you really can’t get any monuments in the picture if you are photographing the firework. (Note: The fireworks are shot from a platform that is spread across the reflecting pool between Lincoln and WWII Memorials.) Due to sequestration the fireworks show was not as long and was not as extravagant as it usually is, but it was still nice.

View of Fireworks from Air Force Memorial
I shot about 125 frames, but only kept 18 frames. The reason for culling so many was two-fold. First I accidentally turned off image stabilization, which added blur to the shots, when I switched to manual focus.  Second, I was just not happy with the overall composition and exposure of many of the shots.  If you are wondering why I switched to manual focus, it was to lock the focus.  In Auto Focus mode in low light the camera sometimes has a hard time focusing quick enough, so it won’t take the shot or will focus on the wrong thing. Usually I get around this by having the Washington Monument in the background, for the camera to focus on, but in this instance I could not get the monument in the shot due to the viewing angle.  It is also hard determine the proper exposure for fireworks, especially if you want some of the background to show up without blowing out the night sky.  I was shooting at on a tripod with a trigger at F/11, for .3 – 2.0 seconds at ISO 200 to reduce noise and get a long depth of field.   This worked well for most of the shots dependent upon how many fireworks had just gone off.   Fireworks for me are work in progress, and each year is a little better. Though I do believe next year I will have to either brave the National Mall or go to Rosslyn to get the traditional shots of DC fireworks that everyone always sees. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Folklife Festival

Example of Hungarian Woodwork
Every year right around the 4th of July the Smithsonian hosts the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall for two weeks. Each year they pick three different topics based on a nation, region, state or theme. The event is free to the public and host seminars, cooking demonstrations, music, food and other activities.  In previous years I learned how to dress a camel, make instruments from gourds, how the National Forest Service fights forest fires and how NASA made it to space.   This year focused on Hungarian heritage, endangered language and cultural heritage and the African American diversity, style and identity.   I went for the Hungarian heritage part of the festival since I’m part Hungarian.

Traditional Headdresses
While I have been to Hungary, Budapest to be specific, this festival was focused more on the traditions and cultural aspects Hungary.  I am still impressed with their woodworking skills; they use very few modern tools. They had a couple of little old women demonstrating traditional weaving and embroidery techniques as well as discussing  traditional patterns and dress. Their embroidery is impressive, which is usually of the flowers of the pepper plant used to make Paprika.   The flowers decorate everything, and the dress involves many colors mostly blacks and bold reds (which are two of my favorite colors).  

The two interesting tidbits I learned today are the Puli (the dog breed with dreads) originally hails from Hungary and Ohio has the greatest concentration of Hungarians.
Hungarian in the US


Monday, July 1, 2013

Photos Editing from Vaction

Grand Teton Mountain Range

I have completed editing my photos from my Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Vacation.  (You can see them on my SmugMug sight under vacation – Yellowstone) After reviewing and editing the little over 1000 photos from the trip I ended up with a little over 500 good photos which I posted.  Usually I divide my photos by city or landmark; however I did not have that option on this trip. Thus the photos were divided by Yellowstone geyser basin, Yellowstone landscapes, Grand Teton, wildlife, and Jackson Hole.  A few of the pictures in Jackson Hole are from my mom’s video camera; they look like they were painted.   At this point I’m waiting to receive the pictures my mom took with her camera.  Once I receive those I’ll add select ones  reduce any repeats. 

Based on the quality of the pictures I took, I like my Cannon Rebel T4i. It works well and appears to have decent low light capabilities. However I’m not as impressed with the Tamron 28 - 300mm lens. While it is a good lens, it does not appear to produce crisp pictures throughout its spectrum the sweat spot appears to be in the 100mm to 150mm range.  I prefer my Cannon 18 – 200mm lens.  When I go back to Yellowstone I believe I’ll take a lens in the 18 – 75mm range with me along with a 100 – 400mm lens so I can truly capture the dramatic landscapes and the wildlife. I might even consider a fisheye.

The only thing I have to do now is edit the video that was shot.  That will take a couple days. 

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vacation Closing Thoughts

We left the bed and breakfast at 0430 AM this morning to head to the airport to catch our flights home. The flight home was horrible. The flight from Jackson, WY to Salt Lake City, UT was fine; however the flight from Salt Lake City, UT to Washington, DC was awful. We were delayed 30 minutes, then when we were about 45 minutes out we had to circle for an hour due to a storm at Reagan, at which point we had to divert to Richmond, VA to get gas. We were on the ground at Richmond International for about an hour then flew tower to tower to Reagan National which meant we had to stay at 10,000 feet thus the flight was very bumpy. We finally landed about 3 hours after we were supposed to. Discounting the flights, it was a good vacation and I enjoyed spending some girl time with my mom.

The Alpine House, was the bed and breakfast we stayed at in Jackson, WY. It was a very nice bed and breakfast. The rooms were very clean, the beds were comfy and the staff was friendly. The only minor complaint I might have is they needed to start serving breakfast earlier then 0730 in the morning for those headed out to the National Parks.  However the breakfasts were excellent I personally liked the asparagus and eggs (I know it sounds strange but it good) and mom liked the peaches and cream French toast.  I would stay there again if I was a skier or just exploring the Grand Tetons.

I loved Yellowstone and am defiantly planning on going back.  However next time I plan on staying inside the park. The drive to Yellowstone from Jackson, WY was an hour and half each day and that was just to get to the park not to get to any of the main visitor centers.  On this trip we were only able to explore the lower loop, which is where most of the geysers are located. Although many of the animals only are in this area in the winter, since it is warm, they migrate up to the upper loop and the Lamar Valley which we did not have time to explore.  When I go back I also plan on spending longer than a couple days in Yellowstone, I think more like 5 to 8 eight days inside the park itself would be good.

The Grand Tetons were nice; it is a place for mountain climbers and avid hikers. The trails in the Tetons were more rugged and there was a lot of up and down.  The diversity of habits was impressive from wetlands to grasslands to of course mountain regions. I enjoyed this park, but enjoyed Yellowstone more.

Overall, I think it would be better to go in early fall or early spring to the parks, because the wildlife is more active.  The more active the wildlife the higher the chances of you have of spotting it.  While, I did see buffalo, mule deer, ground squirrels, marmot, pronghorn, chubby chipmunks and a beaver the moose, mountain goats and bear (bear bell & repellent must have worked) were elusive.  Although I believe I did get some good pictures of it, I still have to go through little over 1000 frames to be sure. 

In conclusion,  this was very good vacation that got me away from civilization for a bit (no cell service in most areas) and let me commune with nature.  Now I get to review and edit a little over a 1000 pictures, to determine which ones make the cut.


I will see a moose next time.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Last Day of Yellowstone & Teton Vacation


Prong Horns (from video camera)
For our last day in Jackson, WY we attempted to find moose one last time. We had breakfast and head back into Grand Teton National Park through the back entrance towards the moose habitat.  Sadly there were no moose in the area. However as we drove further into the park we were lucky enough to see some prong horns and actually get pictures of them.  Usually prong horns are very hard to photograph because they are skittish and can run up to 70 mph.  We also saw more mule deer before leaving the park.   

After we left the park we stopped at the Wildlife Art Museum. The museum was nice, from the outside it looks like a stone fort built into the side of the mountain. Inside the museum was quite spacious and the art was nice. I liked the two large mountain lion sculptures.  From there we headed to our last event of the day horseback riding.
Horseback Riding (from video camera)
We went for an hour trail ride along the Snake River and a bit up the mountain. It would have been a better ride if the others of the party were more honest about their skills. The little girl was ok and enjoyed herself, however the little boy who was a 5th grader, was not that great.  I think the little boy was scared of horses, and he complained the whole ride. He kept saying he wanted to go back, and this was scary.  I think his mom should have left the boy with the dad who stayed behind. At least the trail guide was good and handled the kids well.  The trail ride ended and we headed back to the bed and breakfast to pack for the flight home. 
Overall the trip was good. The parks were beautiful and I would definitely go back, but stay inside the park next time.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Grand Teton - Still No Moose

We headed back into the Grand Teton today, on the quest for moose. We went in the back gate, since that entrance road has the highest probability of moose sightings.  I asked the ranger at the booth if there were any moose sightings, and he told me there was a “moose jam” six miles down the road earlier in the morning.  Sadly we did not get to see the moose jam, or any moose for that matter.   We continued up to Hermitage Point on Jackson Lake.  On the way up to Jackson Lake we stopped at a few overlooks and turnouts, were we were lucky and saw mule deer and prong horns.  The prong horns were too quick for us to get a picture.  Once up we made up to the Hermitage Point Trail head we did two small 1 mile loops near the edge of the lake.  We did not see any wildlife on the hikes.  Afterwards we ate at the restaurant at Colter Bay.

After lunch we headed back down the mountain and on the way we up Signal Mountain Summit Road.  It was a long and winding drive up a very narrow road. Once we made it to the top, it was a gorgeous view across the valley. We also had excellent cell service at the top since there was a cell tower located right there.  We then continued on down and stopped at the Bradley and Taggart Lakes trail head. There we did the 4 mile loop that takes you up to Taggart Lake.  The trail was a moderate hike which was rocky and with a few steep climbs.  After that hike we headed back into town, on the way back we saw a beaver but no moose.
Thursday is our last day in Jackson. We will attempt to see a moose one last time and will be going horseback riding.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grand Teton – Jenny Lake

Today was devoted to Grand Teton National Park.  We started our adventure at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, which is a very nice visitor center, to get hiking maps and find out where the moose hangout. (Mom really wants to see a moose.) The Ranger was nice and circled the areas on the map were moose are usually sited and said he would text them shortly to make sure they were out.  Unfortunately we did not see any moose today.


Hidden Falls (taken with point and shoot)
Our first hike was at Jenny Lake.  We took the shuttle boat across the lake, instead of doing the 2.5 mile hike to get half way around the lake.  From the shuttle boat drop off point we did the 1 mile hike up to Inspiration Point which passes by Hidden Falls.  The hike to the falls was moderate hike; however the hike up to Inspiration Point was a steep half mile climb up 400 feet with multiple switchbacks and a narrow trail. I ended up hugging the mountain on the last bit of the trail because it was a very rocky, steep, narrow path with a steep drop off.  However it was worth it, at an elevation of 7200 ft. the view was across the lake was breath taking.  At the top we stopped to eat some granola bars and take pictures of the very brave inquisitive chubby chipmunks. The chipmunks would run across people’s feet, and come right up to people and stare at them hoping for crumbs.  I helped a nice group with their camera and chatted with them a bit.  After that we started back down but not the way we came up, we took the horse trail, which is a much easier trail and decent.  The group I helped with the camera met up with us, since I had a map and followed us back to the boat dock.  On the path down we saw a woodpecker and some animal I could not identify.  Once to the boat dock it was back across the lake and on to find a place to eat.
We ended up traveling up to Signal Mountain Lodge to eat. We had a hot lunch at their restaurant, in Yellowstone we were eating cold lunches served cafeteria style. The price was about the same and the food was good.  From there we decided to head back down the road to Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, another prime location for moose.
The road to the preserve is very narrow, and past the preserve turns into a dirt road. We did a the short 2 mile loop instead of doing the full loop out to Phelps lake because it looked like a storm was going to roll in.  It would be just our luck we would get out to the lake which is 3 miles out and it would start pouring and we would have to walk the 3 miles back in the rain.  The short loop was nice, part was along a small river and part was a wooded path. Sadly we did not see any moose on our journey.  Once we finished the hike we followed Moose-Wilson Road, part of which is a dirt road out of the park to Teton Village. Teton Village is mostly just for hotels and access to skiing in the winter.  We then continued on back to Jackson.
Since we got back at a reasonable time today, we ate at the Bunnery in Jackson and then got ice cream from Moo’s.  We also walked around the town a bit then headed back to bed and breakfast. We got back just before a storm rolled through and were treated to a full rainbow.  It was good end to the day.
Wednesday we will head back to Grand Teton in search of moose.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Yellowstone – The Canyon



Lower Falls (taken with cell phone)
Today we traveled the full lower loop. Our first stop was midway geyser basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. We then proceeded up to Canyon Village, on the way we stopped at Gibbon Falls. We stopped in the Canyon visitor center so Mom could get her stamp and then went over to the cafeteria to get some lunch.   We drove the upper falls loop, and stopped at the first lookout point.  The path at the lookout takes you 600 feet down lower falls ridge; we walked about half-way down the path.  The path was rather steep and had several switch backs.  After that we went to the Grand View point, this point looks out over the Yellowstone Canyon and the river below. The canyon is a very light yellow color and the way the light played off the canyon walls made it breath taking. A picture just does not do this view justice.  We finished the loop road then headed down to the upper falls view point. We decided against walking down the 300 hundred steps to get us to the bottom of the upper falls, the view from the top was nice. Then we traveled further down the road to Artist Point. Artist Point looks out at the lower falls and the canyon. This is a beautiful overlook which lets you see the depth and colors of the canyon and the falls flow into it.  Again I don’t think the pictures I took will to the place justice.  From there we travelled further around the loop and stopped to look at a bison and then at Mud Volcano.  We were planning on eating in the park at West Thumb; however there was an accident which forced them to close the road for an hour. So we traveled back up to Yellowstone Lake and ate there. Dinner was ok but lunch was better.  An hour later we continued around the loop back to the start to head home.
Thus far we have seen a squirrel, mule deer, a chipmunk, an osprey, and bison and have taken a little over 700 pictures.
On Tuesday we will tour the Tetons starting with the Jenny Lake area.

Yellowstone – Old Faithful


Today was a very long day. We were up around 0600 because we are still on East Cost time. We had asparaguses and scrambled eggs, it was surprisingly good.  Then we headed out.  It is about an hour and half drive to the Yellowstone south gate, then another 45 minutes to an hour the Old Faithful area. As we were waiting to go through the gate, there was a squirrel sitting strait up on a rock, all he needed was a little sign saying “welcome”.  As we drove into the park the next animal we saw was a pair of mule deer. At first I only got butt shots, but then they turned around, so I got a face.  Then we continued our journey to the Old Faithful visitor center.

Old Faithful from the back (point & shoot)
Our first stop in the Old Faithful area was the store to pick up some water then we made our way over to the visitor center. As we were coming up the main walk, Old Faithful just started to erupt.   We watched Old Faithful erupt then made our way over to the visitor center to pick up maps and for Mom to stamp her park passport. The visitor center is very nice and modern looking yet fits in with the lodge and other building which are more rustic.  For our first walk we did the geyser hill loop, the loop took about just enough time for us to see Old Faithful erupt another time before we walked over to the cafeteria for lunch. Lunch was reasonably priced and pretty good.  After lunch we did the lower section of geysers near Old Faithful. Both walks were both nice, I think we walked about 5 miles in the area.  Once we finished there we drove to Biscuit Basin and did that short half mile loop. Then we went further up to see the mud pots and did that half mile loop, on the way we saw a bison. We tried to get into the middle geyser basin area but there was not parking to be found.  By that time it was already 1700, so time to head back to Jackson. On the way back we saw some more mule deer. Mom was disappointed she did not see any moose.  Maybe Monday we’ll get lucky and see moose.  We didn’t get back to Jackson till 1930 (7:30 PM).

On Monday we are going to head back up to Yellowstone and do the Yellowstone Canyon area.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Travel Day - Jackson, WY


I was up at 0450 today (yes that is early in the morning) so I could catch my cab and be at the airport by 0600 for a 0730 flight.  Thankfully I checked in on line, so I only had to drop my bag off then make it through security. The security lines were a lot longer than I have seen them in a while for gates 10 – 22. I think that had to do with the very large number of families going through security, then again I’m used to going through with the business crowed during the week. My flight was mostly families with children no older than 10 and they all wanted to sit together on a full flight. Needless to say this caused a headache for the poor gate agents, who had to keep explaining there were no open seats and they couldn’t move people around.  Once everyone was settled, we were up and away. The flight was about 4.5 hours long, and bit bumpy in some areas (I hate turbulence).  I had a three hour layover in Salt Lake City; at least the airport has freed Wi-Fi. While sitting in the airport I got to listen to several call for people to meet their party in baggage claim. Though my personal favorite was the request to pick up forgotten property at the security checkpoint, apparently someone left a member of their party at checkpoint.  Just makes me think of some poor person sitting all lonely on the X-ray machine belt.  One of the other nice things about the Salt Lake City airport is the views out the windows are great, nice mountain views.

The flight from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was less than an hour. It was the standard up then down flight, they didn’t even offer people drinks. However the flight was extremely bumpy. The decent was the worst, I felt like pilot was racing to land and the aircraft was all over the place. Once at the parking spot in the airport, I can’t call it a gate since there really is no gate, they roll the stairs up to the plane and you get off. You enter the terminal, through an antler arch directly into baggage claim.   Once in at the airport I had to wait an about an hour and half for my mother’s flight to come in so we could drive into Jackson.

The city of Jackson is nice, and quite quaint. However the only problem the street signs are very visible and there are very few stop signs and traffic lights. We passed the bed and breakfast we are staying at three times it just blends right in. The bed and breakfast is nice; we’ll see how the breakfast is in the morning.  Once we were checked in, we walked around in the center of town. We missed the shootout, that they have every day in the square.  But we did find some very expensive leather and fur stores and a place that sells taxidermy animals.

Sunday we will head up to Yellowstone National Park and see Old Faithful.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bear Spray

In a week my mother and I will be headed to our nation’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, for vacation. We will not be staying in the park itself, but at a bed & breakfast in Jackson Hole, which is about an hour outside of the park’s south entrance.  The reason we are not staying in the park, is I was unable to get reservations in time for one of the lodges and I’m not going to sleep in a tent.  I like nature and hiking but at the end of the day, I want a nice comfy bed to sleep in, a hot shower and fully functioning bathroom.  We do plan on going on several hikes through the park, mostly the main sights like Old Faithful, the Paint Pots and other points of interest.  We are not planning on doing long hikes through the back country.  We also will be spending sometime in Jackson Hole.

In preparation for the trip I have bought a few things, convertible pants, a travel tripod, water repellent spray, bug spray, a bear bell and bear repellent    I bought the pants because the weather is indicating it is in the 30’s in the morning and reaching the 70’s by afternoon.  So the pants are great because I zip sections off to convert them to shorts if need be.  The travel tripod was a birthday gift; it is small enough to fit in a backpack but will still hold a full body DSLR and lens. I bought the water repellent spray to water proof my backpack, because it never fails it rains at least once on my vacations and I’m not going to let a little rain stop me.  The bug spray, well that is obvious.  Now you may be thinking, “why the bear bell and the bear repellent if you’re not hiking in the back country?” My philosophy is I rather have it and not need it then need it and not have it. Also the parks websites and several Yellowstone hiking websites recommend it, even though bear attacks are rare.  I know most people are in the mindset that bears mostly stay away from people, avoid the heavy tourist areas and don’t attack unless provoked but I figure caution is the best course of action. Plus I doubt I’m going to run into Yogi Bear or Humphrey the bear from the cartoons, who are just after my picnic basket.  You may be thinking, “Don’t they have signs warning you about bear activity?” Yes they have signs but unfortunately bear can’t read.

So what is bear bell and bear repellent?  A bear bell is a large bell you are supposed to wear to make noise to alert the bears of your presence so they are not spooked when you enter their territory.  While this is a great it does tent to scare off the other wildlife that I do want to see. Mind you I highly doubt it is going to scare a bison off.  Now bear repellent is basically a highly concentrated form of mace.  The spray has a high concentration of capsaicin (2% or greater of mixture) and shoots a distance of 30 feet or more.    You are supposed to use it if a bear charges you, it will distract and irritate the bear so he goes off in another direction, then you are supposed to leave the area.   The main purpose of the spray is to provide you enough time to get to a safer location.

Trip to Acadia National Park

Stop along the Park Loop Road ISO 400, Focal Length 20mm, Aperture F8, Shutter 1/400s Last weekend my husband and I went up to Acadia N...