February 23, 2009

A Day's Work

On my fourth day in Morocco, my fellow travel companions and I traveled around the city of Fes and visited several local artisans. We saw tanners, potters and rug makers. It was by far my most expensive day, having scored many of my souvenirs at the aforementioned places. I even got myself a pair of yellow leather shoes.

Our portion of the day spent at the pottery studio was by far my favorite. It wasn't nearly as high pressure a buying situation as the rug place (think used-car salesmen type pressure). And the tanner, while he made amazing leather goods, had by far the most smelly of shops. (My yellow leather shoes were dyed in part with pigeon poo.) The potter though, had nothing but pretty ceramics to show us. We even got a few demos from each of the work stations.

First there was the man who shaped the clay to form the dishware, pots and vases.

Next we were shown the bits of clay that were dyed and broken in order to form mosaic tile pieces.
Then we were shown the area where men sat hammering away at these little bits. They shaped these tiny pieces to form mosaics that would become tabletops.

These men sat on the floor, hunched over small bits of clay and hammered away. Their sitting position looked far from comfortable. The space they worked in was a small concrete room exposed on two sides to the elements. It was poorly lit and they sat on the ground, their backs against the wall. They sat there and tapped, tapped, tapped away at these bits of sand and stone, all of us in the meantime wandering around, examining their work and taking their pictures. They seemed as intrigued by our wild, foreign group of women as we were by their work. My travel companions and I, more accustomed to cushy office chairs and computer screens, found it unfathomable that this could be someone elses 9 to 5 working position. The owner of the shop went on to tell us that the work these men and women do is considered very good by Moroccan standards. That they are lucky to have these jobs.

The most visually pleasing part of the work was done by the men and women wielding small brushes. They held their pottery close to their faces, hunched over their work, their tiny, elegant strokes becoming miniature masterpieces that crowded their feet.

Despite all the photos I took that day, the one at the top of this post is my favorite. It's simple. The composition turned out well and honestly I felt fortunate to be able to peek into this woman's world for just a moment or two. Hers is a life much different than mine. Hers is a work far different from mine. And while I may have the luxury of a cushy desk chair and climate controlled working conditions, she can leave at the end of her work day and admire all the beauty she has created with her hands.

February 21, 2009

The New And Improved Me

My interest in photography as a semi-serious hobby is increasing. To aid in my thirst for knowledge of all things photographic, I've been trying to relearn Photoshop. I say relearn because I knew a little about this program for a little while. That knowledge has since escaped my brain, and I'm basically having to start from scratch.

On a recent trip to Borders, I purchased a discounted digital photography book. The beginning of the book teaches the reader about functions and settings of the camera. The second half describes different applications in and uses of Photoshop. I've found the second half of the book very useful thus far.

Photoshop does more than I could possibly learn in several sittings, so I began with the lesson I thought most useful - how to retouch photos. In other words, I'm learning how to make myself and those I love look more attractive in photo. It's as simple as a soft blur of the skin, a whitening of the eyes, the removal a blemish or two and lightening bags under the eyes. It's fantastic. Heck, I'm even making my teeth whiter without the $300 procedure.And I'm learning to Photoshop in a subtle enough way so my improvements look natural. It's kind of like good plastic surgery. But free! And painless!

To demonstrate, below are two photos of me. The first is in it's original form. And the second, gussied up with a little Photoshop magic.

Better! And this photo also reminds me of how desperate in need I am of a good cut and color. All the Photoshop skills in the world couldn't make my current do look anywhere near as good as it does in the photos above, aka the last time I got a hair cut.

February 18, 2009

Here Comes the Violinist

I got some very, very good news yesterday.

After several bouts of technical difficulties, I was able to send recordings to a very excited bride to be. I emailed three WAV files, after several attempts to capture what I thought were acceptable recordings, of me playing Ode To Joy, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring and Cannon in D on the violin. And then I prepared for the worst. To my critical ear, my playing did not sound good. Ode to Joy was decent, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring was OK and Canon in D made me cringe. I heard every pause, every off key note, every shaking bow stroke. The songs were flawed. Each and every one. So when I pushed send on my email, I reminded myself not to get my hopes up. I had given the bride the option to back out, and she very well could.

Much to my immense relief the bride, Dorrie, told me she loved them. She even said I sound "AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Canon in D made her tear up.

Based on her response I learned two things: 1.) I have an overly critical ear toward my own playing. And 2.) Holy shit! I'm playing a wedding! It's official. I'm am a violinist again.

My last public performance was toward the end of my senior year of high school. In other words, it's been close to a decade. And that performance was with an entire orchestra. This whole playing solo in front of 100+ people on the most important day of two peoples' lives is completely new to me. I try not to let the pressure of that scenario creep into my playing, but sometimes it does. And that's when I tell myself how horrible and unprofessional I sound.

But if the bride's happy, I need to be happy as well. I need to stop being so judgmental of how my music sounds. I need to just enjoy playing. And I do really enjoy my violin, especially when I am able to stop reminding myself of a missed note three stanzas ago. On the big day, I'll have four songs and a lot of stanzas to get through. And chances are I'll have a lot more on notes than off ones.

February 14, 2009

He's Better Than I Thought

About a week ago, Mike turns to me while we were sitting on the couch and says, "Well I probably shouldn't say anything but I wanted to send you flowers to work for Valentine's Day. Do you like roses or should I get something else?"

Overcome by the fact that he blew his own surprise, I couldn't answer. I didn't know what I wanted given the way the question was phrased. If it had been a surprise, I would have loved any flowers he picked out. But if I had to tell him what kind of flowers I wanted to be "surprised" with, I couldn't say. I didn't want any flowers that way.

All this past week while driving to work, Mike has been reminding of my "surprise." Finally on Friday, I turned to him and said, "You can't really call it a surprise if you've reminded me about it every day this week."

I got to work Friday, signed onto my computer and checked my email. Much to my surprise, sitting in my inbox was a gift certificate to Zappos from Mike. His message inside thanked me for all I do for him and it said how he thought I'd appreciate this gift more than flowers. He was right. This man knows me and my passion for good shoes. He might not like how many pairs of heels are currently in my closet, but he loves me enough to support my habit. And he totally got me. I had no reason to think I was getting anything other than flowers.

He's done this before. For Christmas I was convinced I was getting a watch because he told me he was getting me a watch. I got a camera instead. So he's been able to fool me twice now. Never again though. I'm totally onto him.

February 10, 2009

Every Day Is A Winding Road

My sister likes to demonstrate one of our many differences by telling how we got our respective driver's licenses. Nicole looked forward to her 16th birthday as a life-changing date. Getting her license was a pivotal moment in her life, and she was most likely in line as soon as the DMV opened on her sweet sixteen. That girl wanted to drive and no one was going to get in her way. I, on the other hand, didn't even get my license on my birthday. The DMV was closed, so you know, I went a few days later, or whatever. No big deal. I am pretty sure had the DMV not been open on my sister's birthday she would have broken in, administered her own test, took her own photo and made her own license. Even today, our car tendencies could not be more different. She's a mechanical engineer designing heating and cooling systems for automobiles. I don't even own a car.

When I moved to Chicago, I brought my nice (almost) new 1999 Alero with me. I had my car in the city, but I can remember being excited to take public transportation. My first Chicago apartment was located within walking distance of three bus lines and an el stop. I'm proud to say that I could navigate my way around most parts of Chicago via public transit within a month of moving here. And given that I lived within walking distance of a grocery store, I found myself using my car pretty much only to drive to and from my job in the suburbs.

I was only two months into my job when I began to grow tired of my daily car commute, and by my fourth month in the city I had started a new job. This new job was located near an el stop so my car was no longer a necessity. A month into that job, I drove my car back to Michigan and left it at my parents' house. I told them that if in three months I didn't feel I needed my car they could sell it. It was less than a month later when I gave my parents the go ahead.

Not having a car was such a freeing act. I loved living in a place where I did not need to own a car. I preferred almost anything to driving: walking, buses, trains, cabs or a bike. All were better than navigating and finding parking on the city streets. Not to mention, on my cash-strapped budget I was more than happy to no longer have to pay for gas, car repairs, city parking stickers ($200), towing fees ($150) and tickets ($50 a pop). I happily carried on with my city girl lifestyle sans car for the next three years.

I still do not have a car, but moving in with Mike has allowed me access to a car. Mike's trusty Jeep has been a lifesaver in my new neighborhood. I no longer have to carry groceries, and the errands that used to take me hours to run via public transit take no time at all. I also have to say I could not do my morning gym routine without his car. I love it, but I don't like driving Mike's car with him in it. I am more than happy to sit shotgun no matter the distance - be it a five minute drive to the grocery store or a five hour trip to Michigan. In fact, I think I can count on two fingers the number of times I've sat behind the driver's wheel with Mike in the car. You see, while I have keys to it, it's not my car. And if anything were to happen to it while I was behind the wheel I would be devastated. Plus I'd lose any trust Mike has in my driving abilities. I am uber paranoid when I drive it. That paranoia reaches unprecedented levels when Mike is in the car. That's why he's seen me drive it so few times.

That is until his surgery.

Mike is unable to walk without the aid of crutches right now, and he certainly cannot drive. Given the distance to the train and the hassle of him climbing aboard the train, we've been driving to work everyday this week. Scratch that, I've been driving us to work.

My years not spent behind the wheel of a car have left me a little shaky on the road. I never feel like I fully have my bearings. Factor in that we're commuting to downtown Chicago during rush hour and that Mike is watching my every move behind the wheel, and I can tell you this has been a most stressful week for me. Plus what I am driving is a Mike-sized car. A Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. An Amy-sized car is something a little smaller, probably a mid-size, not very flashy. Let's face it, I'm a Malibu.

I find myself making a lot of audible noises while I drive. For some reason, I think if I start throwing out random "motherf*ckers!" to passersby that they'll make room for me. I think that by going "eeeeEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeEEEEEEEE" while merging that the lanes will open and no one will get in my way. I think that by shrinking in my seat, pulling in my elbows and holding my breath that somehow I'll be able to squeeze between that bus and that street sanitation crew a little easier. And for some crazy reason, I think that if I stare intently at cabbies that they might, just might, let me go in front of them. Note to self: That will never happen.

I cannot wait for Mike's foot to heal for many reasons. It will be wonderful when he has no more pain in his foot. It will be nice for him to be able to get water without having to figure out how to carry it back to the couch. And I'm pretty sure he's looking forward to being able to walk, instead of hop, up three flights of stairs to get home. But for purely selfish reasons, I cannot wait for Mike's foot to get better because I do not want to drive any more. I have learned that I am more than willing to sit in my rightful place in his car - shotgun. Until he is healed, I'll be fighting the traffic on the mean streets of Chicago and trying to channel the car gene that was given to my sister, but not to me.

February 9, 2009

Close Call

I can't think of anything to write, so this photo is a bit of filler.

It's from my few days off at the end of last year. Those glorious two days where I got to do whatever I wanted while most people were working. Isn't there just something so sweet about not being at work on a day when most people are?

This was taken the day I did my downtown wandering and is part of the set that includes my Millennium Park photos. I took this shot at the end of the day while waiting for the el to take me home. This shot also happened just before I got on the train and realized I had lost my iPod.

I was standing on the platform and could see a train coming in the distance, so I composed my shot and waited for it to get close enough. The problem was the objects-are-closer-than-they-appear effect of my lens. The train seemed it was getting close enough, but every time I put the camera to my eye it looked tiny. Needless to say, I took this shot at the very moment my life started to flash before my eyes.

I also should say that Chicago isn't really that neon blue and red. I saturated and exaggerated the colors a bit. It helped that the distinguished red of the CNA building served as the main backdrop. I liked the resulting, exaggerated image because it looks a little more circus-y than the original. And honestly, some days these parts do feel a little circus-like.

February 5, 2009

The Hobbler

For those of you who sent kind thoughts to Mike this morning, thank you. It must have worked. He's home and his surgery could not have gone better. He was into the doctor's office by 9 a.m., and I was driving him home by 11:30. When they wheeled him out, I was surprised to see how awake and alert he was. He's home now, hobbling around the house on his crutches, but mostly laying on the couch with his foot elevated. So the hard part is over, and now the even harder part, his recovery, begins.

February 4, 2009

One Foot At A Time

It's past my bedtime. It's going on midnight here in Chicago, but I'm not tired yet. Normally I'd have been in bed for at least an hour by now. Sleep isn't my major concern. I'm not going into work tomorrow, so can I be a little tired.

I am taking off work tomorrow because Mike is going in for surgery. It's not anything too major. He has tumors on his feet, and he will be getting the ones on his left foot removed. In a few months, he'll go back and get the ones on his right foot removed. After each surgery he has to keep all pressure off the foot for three weeks. After tomorrow, that means three weeks on crutches for him. That fact is made worse by the fact that Chicago hasn't seen the ground without snow on it since December. I'll be driving him to and from work for the next couple weeks because commuting via train won't be an option.

My role tomorrow will be much the same as it will in the coming weeks. I'll drive downtown with Mike, get the skinny from his doc and then drive him home after the surgery, where I imagine he'll then spend the majority of the day sleeping.

It isn't major surgery, but it is intense enough that they have to put him under general anesthesia. I am worried but that's just because the word "surgery" itself is scary. I don't think anything will go wrong, but my oh my I can't let myself think there's a possibility that anything could. So for my peace of mind, around 9 a.m., Chicago time tomorrow, please think good thoughts for Mike.

February 1, 2009

Three Mile Run

I had my first three-mile run today. My training schedule so far has only dictated two and 2.5 mile runs. Luckily though, I didn't have to do it alone. My friend and co-worker Sarah is training for a half marathon, and she had to run three miles today as well.

I picked up Sarah this morning, and we headed to the Lake shore path. I didn't think I'd be running outside in early February, but today's weather was perfect. Instead of the weather hoovering between 10 and 20 degrees (as it has the past few weeks), Sarah and I we greeted with nice mid-thirties weather. She brought her Garmin forerunner so we were able to check our time, pace and distance constantly throughout our run.

I'm happy to say we finished, but I'm not happy to report our pace. Sarah assured me that I should be proud of the pace I ran and the distance we went. Our overall time was 34: 38 with an average pace of 11:33. That's about my average pace, so it's good that we didn't go any slower. I, however, looked at that time and thought I have a long way to go before I reach a 10-minute mile pace. And I'm not certain if it's an attainable pace to reach by the time I run the Shamrock Shuffle in late March.

I do have some hope though. This was my first time running three miles in about 10 months. It's also been a while since I ran on pavement. And in my standard treadmill training I've been getting faster. I ran 2.5 miles at a 10:36 pace on Thursday. So I can get better. I will get better. I just have little faith in myself that I'll be able to run 5 miles in two months and finish that race in under 50 minutes. Stupid 2009 goals.

My negative attitude may have been brought on in part by something that rocked my running confidence yesterday. My mom called and was telling me about her work out regimen with her new Nintendo Wii. For the first time, she did a free run on the program the other day. During the free run, the player runs in place for 10 minutes and when the 10 minutes are up, Wii informs the player how far they would have gone in that time had they been running on a track. My mom's distance - 1.6 miles. 1.6 miles! That's roughly a 7 minute per mile pace. I don't doubt my mom was able to do this, but it was a little disheartening to think while I was running today that theoretically my mom (a woman who've I've seen run maybe twice in my entire life) would have passed me and probably doubled back and passed me again.