September 30, 2009

My Awesome Friend, Kelsa

I have this amazing friend. Her name is Kelsa. Kelsa is by far one of the most determined people I know. It's her determination that lead her to get into amazing physical shape. It's her determination that powered her to finish her first marathon even though she experienced debilitating calf cramps from mile 14 to the end. It's her determination that has lead her to a managerial position within her company. And it's her determination that has lead her to accomplish her most recent goal.

As of this morning, Kelsa and her equally awesome husband Michael became debt free. Years before they have entered their 30s, these two skimped and saved and sold to eliminate more than $60,000 worth of debt tied to their names. There debt was what most people consider the good kind - student loans and car loans. But to Kelsa and Mike, that wasn't good enough. They wanted to be out from under all of it, so much so that they downgraded from a two-car to one-car household this year. Their determination kicked in, and now today they have eliminated having to pay others. Fitting since it's their anniversary, and this is the best present they could possibly give one another.

When Kelsa set out on this debt free adventure over a year ago, she initially was excited to think they could be debt free in four years. Based on her calculations, that's how long she thought it would take. Obviously it didn't take nearly that long. This doesn't shock me one bit though, because I know Kelsa and I know nothing will ever stand in the way of her achieving her goals. Nothing can match her determination.

Congrats Kelsa. I could not be more proud of you and Michael.

For Kelsa's own take on her debt free adventure, read her post here. And if you do, send her your congrats. She's more than deserving of it.

September 29, 2009

Nerves, What Nerves?

Throughout my eight years of violin playing from the fifth through 12th grades, I sat in first chair for only one concert. Usually, my friend Erin was sitting untouchable in first chair. She had this natural, raw talent whereas I worked for every pitch perfect note I hit.

When Erin and I moved up to the high school we played in the ninth grade strings group together. We weren't good enough to be in the orchestra. Well I wasn't. Half way through our first year in high school, Erin got moved up to the orchestra while I remained back with strings. Erin's move also put me front and center in first chair. And for that one semester I sat in the top seat, the strings had one concert. And that one concert was the single worst concert performance I had during my eight-year playing career.

I was a train wreck. I remember being nervous and missing one note, and then missing the a few more, and then my fingers failed me on an entire phrase. And before I knew it the concert was over, and I'd played less than half the music, sitting frozen for the most part in the top seat. It was so bad that my mom upon seeing me right after the concert asked, "What happened?" What happened was that I was a ninth grader who couldn't cope with the slightest bit of pressure.

Leading up to the wedding on Saturday I replayed this one event several times over in my mind. My deepest fear was that the debilitating nerves I experienced that one day over a decade ago would show up unexpectedly on my friend's wedding day.

I learned on Saturday that thankfully I'm not that same timid ninth grader I once was. On the Thursday night wedding rehearsal, my run through of the songs went really well. Plus the venue was perfect. Instead of being on the floor jammed next to the pews, I stood on a loft overlooking the ceremony while my music floated down to everyone below. I had a minor flub during the ceremony and one of my songs could have been about 30 seconds longer, but other than that, it went really, really well. And I knew it would. As we went through the rehearsal Thursday this calming feeling washed over me. I realized I wanted to be a part of this beautiful day. But not just to be a part of it, I wanted to add to it. The only way I could was to play as best as I possibly could. So I let the beauty of the moment, the happiness of the couple and my months of preparation be the relaxant to my nerves. No pressure. Just happiness. And music.

Here's to no longer being an awkward ninth-grader.

September 23, 2009

New Layout

As you can see, I've redesigned my blog. The main reason for my doing this was so I could post my photos much larger than I could on my previous blog layout. I tried it out, and it appears to work.

The picture is still not as large as it could be, but I'll figure that out later when I've got more time. I actually need to mess around with the code, and I don't do code. Especially not right now. Right now, I need to be packing.

UPDATE: Done. I cracked my HTML code. My photos are huge, absolutely huge. I love it.


When my friend Jenny's wedding was over, I remember thinking that I was a bit relieved it was behind me. Do not get me wrong, it was a beautiful wedding, I had an amazing time, but I was the maid of honor. I had a lot of work to do that week between setting up, throwing a bachelorette party and not dropping the rings during the ceremony. I said to myself thank goodness for the next one all I have to do is show up and play the violin.

Well that next wedding is upon me and guess what? I HAVE TO SHOW UP AND PLAY THE VIOLIN OHMYGOD.

I am taking a very early Amtrak train out tomorrow morning so I can be there for the rehearsal at 6 p.m. tomorrow. I really need to be there for the rehearsal. I know how to play my five songs, but I need to see how long it takes people to walk down the aisle. I keep imagining the bride walking down the aisle to a two minute song in 30 seconds, and then the awkwardness that ensues when I play for a minute and a half while everybody just wants to get on with the damn marriage already. So yeah, I have some things that I need to work out.

I also need to work on my nerves. I never did any street corner playing like I hoped. It remains that I know these songs really well in my bedroom with all the doors and windows shut. Outside that immediate area, I'm just not sure. This wedding will certainly put me out of my element.

Fortunately, I know a few people who are performers. They offered me advice and I've taken their sage words to heart. They told me things such as people aren't there to hear me play, they're there to see the bride. Also, if I mess up most people won't even notice. And lastly, they're all cabbage. The last one is my favorite. I like thinking of people as cabbage. It's better than facing reality, which is that I am playing all by myself in a room with 100+ people on the most important day of two people's lives.

They are all cabbage.

September 20, 2009

What You Get For The Money

I tried on a $235 outfit today. Contrary to what the price tag would have you believe, it wasn't a fancy dress or power suit. It was a pair of jeans and a grey T-shirt. That's it. I own several variations of this same outfit, and I'm fairly positive their total worth is less than $235.

I have never understood the designer jeans trend myself. Jeans are jeans. And by that very definition I do not think they should come with a price tag three digits long. These jeans were $185. They were Joe's jeans. I have heard of this brand. I think it's been mentioned in People and Glamour magazines several times as a favorite brand of the stars. I hadn't ever tried on a pair of these so-called designer jeans, and since I was already heading into the dressing room when I spotted them, I figured why not. Whenever I try on jeans I always grab a shirt just to give my picks a complete look. I grabbed a grey T-shirt. But not just any grey T-shirt - a $50 grey T-shirt. And no, it was not covered in a light dusting of 14k white gold.

The outfit was incredibly underwhelming. The jeans were big in the waist, which made me happy, but they didn't fit right. It was the length, however, that I could not get over. In my bare feet the jeans were a good four inches too long. And I think most "designer" jeans are this way - all made with incredibly long inseams. I do own a few pairs of four-inch heels, and I do like the look of jeans with heels. It's a look I sported often on the weekends in my young, single gal in the city days. However, I can't wear jeans at work, and I don't often prance around in heels while running weekend errands to my grocery store or local CVS. It's not really a practical outfit. If I wanted to wear these jeans often, I'd have to hem them. As if spending $185 on jeans isn't enough. There's no way I would pay that much and then spend additional money just so I could wear my purchase more than the one time a year I wear jeans and heels.

And the shirt? Don't even get me start on the shirt. It was a simple T-shirt. In grey. With a small pocket. And a v-neck. AND it was tissue paper thin. As in I am sure actual tissue paper would have provided more coverage. It was so thin that I could see my bra. Not the outline of my bra, my actual bra. I couldn't have walked out of the dressing room without feeling like I was taking my first steps towards living a nudist life.

I looked at myself in this $200+ outfit, and I laughed. These clothes looked awful, and I certainly didn't feel like I should when wearing an outfit with that price tag. As I walked out of the store, I hung up the jeans and put back the T-shirt. Then I walked to Banana Republic and purchased a skirt (on sale) that cost less than the grey T-shirt and made me feel like a million bucks.

September 16, 2009

I'm Done Now, I Swear

I am afraid if I post many more vacation photos this blog is going to become something I don't want it to. Something that resembles a slide show your Aunt Mabel used to make you sit through of her vacation to Mount Rushmore. I don't want to do that to you all. You deserve better.

But I did promise more, so here they are - the very last of my favorite California photos. After this, I promise I'm moving on to different topics.

These are the remainder of the photos that will be competing for wall space in my home.

OK. That's all. Well that's not all. There are hundreds more, but I won't force them upon you. I have been sending some of these around to a few people who have asked about my vacation. The response has been great and flattering to say the least. So much so that I'm thinking up some ideas of how to make my prints more available to the masses for a nominal fee. More to come. I'm still just brainstorming.

September 15, 2009

Shoot the Moon

The entire time Mike and I were in California there was a bright, nearly full or full moon in the sky. And without a cloud in sight, some nights the moon cast an almost twilight-like feel to the night sky. I kept trying to capture the moon in all its California glory, but I just couldn't do it justice.
When Mike and I went hiking near his mom's house, we set off around 7:00. The sun had already set, but we had enough time to get out and enjoy the early evening hours before it got too dark.

As I stood on the top of the hill we climbed, the moon was showing bright on the horizon.

It just didn't look bright in any of the photos I took. It was way too small. I could have zoomed in, but with my wide angle lens the moon still would have been a dot on the horizon. Then I put my photographers hat on. And I tried this.

So what did I do you ask (since Kelsa and Lexi you asked)? Well I zoomed in and then manipulated my camera's two main settings. I set it for a longer shutter speed and a smaller aperture. For any laymen/non-photography nerds, I can explain it this way.

The moon was by far the brightest thing in the sky. It was the only light source. Since it was so much brighter than anything else around, I metered my camera so it read for the brightness of the light of the moon, not for the entirety of the night sky. That reading immediately darkened everything else in the scene. With that set, I made sure that my shutter was open for a longer than normal amount of time.

In the first photo in this post (the night scene), my shutter was open for 0.050 seconds (or 1/20 of a second). In photography, that's considered a long time. I try not to shoot below 1/60 second. In that first light trail photo (second in this post) as well as the photo below, my shutter was open for one second.
In the second my shutter was open, I moved my camera in the directions you see of the light trails. The camera caught my movement because the moon was the only light source. As the shutter was open the moon's light was burned onto the image in the shape and direction I moved my camera.
For my last try, I set my shutter speed for 2 seconds. As soon as my shutter opened I started moving my camera lens in a clockwise motion. The result was this:

It should be said, this certainly is not my original idea. Plenty of incredible photographers have executed this same idea to much more impressive results. I honestly was just happy I had the foresight to remember this trick and recreate it in my own little way.

That is all for my photography lesson. Tomorrow, My Favorites: Part Two.

September 14, 2009

California Photography Lessons

I took over 800 photos while on vacation. Some people may say that's a bit crazy (ahem, Kelsa), and to some extent I agree. But the thing is, when I'm out with camera in hand every photo I take teaches me something. There so much to learn about my camera, its sweet focal spots, it natural coloring, the way it meters light, the graininess of my images when I bump up their ISO. No two camera are alike and I can honestly say that after this trip, I know my camera whole lot better. We tight.

It gave me great joy to realize that about midway through my trip, I stopped shooting in automatic modes. I'd switch it to one of the presets every now and again, but usually if I was compsoing a shot, I'd flip it to manual. I started noticing that I could get better images by reading mycamera than I could when I let it choose. In fact, I've done very little editing to the photos I took. For the most part, they are pretty good as is, which for me, is a huge accomplishment.

The direct result of my learning expereince is that I have a lot of photos that I now love. It's the downside of taking 800 photos. I'm just not sure where I'm going to be able to display them all.

(That's the moon)

(The reflection in this pool was amazing.

I actually have more, but Blogger is getting weird on me. I can't upload any more photos right now. We'll call this part one of my favorites. More to come.

September 7, 2009

In Summary

To say I had a good vacation is an understatement. Mike and I had a fantastic time. He was an excellent guide. His family and friends were excellent hosts. I honestly cannot think of how we could have improved upon our vacation. It surpassed my expectations.

We saw and did so much that it's hard to sum it all up in one post. Since right before I left I listed the things I wanted to do and see while on vacation that seems like a good place to start. I think I fared pretty well but feel free to judge for yourself.

1. Take lots and lots of photos of the coast.
Done. I took over 800 photos while on vacation. Some of my favorite were of the coast. Like these.

For scale, notice the white SUV in the lower righthand corner of the last photo. Photos don't do it justice. We could have stopped every five feet on Highway 1 and gotten photos this amazing or better.

2. Spot a celebrity.
Didn't happen. Everywhere we went Mike and I heard stories from our California friends and family about their celebrity encounters.
Our friend Julie who works for E! recently met Heidi Montag. Heidi apparently said hi and then immediately asked if Julie followed her on Twitter. Julie does not follow her on Twitter. Julie's sister, who we met for drinks one night, had the previous night seen the guy who plays Daryl on The Office karaoke-ing in Venice. Mike's mom has seen Van Morrison, John Legend and Sean Penn all just outside her shop in downtown San Rafael. We drank a wine in Sonoma that we were told was a favorite of Virginia Madsen's. But I think my only near miss was at a CVS in Santa Monica. As we were checking out, purchasing some sunscreen and an US Weekly, the clerk pointed to a picture of Bradley Cooper on the magazine cover and said "He was in here yesterday." So close.

3. Sample various California wines at a bonafide California winery (and bring at least one bottle back with me).
This was done, four times over. We went to two wineries on Thursday and another two on Friday. And there is a case and a half of wine making its way to Mike and I right now. Sadly, we lost one bottle to the airport. Mike had an extra in his carry on that we had to let go. Security wouldn't let us take it on the plane. Thankfully it was one of the bottles that we were told we can purchase at Binny's here in Chicago.

4. See the redwoods at Muir Woods.
Did not happen, but that's only because we saw the Armstrong Redwoods instead. They were breathtaking.

5. Swim in the Pacific.
Done. We swam in Santa Monica and stopped on the side of the road just north of Malibu for a dip.
And for the record while in the ocean I did turn to Mike and say "suck it!"

6. Soak in the Avila Hot Springs.
Didn't happen, but I'm not sad about it. The Avila hot springs were just north of Pismo Beach, where we stayed on Tuesday night. By the time we arrived it was a bit late to head out again. Plus we got a sweet hotel room with an ocean view. We sat in the hot tub and swam in the pool at our hotel instead, and then we sat out on our balcony and enjoyed the view.

7. Eat an amazing (fresh) fish dinner.
We ate several. I am still thinking about this salad.

And I'm pretty sure Mike's considering living on the beach in Malibu so he can eat daily the ahi tuna burger he had there.

8. See the seals at Fisherman's Wharf.
They smell. But they're cute.

9. Bike, kayak or snorkel on Catalina Island.
Didn't happen. We didn't make the trek to Catalina Island. The all-day excursion would have taken up too much time. Instead, we did something equally fun. We rented bikes and rode from Santa Monica to Venice. In Venice, we drank a pitcher of beer, walked the boardwalk and saw some real characters. The most memorable? This guy.

Yes, he is wearing a patriotic banana hammock.

10. Not think about work for even one second.
I did think about work but only to remind myself that I wasn't there. And instead was on VACATION. IN CALIFORNIA!
On man. I miss it already. And work tomorrow is going to be pretty rough. But when I'm down, I'll go to my happy place. Which is here.