Learning…the hard way.

November 9, 2015

petit jean night skyOne of the things I wanted to do during our recent trip to Petit Jean State Park was night sky photography.  I was so excited to be in a place far out in the country where I could anticipate skies unaffected by city lights.  With visions of the Milky Way swimming before me, I lugged my tripod and camera out to the edge of the overlook near our hotel.    I had done quite a bit of reading on the subject of night photography.  I knew I wanted the fastest lens in my arsenal.  I knew I wanted to crank up the ISO – but not so much that noise would be a problem.  I knew I needed to keep the exposure time under 30 seconds, because after that amount of time, the movement of the earth becomes apparent in the form of star trails.  I knew all of this.  But, when it came right down to it, I seem to have forgotten much of what I had “learned.”

I do own a fast lens.  It’s a 50mm f1.5.  Plenty fast enough for the task at hand.  I cranked the ISO up to 1600.  I was a little nervous about going that high, but the buzz about my camera is that it handles high ISO quite well.  I decided to go on faith.  I had downloaded an app for my iPhone to plug the camera into which, among other things, can direct the camera shutter to remain open a specific amount of time.  Just the ticket for night sky photography!  Good planning all the way around.  But, that’s where my plans broke down.

First of all, even though I was armed with a fast little lens, for some reason I decided to stop it down a bit in an effort  to increase sharpness.  WHAT was I thinking?  That forced me to keep the shutter open way too long.  Plus…I failed to actually practice with my handy-dandy little shutter control app.  So, I counted.  One-Mississippi.  Two-Mississippi.  That doesn’t work too well.  Some of my exposures were as long as 39 seconds. Not good at all.  I had noticeable star trails.  That was NOT a goal.

I learned that even a large state park is not really all that isolated from city lights.  I don’t know what city (town) it was – but there was clearly something going on across the valley.  I didn’t mind that so much, however.  I think it sort of made the photo more interesting.  The ambient light over “there” provided a little bit of interest on the horizon.  I also learned that plain ol’ stars aren’t that photogenic.  I didn’t capture any of the Milky Way.  A black field full of little white blobs just didn’t get it for me.  Plus…all those little blobs had trails.  Silly me.

I ended up with five or six photos similar to the one above.  They’re nice.  I like them.  But, they don’t have the punch I was hoping for.  Next time, I’ll pay better attention to details.

Arkansas Leaf Peeping

November 5, 2015


We got out of town last weekend for a quick trip up to Petit Jean State park, just north of Little Rock.  It was a whirlwind trip of a day and a half, but it couldn’t have been better.  We needed a little bit of crisp fall air, and some turning leaves.  We found both and so much more.

The park has really great camping, but we stayed at Mather Lodge.  I should have grabbed a couple of photos, but there was so much more to photograph.  There was just never a good time to fiddle with lodge photos.  It was perfectly fine.  A little on the rustic side, but nice.  Our bed was really comfy, and that’s 3/4 of the battle, in my humble opinion. We had three good meals at the lodge restaurant.  It’s an affordable, handy choice for lodging.

I’m just going to shut up now and post a few more pictures.  I took a couple hundred, but I’ll cull them down to three or four of the best.

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Next time I’ll talk about my night photography experience.  It was not what I hoped…but I learned a lot.

Are you scared yet?

October 27, 2015

neighbors yard 8sml

Our neighbors go all out for Halloween.  I saw their yard as an opportunity to practice night photography last weekend.  We are going to Petit Jean State Park this coming weekend, and for me it’s mostly a photography excursion.  Part of that will (hopefully) include some night sky shots.  I say “hopefully” because there are high chances of rain while we are there.  I don’t mind so much in the daytime hours, as rain has a way of intensifying fall colors.  But rain clouds could definitely put a damper on star shots.

neighbors yard 3sml

So, the neighbors’ yard gave me the opportunity to practice focusing in the dark, using my shutter timer, fiddling with the settings, etc.  It was fun.  These shots are maybe 1/3 of what’s going on in their yard.  A lot of the yard is heavily influenced by those standard-issue yellow-ish streetlights.  Ugly, ugly, ugly.  I got tired of working so hard to get the colors right, that I only processed a handful of shots.  These are my favorites.

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I can see me doing lots more nightime shooting.  I’ve just begun to explore the possibilities.  I’m so glad I got that new camera that gives me the flexibility and range to do this.

A good decision….

October 10, 2015

pink vinca sml

We had a lovely, gentle rain last night.  This morning, everything in the yard was covered with little raindrop jewels.  It was the first time I really had an opportunity to play with my camera.  I shot these using the lens that came with it (EFS 18-135 IS STM), hand-held, in full auto mode.

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I am delighted!  Thrilled!  Now I’m really excited about getting out there and capturing some fall color.


When hobbies collide…

October 7, 2015

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So, I got my new camera.  And I love it!  The only problem is, I’m too busy to play with it.  I’ve thumbed through the two manuals I purchased.  I’ve set up a few of the preferences as recommended.  But, actually take pictures?  Not much.  I was planning to wander around the grounds where I work on my lunch break.  Maybe explore the park nearby.  But, my assistant has experienced a death in the family, and I’m super busy in his absence.

One of the other things that occupies my time is quilting.  I have this UFO (un-finished object) sitting on the dining room table, so I took a few shots of the fabric pieces.  I love the colors.  Playing with the image a little in post-production software was fun.  But, really…I have no time right now.  This is so frustrating!

I must find time to get more familiar with this electronic wonder before the leaves start really turning.

I’m Expecting a New Baby!

October 2, 2015

No, no, no!  Not THAT kind of new baby!  THIS kind of new baby –

canon70dOf all the hobbies I pursue, photography is the most enduring.  I keep coming back to it.  Decade after decade.  I’m not all that good at it – just good enough to frustrate myself.  But, I enjoy it nonetheless.  This month is one of those rare months where we get three paydays instead of the normal two.  I should have saved that little windfall, but money is less tight right now than it has been in quite a while.  So I gifted myself!    Not only did I get a new camera…it came with all these goodies:


I will never use some of them, I’m sure.  But, some will get a real workout.  I also got extra cards and a couple of guidebooks.  The learning curve is very steep on today’s digital SLRs.

I’ve been shooting with an entry-level Nikon, and while I do get some really nice photos now and then, it sometimes disappoints me, and some of its features are not what I would like.  Plus, it handles reds and other bright, saturated colors with a bit of a heavy hand.  I have been very impressed with the images I’ve seen from the 70D.  Can’t wait to get my hands on it!  Monday.  Yay!

The trees are threatening to start turning.  Any day now.  We have discussed the aforementioned possible trip to Petit Jean State Park.  Looks like we may squeeze in at least one overnighter.  Now it’s just a question of timing.  I hope to have an opportunity soon to shoot a few more memorable shots of fall color, similar to these from a day trip to Big Hill Pond State Park a few years ago.  How I love autumn!

sweet gum 1

sweet gum 2

Busy Week!

September 24, 2015

We started this week with a little bit of medical “stuff.”  My DH got a partial cornea transplant.  I didn’t know they do partials.  But, apparently, implanting a certain kind of cell (and, presumably removing the bad versions of said cells) causes corneas to kind of regenerate, and eventually vision improves.  He had to go this route when it became apparent that his cataract surgery, while successful, wasn’t going to give him acceptable vision.

So…it’s done.  And we wait.  He’s being a good patient.

In the meantime, I’m beginning to think about autumn.  We have fairly decent fall color around here.  Certainly nothing like the Northeast, but a helluva lot better than Texas.  I’ve been interested in seeing Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas during the fall, but just haven’t made it happen.  It’s not a long drive at all.  Looks like it’s worth it to me!

petit jean in autumn

Isn’t that pretty!?  I am really wanting to get back into camping, but we’re a long way from being there.  At least we have the truck now.  Who knows when we will add a little travel trailer.  Until that day, we do what we can do.  I’m thinking maybe,  just maybe, a yurt would feel sorta like camping.  They have them at Petit Jean.

petit jean yurt

Or…a cozy cabin with a fireplace.  Two of their cabins are dog-friendly, too!  It’s a thought.  But, they’re kind of pricey.  Nice, though.

petit jean cabins

The least expensive housing option (other than a tent or travel trailer) is to stay in the lodge.  It’s not half bad, either.

lodge lobby

Who knows.  This may not happen.  But, if I don’t do some exploring it certainly won’t.  I think I could handle a long weekend at Petit Jean!

My Mom Didn’t Make Apple Pie

September 13, 2015


Up until yesterday, I pretty much didn’t either.  I’ve tried.  And failed miserably.  But, the planets aligned, I had a couple of new recipes to try.  And it worked!  Beautifully.  Now, this pie may not LOOK flawless, but let me tell you!  The taste and texture are perfect.   Just look at that flaky crust!


I’m going to include the recipes I used, but I have to say that the technique is the most important part of the whole thing – especially for the crust.  It was the second time I have used this crust technique.  The first time resulted in a dough that was extremely difficult to handle.  Tasted great…but the effort wasn’t worth the outcome.  So, I tweaked it, kept the same basic technique, and boy am I happy with the result.  I didn’t take pictures during the pie crust mixing.  I wish I had.  You’ll just have to use your imagination.  I got the basic recipe somewhere on the internet (can’t recall where) but it was so far from where I wanted to be that it doesn’t really matter anyway.  Here’s where I ended up:


All-Purpose Flour – 333 grams
Crisco – 88 grams
Butter – 88 grams
1 tsp salt
1/3 Cup Ice Water, plus maybe a little more…just depends on the flour and weather

Pull out about 1/3 of the flour and set it aside.  Place the fats, 2/3 of the flour and the salt in a food processor and whirl it around until you’ve got a paste that makes a ball.  You really want this mixed well.  I know…I know.  This flies in the face of every piecrust making guru out there.  But, trust me.  It works.  Now…take the 1/3 remaining flour, dump that on top of the paste.  Pulse…don’t whirl…for four or five pulses…until the mixture is broken up and in chunks approximately pea-size and smaller.  It’s not rocket science.  You’re just trying to get the dry flour to break up the glob of paste.  Dump the chunky mixture out on a big sheet of parchment paper, aluminum foil or the like.  I guess this could be done in a large bowl, but paper on the countertop always works best for me.  Sprinkle all but a couple of tablespoons of the water over the top.  Start bringing the mixture together, molding it softly with your hands.  You may need to sprinkle in a little (or a lot) more water.  Just go slowly.  Once you get a cohesive blend, you’ve gone far enough.  Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours.

When the crust dough is sufficiently chilled, mix up the pie ingredients:

Peel and slice THINLY – enough Granny Smith Apples to measure 6 cups

Sprinkle with approximately 1 TBS lemon juice.

Toss the apples and lemon juice so that the apples are well coated.  This helps prevent ugly oxidation of the apples and adds a bright taste.

In another bowl mix together:

3/4 Cup brown sugar
2 TBS all-purpose flour
1 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Have ready 2 TBS Butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Divide the dough into two portions.  Roll out into a rough circle and line a glass pie pan with one of the dough circles.  Mix the apples and the sugar mixture together and pile it in the pie pan, mounding gently in the center.  Break the butter into small chunks and dot it all over the top of the apples.  Use more if you wish.  The more the merrier!  Top the apples with the second dough circle and use your favorite crimping method to finish the edge.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned.    You’ll have the best apple pie you ever tasted.  Promise!

Just a note or two…I pretty much gave up measuring by volume years ago.  For accuracy and repeatability, there’s no other way to go than measuring in grams.  Kitchen scales are really affordable and make a huge difference in the outcome, once you convert.  The biggest secret to the flaky pie crust, I believe, is the technique.  So, if you don’t have a scale and don’t want to get one, just use your favorite crust recipe and mix it according the the directions here.  It’s revolutionary.  And makes a world of difference.

I feel that I have never cut my apples thin enough in the past.  These were sliced between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick, leaning toward thinner rather than thicker.  I haven’t run into a too-crispy apple yet.  And, speaking of apples, I’m convinced Granny Smith is the only way to go for apple pie.  So tart, firm and tasty, they’re inexpensive and available everywhere.  What’s not to love?

Try this pie.  I’ll bet you’ll love it, too!

Alabama Quickie

September 10, 2015

love bugs

We made a quick trip down to Fairhope, Alabama to visit my husband’s brother and our coastal extended family.  We had a lovely time.  The weather was terrific (as long as humidity isn’t part of the discussion), we got lots of visiting in, saw some sights and ate lots of good food.  We were joined at one of our meals by these “love bugs.”  We were pretty close to the Florida border at that point.  I have some vivid memories of driving through bazillions of these things back in the day when I was a Floridian.  I could have gone the rest of my life without being reminded of them.  We let them continue their amorous activities.  Because we’re nice.

Our lunch took place at Lulu’s, a riverside establishment owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister.  Lunch was good – the best gumbo of the trip – and the view was pleasant.


I have sort of gotten over my lust for other people’s boats, thank goodness.  I did say, “sort of.”  Somehow, I always end up at the marina.

marina at lulus

We went over to Orange Beach (I think) and walked out on the fishing pier.  I have so many photos of my husband gazing out over a watery horizon.  He loves it so!  I kinda like it, too.

jack on fishing pier

orange beach

There weren’t nearly as many people on the beach as I expected.  It was actually quite nice.  I wonder if they would have been in the water, had they seen the dozen or more sharks we saw while walking out on the pier (from which this photo was taken).

The next morning we drove out to the Grand Hotel in Fairhope and got a little classic Spanish Moss exposure.  I was warned not to touch the stuff.  Apparently, it’s chock full of chiggers!

spanish moss


The “boys” found a little time to chat, and I found a little time to take a few photos, most of which were pretty ordinary.  I got one palm tree shot that I’ve run through some painting apps and will turn into framed art.  Soon, I hope.  I like it a lot.

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Maine Vacation – Part Three

August 19, 2015

IMG_1106We spent three nights on the northern coast at a sheep farm we found on Air BnB.  There were no rooms anywhere else, and this sounded right up our alley, anyway.  Our host was a baker, and he presented us with this lovely loaf, which we munched on while we were there and had for breakfast our first morning at home.  It was superb!  He told us where he got the recipe.  We will give it a try!

We both enjoyed the peace and solitude of the farm, which was right on the cove.


Jack and our host split some wood late one afternoon.


The next morning, we tried stealing some apples, but unfortunately, they were not quite ready!


We did have internet access, but no TV.  NO TV!  It was great!  Neither of us was certain if we had ever seen so many stars before…and such bright twinkling ones.  There’s a lot to be said for getting away from it all.   The farm was the perfect jumping off spot for touring the lighthouses of the area and Campobello Island, which is just across the Canadian border.  We stayed pretty busy!






Quoddy West is one of my favorite spots on the entire Maine coast.  I could have sat and watched the ocean for days.  I like that the beach is easy to access from this point.

We got a special treat in that they have started opening the lighthouse to visitors.  That wasn’t the case until last summer.  They only do it on Saturdays.  We got lucky!  The steps weren’t too arduous, but there was a lot of overhanging architecture, which made it challenging for those of us who are kind of bumblers.  I loved seeing the fresnel lens up close.





Then, we went on to Canada via the international bridge at Lubec.  We were so disappointed that they didn’t stamp our passports!  They just looked at us and smiled.  Boo!


This was taken while we were in line on the bridge, waiting to go through customs.  So pretty!  Everywhere you look is beauty.


Our first stop on the island was the summer home of the Roosevelt family.  I love this place!  It is so homey, even though it’s apparent that wealthy, famous people lived here.  It was a home first.  It had no electricity.  Even though it was available, Mrs. Roosevelt chose to keep things simple.   I’ll include a few pictures of the interior.  There were too many interesting things to include them all.





Mrs. Roosevelt used the large megaphone to call the children to dinner!


IMG_1176The good ol’ days, right?  At least they had servants to do that backbreaking work for them!  Look at the irons built into the stove!

Next, we went up to Quoddy East lighthouse.  Unfortunately, they were having some sort of festival there, and our view was spoiled by lots of people.  We got a little time at the edge, but it wasn’t the same with all those folks there.  Bummer.  The last time we were here, we saw whales.  I didn’t have the patience to sit and wait for them with the crowded conditions.  But, it was pretty, anyway.



At low tide, it is possible to walk to the lighthouse.  See the rusty staircase on the rocks?  The tide is very high here – something like 15 feet or so.  I can’t recall exactly.  In any event, it comes and goes quickly, hence the warning signs.  It’s a very impressive display that Mother Nature puts on in this spot.




The water is so beautiful and clear.  Makes me want to jump right in.  But, it’s a bit chilly for that – even in the height of summer.  Not much swimming going on!

Our last stop on the island was a little harbor.  I can’t recall the name.  I snapped quite a few boat pix, which I think I will later turn into art of some sort.  I’ll include a sample here.  It’ll look great printed on canvas.




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We finished our tour of Maine in Bath at the Bath Iron Works and Maine Maritime Museum.  We really enjoyed that stop, but it wasn’t particularly photogenic.  We HIGHLY recommend it as part of a Maine tour.  We would allow the better part of the day for it, if we had it to do over again.  We had to just give it a once over lightly.

All in all, we had a great time.  We ate tons of blueberries and gallons of clam chowder.  Breathed lots of fresh sea air.  We’re ready to go back!

Maine Vacation – Part Two

August 19, 2015


Our two days in Bar Harbor were glorious!  Lots of sun, just enough breeze for sailing – and perfect temperatures.  We really appreciated the cooler weather.  We knew full well that our Loved Ones back in Memphis were simmering in their own stew.  We fully realized how lucky we were to have the opportunity to get away to cooler climes, if even for a few days.

We stayed at a place just north of town called The Colony at Hulls Cove.  It’s got a mid-century feel to it, being a collection of little white cottages of various sizes.  I couldn’t find a website.  We found the place through Trip Advisor, if I remember correctly.  Bar Harbor is jam packed in the summer.  We booked two months ahead and had trouble finding anything at all, let alone anything affordable.  We were happy to find this – and enjoyed our stay very much.


the colony 1

We had two cruises booked in Bar Harbor.  Both were on my birthday, which made for a grand celebration for me.  The first outing was on the Lulu, a lobster cruise.  The boat’s captain was very knowledgeable and gave us a thorough overview of lobsters and lobstering.  We learned a lot about the environment and how the lobster industry works to protect their very valuable natural resources.  The trip on the Lulu may have been my favorite part of the vacation – not only because of the education but because he took us out to the lighthouse and got us very close to the rocks and the sealife there.  Loved it!



Can you see the lobsters in the trap in the lower right corner?  We caught three or four.  All too small to keep.  But it was great to learn more about them in the process.



The lighthouse was my favorite part.  The rocks are full of seals.  Plus there were two young Bald Eagles on top of the lighthouse.  The water action on the rocks was just beautiful. This was a terrific little cruise.



We got much, much closer than this.  I was so struck by the beauty of the place.


You can see the eagles on the left of the roof.  One of them took off while we were there.  Magnificent birds!
We felt so lucky to have seen these two.


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Then, later that afternoon we went out for a sailing excursion.  They switched boats on us, so I’m not sure which boat we were on.  We had a good time, nonetheless.  Jack really enjoyed helping to raise the sails.



The view of the harbor just before setting sail.



The sails were really large and quite heavy.  They had two teams working the lines.  The little boys kind of got lost in the shuffle, but the men were actually pulling some weight!



The boat nearest us is the one we sailed on.  We were supposed to go on the inner one, but she appeared to be in the middle of an updating.

That evening we celebrated my birthday at Stewman’s Lobster Pound.  They have two locations…one downtown on the harbor and one on the edge of town at the Regency Hotel.  The Regency was near our hotel, and since we were kind of tired, we opted for that location.  That was a good choice!  No crowds…and the lobster was great.  It was Jack’s first.



The next morning we poked around town a bit before heading north again.  There’s a great place just up from our hotel called The Tool Barn.  They specialize in antique tools.  Jack could have spent the whole day there.  I enjoyed it too.  They have stuff other than tools.  I bought a Fuller Brush, still in the original packaging, for two bucks.  I’m going to use it every day.  They have two other locations.  I have been to the original one, and it is HUGE!  This one was a surprise.  I had no idea it was there.



There was a sculpture garden across the road from the Tool Barn.  Many of the pieces needed some TLC, but there were a few that were in pretty good shape.




Have I mentioned how much I love the flowers in Maine?  I do.  Very much!




On our way to points North, we stopped to enjoy a scenic outlook that gave us a distant view of Mount Desert Island.  It was hard to leave that place!



But, there’s more to come!

Maine Vacation – Part One

August 19, 2015


We just got back from 8 glorious days in Maine.  It was the perfect trip.  Everything was just as planned, and we enjoyed every minute.  One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the abundance of flowers.  Flowers everywhere.  These were at the hotel we stayed at the second night.  More scenes from that spot in a little bit.

We started in Freeport.  The hotel there was the Holiday Inn Express.  It was a Holiday Inn Express.  What more can I say?  Well…the staff was extremely friendly, and the free breakfast the next morning was probably the best I’ve ever had of that type.  I tried to get us back in for our last night in Maine, but alas…they were full.

We found a place on the water for dinner.  I had done my research and came up with Haraseeket Lunch and Lobster, and when a native Maine friend recommended the same place, we set out to find it.   It was just right.  It’s where Jack had his first real taste of Maine in the form of a lobster roll.




The next day we were off to LL Bean.  We came away with a  pair of these boots!  Maybe not quite this big, but Bean Boots, nonetheless.


Then we were off to a class in sporting clays.  That was terrific!  LL Bean offers a lot of classes in many different outdoor activities.  If you’re ever in the area, check it out.  They’re reasonably priced and lots of fun.  The teachers clearly knew their stuff, and although it was raining pretty hard, we really had a great time.  I shot very well and, unfortunately, still have a bruised shoulder to prove it.  One really should shoot more than once every forty years or so!



After spending a little more money at LL Bean, we were off onto the next adventure.  We had reservations on a sailing ship, the Surprise, out of Camden.  There were no rooms in Camden, so we stayed Ledges by the Bay in Rockport.  It was small and right on the water.  Nothing fancy…but clean and comfortable – and the views can’t be beat.  The title photo is from The Ledges.    Here are some other shots.  I loved this spot!   The thick fog just added to the coastal ambience.






Then, it was on to Camden.  The weather was still gray at best and foggy at worst.  But, we enjoyed the day nevertheless.  We had reservations for a sailing cruise on the schooner Surprise.  We had time to grab a quick lunch and do some people watching in the harbor.  Then we had two hours on the boat.  Jack got to play with the sails a little, and we both enjoyed the peace and quiet on the water.






I’m going to break this trip into at least two posts so it doesn’t take so long to load.  Maybe 3.  We’ll see.  From here we’re on to Bar Harbor where we had a VERY full two days.  We could have easily spent a full week there.


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