An Educational(ish) Post: Learning New Stuff

This will be a relatively brief post. Relatively.

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It won’t take you long to read this. I promise.

I’m currently a grad student, and, as such, I’m learning new stuff. Lots of new stuff. One advantage of learning new stuff is that you want to learn how to apply that new stuff to the old stuff you already knew and, in turn, improve stuff.

With that being said, I’m going to plan on giving this site some overhauling during the summer. For all three of my faithful readers, this might be a slight inconvenience as you figure out the new format.

I know, I know…you’re terribly distressed right now.

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Kind of.

It’ll be fine, though. In fact, I expect that it will be a better place to visit once I get around to the actual overhaul. I want to feature a bit more on the photography side (you can still visit my Etsy shop in the meantime, hint hint…) and include other features.

Stick around, come back and visit, stay tuned, et cetera. I mean, if you’re already here, there’s no need to leave. This stuff is still going to be here until I have the time to start working on changes.

And, of course, I still have more stuff to learn.

An Experiment: Chia Pet, The Sequel

I’m sure that all three of my faithful readers will be familiar with the exp-hair-iment I conducted two years ago with my Bob Ross Chia Pet. I’m also quite certain that all three (okay, maybe four) of my faithful readers will be familiar with my inability to sustain plant life for extended periods of time. People have different talents, and most domestic skills are not among mine. (Somehow, I learned how to knit, so if you need an emergency blanket or scarf, it’s my singular domestic super power.)

This month, I decided it was time to give the Richard Simmons Chia Pet a try. Like Bob Ross, he was a Christmas gift, and with all the winter weather, I thought I would like to see a little greenery around the house.

If you’ve never tried to grow a Chia Pet, I’ll sum it up in a couple of bullet points:

  • Getting the consistency of the seeds just right in the beginning is tricky. The correct seed-to-water ratio is something I still haven’t mastered, and a lot of the seeds slid down the poor guy’s neck before they had a chance to sprout.
  • Keeping the planter watered is another issue. The drip tray can and will overflow, and sometimes you just can’t do enough to keep the top sufficiently hydrated, resulting in typical male-pattern baldness.
  • They’re higher maintenance than one would think.
Sproutin’ to the oldies. Regrettably, this was the last day for his chest sprouts. They came off in the sink.

I feel like I invested a lot of time and energy into this little project only to have several of the seeds remain dormant. One of the tips says you can put a plastic bag over the planter to keep the humidity level high, but I kept knocking seeds off the top of his head while I tried to adjust the plastic bag. Besides, I need to keep as many of those plastic bags inside other plastic bags in my kitchen as I can, because I’m older now and that’s what you’re supposed to do with extra plastic bags.

Sure, it’s a novelty item, but I’d really like to be able to make it look close to the picture on the box someday. Sadly, I think that’s a lofty goal, but it would be fabulous if I could.

I’ll be rinsing this one off and trying again soon. Maybe I’ll even put Bob and Richard side by side next time just to compare their progress…or lack thereof. Wouldn’t that be fun? Who would like to see that?

A Memory: Roses and The Fab Four

We took my mom’s car that night for one reason–it was clean. My dad probably didn’t have time to clean all of the loose pork rinds and empty fast-food coffee cups out of the passenger seat of his vehicle in a manner befitting of an impromptu father-daughter movie date. He looked different to me as he sat behind the wheel of a low-profile sedan, but he was a good driver, and we were soon on our way.

Before we left the city limits–we went across the state line to Poplar Bluff to go to movies–he pulled over, parking next to a building where he frequently worked.

“Stay right here,” he said, stepping out of the car. He walked over to a rose bush, pulled out his pocket knife, and clipped a single rose that he brought back to me. I put it behind my ear, grinning. What eleven-year-old girl wouldn’t love that?

Roses have always had significant meaning for me. I was born on Valentine’s Day. I can’t help but make the connection, even if I’ve been shaking my head for a good many years (now) about sharing my day with that holiday. However, there was something I could depend on every year from my dad.

Every year, on my birthday, he sent me a single red rose in a vase.

Yes, I kept the cards.

Every year, he also did something else that became a tradition. He would call and sing. Sure, you’re probably thinking, “Duh. That’s, like, everyone’s tradition.”

Well, there’s tradition, and there’s tradition. Ours was a bit…unique to the family. The call usually went something like this:

Phone: Ring, ring…

Me (Answering Phone): Hello? (I knew who it was. Not sure why I had to answer with such a questioning tone.)

Pop: You ready?

Me: (Sigh.) All right…(pulling phone away from my ear)

Pop: THEY SAY IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY! Nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuuu-uuuuh…WE’RE GONNA HAVE A GOOD TIME! Wah-wah-wah-wah. (He was really good with the wah pedal…vocally.)

Yep, he always had to hit me up with his solo, unplugged version of the birthday song by those lads from Liverpool, because we couldn’t be exactly like everyone else.

The conversation would continue, usually with me letting him know that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be (insert age). His response was always the same.

“Beats the alternative.”

A few years back, the singing and the roses stopped. It wasn’t his fault; there was nothing that could be done to stop the illness that took him this past December.

I can’t help but wonder just how loudly he would’ve been singing this year. Perhaps I’ll just take it upon myself to sing my own version. Traditions like those are a way of keeping someone with you, as are the memories…like the memory of the eleven-year-old version of me riding next to my dad with a rose tucked behind my ear and a smile across my face.

A Cozy Evening: Sitting By the Fake Fireside

I, along with many of you, have been turning to the small comforts in an effort to try to enjoy this holiday season as it is. I particularly enjoy the idea of a cozy fireplace, and I’ve found that the easiest way to experience it is to pick one of the many videos from YouTube, cast it to the television, and stare at it whilst sipping a comfy cup of hot chocolate. Tending to the fire isn’t required, cleanup is a snap, and the videos don’t dry out the air in my living room.

This year, new holiday yule log videos have emerged featuring the ubiquitous 2020 Dumpster Fire, and while they are appropriate to watch, they also make me grateful that Smell-O-Vision hasn’t become a thing yet. However, many of them are accompanied by upbeat Christmas music, so if you need a laugh, I have a few I can recommend.

If I tried to shoot one of those videos, however, I can almost guarantee it would end up something like this:

My hair seems to be tingling.

As much as I love the real thing, the trajectory of 2020 has taught me that I’d be better off leaving the yule log to someone else if I value my health and safety. Murphy’s Law is, after all, the law of the land these days.

Also–and this is a pretty important point–I don’t have a fireplace, which only adds to the potential hazards.

On that note, I’m going to search for some more soothing fireside videos.

Happy Holidays.

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A List: How To Keep Your Alphabet Soup From Spelling Bad Words

Alphabet soup can be a warm, soothing treat on a brisk, cold day. However, what happens if your soup suddenly turns on you with a linguistic assault? Here are some tips to make sure your alphabet soup watches its language.

  1. Start the conversation while the soup is still in the can. You can’t begin to stress early enough that bad language will not be tolerated in your kitchen or at the dining table. Remind the soup that there’s no place in your digestive tract for abrasive words.
  2. Shake the can before heating. If nothing else, you’ll feel better.
  3. Separate the talkative letters. Break up those cliques before they have a chance to act out. If they gang up and start yelling (example: AAAAAAAA), gently coax them to other areas of the bowl with a spoon. Re-heat to a low boil if they insist on remaining stuck to each other.
  4. If you notice a repeated pattern of certain diabolical words or phrases, step away from the soup, leave the house immediately, and consult a priest. Or the Ghostbusters. (They’re ready to believe you.)
  5. You know, vegetable soup tastes pretty good, and it’s good for you. Try that.

An Observation: Sunset Photos, Selfie Filters, and…That’s More Than One Observation

I’ve seen some absolutely incredible sunsets lately from my front door. As most people know, though, capturing a good photo of a sunset presents its own challenges. The most common complaint I hear after the shutter clicks is, “Well, it was a beautiful sunset, but it looked better in person!”

Sometimes, it can come down to adjusting a few settings in your camera. If you’re using a DSLR, you have a wider range of options than you would on your smartphone. One of my recent sunset photos is a good example of how this can work to your advantage. Mesmerized by the colors, I stepped outside and took a few shots with my Nikon. When I looked at the results, the colors looked nothing like what was staring back at me in plain sight. After I adjusted the white balance, I finally found the shot that matched my ocular reality.

Yes, it really was that breathtaking.

Lens filters are also helpful for a variety of reasons. I own very few lens filters. These filters help to enhance what is already there, and you have to make other adjustments to your shots based on the filters you are using. Also, unless I’m specifically trying to make a photo look like an oil or watercolor painting for a reason, I try not to make a ton of adjustments when processing the prints.

Is it possible to overdo it with the settings and filters and other gizmos?

ABSOLUTELY.

And I’ve found that the perfect example to illustrate my point is the infamous selfie filter.

I don’t even really know where to find some of these filters…I’m not exactly one of the cool kids. I don’t even have the Snapchats. I’ll admit, I used to ask school photographers on faculty picture day to check for a “ten years younger” button on their camera before taking the photo of me that would haunt the yearbook for eternity, but I didn’t realize that there were filters out there that could essentially take your face back to infancy.

(Side Note: Has anyone else noticed that some facial features all but disappear through these overly-filtered filters? I’m not just talking about wrinkles and blemishes. I’ve seen an awful lot of nostrils running around without noses. It’s weird.)

However, curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to do a selfie filter experiment. Someone can let me know later if I did it right.

Here’s the “before” with no filter:

This is what I really look like. Sorry.

And…the after, with some kind of filter (I think):

Umm…yeah.

Okay, something tells me I need to practice a little bit more on my use of filters. Or not. Perhaps I should put the selfies on the back burner and take a hike. Literally. There’s lots of nice stuff outside to photograph.

A Trip: Concrete and Sea Turtles

A few months ago (or maybe it was years…I’m still a little fuzzy on the whole time and space thing these days), I bought a few yards of material to begin sewing some masks. I quickly discovered that I had two problems to navigate–the last time I had used a sewing machine was when I was nine years old, and the machine I would use to make said masks had more than a few issues that, unbelievably, I wasn’t causing.

Since I am notoriously stubborn when it comes to learning new things, though, I went ahead and bought way too many yards of a print that I would feel comfortable wearing in public and insisted on learning how to make masks.

Sea turtles. Perfect for someone who lives in a landlocked state.

I cut fabric, I threaded the machine. I put the pedal to the metal and listened as the machine would lurch, then stop, then lurch again as I would forget to do something while I was untangling a mess, like putting my foot down.

I didn’t know how important “foot” would prove to be in this whole twisted tale of trying to do my part. However, when you use a sewing machine, you must lower the presser foot before you start feeding the fabric through, unless you just love trying to work your way down a knotted mess of thread to figure out how to undo what you just undid, or…yeah.

Additionally, you must have good control of the foot pedal as you work, unless your idea of a finished product involves threading needles through the delicate flesh in your hands. (No, the blood stains don’t give your mask “character.”)

In another ironic twist to the story, a few weeks after I had completed enough masks to keep several in my personal rotation (I had to block off significant chunks of time in the beginning to figure out what I was doing, obviously), I took a stroll down to the mailbox in my flip-flops after a rain shower. As I walked back into my garage, the rain plus my stellar sense of coordination plus the slick spot that every concrete floor has added up to a slip-and-slide ride resulting in my ending up on the ground with a lump on top of my foot. A very bruised lump.

The darkest part of the bruise eventually settled in to the shape of a sea turtle.

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I suppose I could have used one of my unwearable early mask creations as a makeshift ice pack. Oh, well. My next home project might have something to do with the first aid kit. We’ll see.

A Short List: Things I HAVE Seen Lately

Author’s Note: Sorry it’s not more exciting. But, instead of lamenting all of the things I haven’t seen lately, I made a list of a few things I have.

  1. The stop sign at the end of my street.
  2. Snails.
  3. My sewing machine, otherwise known as That Thing I Have To Fix Every Five Minutes Because I’ve Only Recently Started Using It Again After It Spent Two Years in Storage.
  4. My resident kitchen gnome.
  5. My kitchen sink.
  6. My kitchen.
  7. (You can’t help but like the gnome.)
  8. (I’m a little jealous of the gnome, though.)
  9. (For starters, he has better hair than I do.)
  10. (And a really cool hat.)
  11. (He does have to stand up all the time, though.)
  12. (And smile, even if he might not always feel like smiling. He watches me “cook,” after all. Not a pretty sight.)
  13. (“Gnome” is an odd word once you’ve said it over and over several times.)
  14. (I got sidetracked. Where was I?)
  15. (Oh. Stuff I’ve seen.)
  16. A bag of potatoes next to my kitchen gnome.
Cute little fella.

A Not-So-(NEO)WISE Decision: Mosquito Swarm

Let me preface this entry with an announcement: I broke the internet yesterday. I didn’t mean to, but WordPress gave me the dreaded “white screen of death” while I was running updates, and I had to use my resourcefulness to navigate through tutorials and whatnot to figure out how to un-break the internet. Long story short, if you’re reading this, I guess I fixed it.

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So…if you really are reading this, let’s talk NEOWISE. The photographer in me was desperate to get out and take some photos of this once-in-6,800-years comet that was just discovered back in March when the rest of the planet was justifiably concerned with things happening on the ground. It’s July now, and the comet came into view this month. I thought it was time for a field trip.

I decided to try to get my photos during the evening twilight. Earlier in the month, it was visible in the pre-dawn hours, but morning isn’t my finest hour. Evening was a better choice if I wanted to get a good shot. I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t be able to see it from my house due to the city lights, which prompted me to drive towards the farm fields away from town.

I’m from the Delta, but I still managed to underestimate the most formidable summertime force that descends upon the flatlands as the evening darkness falls–the mosquito swarm.

I pulled off the road and tried to adjust my camera settings for some (hopefully) good shots so that I could just hop out of the car, put the camera on the tripod, and use the remote shutter release to snap away once NEOWISE was in view, thus limiting my mosquito exposure.

Good plan, right?

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WRONG. I was out of the car for two whole seconds before the swarm found me. My grand plan went out the window as the mosquitoes invaded my car, my ears, my arms, my legs…everything. I scrambled and danced as I secured the camera on the tripod.

Focus? I didn’t care about that anymore. I could see the comet, so I could at least claim having seen it. However, I really wanted a good photo. Yeah…wasn’t happening this time. I snapped four pictures before I drove away with the windows down in an attempt to rid my vehicle of the bloodthirsty little beasts. The only shot that came close to looking okay-ish was this one:

At least I saw it. It wasn’t that blurry in real life. (I think. I’m not sure. I was moving around too much.)

The following night, owing to the fact that it was higher in the sky than I expected it to be, I thought I’d try to step outside my front door and see if I could see it. The mosquitoes in my neighborhood are not nearly as bad as they are near the rice fields. I couldn’t see it, but I thought that I might catch it by taking a few long-exposure shots with the camera. I was marginally more successful in that outing, even catching a passing airplane (or satellite, or possibly UFO) in one photo.

Let the conspiracy theories begin.

The mosquito bites I earned outside of my front door were limited, although I still have plenty of them to scratch from my field trip. Not the smartest move, but I suppose the bites will serve as a reminder not to try that again when NEOWISE returns sometime around the year 8820.

An Update: Reviewing a Camera Six Months After Purchase

Like many of you, I have largely been staying close to home for the last few months. Ordinarily, I would have been on the road most weekends in the springtime with my camera. But, the thoughts would start to creep in about how far I would want to drive to look for photo opportunities, how many non-socially-distant people would be around, and the eventual need to use a public restroom during a pandemic.

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So, most of the photos I’ve taken this year have been pretty close to home.

That’s not to say you can’t find interesting subjects in and around your own home. I was just hoping to take the camera I bought in late January for a longer test drive.

Still, I thought I would share a few thoughts and possibly gather yours regarding what I have discovered about my Nikon D7500.

Let’s start with the negatives (haha…see what I did there?) first to get them out of the way.

DISCLAIMER: I’m still practicing quite a bit just to get to know this camera, so I’m perfectly happy to take any advice you might have to offer.

I tend to use a circular polarizing filter a lot outdoors, particularly if I want to emphasize the sky on one of those crystal-clear days. Therefore, I know I will have to compensate to a degree. However, I’ve found that I’m having to do far more adjusting that I’ve had to do in the past just to get enough light into the camera to keep from having to radically alter the exposure in the computer later. In fact…

I have to do this without the filter, leaving me to wonder if I need to adjust other settings as well. Could it be the 542-focal-point system built into the camera that’s causing me headaches here? (I think it’s more like 689. Lots of squares. They might not even be related, but it was worth a thought. I think.)

This one eventually turned out well, but I had to do a lot of bracketing and later adjustments in Lightroom to get the results I wanted.

I’m still stuck in the old habits I used on my old camera for ten years when it comes to button-and-doohickey placement. Functions I once automatically reached for without looking are in different spots. Many frequently-used function settings can be saved in the camera menu, which I should probably do.

Now, for the pros:

Despite my complaints about the low-light problems when I’m shooting on a sunny day, I captured one remarkably good shot recently of a storm…at midnight.

I was using a remote shutter release to try to get a lightning strike from a distant storm. However, I ended up with something far better, in my opinion, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the camera handled this situation.

The clarity and sharpness are a huge improvement over my last camera. I have much wider range of ISO settings available, although I haven’t really encountered a situation yet where I’ve needed to bump it up to, like, a million.

Once I figure out how to make necessary adjustments, the quality is great.

Spring…

So, that breaks down my experiences with the Nikon D7500 to this point. Again, I’m still sifting through all the functions and working on finding opportunities to practice in different scenarios, but you get the picture (haha…see what I did there again?).

Thoughts?