Monthly Archives: December 2009

It Takes a Village

A look at part of the village.

The other night the Mister and I actually put on our social pants and paid a visit to friends in our community. We wanted to see Kathie and Dwayne, of course, but the true draw was one of Kathie’s passions: Her Christmas village that was set up in her dining room.

A young girl pulling her baby brother on a sled represents their kids.

Kathie started collecting the pieces in 1992 when her daughter Monica and son Tanner (who is a friend of my #1 son) were very young. Every year she adds to her wonderful village.

Snowmobile tours

This snowmobile tour building (and more) was her addition this year. It’s set up next to a ski run.

The skiers never seem to get bored!

The ski run actually works! The skiers shoot down the hill and then back up the “lift” endlessly.

Skating without falling down!

Skaters also turn rings around a rink without ever falling. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Too bad there's no ocean for this lighthouse!

Every bit of Kathie’s village is interesting and worthy of low-light photography (with my Nikon D700 and 50mm lens; my ISO mostly was set on 1250–1600).

The choir sings!

I especially liked the parts that made sound. Such as the church’s choir . . .

The old-fashioned radio station

. . . and singers inside the old-fashioned radio station (K-TOY).

A peek inside at the radio station’s singers

I set my exposure compensation at –1 to tone down the light emanating from the radio station’s window. Aren’t they cool-looking characters?

Or maybe they’re really macho men (even though this isn’t a YMCA)? After all, they are the village people!

New Year’s Eve

I hope all my readers have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve tonight! Farewell to 2009!!

Photographically a Day Late and A Dollar Short

The leaves tell the story of what could have been.

I learned a valuable photographic lesson last week: Don’t wait to shoot what could be an amazing photo.

I’ve written before about how green our community is here in the Houston area. We’re surrounded by oak, palm, and pecan trees—they’re totally green all the time. It’s hard to get into the holiday spirit sometimes when every season looks the same.

Two of the few colorful trees left in our community.

But about a month or so ago, maybe 10 percent of our neighborhood’s trees surprised us. We’ve lived in our master-planned community for 13 years, and this was the first time I’d seen such a marked change in some of the foliage. These trees were amazing, aflame with colors—reds, oranges, and golds! They were a welcome contrast to their year-’round green brethren.

Beauty is right above us!

I kept telling myself to get outside and photograph the pretty trees, but the weather wasn’t perfect, and I wasn’t feeling well—they were at their most glorious during a patch when the weather was dreary and rainy, and I suffered from a cold that took 10 long days (and a Z-Pak) to shake.

Where’d all the leaves go?

When the sun finally came out and I felt like shooting again, I noticed something odd about those gorgeous trees: Almost all of them were bare! Very few had any colorful leaves still adorning their branches. I had blown my opportunity to document something truly spectacular. And I was ticked off.

I photographed the three trees above—the only color-ladened ones I could find! I’ve just got to hope that next December all the beautiful trees will put on the same colorful show. And that the weather and my health will cooperate!

Random Snippets & Apertures

This would make a nice painting . . . if I could paint!

As we near the end of 2009, I find myself getting more reflective. I suppose that happens to everyone as we’re about to turn the calendar page to a new month, year, and—hard to believe!—decade.

It looks like wheat, but it isn't. But what is it?

For us, 2010 will usher in an 18th birthday, high school graduation, and the start of college for our #1 son. Meanwhile, as #1 graduates, his younger brother will turn 15 and get his learner’s permit and probably will drive us crazy wanting to be behind the wheel. We also hope that there’s a wonderful, uplifting track season for #2 in the spring.

Here's more of it . . . whatever it is!

The Mister and I face our 20th wedding anniversary at the end of April with a specific goal in mind . . . and, no, it has nothing to do with trying to get along better. Although, maybe we should strive for that, too!

Intriguing fluffy, purply stuff!

Every new year seems to hold so much promise! Goals, hopes, and dreams are written down on January 1. By December 31, will they be firmware or vaporware?

More of the purply stuff

At the end of every year, I ask myself questions. Did I achieve any of my goals? Was I a good mom? Am I more organized?

Did I write blog posts for the sole purpose of showcasing my photos that had absolutely, positively nothing to do with my subject matter?

Can't get enough of this purply stuff!

We don’t need the Magic 8-Ball to figure out the answer to that final query, apparently!

Three Thumbs Up (If I Had Those Many Thumbs!)

Last weekend brought a binge of movies for us. But we didn’t feel overstuffed at all! In fact, all three that we saw were enjoyable.

First, on Christmas the four of us saw “Sherlock Holmes,” which was the #2 son’s #1 choice. We beat the crowd by going to the 9:45 a.m. showing. And we saved money—tickets are $5 each before noon.

Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr., and Rachel McAdams

Robert Downey Jr., who is not British, played the title character, who, of course, is British. Fortunately, he’s a good enough actor to carry that off. Jude Law was his faithful assistant, Dr. Watson, with Rachel McAdams as beautiful career criminal Irene Adler. Director Guy Ritchie’s rendition featured lots of physical action, which included Holmes boxing, juxtapositioning the mental game of crime solving.

The movie kept us on the edge of our seats the entire time. We really enjoyed it!

Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña) and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington)

Saturday morning brought “Avatar” into our lives, the #1 son’s pick. The special effects were dazzling, so much so that I was glad we didn’t opt for the 3D version. While it was an interesting story (humans genetically engineered alien bodies called “avatars” to try to reason with aliens in the future), I didn’t like being hit over the head with the pro-environmental, anti-war message. And I am both of those! However, it was much too heavy-handed in the movie, which was pretty violent. The boys really liked it, of course.

Anna Kendrick and George Clooney

The Mister and I saw “Up in the Air” yesterday. It stars my “second husband,” George Clooney.

Sidebar: This was my unusual conversation with another female moviegoer when I was buying tickets Friday. She was going to see “Up in the Air.”

Me: I really want to see that! My second husband, George Clooney, stars in it.

Her: Well, I’m having an affair with your second husband!

By the way, no male on earth will understand that exchange!

“Up in the Air” is about Clooney’s character, who plays a corporate downsizer (e.g., someone who fires people for companies). He has no attachments other than two sisters he hardly sees until he becomes smitten with a frequent-flying gal played by Vera Farmiga. As he continues in a hardly rational pursuit of mega airline miles, he’s paired with a new, young, female downsizer who wants to fire people via iChatting/Skype. Anna Kendrick, who plays Bella’s closest friend in the “Twilight” series movies, gets a more-sizable role here and really shows her acting chops.

Yes, yet another shameless chance to picture George in my blog.

The Mister and I both really liked “Up in the Air.” It’s billed as a romantic comedy or a comedy drama, but it’s really much more drama than comedy. It definitely makes you think about what’s really important in your life.

As someone who dislikes flying, I know frequent flying miles never will be more important than the people I love. And that includes those make-believe husbands!

Christmas and Spaghetti

Good will to humankind.

Our Christmas Day tradition is to see a movie. We’ve opted for “Sherlock Holmes” at 9:45 this morning. Hope it’s not too crowded!

When I was growing up, our Christmas Day tradition was to eat spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti (it wasn’t known as “pasta” back in the 1950s and ’60s, at least not in our house).

Why spaghetti? Because my mom insisted that spaghetti was what all the goyim ate on Christmas Day. And my mom did cook up a mean batch of pasghetti, as my dad liked to call it. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that most gentiles actually ate ham or turkey on Christmas Day. At the time it was kind of disillusioning actually.

But now it’s pretty funny when I think back fondly on those days. I miss my father, who has been gone since March of 1991; I miss being with my mom, who is trying to stay warm and safe up in Chicago; and I definitely miss my mom’s delicious pasghetti!

To those of you who celebrate the holiday today, Merry Christmas, y’all! Whether or not you eat spaghetti!

An Illuminating Photo Shoot

An inauspicious start!

Continuing where I left off with yesterday’s blog post about taking photos of bright Christmas lights:

As you can see from the above photo, which was my first attempt snapping away in Pecan Grove, I got off to a lousy start. Remember all that practicing I had done the day before for taking photos on a ProGrad hayride? I forgot one teensy, tiny, minute detail: The vehicle would be moving.

While in my neighborhood, I was either on foot or shooting from a stopped car. I didn’t consider that the hayride vehicle would be on the go for most of its 45 minutes of travel. Which led to a bunch of blurred photos until I increased my shutter speed to compensate for how fast the car I was in was going. Duh!

Sidebar: Yes, I wimped out and rode in the car, driven by the husband of my friend Darlene, instead of in the trailer it was pulling. Hey, it was cold that evening! Can’t shoot well with frozen fingers (or so I rationalized!).

Lots to see at this house

As we drove along the lit-up streets of Pecan Grove, there was so much beauty to take in and photograph. The residents did themselves proud! The Nikon D700 and 50mm lens were up to the task, as my ISO was mostly set on 2500. I kept the exposure compensation at –.3 and –.7 (depending on how many lights there were), so I could retain as much lights detail as possible.

Here’s a sample of what we saw:

It's an Incredibles Christmas!

Santa also apparently flies a plane!

Lots of pretty lights here

Kung Fu Panda takes center stage.

This house featured a horde of snowpeople.

This seemed to be everyone's favorite: The Ho Ho Ho house.

Ho ho ho! Seems to be an apt sentiment for tonight!

Practicing for a Light-Filled Photo Shoot

A cute inflatable

When I volunteered to help with a hayride last Saturday, I, of course, had an ulterior motive. The event was run by the ProGrad committee at my sons’ high school in an attempt to raise money for its lock-in the night of high school graduation.

Sidebar: Project Graduation is a supervised, all-night, alcohol-free party for grads where they get fabulous prizes and have a great time. Even the hardly social #1 son plans to attend. Surprised me, that’s for sure. Which meant I had to volunteer.

Snoopy serenades our neighborhood.

The hayride (aka trucks pulling trailers filled with hay bundles) travels through a nearby community, Pecan Grove, that’s renown for its December lightfest. Most of the houses participate in making the many streets look festive and bright. I knew I’d want to go on one of the trucks after my volunteer duties and snap photos of the beautiful houses. I also knew that I’d better practice in my own neighborhood first, so I’d know what to anticipate once the hayride was rolling.

Lit-up snowpeople

My equipment choice was easy: I opted for two low-light champs, the Nikon D700 paired with the Nikon f/1.4 50mm lens. A fast lens like the 50mm lets in a lot of light, enabling me to keep my shutter speed high enough to, hopefully, not blur what I’m shooting.

Why not use flash, you ask? Because it wouldn’t look like you were photographing at night! Everything would be much too bright.

As I walked around my neighborhood, I experimented with exposure compensation in order to deal with the cluster of lights, like with the above snowmen. Without accounting for this extra light by going to an exposure comp of –.7, the snowmen would be blown out and almost unrecognizable. Too much light, just like too little light, can be a bad thing photographically.

Sidebar: Neither my neighbor Sylvia nor the Mister read the above three paragraphs. Their eyes started glazing over once they read “My equipment choice.” I fully understand . . . that’s how I feel when people talk about spreadsheets or computer code. Or cooking without following a recipe.

Two bears and a seal

Walking around the neighborhood taking a multitude of photos (each time I would try different settings to see what worked best) was a great experience. Although I’m sure some of my neighbors were scratching their heads at my odd behavior.

Blue snowflakes

I even found myself wishing that some of the snowflakes I was photographing were real. No, not lots and lots and lots of them. Just enough to make it seem like winter here in south Texas.

How many white trees are there?

Every now and then I found a reflection photo op. Those always are my favorite.

Love these peppermint lights!

My neighbor Tish put out some of the most-intriguing and fun lights to photograph along her sidewalk. They look like big peppermint candies!

Red peppermints

And they change colors! Too cool!!

Santa travels in style!

I really was getting into the swing of photographing well-lit things by the time I finished experimenting. The settings that seemed to work best were ISO 1600-2500, f/2-3.5, and an exposure comp of –.3 or –.7. I was ready to take on the Pecan Grove challenge.

How did I do? Tune in again tomorrow to find out!