Monthly Archives: February 2010

Wimps, Whiners, and Weenies, Oh My!

The weekly Houston weather forecast

This has been a brutal winter in the Houston area, and I’ve hated it. Hate, hate, hate the cold! Hate, hate, hate the north winds! Wind chill is for northerners, not southerners!

The weekly Chicago weather forecast

I lived in the Chicago area for the first 30 years of my life, and I had to put up with the cold and wind chill, not to mention the ice and snow. That’s just part of the Midwestern winter package. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it, because, hey, it’s cold up north!

But now I’ve lived in the south for the last 26 years, and mild winters are the best part of the weather experience (which almost make up for our sometimes unbearable summers). I’ve loved our temperate southeast Texas climate. I look forward to those nice temps while sweating through the summer and early fall.

But this year something has changed. For the worse! It seems that the Houston area has been mired in damp, chilly weather this entire winter . . . and it’s not about to end any time soon.

According to the “Houston Chronicle’s” science writer, Eric Berger, I’m not imagining things. Here’s what he had to say in his blog:

Consider last February in Houston, when 21 of the month’s 28 days had high temperatures of 70 degrees or above, and there was not one night of freezing temperatures. On three days temperatures topped out in the 80s.

Contrast that with this February, when we’ve had just one—just one!—day when temperatures reached 70 degrees. And so far there have been four freezes.

For people who know Houston weather, this winter has felt really cold.

The #2 son (second from the left) and his teammates keep warm at last night’s track meet.

My friends and family from up north have scoffed at our cold-weather complaints on Facebook. They think we’re just wimps, whiners, and weenies. Hey, I’m not arguing! Yes, we are! Of course, they’d feel the same way during August here.

It all means that, like it or not, we’ve had to adapt and pull on our warmer clothes . . . lots of them! Take last night’s high school junior varsity track meet. As I said in Tuesday’s blog post, I would learn from freezing at the first meet and dress more warmly. Which I did! I layered my warm Cuddl Duds under my sweatpants and sweatshirt. Added my warmest jacket, complete with a stylish hood, and I felt pretty toasty once the sun went down.

Except for my hands. I can’t use gloves when I shoot, so I mostly suffered in silence. Except when someone came close enough. Then I complained. A lot.

Tori stays warmer than her teammates.

Meanwhile, our athletes tried to stay as warm as possible before having to brave the wind-chilled 40ish temps in their shorts and singlets.

Jasmine rocks the Bratz girls blanket.

At least the kids were on the move, which helped them keep warmer.

Terry keeps his ears warm as he watches through the fence.

The parents were mostly huddled together along the fence . . .

Jimmy and Karen join the Mister on the cold bleachers.

. . . or on those frosty cold aluminum bleachers. Doesn’t the Mister look thrilled? I didn’t dare attempt a thought bubble!

Unfortunately for us, the track meet dragged on and on and on, because there were 13 teams. With all those freshmen boys and junior varsity girls and boys, that made for at least five heats for most of the events. And we had to stay until the end, because our #2 son was running in the 4 x 400-meter relay . . . the very last race. Weren’t we lucky? No, we didn’t think so either.

The meet wasn’t over until almost 10 p.m. On a school night!

By the end of the evening . . .

. . . we all felt like curling up in a blanket in the fetal position! Whining all the way!!

Hurdling All Photographic Obstacles

A good angle and height for capturing junior varsity 110 hurdle action.

When you’re an amateur like me trying to take photos of high school sporting events, one aspect is of utmost importance: Location, location location. Just like in real estate. The closer you can get to the action (without being in harm’s way, of course), the better your pictures probably will be.

Too bad the school district’s security officers don’t agree with me! Their job is to keep nonathletes away from the court and track. Hey, I wear running shoes when I shoot; don’t I at least look athletic?

Sometimes you just have to take the space that you’re given and make lemonade out of those lemons. Last week when I shot at our high school’s junior varsity and varsity track meets, I became proficient at squeezing that yellow citrus fruit.

Our team's athlete reaches the hurdle first and is more visible at this angle.

For the freshmen 110 hurdles at our home track, I went into the nearly empty stands and aimed my Nikon 70-200mm lens downwards and at an angle.

The two JV hurdlers are almost side by side.

I was able to capture the action at two sets of hurdles. You can see the difference in how both athletes were brought into focus.

Parallel to the first varsity 110 hurdle

Two days later at the varsity meet, my location was at a low fence near the starting area of the 100 meters and 100/110 hurdles. I didn’t want to block the view of people in the stands, so I decided to drink my cold lemonade and use my 70-200mm lens right there.

Burst mode is your BFF when shooting hurdles, because you never know when you’ll capture the peak of the action. When I looked at the photos on my iMac, all of them from a burst series intrigued me. Here they are with no commercial interruption:

Photo #1: The approach

#2: The leap of faith

#3: Up and over

#4: On their way to the next hurdle

And then there’s the aftermath. No surprise since they’re males. I live with three guys. If mine aren’t the messiest in the world, I don’t want to meet the messiest! But I think that these hurdlers can give them a run (pun intended!) for their money.

Pick up this mess!

Do you guys want some lemonade?

Jumping Jehosaphat!

Up and over the bar in the pole vault!

Last week’s high school junior varsity track meet also featured our girls’ team. For them, the freshmen don’t have their own division, like the boys do, because there just aren’t enough girls. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not in it to win it!

Jasmine leaps in the triple jump.

I concentrated on shooting some of the field events, because I knew a couple of the girls who were competing.

Cori takes off and glides through the air during the triple jump.

You might remember Cori and Tori (ironic rhyming!) from this blog post about their JV basketball travails.

She extends and is about to stick the landing!

They both compete in the triple jump, and it was fun trying to capture them photographically as they flew through the air.

Tori begins her trip over the high jump bar.

Tori also high jumps. Knowing she had at least three attempts, I tried different angles in documenting her efforts.

Tori springs up.

This angle made for a messier background (I’m glad the Nikon 70-200mm lens wide open at f/2.8 provides such wonderful bokeh!). But it was best for seeing her face, as she strained to jump over the bar.

Up and over . . . while the bar stays put!

Tori might like this angle best . . . because it shows her winning jump!

Leaping lizards . . . and Bulldogs!

Let There Be Light—At a Track Meet

The competition, including the #2 son in the middle, stays close during the first lap of the 800 meters.

Remember last Friday’s post in which a British reviewer of the movie “Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief” claimed I was dim-witted?

Sidebar: I’ll wait while you re-read/read it; check out the 12th and 13th paragraphs. Ready to continue?

Apparently, Christopher Tookey was right . . . when it comes to photographing track meets.

Abhi shows his emotion as he runs to a win in the junior-varsity 800 meters.

After spending two years documenting the highs and lows of my #2 son during middle school track meets, you’d think I’d remember one basic principle of late winter/early spring in the Houston area: When the sun sets, it gets very cold. Multiple-jacket cold. Wish-you-had-a-blanket-and-the-Mister-to-cuddle-with cold.

Justin battles in the inside lane during the jv 100-meter dash.

I always take the lesson to heart . . . by the second meet. And I always forget it for the first one, leaving bruises on my freezing behind from kicking myself for only wearing one lightweight jacket. And a short-sleeve t-shirt. When will I learn?

As you can gather from the photos, high school track season has started for #2. He’s running in the freshmen division during junior varsity meets. In middle school he was a sprinter. Now he’s moved up to the 800 meters.

The light shines on the #2 son during the 800 meters.

#2 had a great debut at a distance he’d never competed at, finishing second in 2:23 (the winner, who is to his left, blew away the field in 2:09) at last week’s Bulldog Relays. Of course, I snapped a bunch of pix. When I was looking at the above photo on my iMac, I was struck by how the sun’s light seems to be striking only my boy. What a lucky photo break!

Reid is poised for his second-place finish in the freshmen 3200 meters.

But then I saw it again when I looked at photos of Reid . . .

Cody stays close to his running rival in the freshmen 3200 meters.

. . . and Cody in the 3200 meters. Perhaps something was, dare I say it, afoot?!?

Josh takes an early lead in the jv 3200.

Maybe it was just this part of the track that favored our athletes’ illumination.

Nick shines brightly during the jv 3200.

It seemed uncanny how the light shone only on our runners!

Owen stretches to hand off to Christian in the jv 4 x 100-meter relay.

The light seemed to follow our runners down the track.

Christian runs the curve during the 4 x 100-meter relay.

Great light for those who are light on their feet! Photography is all about light, and I loved what I had to work with.

Until the sun set. And it got dark. And cold. Very cold. Soon I had to increase my shutter speed to compensate for shiver-induced blur. That meant it was time to put my Nikon D700 and Nikon 70-200mm lens away and try to gather warmth from the small but hardy band of freshmen parents sitting in the stands. Yes, on aluminum bleachers. Frosty aluminum bleachers.

The team’s next meet is Thursday, when the expected high is 60 with a low in the mid-40s. I will be better prepared! I’m off to look for my long underwear!

Pulling On Our Social Pants—the ProGrad Dinner

Cheshire Cat Chase

Let me go on record as saying I am definitely pro ProGrad. A supervised, all-night, alcohol-free party graduation evening where the kids have fun and get prizes is a great way to celebrate a milestone.

But leading up to the event are a number of fundraisers that some of the parents and seniors are involved in, all in the name of raising money and earning Bulldog bucks to be spent at the party.  The #1 son and I have attended meetings and have done a bit of volunteering so that he can have these coveted bucks. But we haven’t been overly involved, because that’s just how we roll. He’s not very social, and I’m very lazy.

Love the barrel of monkeys above the “Toy Story” table

Then it came time for the biggest fundraiser of them all: The dinner and auction, which was last Saturday night at the high school’s cafeteria. Of course, #1 wanted nothing to do with something quite that social. His BFF and our “third” son, Chase, though, participated with three of their senior friends.

Each table utilized a theme that was carried through by the kids and included everything on the table, from flatware to dishes to cups. Chase’s table’s theme was Alice in Wonderland. I think he wanted to be the Cheshire Cat, because he didn’t have to smile behind his drawn-on grin.

The Mad Scientists' Einstein cake (a Facebook friend opined that it looks like “Lost‘s” Ben Linus!)

The tables also had desserts, which were auctioned off.

A planet and rocket ship carried out our table’s space theme.

Even though #1 wasn’t there, the Mister and I pulled on our social pants and attended the gala. We sat with our friends Joyce and Don at their son Daniel’s space-themed table.

The Milk Bone was used for a game, not for dessert.

The six seniors who worked their theme’s three tables did a great job serving us food and entertaining us with their moonwalking (don’t think of Michael Jackson’s variety, though; it was more like Neil Armstrong).

Daniel cuts the spaceship cake.

The Mister and I had fun chatting and eating. We won the auction for our table’s cake (thanks to no competition), which continued to carry out the space theme.

Buck shows his school spirit!

All of the tables were really well-done. Buck was the headliner at a hunting table where everyone was dressed in camouflage . . . we almost couldn’t see them!

Jacob and Karan sport their Mardi Gras ties.

Even the boys got into the spirit of things. They willingly dressed up or in costumes and served food and bussed tables without any fuss.

What Chase was really thinking!

Well, almost all the boys!

Percy Jackson vs. Harry Potter: Demigod vs. Wizard

Instead of seeing “Valentine’s Day” on that holiday, we instead went to “Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief.” That’s what happens when you let the kids vote.

The #1 son had read the Rick Riordan fantasy and was keen to see how it played out on the big screen. I had been intrigued by the trailer (“It’s just a pen!”), hoping that all the good parts hadn’t been revealed in it.

Good news: They weren’t!

For those of you who haven’t heard of the book or the movie, Percy Jackson is surprised to find out that he’s a demigod, the son of Poseidon. Yes, even though he can sit on the bottom of a swimming pool for seven minutes! Apparently, Olympus gods (not to be confused with Olympics gods) mate with mortals but aren’t allowed to help raise their kids. Sounds like the kind of daddy issues we see all the time on “Lost!”

Percy goes on an adventure (helping to save the world, natch) with two other demigods. The movie is action-packed; I was on the edge of my seat for most of the computer-generated scenes (which were terrific). It’s well-acted and leads nicely into what surely will be yet another movie, because there are five books in the series. What’s great about the novels is that they teach kids Greek mythology (Riordan was an English and history teacher) in an entertaining, unforgettable way.

Uma Thurman made a spell-binding Medusa (note the iPod).

After seeing the movie and recommending it to others, I thought I’d check out Rotten Tomatoes and see what the people who get paid to watch films thought. Apparently, half agreed with me.

The half that didn’t see things my way (so, of course, they’re wrong) seemed fixated on something that never occurred to me while I was sitting next to the Mister rooting on Percy: The book/movie is similar to those featuring one Harry Potter, a literary favorite of the #1 son and myself. Here’s what some of those cranky reviewers had to say:

“So trite and ludicrous it is no threat to the Harry Potter franchise.”—Jackie K. Cooper

“. . . an attempt to replicate the phenomenon that is Harry Potter.”—Robin Clifford

“Very American, very crass and very underwhelming.”—Allan Hunter

Ouch!

“Maybe if you’re aged between eight and 12, or exceptionally dim-witted, you may not notice that this is a tenth-rate rip-off of Harry Potter, with Greek mythology taking the place of magic.”—Christopher Tookey

Double ouch! That one stung. Because if I’m not between the ages of 8 and 12 (which, of course, I am not), then I guess I’m exceptionally dim-witted. But then I noticed that Tookey writes for Britain’s “Daily Mail” (who can name the Beatles song that references that publication?). He might opine that being a Texan would make me even dimmer-witted than most Americans. Good thing I still consider myself to be a Midwesterner!

By the way, it can’t rip off Harry, because Riordan wrote his tale in 1994 (though it wasn’t published until 2005); J.K. Rowling’s first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was published in 1997.

“A slab of market research in search of an actual movie.”—Tim Robey

What? I guess I’m too dim-witted to understand this sentence.

“While the Hogwarts saga may be getting long in the tooth, at least it has decent characters and a sense of humour. This has neither.”—David Edwards (yet another British reviewer)

Pierce “Giddyap!” Brosnan

No decent characters? Two words: Pierce Brosnan. Who played a centaur, for goodness sakes!

Here’s my take on Percy vs. Harry: Of course, both main characters are going to have two good friends. And one key similarity that most people might miss is that in order to stay safe, both Percy and Harry have had to live with disgusting people (for Percy, it’s his stepfather; for Harry, it’s the Dursleys).

But Percy was a mama’s boy, which I loved, of course. Poor Harry didn’t really know his parents. And the “Lightning Thief” movie had such a clever use of a shiny iPod—no magical iPods in Harry’s world.

The universal themes of friendship, loyalty, and love that both films espouse aren’t copyrighted by HP and Rowling. Any writer can explore and present them in their own way. I think Percy and Harry can stand both on their own and side by side as wonderful characters.

If you want to be transported to a different, mythological world, go see Percy Jackson (especially with kids). It’s a great ride! Oh, and be sure to stay for the credits.

Dunking the Duck!

The car wash duck is ready to be washed.

Let’s check out our latest It Doesn’t Take Much to Amuse Me story, shall we?

Yesterday the Mister called me in the morning. He had brought his car in to be washed, and somehow his keys had gotten locked in his Honda Odyssey. How? No one’s sayin’. Just that it happened. Sounds like something my sons would pull. If they hadn’t been at school, they would’ve been the #1 suspects.

So I brought him his valet key (we only live about 10 minutes away) and was rewarded with a free car wash for my Pilot. That’s my favorite kind!

While we were waiting for our cars to go through the wash, I saw the above duck that was on the other side of the windows near the car washing machines (why did I just imagine gigantic Maytags?). Inside the building was a device that let you spray the duck with water.

My lame-duck attempt to spray the waterfowl

I just happened to have my handy-dandy Nikon D700 and Nikon 35-70mm lens just in case a photo op popped up. Boinggg! Here it was! I held the camera and tried my darndest to focus and shoot with my right hand while using the sprayer with my left. Missed the duck by that much!

The Annie Oakley Mister hits the target.

Fortunately, the Mister came to my rescue! He manned the duck-shooting controls, while I took care of the Nikon. Know what we discovered?

The swiveling duck

The duck swivels on the base! It was like a carnival game . . . without being goaded by a carny into paying $10 and without winning the giant stuffed bear (which we so don’t need in our cluttered house even though the #2 son would love it).

The duck comes around to the front again.

The Mister proved to be an excellent shot . . . perhaps the Annie Oakley of the car wash duck world. And I didn’t do too bad myself with the Nikon despite having to shoot through glass.

Here comes my Pilot behind the duck!

Before we knew it, there was the Pilot squeaking its way to clean behind the duck. The decoy waterfowl really had helped us pass the time in a fun way.

Big chamois strips dry off my car.

Now the Pilot was getting dry.

Drip dry duck

As the duck soon would be . . . until the next car wash patron decided to have some fun.

Next time we get the cars washed, I think we’ll bring the boys. They would love the chance to dunk the duck!

We just have to make sure that car keys do not “accidentally” get locked inside the Odyssey or Pilot!!

Random Winter Olympics Snippets

German Magdalena Neuner wins the 10K individual biathlon pursuit (as shown on my little TV).

Sometimes it seems like I can’t get enough of the Winter Olympics. I really enjoy watching the Games on our family room’s big HDTV. But when I need to get things done in my office (mostly Photoshopping), I turn to the next best thing: My little Haier portable TV. I got a great deal on the 7-inch digital wonder via Amazon.com at the end of last year and knew it would be a mainstay in my office (it does sport a rechargeable battery).

At first I tried the TV as is with its regular antenna, but I couldn’t get Fox or ABC. So I sprung for an external one, and that’s pulled in lots of other noncable channels as well as those two. I’m glad I have my little TV right by my side!

Oh, and I actually use its remote, even though the TV is an arm’s distance away. How very “guy” of me!

Love these Olympic mittens!

Here are some random Olympics thoughts so far:

• I love the official Olympic mittens, especially the maple leaf!

• I loved that Wayne Gretzky, aka the Great One, was the final torch bearer. Very appropriate. It was a shame that part of the indoor cauldron was on the fritz, though.

• I love that former Olympic athletes and coaches commentate on their sports. Not only do I appreciate their expertise, but I love their enthusiasm. They truly can empathize with what the athletes are going through. We’re partial to Scott Hamilton, who reports on figure skating. He also was a favorite when he won the Olympic gold medal in 1984.

• I love the P&G commercials, especially the one where the little kids are Olympians. That tagline, “P&G—proud sponsor of moms,” gets me every time!

Alexander Bilodeau won the first gold medal for Canada.

• I loved that when Alexander Bilodeau was awarded Canada’s first gold medal (and the first they’ve won as a host country), the Canadians at the venue sang “O Canada!” with such fervor and pride.

• What I especially love about the Olympics is that these athletes compete for the love of the sport. Any of them can be a star, gaining fame that will last them at least until the next Olympics.

But as much as I love the Olympics, when I had to choose between watching the Winter Games and “Lost” last night . . . .

Ben Linus (played by Michael Emerson)

There was no competition! What a great Locke/Faux Locke-centric episode!

Let the Home Olympic Games Begin!

There’s no logo for the Home Olympic games . . . yet!

The Winter Olympics. Did you just hear that stirring “Bugler’s Dream” theme that’s been played first on ABC and now on NBC since 1968 in your head? Dum-dum-de-dum-dum-dum-dum. When I hear it, I can’t help but think of speed skating, figure skating, ski jumping, and gold medal dreams.

The #2 son “laces” up his “skates” as he watches the Olympics on TV.

The Mister and I have loved watching the Olympics together ever since we started dating during the 1988 Sumer Games. The #1 son was born right before the 1992 Winter Games, and I rocked him to sleep to the “Bugler’s Dream” almost every night. I’ve enjoyed the Olympics dating back to the 1960s when I was a kid.

A cheaper, safer alternative form of speed skating

But since I’ve had kids, watching the Olympics has been much more fun, because whatever sport they see the athletes competing in, they try to mimic it. Especially the speed skating. When they were younger, we used to have big, corrugated blocks that the boys would use as their “skates.” They also would put on socks and skate around the kitchen “oval” (aka, the island).

The carpet skates in action

When I saw that Bed, Bath, and Beyond sold carpet skates, I knew that one of the boys would want them: My #2 son. He loves all things athletic, which is why on any given day you can find footballs, basketballs, frisbees, lacrosse sticks, and disc golf baskets in our family room. He loves them all . . . but he doesn’t want to keep them in his bedroom. It’s like living in a sports store.

The USA’s Shani Davis skates against the Netherlands’ Sven Kramer.

#2 and I were watching the Olympics together over the weekend. Once the speed skating began, out came the carpet skates. #2 was ready to compete . . . on the berber!

#2 is skeptical of Andrea Kremer’s touting of skate blades.

Of course, #2 wasn’t content to just slap on the skates.

Note that this is a Scooby Doo beanie!

Even though we were definitely indoors, he just had to wear a beanie as though we were outside in Canada, too.

Sidebar: The Mister calls these kinds of hats “toboggans.” The first time he asked me where his toboggan was, I looked at him like he had two heads and six eyes. Why in the world would we have a sled when we live in Houston?

Russian Anna Boulygina shoots in the prone position.

The carpet skates also came in handy as we watched the biathlon, which is a mixture of cross-country skiing and marksmanship.

Is #2 taking biathlon seriously enough?

#2 added to his skates by picking up a toy pistol (the closest weapon to a rifle that we have) and donning sunglasses. He used a pair of lacrosse sticks to propel himself across the carpet. He was having more fun than the Olympians! And so much less stress.

Less stress . . . for him.

Switzerland’s Simon Ammann jumps to a gold medal.

Switzerland’s Simon Ammann jumps to a gold medal.

Because when we watched ski jumping . . .

Canada’s Jenn Heil airs out a silver medal.

and freestyle skiing’s moguls race, I had frightening visions of my 14-year-old son climbing on the roof with boards pulled from our fence strapped to his feet.

I’m not quite ready for those kinds of events to be included in our home Olympic Games!

Water, Water Everywhere

That’s what it’s all about!

The Mister and I (via community property, thank goodness) own a business. Every now and then I have to drive the half hour or so into Houston to make my presence known by cracking the whip and knocking heads together so that the workers know who’s really in charge of the operation.

Well, not really. But I do stop in and visit once in a blue moon. Which happened last Friday. The Mister wanted me to sit in on a meeting about the company’s websites (wholesale and retail locations). I did, and the highlight was that I didn’t look at my iPhone 3GS for 80 torturous minutes. No checking e-mail, texting, or updating my Facebook status. How did I live without a smartphone?!?

A wide-angle view of the Water Wall snapped with the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000.

The best part of driving into Houston? After we went out for lunch, we were near one of the city’s interesting attractions, the Water Wall in the Galleria area. I had brought my Olympus Stylus Tough point and shoot and my Nikon D700 with me in case a photo of the day opportunity arose. I heard that photo op knocking loud and clear!

Zooming out with my feet (Nikon 105mm lens; f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO 200)

The day was chilly, and all that water pounding away was dizzying. I had put my Nikon 105mm lens on the D700, forgetting to add the star utility player 50mm lens or the 35-70mm to my bag. The 105 was too long to get a good wide-angle view of the water wall; fortunately, I had my Olympus point and shoot with me.

Capturing the water through one of the arches (105mm lens; f/18, 1/25, ISO 200)

The 105 came in handy for experimenting with using a fast vs. slow shutter speed to see what effect it would have on how some of the 11,000 gallons of flowing water (per minute)  looked. Above, I closed my aperture (f/18), which slowed the shutter speed to 1/25th of a second.

Speeding up the water (f/5.6, 1/250, ISO 200)

Here I opened up the aperture to f/5.6, which sped up the shutter to 1/250th. I’m not sure which effect I like better, but both look pretty cool.

Slow speed ahead! f/20, 1/25, ISO 200

Here are more photos illustrating the effect of slow vs. fast shutter speed on how the water looks.

Faster! f/2.8, 1/1250, iSO 200

Sloooow! f/25, 1/15, ISO 200

Fast! f/2.8, 1/1250, ISO 200

Given my druthers, I prefer the photos taken with the faster shutter speed.

But either way, I’m sure glad I had my camera with me for when that photo op knocked. It made traveling to the big city for a somewhat boring meeting worthwhile!