Mid-Vacation Status Report

Okay, Pacific Northwest leg of the trip is done! I spent a wonderful six and a half days with my sister and her husband traipsing around Seattle, Northwest Washington and Vancouver. Today she drove us back down to the airport, and we arrived with three hours until boarding. I like that; there’s enough time to have a whiskey and play online without any stress about being stuck in security or having to run across the airport to make my flight.

So here I sit at the lovely Seattle Taproom in the A concourse of SEATAC airport. A nice waiter named Chris kindly offered to supersize my whiskey for a mere $3. And people say that chivalry is dead!

The Hubby and I splurged on first-class on the way out, but we’ve both decided to not indulge on the way back. It’s nice, but not $220 nice. However, if they do one of those “we over-booked the planes so we’re now offering cover-our-ass $50 upgrades”, I don’t think we’ll be strong enough to resist. 

We should arrive in Minneapolis at 10:30pm. Our super nice friend B is picking us up, and then I’ll spend about an hour or so freaking out about my Dragon*Con packing! Hopefully I’ll be able to get about three hours of sleep before we pick up my two friends M and E and head to the airport for our 5:25am flight to Atlanta, Georgia.

Whee! Whirlwind travel! What with the excitement over attending my first Dragon*Con and the sleep deprivation, the next 24 hours should be interesting.

Pacific Northwest: Day 3

Blogging, Pacific Northwest Edition – Day 3!

On Saturday I started the morning with a little Twitter in bed. That sounds dirty because the word “bed” is in it, but I guarantee it’s less exciting than it sounds. The call of coffee became too strong to resist, and so I moved into the living room. The unbelievably relaxing, peaceful, never-want-to-leave-it living room. 

My sister and brother-in-law rent the bottom floor of a two-story house and it’s just incredible. There are two huge nearly floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room which look onto the expansive, woodsy backyard. They have a wood deck that’s probably the size of my entire living room. It’s gorgeous. The view alone is worth their paltry $850 monthly rent, and they also have a huge kitchen, a washer/dryer, two bedrooms and they get to have a dog and cat for no extra fee. Jerks.

That morning me and my sis went out to the roadside ditch in front of their house to pick blackberries. Blackberries grow everywhere up here. Apparently they’re a real pain in the ass for people who want to cultivate manicured lawns, but if you like the natural woodsy look you can just trim them like hedges to keep them under control and then enjoy fresh blackberries for the entire season.

Our morning blackberry harvest.

After a breakfast of gluten-free blackberry pancakes, the sister and brother-in-law unit took us to Larrabee State Park to walk along the beach and visit the tide pools.  When we arrived we parked in a lot and walked across a cleared area that looked a lot like a normal midwestern park – a kid’s playground, a picnic pavillion, the usual. But we knew we were in for a treat after crossing through about 20 feet of forest; we started hearing the sound of waves washing across sand and we passed this collection of signs:

Gee…only a five dungeness limit? What harsh lives these Washingtonites live! And that pink sign to the right is a warning to not approach seal cubs. Seal cubs! Well, spoiler, we didn’t see any seal cubs, and the only dungeness crab that we found had already been picked apart by the ocean-dwelling competition. But we did see a ton of starfish, sea anemonae, hermit crabs, snails, limpets and barnacles. We also found a heron and a bunch of pretty large seagulls.

Chuckanut Bay from Larrabee State Park

Purple Ochre Sea Stars anchored to rock during low tide.

Snails in a rock crevice in the tide pools. 

A great blue heron stands on a rock outcropping in the bay while gulls fly overhead.

Two seagulls fight over a clam.

We spent a couple of hours at Larrabee then drove a few miles down the road to Clayton Beach. This time we hiked about half a mile to get to the beach. We passed through a moss and fern-filled forest, over a train track and finally emerged onto a new beach. Our big finds here were hundreds of sand dollars, the carcass of a dogfish and the ruins of an old railroad.

The Sister and the Hubby in the woods en route to Clayton Beach

Clayton Beach

A small collection of the sand dollars that we found within a few steps of this spot.

Dogfish carcass

The Hubby in front of railroad ruins on Clayton Beach

We stopped for lunch at a little diner called Winn’s in Fairhaven. It turns out that hiking through the woods, tromping over sand, and breathing fresh salt air for about four hours will stimulate the appetite. We had burgers, fries and milkshakes and then headed home to recoup. It turns out that recoup in this case meant nap for two hours. We were crazy exhausted and we didn’t even realize it until we woke up at about 5pm.

That evening we drove up Mount Baker. This is all I have to say about Mount Baker.

A Sasquatch in Minnesota

I have a new blog post up at the MN Skeptics Blog!

A Bigfoot sighting in our own backyard? Cool!

Thank goodness for all of the verbal interpretation of the blurry video, otherwise I never would have know that I was looking at a Sasquatch!

Caution: Blurry video and huge leaps in deductive reasoning may cause nausea and/or uncontrollable laughter in some viewers.

To watch the video head on over to the MN Skeptics blog.

Pacific Northwest: Day 2

My sis and brother-in-law are keeping us crazy busy! So even though this is our fourth day of vacation, I’m only caught up on blogging through the second day of the trip. Which is alright because it’s vacation, and that means there are no deadlines, right? Right.

Day 2 took us to the wild and foreign lands of…duhn duhn dunh…Canada! We had a minor scare as we approached the Peace Arch border crossing between Blaine, WA and Surrey, British Columbia. The scare came in the form of my sister shouting “SHIT! I LEFT MY WALLET AT HOME!” It would have been okay since Bellingham was only 20 minutes behind us, but we had already entered the border crossing lines going into Canada and to turn around meant getting into the HUGE line of Canadians waiting to cross into the US. All was well though, when she exclaimed “WAIT! CHECK THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT!” And there was our golden ticket, the wallet with her enhanced driver’s license and our pass into and out of Canada. Phew. On to the next adventure.

The mountains in this corner of the country are incredible. I’ve seen some of the Appalachian mountains. When we were in Boise we drove up into some cool mountains. Down in Tuscon we visted Mount Lemmon. And on last summer’s road trip from Arizona to Minneapolis Mom and I drove through part of the Rockies. But the mountains up here are freaking mind-blowing, snow-capped, intraversable bohemoths. They inspire an urge to run to REI, buy a Mountaineering for Dummies book, blow a life savings on survival equipment and start marching up the side of Mount Baker.

Mount Baker as seen from the I-5 Slater Road exit in northern Washington.

In Vancouver we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a park consisting of treetop canopy bridges, a bridge built into the face of one of the cliffs, several trails and the namesake 446′ suspension bridge over the Capilano River. It was great – like a jungle gym for big kids. The trees were enormous, and there were ferns everywhere. We all agreed that we’d pay extra if they’d have an Ewok Night at Capilano.

After the bridge walks we drove back toward downtown Vancouver. We lunched at an independent cafe attached to the Inn Cogneato (yes, really) which served amazing middle eastern food, and then drove over another suspension bridge – this one slightly more modern and sturdy than the Capilano - called the Lions Gate. We stopped at Stanley Park to take some pictures of the bridge and Burrard Inlet, the body of water that the Lions Gate crosses.

Finally we entered downtown Vancouver proper. We stopped to walk down Davie Street, the commercial area of Vancouver’s gay neighborhood. It was a neighborhood. There were a lot of rainbow flags. It was quite the happening place – tons of stores, restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

A view down Davie Street

The ride home was uneventful, but the line to get across the border was reaaallllly long. We had to cut the car engine, and the Hubby actually got out of the car and walked around in the grass while we waited. Sis took pictures.

The Peace Arch as seen from the Canadian side of the board.

But we eventually made it home and cooked a lovely meal on the grill – salmon, scallops, asparagus and fresh sweet corn. Yum! The night ended with us being wiped out and brain dead in front of the TV. Good day.

Pacific Northwest: Day 1

The last couple of days have been odd because I’ve only had about three hours of sleep on Tuesday and Wednesday night. See, I had to finish my Dragon*Con costume and then pack up for two separate vacations. Best problems EVER.

So I went to bed around 12:30am this morning and work up to the first of four separate alarm clocks that we had set for 3:30am, 3:33am, 3:35am and 3:40am. They were situated all over the room too, just in case we accidentally pressed snooze on the nearby clocks. Because we really, really didn’t want to miss our flight. We managed to roll out of bed, throw on our pre-set out clothes for the day, grab our suitcases and stumble out the door on schedule. I actually had some twitter company during these awful early hours because several of my friends were heading out to PAX, a gaming convention which coincidentally is also in Seattle this weekend. Yeah, we saw a Yoda backpack on our flight.

We bought the first-class upgrade from Sun Country. It was an awesome guilty indulgence. We had quiche for breakfast with a side of bacon and fresh mixed berries. Coach got pre-packaged breakfast sammiches. Mwah ha ha! The Hubby slept through the entire thing, but I like being awake during flights, especially if I have a window seat (and first class). I managed to get some kick-ass photos of clouds, mountains and cities from the air. Because we headed to the west coast we had a two-hour time change during our flight. It’s pretty neat to leave from one city, fly for four hours and arrive in a new city two hours later.

After we arrived at SeaTac (SEAttle-TAComa airport), we found the Link light rail into downtown Seattle. Tickets only cost $2.25/person, as opposed to an online estimate of ~$20 for a cab ride into the city. My sister, Erin, had meanwhile been driving two hours down from Bellingham, WA to meet us. We found each other in a park outside of the Pike Place Market, home of Seattle’s famous Public Market and the Pike Place Fish Company. Then all three of us walked over to the Space Needle; it was the one tourist thing (other than Pike Place) that The Hubby and I wanted to do during our limited time in the city. 

After that we took a beautiful drive up to Bellingham, including a suprise discovery of a sandy beach called Golden Gardens. On the way home we drove the scenic Chuckanut Drive, which goes up a mountain and overlooks the Salish Sea. It was a spectacular view. We made it home and met up with my sister’s husband, Ralph, and went for a quick dinner at a nearby Chinese buffet. We chatted a little and managed to make plans for Friday, but Aaron and I were fading fast. We came home, made a half-hearted attempt at watching a movie, and then Erin and Ralph set up the inflatable bed while I typed this blog post and pulled the day’s photos off of the SD card.

I am beat. But here’s a few photos - you gotta see these:

 

Happy World Photography Day

This post is a bit camera nerdy. But there are pictures for those of you who don’t like to read.

Ooooo…zing!

Ahem…it’s after midnight and I’m getting a little slap-happy. Moving along!

Today is World Photography Day!

In honor of WPD I got myself a treat. Okay, it wasn’t because of WPD, it was because I had been thinking about getting a new lens. Well, there are three lenses that I have thought would be very cool to add to the camera bag:

  • The AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED: This one would let me take really good pictures of far away birds – $6300
  • The AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED: This one would let me take really good close-up pictures of bugs and flowers. – just under $850.
  • The AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G: This one would let me take good portraits and decent low-light photos. –  $220

Guess which one I bought? Hint: It wasn’t the $6300 (ohmigod, that’s more than I spent on my current car!) or the $850 lens.

Yay – new lens!

I also picked up an expanded manual (i.e., a pretty picture book to teach me how to be as smart as my camera) and some new UV filters – one for the new lens and replacements for the other two lenses because the old ones were getting a bit smudged and scratched.  I almost broke down and bought a circular polarizer and a star filter, but I managed to pull myself back from the edge before I reached the checkout counter.

Because the new lens has a fixed focal length, it’s thought by some people to produce a clearer image than a zoom lens, and because it has a f/1.8 I should be able to take clearer pictures in lower light than my other two lenses (the lowest they have between them is a f/3.5).

I was a bit worried when I first took the lens out for a test drive this evening. I wasn’t seeing much of a difference in the preview screen between my standard 18-55mm lens and the new 50mm. And in the low-light I couldn’t figure out how to get the camera to actually shoot. But I eventually picked up on a few things:

  • If shooting with auto-focus in low light, it helped to keep the AF-assist flash on. Otherwise the camera had trouble finding its focus and wouldn’t shoot.
  • The camera is happy to let me shoot manually in low light. I think it’s the camera’s way of saying, “No prob, it’s on on you, bub.”
  • It’s really hard to shoot at night with the UV filter on the lens. I couldn’t figure out why I was getting a funny reflection in most of the shots in which there were stoplights, headlights or reflective surfaces:

I suspected that I was getting a reflection off of the lens back onto the UV filter (let me know if you can confirm that), and when I took the filter off, the flare-slash-reflection went away:

So, it’s going to take me a while to figure out the benefits of this particular lens. At the end of the night I was encouraged by this set of shots. The first was taken with my standard 18-55mm, and the second was taken with my new 50mm. This was a poorly-light corner outside of one of the local Walgreens.

18-55mm lens

50mm lens

I know – they look exactly the same here on the blog, but when you view the full, larger files (which you can do by clicking on the images) there is a subtle yet obvious difference between the two shots. The photo taken with the 50mm lens has better contrast, and the patterns in the wood are much more striking than those captured by the 18-55mm. I think this could pay off for printed photos and higher resolution online images.

And later in the evening I snapped this photo of Prada with the new lens:

I mean, the crap lighting is courtesy of the nearby fluorescent lighting in the kitchen, but the crispness of the image impressed me.

So we’ll see. I’ll do some more playing. I think that I’m going to like this new lens, but it remains to be seen if I’ll like it $220 worth of like.

Wisconsin Weekend and Photo Contest

A friend of mine invited me and the Hubby to spend this past weekend in Wisconsin with her and her family. They have a GORGEOUS  house on a quiet lake in the Northeast corner of the state. We went tubing, jet skiing, boat cruising around the lake and flying through the woods on an ATV. We played board games, had tasty adult drinks and ate incredible meals prepared by her mom (her mom bought all sorts of gluten-free goodies just for me, including brownies, spice cake and ciabatta rolls!). We packed a lot in over 30 hours. Oh, and we saw a frickin’ black bear as we were driving home!

Tubing on Crane Lake
Me tubing!

Photo Contest

I could use your help. I’m submitting three photos to a gallery at work (just a showing, not a contest) at one of our upcoming site-wide celebrations. I’ve picked out my top thirty favorite photos and placed them in a flickr set. If you have the time and the inclination, I’d love to have your help in narrowing it down to the three winners. Here’s how you can pipe up:

Oh, and did I mention that there is a contest associated with this? I love contests. If you vote you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a set of prints of your three favorite photos, even if they aren’t the three that I use for the gallery showing. I’ll chat printing options (size, finish, etc.) with the winner. 

Thanks for any votes, thoughts or advice!

Don’t Fear Death

I saw this on Twitter yesterday, and I found it very moving. You’ll probably need to click on the image to make it readable, but I think it’s worth the mouse click. Or you can just read the transcription below.

We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones.

Most people are never going to die because they’re never going to be born.

The potential people who could have been here in my place, but who will, in fact, never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara.

Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton.

We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people.

In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state, from which the vast majority have never stirred.

This quote is from Richard Dawkins’ 1998 book, Unweaving the Rainbow.

Order now – only one meeeelyon dollars!

Okay, here’s proof that work is slowing down. I was at home browsing through the Costco coupon book (clue one), and I decided to check out the cookware set on Costco online to find out how much the set would be without the discount (clue two). On the front page of the website I noticed this advertisement for a ring, just kind of sitting there above a reclining chair and some discount flatscreen TVs:

To quote one of my favorite podcasters, my flabber is gasted.  I’ll only pause briefly on my personal dislike of diamonds:

  • I think they’re boring little flints of rock (give me a colorful ruby or emerald any day over a diamond).
  • They don’t serve any purpose except to be shiny, to make you look like you have money or to place unwarranted confidence in the strength of your relationship with your spouse or lover, or to make you happy for some other unfathomable (to me) reason.
  • You only want a diamond because excellent marketing by diamond sellers have fooled you into thinking that you want that worthless piece of stone.
  • And finally, the relationships between some diamond mining and human exploitation is sickening.

I have never owned a diamond. When the Hubby and I were engaged I told him that I didn’t want an engagement ring because I’d rather spend the money on a house or car payment. Also because I’m a gigantic klutz and kind of flighty about the spatial relationship between me and the things I own (read: I lose shit really well)

So anyway, all of that is beside the point (I think there’s a point in here). I know that many people like and want diamonds for various reasons. Fine and dandy. But if you are ready, willing and able to put 1 million dollars into a diamond and platinum ring are you really going to buy a ring from Costco??? Diamonds are status symbols, but so are Tiffany & Co. bags.

Help me out guys…I’ve seen the rocks on some of your hands. Are diamonds anything other than sheer indulgence? Is it just the shiny? And would you buy jewelry from a Costco warehouse, or do you need the experience of shopping in a fancy diamond store?

Oh, and the fact that I wrote this blog about some random advertisement on the Costco website is clue three that work is slowing down.

Cruise, Costumes and Chores: A Weekend

I had my first full weekend all to myself in three weeks! Work is finally slowing down for TheBigProject. All of the testing is done and now it’s paperwork, documentation and repeat. There are still some late nights, but it should be tapering off to a more normal pace around here.

Friday night after work I hung out with friends until about 9:30pm, then came home and went to bed. I managed to make it through about two paragraphs of The Ship Who Searched before succumbing to sleep. I barely managed to set the book on the bed stand before going under, and I slept in until 9am the next morning. Ahhhh! I needed that.

Saturday was COSTUME AND CRUISE day! I didn’t have time to pull together a costume for this past CONvergence, so I’ve gotten a bee in my bonnet to actually make a costume (or two) for Dragon*Con. I reaaaaalllly wanted to make a Minion costume (from Despicable Me), but because I’ll be flying to Dragon*Con I didn’t see any cheap, easy way to get the finished costume from Minneapolis down to Atlanta. So maybe I’ll save that one for CONvergence 2012.

I actually ran into that a lot during planning. I want to be able to transport a costume (or two) in one carry-on (EDIT: checked) bag. The only large luggage that I own is soft-sided or I could pack a sturdy cardboard box. So I’m limited by size, weight and durability of a finished costume (as well as breathability - I’m going to be in Atlanta, GA at the beginning of September and I hear that’s still hot season). And for some reason I’m all about constructing a costume. I may purchase a secondary costume from an online store – something that consists of easily pack-able themed clothing and a few small accessories, but I want one uber-costume that takes a little thought, is maybe (dare I hope) original, and requires some hardware. If it doesn’t require at least one trip to Home Depot, it’s out of the running.

I spent all of Saturday morning bouncing ideas off of The Very Patient Hubby and I think we’ve finally got something good. It took longer to collect supplies than I thought; I spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday shopping all over Minneapolis and the greater metro area. Here’s the list of stores that I’ve visited:

  • Saturday: Border’s (book store), Michael’s (crafts store), Walgreen’s, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Walmart, Home Depot (there – a Home Depot stop! We are now legit.).
  • Sunday: SR Harris Fabric Outlet
  • Monday: The Paper Depot, Office Max and a second trip to Home Depot (now we’re double legit). 

Phew! The final purchases now include

  • 1 children’s story book
  • 45 yards of fake ivy
  • 4 red poster boards
  • 15 feet of 8-gauge copper wire
  • 4 wire connectors
  • 2 yards of green upholstery fabric
  • 1 package of business cards
  • 1 rubber stamp and green ink pad
  • 1 themed paper punch
  • Adhesive jewel dots
  • Adhesive foam scrapbooking spacers
  • 1 regular paper punch
  • 1 red fine-tip Sharpie
  • Gorilla glue
  • Twine (because what project is complete without twine?)

Now to put them all together…

In between running around for costuming supplies on Saturday, the Hubby and I took a Minnesota Riverboat cruise. We drove to Harriet Island in Saint Paul and boarded one of the Padelford paddle boats for a 1.5-hour trip south along the Mississippi. We managed to snag chairs outside on the lower deck, so I had some great opportunities for taking photos of the people, birds and structures that we passed along the way. Plus, they had a bar. So there was that.

Old Factory

Fishing the MIssissippi

Bald Eagle Soaring

Osprey

St. Paul under the High Bridge

I have more pictures of our cruise here on Flickr.

Sunday was no fun, but it was fulfilling. I woke up in a cleaning frenzy and straightened up the living room, cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed, took out the garbage and recycling and did two loads of laundry, and all of that between the hours of 8:30am and 10:30am. Then I went costume supply shopping and errand-running (ewwww…Costco on a Sunday afternoon). I certainly racked up the FourSquare points that day. The Hubby came home from running his own errands and we cooked brats on the grill and watched The End of Time: Parts 1 and 2 on Netflix. How did I not see this before??? Why wasn’t this part of Season Five of Doctor Who (did I just miss it because of a Netflix mishap)? It was good…I almost started crying when David Tennant…you know…did that thing where he became Matt Smith.

And then it was Monday. Wheeee!