Monthly Archives: July 2013


30 Jul

Oh Snap!

Posted by on July 30, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Those of you who have been around me for any extent of time understand that I am prone to excessive picture taking. I’ve always been a big fan of immortalizing life’s moments through photographs so when Jason bought me an SLR camera for Valentine’s Day this year I was thrilled. However, I didn’t want to be one of “those people.” You know, the people that get a fancy camera because it’s “fancy” but use it like a point-and-shoot because they have no idea how to operate it. Thus, to prevent wasting a wonderful piece of technology, I signed up for an SLR class this summer at a local university. I learned an unbelievable amount about using my SLR and about photography in general through just six short weeks of instruction. Picturific!

I’m quite comfortable with my big hunk of lens delight now but I find myself perpetually in the middle of a shooting dilemma. I can take much better pictures with my SLR, however, it’s bulky so do I lug that immense and inconvenient camera around or carry my compact and not so wonderful one? I have to resolve that inner conflict every time I cart a camera anywhere these days.

Below are some of my favorite pictures I took while experimenting for my class. None of them have undergone any editing whatsoever in Photoshop or any other shop. While their web versions don’t really do the originals justice, they’ll still give you a feel for the picture magic even a novice can create with a little knowhow.

I used a technique called panning to create this photo. Basically, you put your camera on a slow shutter speed and follow the movement of whatever is in motion. This makes everything else in the photo blurry except the moving object and produces the illusion of great speed.

I used a technique called panning to create this photo. Basically, you put your camera on a slow shutter speed and follow the movement of whatever is in motion. This makes everything else in the photo blurry except the moving object and produces the illusion of great speed.

These blooms may have been on their last leg but I still love the colors and details of this picture.

These blooms may have been on their last leg but I still love the colors and details of this picture.

Sunset is a fantastic time to shoot <a style=

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I didn’t actually take this picture since I am in it but I set everything up on the camera so all Jason had to do was push the button.

I created this ghostly photo of a fountain by slowing my shutter speed down to two seconds.

I created this ghostly photo of a fountain by slowing my shutter speed down to two seconds.

This is the exact same shot as the one above only I changed my shutter speed to a mere fraction of a second, thus freezing the motion of the water.

This is the exact same shot as the one above only I changed my shutter speed to a mere fraction of a second, thus freezing the motion of the water.

I may be a little biased but I think Jason + the Jordan RIver made for some fantastic pictures.

I may be a little biased but I think Jason + the Jordan River made for some fantastic pictures.

A slow shutter speed turned the motion of my running buddies with their glow sticks into a color trip.

A slow shutter speed turned the motion of my running buddies with their glow sticks into a color trip. Notice that they have no bodies.

My niece Abigail was happy to be the subject of some of aperture experiments.

My niece Abigail was happy to be the subject of some of my aperture experiments.

Although this is just a picture of a statue's hand, the textures, lighting and hues intrigue me.

Although this is just a picture of a statue’s hand, the textures, lighting and hues intrigue me.

The Reeds are some of my favorite ladies. I wanted to capture the girly energy of our night out and I think I succeeded.

The Reeds are some of my favorite ladies. I wanted to capture the girly energy of our night out and I think I succeeded.

I panned while taking this picture of my nephew running.

I panned while taking this picture of my nephew running.

Clearly, this was another instance where I setup the camera but did not click the button.

Clearly this was another instance where I setup the camera but did not click the button.

By tweaking the aperture, which is the pupil of the camera, you can make backgrounds fuzzy and put extra emphasis on your subject.

By tweaking the aperture, which is the pupil of the camera, you can make backgrounds fuzzy and put extra emphasis on your subject.

I can guess what some of you are thinking right now, specifically you cheap someones, and yes, I would be willing to take pictures of you or your family for your Christmas cards and whatnot. And no, I would not charge you for my services. (Assuming I like you enough.) Though I would expect excessive gratitude.

I plan on continuing my photo education with additional classes and more practice. I’m always ready to snap!

25 Jul

Calming the Con

Posted by on July 25, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Jason and I are San Diego Comic-Con vets. This July we attended for our third consecutive year. It seems that every time we go our perspective on the Con and our methods of enjoying it change. This year we were all about making the most of waiting the least. Yes, we were more efficient than a Borg drone at a piñata party.

I made Jason and me costumes for the Castle in the Sky characters Princess Sheeta and Pazu.

I made Jason and me costumes for the Castle in the Sky characters Princess Sheeta and Pazu.

Almost our entire group dressed as Miyazaki characters at the Con. This is the closest we got to being all together though.

Almost our entire group dressed as Miyazaki characters at the Con. This is the closest we got to being all together though.

During our first Con experience, everything amazed and intimidated. The stars we found around every corner and in each panel astounded us. It all seemed further from reality than one of Lt. Barclay’s holodeck programs. And, speaking of panels, in order for the panel gawking to commence we had to first figure out how to get into those popular events and that took some time-consuming experimentation. We came home feeling like we’d had the experience of a lifetime and needed a longer nap than Princess Zelda.

The exhibit hall is always this crowded...or worse.

The exhibit hall is always this crowded…or worse.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were at Comic-Con for the X-Files' 20th anniversary. I had a fangirl moment with both of them.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were at Comic-Con for the X-Files’ 20th anniversary. I had a fangirl moment with both of them.

The next year we were confident that we had the basics down. We knew how to get into Hall H without circumnavigating the globe and that Mrs. Fields cookies do not make a good dietary staple. Our Con knowledge was gladly shared with the five noobs that joined us. We weren’t as worried about making it into every single panel that interested us that second go-around but we did lose enough sleep getting into a few favorites to come home completely spent, like gold coins in a mage shop.

Joss Whedon's panel was just him up on stage talking and answering questions for an hour and it was fantastic!

Joss Whedon’s panel was just him up on stage talking and answering questions for an hour and it was fantastic!

The bridge of the Enterprise D is being restored and made into an interactive science museum. Check out the details at newstarship.com.

The bridge of the Enterprise D is being restored and made into an interactive science museum. Check out the details at newstarship.com.

This year our group of Con friends expanded even further. With ten of us altogether, including four newbies, we had quite the nerdy entourage. Although Jason and I were thrilled to be attending again, our priorities were different this time. We were okay seeing stars a little less and our bed a little more. We didn’t wake up before the break of dawn multiple days in a row to get in line for “can’t miss” panels. In fact, we downgraded everything out of the “can’t miss” category altogether. We realized, with so many terrific possibilities, that not making it to all of them was no biggie. When option A didn’t work out for us then we’d go to option B without any regrets. Sometimes you’ve got to take a hint from Plastic Man.

We came across Daniel Falconer, the author of the Hobbit Chronicles, by chance.

We came across Daniel Falconer, the author of the Hobbit Chronicles, by chance.

Karl Urban is starring in a new TV series called Almost Human: a cool show and a cool guy.

Karl Urban is starring in a new TV series called Almost Human: a cool show and a cool guy.

With no ungodly early mornings and without standing in line for anything longer than half an hour, we attended an amazing lineup. We heard from Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield in the Ender’s Game panel. We met most of the cast of Divergent. Joss Whedon singlehandedly blew us away with his insight and wit in what turned out to be our favorite panel of the year. We heard from talented directors such as Edgar Wright, Alfonso Cuaron and Marc Webb. Karl Urban good-naturedly humored us, and thousands of other eager geeks, with his McCoy maxims. We listened to the perspectives and scores of some of TV’s favorite actors and cinema’s best superhero composers. Additionally, we went to many smaller panels that maybe didn’t have the allure of the illustrious but were fascinating nonetheless: geek girl fashion, Enterprise D bridge restoration, the legal defense of zombies, amongst others.

Whether you're recruiting for heaven or the dark side, Comic-Con can accommodate you.

Whether you’re recruiting for heaven or the dark side, Comic-Con can accommodate you.

Brent Spiner touched me! I need not say more.

Brent Spiner touched me! I need not say more.

On the exhibit floor we ran into many of the famous and should-be famous. Between David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Sean Astin, Steve Blum, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Max Brooks and Brandon Sanderson we definitely encountered enough stars to be struck. However, we also randomly came across many artists and authors that we’d never heard of before that thoroughly impressed us and that now have a couple of new fans.

Ah, a little Ocarina mood music.

Ah, a little Ocarina mood music.

Steve Blum is a well-known voice actor. He's spoken for countless characters from Wolverine to Starscream.

Steve Blum is a well-known voice actor. He’s spoken for countless characters from Wolverine to Starscream.

Comic-Con was a different experience for Jason and me this year. The crowds hadn’t changed, the costumes were just as intricate and prevalent, our personal bubbles still had to be shrunk down to the size of a Minimate and the sudden whiffs of BO were just as unpleasant but we took it all in this time with the relaxed demeanor of a Snorlax. When you are surrounded by so much of the nerdastic sometimes the surprises are better than anything you could plan. Just ask Bilbo.

You are never too big for really big toys.

You are never too big for really big toys.

My distraught giggles made one of the nasty zombies in The Walking Dead booth chuckle. Trying to stay in character with a Rachel around is a difficult task.

My distraught giggles made one of the nasty zombies in The Walking Dead booth chuckle. Trying to stay in character with a Rachel around is a difficult task.

If I could offer a bit of advice to those going to Comic-Con, beyond the wise instructions I’ve already given over the last few years, it would be this: You’ll enjoy the Con more if you’re not totally exhausted and completely stressed about seeing every single cool panel. There are so many marvelous programs, if you miss one there are plenty more where that came from. It’s okay to have a “must see” list but keep it very short. Be flexible and you’ll find yourself in the middle of all sorts of unexpected adventures with minimal effort and maximum sleep. Remember: Jason and I didn’t get out of bed before 8:00 AM this time and we had our best Con yet. Yes, lighten up my Padawans and let the force bring the power-ups to you.

16 Jul

As a Matter of Course

Posted by on July 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Birthdays, those annual reminders that we are growing older and will someday have less years in front of us than behind us, are unwelcome by many. However, I am not one of those many. As far as I’m concerned, looking back is a waste. Why squander time mourning the loss of time? Isn’t that doubling your losses? I’m not going to spend my awesome “now” moments lamenting wrinkles or passed decades. No way, I plan on rocking this party ‘til I drop.

Doesn't our group look amazing all harnessed up? Safety has its price: ugliness.

Doesn’t our group look amazing all harnessed up? Safety has its price: ugliness.

Since I don’t have an aversion to birthdays, I was happy to oblige Jason’s scheme of holding another grandiose bash for mine. Although every year I tell him that such celebrations aren’t necessary, I am always happy to get together with my many fabulous friends. Jason, once again, did a great job planning a fine event. Nearly twenty of us met up at Provo Beach Resort to hit their ropes course. If you’ve never done a ropes course before, it’s more of an adrenaline rush than you’d think. Sure, you’re hooked in and you can’t fall but try telling your brain that. It’s one thing to just hang around up high and something else entirely to convince your legs to move across a tiny board at intimidating heights. Fortunately, the stress of the course only put one of our participants in tears.

Heights and I don't get along very well but I told my pounding heart to shut up and I took those skinny beams on.

Heights and I don’t get along very well but I told my pounding heart to shut up and I took those skinny beams on.

After we’d had lots of line time, we tested our sweet laser dodging moves in the resort’s Lazer Frenzy maze. It turns out that none of us really have any sweet laser dodging moves. Drat! I guess Catherine Zeta-Jones is on her own.

Although you are safely strapped in, trying to make your legs go places your brain says they shouldn't takes some gumption.

Although you are safely strapped in, trying to make your legs go places your brain says they shouldn’t takes some gumption.

Next, we walked across the street to Malawi’s Pizza and feasted on some of my favorite pie. Our giant table of boisterous gobblers probably disturbed a number of the other dinners but that didn’t stop everyone from increasing their volumes even further with a few belted birthday verses. Yes, I was sung to and presented with fine gifts like LOTR PEZ dispensers. One PEZ to rule them all!

Jeremy was intimidated by the distance to the ground too but he got over his fears and started climbing around like the monkey he is.

Jeremy was intimidated by the distance to the ground too but he got over his fears and started climbing around like the monkey he is.

I've got some superb friends. I like to laugh and they make sure I do often.

I’ve got some superb friends. I love to laugh and they make sure I do often.

Following dinner, most of us challenged each other to a game of Miniature Croquet, which was surprisingly quite fun. The competition was intense though and I think more than one husband may have had to sleep on the couch as a result.

Andrew and Adam pulled off the aristocratic condescension befitting a croquet match quite well. Practice makes perfect.

Andrew and Adam pulled off the aristocratic condescension befitting a croquet match quite well. Practice?

The handful of partiers that still had a few bits of energy and vocabulary in them joined us back home after all that for some games even though it was almost midnight. It was nearly 3 AM before we gave up on 25 Words or Less but I think some of us should have given up much sooner. (And, of course, by “some” I mean the people not on my team.)

I have one terrific husband. He makes me feel special everyday.

I have one terrific husband. He makes me feel special every day.

I thoroughly enjoyed my birthday shindig. Thanks for celebrating me everyone. Here’s to another year older and another year feistier!

9 Jul

Refraction Action

Posted by on July 9, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Jason and I have done the dirty several times but we’d never transformed ourselves into speeding human rainbows…until now. We thought we could use a few more shades of awesome in our lives so we signed up for Color Me Rad along with my brother Drew, his wife Simone and our friend Abigail. Color Me Rad, a 5K with color bombing stations, is one part athleticism and two parts nonsensical dye dumping. As it turns out, plastering yourself with pigment under the guise of exercise is pretty rad.

Jason didn't keep up his usual quick race pace but slowed down to blitz all of us frequently with his many bags of colored powder.

Jason didn’t keep up his usual quick race pace but slowed down to blitz all of us frequently with his many bags of colored powder.

Our group, Refraction Action, didn't hurry too fast to the finish line but relished cavorting in the clouds of color.

Our group, Refraction Action, didn’t hurry too fast to the finish line but relished cavorting in the clouds of color.

By the end, Drew looked like what would happen if Crayola started making crayons in a TNT factory.

By the end, Drew looked like what would happen if Crayola started making crayons in a TNT factory.

Color Me Rad, for the most part, proceeds like any other race except periodically a giant cloud of purple or orange appears in front of you and you quickly find yourself in a swirling monochromatic haze. Although most of the participants run through these dye mists without covering their noses or mouths, our group decided to wear bandanas through the fog so we could breathe a little easier. Gulping fluorescent dust just isn’t as refreshing as gulping fluorescent Gatorade even if they contain the same FD&C. Despite our precautions, I still woke up a few times the following night buy furosemide online australia coughing like crazy but I’m sure I spared myself some extra wheezing by donning that unstylish handkerchief.

Yes, I wore a shower cap. My hairdresser informed me that dyes like these + blonde hair = not blonde hair so I wasn't taking any chances.

Yes, I wore a shower cap. My hairdresser informed me that dyes like these + blonde hair = not blonde hair so I wasn’t taking any chances.

Just one of Jason's naughty acts during the race.

Just one of Jason’s many naughty acts during the race.

After our scamper for color and follow-up attempt to pound ourselves back into pallidness, we stopped at our favorite waffle spot, Bruges, for some waffles and frites. Although the strange looks we got from some of the other patrons may have suggested otherwise, frites do taste just as good when eaten with neon fingers.

The colors flying around at the stations made the whole world seem bizarrely tinted.

The colors flying around at the stations made the whole world seem bizarrely tinted.

We stuck around after the race for a color toss ensuring that our multihues multiplied.

We stuck around after the race for a color toss ensuring that our multihues multiplied.

Although Color Me Rad wasn't an energy sucker like the Dirty Dash, it definitely left its mark.

Although Color Me Rad wasn’t an energy sucker like The Dirty Dash, it definitely left its mark.

Color Me Rad was a lot of fun and a lot of messy. But dye, oddly enough, is considerably easier to clean off than dirt. (Apparently, I have a lot of experience coating myself in all sorts of tenacious goo.) Sure, we had purple sweat circles covering our inner elbows that were none too eager to be removed and we were the proud owners of vibrant boogers for a few days but, all things considered, we tidied up pretty nicely. Yes, we colored it rad and rad wasn’t half bad.

3 Jul

The Happiness Factors

Posted by on July 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

For many people, happiness remains perpetually illusive. If I had a dime for every time someone complained on Facebook about how their life is the pits, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to buy me a gumball or two. I, on the other hand, am very content with my existence. Sure, like everyone else I’ve got my problems but, in general, I feel fortunate to be living the life I do. Recently, with all the research that I peruse at work, I came across a study that I found fascinating. It might explain why I delight in my days and how the downers of the world could find more joy in theirs. Hence, with the happiness of the entire universe at stake, I thought I better share this mind-blowing data.

In 1937 Harvard initiated the Grant Study, the world’s longest investigation of physical and mental health. More than 200 Harvard students have been followed over the last 75 years for this study. Their experiences have been used to ascertain the best means of adding life to your years instead of just years to your life. The lead researcher, George Valliant, has written multiple books on his intriguing findings. Although I can’t cover all the riveting topics of those volumes here, I do want to relay a few snippets that I thought were particularly interesting.

Based off the lives of these students and how successfully they aged, Valliant came up with nine protective factors that, when adhered to, increase health and happiness up to age 70, 80 and beyond. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Don’t Smoke: This is a no-brainer for most of us. With the taboo that cigarettes have become, few of us would touch tobacco but it’s never too late to quit if you’re the touchy/feely type.

2. Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Again, for me, this is a no-brainer. Alcohol abuse destroys both health and happiness and I actually like being in control of my faculties. (Yes, the term “control freak” does apply.) I have no need for liquor; I can make an idiot of myself all on my own, thank you very much. What’s excessive one might ask? There’s a big difference between having a beer or glass of wine with your dinner and getting totally sloshed every weekend. Do you drink like you’re still a college kid at a frat party even though you left the dorms behind a decade or more ago? I would say that’s excessive.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: I know lots of us struggle with this but, I assure you, habits and expectations can be changed. Too many people buy into the notion that they should look like a Barbie and then, when they realize this isn’t attainable, they surrender in frustration and end up looking like Jabba the Hutt instead. Where body composition is concerned, we should have ideal health not ideal “beauty” as our goal. I’m no toothpick but I’m very healthy and I’m perfectly happy with that. You don’t need to look like a supermodel to be in good shape. After all, supermodels only look the way they do because of some hardcore anorexia, boob jobs and extensive photoshopping. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a body like that’s advantageous or even real and don’t let the impossibility of that ideal make you give up on the attainability of real health.

4. Exercise: This one is a cinch for me because I go absolutely batty if physical activity’s not regularly draining my excess energy reserves. Getting into an exercise routine can be difficult but it’s well worth it. Along with a healthier heart and a toned physique, you’ll get a deserved sense of euphoria and accomplishment.

Exercise has been part of my routine since I was a teenager. Thanks to our running club, the R.A.C., it's become customary for many of our friends as well.

Exercise has been part of my routine since I was a teenager. Thanks to our running club, the R.A.C., it’s become customary for many of our friends as well.

5. Engage in Selfless Behavior: It’s little wonder that doing something good for someone else makes us feel happier. Not only are we changing another life for the better but we are also taking the focus off of our own troubles. Double win baby! Valliant put it very eloquently this way, “Don’t think less of yourself but try to think of yourself less.” I’m certainly no saint but I do hope, when all is said and done, that I can leave this world a little better off than it would have been without me.

6. A Strong Partnership: Having a spouse or partner you can count on adds greatly to happiness. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, except maybe Mr. Bobbitt. Jason and I have a fantastic relationship; I can’t tell you how much of a difference it has made in my life. Finding or keeping Mr. or Mrs. Right may seem out of our hands but we definitely do have a say in it. Only we can open ourselves up to a new love or improve our relationship with the love that we’ve got.

7. A Good Long Education: The more educated we are the happier we tend to be.

8. Stay Creative and Continually Learn New Things: Creativity and curiosity keep us young and engaged. I am an extremely curious person and, although I’ve been out of college for years, I still love to gain knowledge whether it’s in the form of a technical food science book or a dance class. The mysteries of the universe and the steps to the foxtrot uniformly fascinate me.

9. Good Coping Skills: Stress, strain, and conflict are unavoidable. We are all going to experience those through the course of our lives, some of us probably more than our fair share, but if we can laugh about our problems and maturely resolve our differences with others, we will discover a lot more joy in our existence. Valliant has said that good coping skills are related to emotional intelligence and that this type of intelligence, which helps us build better relationships, predicts happiness much more than IQ. I’ll admit that, out of all of these factors, this is the one that I need to work on the most. I tend to worry about some things more than I should and a few things much more than I should. But hey, I can still change; I’m not dead yet.

This study found that those that met fewer than four of these controllable factors were all sick/sad or dead by the time they were 80 while most of those that complied with at least a few more were still happy and well at that age.

You may have perceived from Valliant’s list that as we age maintenance becomes much more important than genes. (Sorry dude that had a grandpa that lived to 102, if you don’t exercise that heart attack is still coming for you.) You may also have noticed that some seemingly obvious contenders for creating happiness are missing from that list. Money and social prestige, commonly believed to be the building blocks of life enjoyment, didn’t make the cut.

For me, the take-home message in all of this is simple: we have much more say in the realization of our happiness than some of us would like to admit. We are more frequently the victims of our own hands than of circumstances beyond our control. Perhaps we should be a little less cutthroat and a little more caring. Perhaps we should foster new hobbies and habits. Maybe we should get off the couch and get on the trail. And perhaps we should remember that our relationship with our spouse is worth some effort and consideration.

Like I said, I am extremely content. I don’t wish to be any younger or richer or more successful than I am now. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I’m happy with where I am right at this very moment and I plan on continuing to be happy in every moment that I’m lucky enough to be alive.