Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cooling Off

So just as I've settled in to my summer reading, we're finally getting a break from the heat. All that really means is that I now need to mow the weeds out of the front yard that are towering over the dead grass, but since it's cooler that won't be a problem.

I've had a pretty good few days lately in the creative world. I typically have a series that gets me through the summer and this year I think Orson Scott Card's Ender novels are going to carry me through a good part of it. Ender's Game is a science fiction classic and the surrounding novels are almost as good. He's great a developing characters that really draw the reader in and that's something I can appreciate.

Bethany and I went out to the movies Sunday and saw Knight & Day. It's getting panned and was a box office flop, but I think that's a bit unfair. The movie was good and yes, I think it could have been better. However, it was a solid action film with a healthy dose of comedy thrown in. The writers could have made a more complex plot, but it really felt like they held back to keep from turning the movie into something they didn't want it to be. I'd say don't miss this movie. It's cool if you don't want to rush out to the theatre to see it, but I'd definitely purchase the DVD. It's one I want to see again.

I spent yesterday helping Patrick go through his bookshelves, organize and pack up the second and most cherished half of his collection to move to their new townhouse. In doing so I found some of my stuff and borrowed the sheet music folio for The Goo Goo Dolls' smash album, Dizzy Up The Girl. One beautiful thing about this folio is that every song has the proper tuning listed and for an album that only has a couple of songs in standard tuning, that's a big help. I sat down last night, tuned properly for Iris, and was making some serious headway into the intro and first verse.

Since I'm laid off, this is the first real summer break I've had since the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. It's almost enough to make me want to go back to school so I can have the summers off.


Monday, June 28, 2010

So I Didn't Catch Anything On Fire

I blogged yesterday about how I was going to attempt some new foods. Well, I did and my first effort was about a 75% success.

My main course was a new marinade for chicken breast. It was a pretty simple buttermilk marinade. For those of you interested, it came out of Master The Grill. Simply take 3/4 cup of buttermilk, add a tablespoon of olive oil, two teaspoons of kosher salt, black pepper to taste, and then your choice of herb. I used rosemary today, specifically because I took some fresh rosemary out of the beginnings of the herb garden just outside our bedroom window. Place chicken breasts in the marinade for an hour and toss 'em on the grill.

A tasty main course indeed. That dish accounted for 50% of my success this evening.

The other 25% comes from Tyler's Florence's Stirring the Pot. The recipe is too complicated to reproduce from memory, so I'll include this link to a Onion Ring Recipe by Florence that's pretty close to what I used. The main difference is that he dredges in a seasoned flour first before dipping the rings into the batter and that he uses club soda instead of beer in my recipe. (By the way, I've discovered the club soda has a tendency to explode out of a freshly opened bottle just for the sheer hell of it. Don't believe me? Well, you will.)

Now, when I mentioned to Dad that I was going to fry onion rings earlier, he asked the age old question of "Do you know what you're doing?" I'd vehemently object to him doubting me on the subject if it wasn't for the fact that the last time I tried frying anything in vegetable oil on the stove I caught the pot on fire. (It was an interesting few seconds. And when I say I caught the pot on fire, I mean I caught the pot on fire. They don't teach you skills like that in culinary school.)

This time I didn't catch anything on fire. The onion rings turned out just fine, but they could've been a lot better. I don't think that I pulled the batter off just right. It lacked a lot of flavor that I think would've been there had it worked like the recipe said it would (and I figure it was something I did or didn't do and not the fault of the recipe). It's like playing baseball and reaching first on a walk instead of a base hit. Either way, you're on base, but the base hit would be a much better way to get there.

So we've survived the first evening of something new without anything burning down. Since I'll be helping Patrick move all day tomorrow, I figure that the next evening I'll try something new will be Wednesday. Perhaps I'll try some ribs...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Something New To Eat

I've just about decided we're in a food rut. Now I like to eat. That should come as no surprise to those of you out there in blog land who know me. While some people regard eating as just something they do for fuel to get through the day, I personally thing eating is one of the highlights of my day.

I'm not the greatest chef in the world by any stretch of the imagination and I have a lot to learn. And while I'm not a bad cook either, I think I tend to get caught up in cooking the same old things over and over and over and over and...

You get the idea.

Since the unfortunate cessation of my work related activities way back in February has lasted a lot longer than anticipated, I've spent a lot of time around the house slowly working on various projects. Most of it has been writing. Some of it has been cleaning, reorganizing and things of that nature. In the back of my mind I'm always interested in new foods and cooking methods to try and I've become pretty familiar with the ol' grill on the back porch.

Now I think I'm going to turn my attention back to cooking for a while. I've been given some great culinary books (they're a little more in depth than just cook books) as gifts and three of these are going to be what I focus on in the next few weeks (or until something shiny diverts my attention again).

The first of these is Mastering the Grill, which my parents gave to me two Christmases ago (being the Christmas I can barely remember for everything that happened the day after). The second two books were gifts from Bethany, Stirring the Pot by Tyler Florence (my favorite celebrity chef) and The Bread Bible. Though I've used Stirring the Pot just a bit, all three of these culinary books have languished on the end of the island in the kitchen for far too long. So don't be surprised to read a little bit more about my culinary explorations in the next few weeks.

On an unrelated note, the bird feeder continues to draw a pretty big crowd of hungry song birds and an even bigger crowd of Starlings. The smaller birds adjusted to my presence fairly well, so much so that I could walk within ten feet or so of the feeder without spooking them. The first day that I took my camera out with me was the day that the flock of starlings appeared. They've been there ever since and they just will not adjust to me getting close to them. At all. The first squeak of the door sends them flying for safety, which in turn sends to the smaller birds darting for cover.

So that's why there haven't been any bird pictures up here yet. I'm still working on it though.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Looking Up

I watched the International Space Station fly overhead tonight.

It was really bright, with a -3.7 magnitude flying out of the WSW and made a transit of just over five minutes before dipping over the tree line and out of sight. The station's orbit has taken it out of the shadow of the Earth for the next day or so.

That's really cool.

I remember reading October Sky a few years ago before it became a major motion picture. Homer Hickam wrote about seeing Sputnik cross his little piece of West Virginia sky and how it changed the course of his life. Watching the station fly over tonight, I can understand that.

Without any kind of magnification, it really is just a really bright dot of light that doesn't blink. It moves silently, no droning engine noise, and it moves faster than any Earth-bound plane I've ever seen. It's the definition of smooth motion, gleaming poetry against the night sky.

Yes, I'm a geek. My true be all and end all wild career wish? To be an astronaut.

There's also a partial lunar eclipse tonight. You'll have to get up early to see it, beginning at 3:17 a.m. with the moment of greatest coverage at 4:30 a.m. It's only a partial eclipse, but 54% of the Moon will be covered.

Interesting goings on in the heavens tonight if you care to look up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From The Inside Looking Out

I was looking out the window of my house today and found this little fella looking back in at me. I just couldn't pass up a photo opportunity like that.

Quickly I grabbed my macro lens and slapped a fresh memory card into my camera. For those of you who don't know, a macro is a special type of zoom lens designed to make really little things look really big. The macro lens has the ability to allow the camera to capture what it sees at a 1:1 ratio. When I print something off as a 4x6 photo, the subject is then nine times life size.

It works out great for wasps, as you can see here. I've never seen that little honeycomb in their eyes before. That was pretty neat. And despite having this photo I still can't tell you how he hangs on to the smooth glass of a window.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Pattern I Can't Picture

The waterfall at Douthat State Park puzzles me.

It's a man-made cascade of the overflow of the lake. I don't know how high it is, but forty to sixty feet shouldn't miss the mark by much. It's just a cascade across stones that sometimes dries up during the summer.

But photographically, it puzzles me.

There's a path that walks right along beside it. I can't get down to the base of the cascade but I can get along side it pretty easily. The water flowing over the stones is beautiful. There's a pattern to it that I just can't quite seem to catch with my camera.

I took an hour in the blazing heat of this afternoon to see what I could so with some motion blurs. I left my cable release at home (it's next to impossible to do without it) but I was able to improvise with a longer lens and my ND400 filter. This is a vertical panorama of four photos (though I cropped most of the fourth one out since I blew the exposure badly). It comes close, but what I'm trying to get just isn't quite there. I can't put my finger on it....Every time I pass by the falls I think about it. Maybe one of these days I'll capture it.

Looking For Love In The Shoe Department

The great thing about photography is that there really are no rules, merely suggestions. There are the basics of how the camera works, but beyond that, anything goes. Like taking pictures of shoes and feet.

Believe it or not, the photo above came from an engagement shoot Bethany and I did a couple of weeks back. We traveled two and a half hours to the family farm and spent the afternoon roaming around looking for photo opportunities, of which there were plenty.

I believe that feet can be just as expressive as faces. I first took a shot of someone's shoes at a wedding a few years ago before Bethany and I struck out on our own. I liked it, though it was completely by chance that I came across the idea and had the perfect black and white set up. Bethany laughed at me then, and so did Lesley, who I was working for, but the "feet shot" is becoming more and more popular and requested more often.

This couple did, in fact, request that I take a picture of their boots. Naturally, I was happy to oblige them since I was going to do it anyway. Can you see the personalities in the boots? I can, especially now that I've spent more time getting to know the couple.

Now that I've blogged for the day I'm going to hit the laptop and start processing through the weekend shoots, which seemed to pretty well. I haven't looked at the results from either yet, but I'm feeling pretty good about them. I've thought about going out to Roaring Run or somewhere closer for some photos, but it's way too hot and humid out there to inspire me to do much in the way of that. Instead, I think I'll just stick close to home, work on photos and maybe even start cataloging the birds at my feeder.

I've started to make them accustomed to my presence. By moving slowly, a little more each day, I've managed to make it within 10 feet of the feeder before they fly off. This week I'll start taking the camera out and seeing what I can photograph if all goes well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Deep Thoughts For A Video Game

It's summertime and I like flowers. This was one of the shots I snuck into a bridal portrait sitting a couple weeks ago. I thought I'd share it today to see how the photos worked in the new format now that I've reshaped and resized the blog to allow for extra large photos. I think I like how the format works.

Last night Patrick and I finally beat Gears of War 2. An epic game of combat and hard choices made in a difficult situations that no one could truly understand. Video games are, to my mind, pretty much one of the biggest wastes of time known to man. There really isn't anything to gain by them other than some small improvements in hand eye coordination that could be achieved through the world of sports as well.

However, as Patrick and I were defending the world against the onslaught of vicious aliens determined to rule or destroy the world, an interesting discussion evolved.

Video games have developed more and more complex graphics as technology advances. Along with the graphics, the story telling has evolved as well. Gears of War 2 forces its characters to make some pretty hard choices and we both realized we couldn't fully understand the choices they made and what motivated them to do so.

As we played, we then turned into discussing other characters we've known and whether or not we could understand what motivated them to make the choices that they did. We decided that neither of us could understand the choices that Gaeta made at the end of Battlestar Galactica even if we could glimpse at least some of his motivation. Baltar was somewhat easier to figure out, though it was interesting how much of his own motivation (which was driven by self preservation) became twisted around so that he was in part motivated to help the greater good.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is full of characters whose motivation is easy to figure and others that are nearly impossible. The Sword of Truth is populated by characters who generally are pretty blatant about what motivates them toward the choices they make. The character that fascinates us both, however, is Raistlin from the Dragonlance Chronicles & Legends. You can make the debate that he gained power and tried to challenge the gods to better the world and not serve his own ends. You can also point out that magic was his own "drug" so to speak and everything he did was to further that. His motivations simply aren't clear.

And I wonder how clear they are to the people who created him and who write him. It seems to me, that as a writer, I should understand what drives my characters to make choices and act in a certain way. Yet I freely admit that my own characters surprise me when I'm writing and I'm not always sure why. Perhaps if I plumb the depths of their character, I'd be a better writer?

Deep thoughts from a video game.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Design And Other Various And Sundry Items

Well, how about this neatness. I logged on this afternoon to write a little something while jamming to a Dave Matthews live album and found out that Blogger is hooking us up with some fun new templates and backgrounds. So I played around until I found something I liked. What do you think?

Progress is somewhat slow on my new project with Devan, partly because I'm still mulling over my approach in my own head and party because the days have been busy here lately. However, I'm still pretty excited and optimistic about where this is all going.

I did polish off Imager: The First Book of the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt Jr.. I think with this series Modesitt has created something that I'm going to enjoy just about as much as his Saga of Recluse. I believe I'll wait until the price drops a bit on book two before taking that plunge. In the mean time, I have four more voyages awaiting my reading pleasure with Captain Jack Aubrey. Birds with french fries aren't as happy as I am about that.

Modesitt, again, made me reconsider my approach to writing. What he does with his characters and the way he builds the worlds he creates just leaves me sitting in awe of that talent. I really admire the approach he takes in making his character human first and giving the reader every opportunity to identify with him before the hero of the tale really becomes the hero. It just makes for a slower, much more satisfying and solid read as  opposed to jumping all over the place to different perspectives. I believe I'm just about decided that his style is about to have a major impact on my own writing.

In related news, Imager was only the third book that I've actually paid for on my Kindle (the other 30 were free) and the second time that I've polished off an entire novel on that handy little gadget. There's no doubt that it has changed the way I shop for books. These days I just go into a book store to see what titles I'm interested in downloading. I know it is a pretty broad departure from having a library stocked full of actual hard copies of books, but carrying my library around in my hand somehow appeals to me too. I'm hoping that it'll be much more appreciated if I get to go on any kind of vacation later this year.

I did come to appreciate the fact that I could take notes on what I read, without damaging the book, and store those notes in my Kindle for access later. That feature is great for those times when something strikes me and I find myself staring at the same page for minutes on end as I follow the thought down the rabbit hole.

And speaking of all this writing, I'd better go get something on paper...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Whoops. Apparently I didn't play by the rules with the Beautiful Blogger. I'm supposed to tell you ten things about me that you may not know. Hmmm. Let me fix this....

1. Once I wanted my career to be Tigger at Disneyland. In all honesty, if that would pay the bills I might still give it a shot.

2. I have a personal library of nearly 1,000 volumes, even after some trimming down and gifting of duplicates.

3. I really hate doing yard work, but I have enough experience at it to make your lawn look really good.

4. The best concert I've ever attended was in Orkney Springs, at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, in an open air barn on a summer's evening.

5. When I was in elementary school I had a 63 mile per hour fast ball and it was a miracle if I threw a strike.

6. The Harry Potter movies make me sad and angry.

7. If I were a character in a fantasy novel, I would most definitely be a hobbit.

8. I think it's incredibly cool that the word "hobbit" is actually in the spell check.

9. I do have a bucket list and one of the things I'm most determined to check off on it is to go sailing in the ocean, perhaps all the way to Europe. And I mean sail.

10. I really hate running. With a deep and abiding passion. If I'm running, it's only because: 1. I'm going toward food; 2. I'm chasing someone who stole my food; 3. There's a ball of some kind involved.

Now, to nominate ten more people...I don't even think I read that many blogs on here, though I do have to say I appreciate Jeff Mallet's blog (the illustrator and author of one of my favorite strips, Frazz) over at Jeff Mallet and justf8inaround tends to have some interesting photos. The Writer Unboxed is a great blog for authors and I have to give a nomination shout out to my illustrator, Heather Gladden, at both Deviant Art and

That's five if you count Heather twice....

Oh. Right. One more thing you probably didn't know.

11. I don't follow direction well. (Then again, most of you probably know that).

The Wake Up Call

A few years ago, well not that many really, my parents owned the house that Bethany and I now own and live in. Mom always had these great flower gardens and hummingbird feeders and bird feeders full of seed. They were a photographer's delight.

When she moved out, I quickly discovered that I just don't have my Mom's green thumb, or quite the interest in working outside that she did. The past two summers have been very hectic and, while this summer is going to be busy once July rolls around, I have a bit of a slower pace to run this year.

So I've decided to get some of that green thumb back. Just last week I purchased (OK, so Bethany purchased it, but give me a break. I'm still temporarily unemployed ;) a 50 pound bag of bird seed. I cleaned off the bird feeder that my Grandpa made and my parents installed at the end of the porch. I filled it up with seed and a day later I started having birds return to my feeder.

I do have birdhouses up in the yard and I plan on hopefully adding some more this summer. The old clothesline (that we rarely use) supports two houses, one single and one three bedroom condo. Both of these are full. And as I was coming back in the house from cleaning my feeder, I looked to my left and saw two little heads poking out of the single bird house.

This morning I woke up to the sounds of a dozen or so birds chirping and flying around my feeder. I managed to make it to the window and peep through the blinds without scaring them. I think that maybe this week I'll fill up the feeder for finches and hang it off the post as well. Hopefully I'll be able to make the birds accustomed to my presence long enough for me to take a few photos to share here. When I first purchased my camera, I would sneak over to the fence and photograph the birds off my neighbor's feeder. As cool as birds sound, they're even cooler when you can capture them in mid-flight.

Now as I'm blogging this morning, I happened to look over at the "Blogs I'm Following List" and see where my buddy Sarah was given the Beautiful Blogger Award for her blog, The Student Knitter . In reading her post, I see that she nominated me for the same award, so naturally I have to say thank you and congratulations on your own award!

Bethany and I met Sarah and her husband (whom I'll call Mr. Pie on the Web because she does) when we photographed their wedding almost two years ago. We became pretty good friends and we're even having dinner together Sunday. They introduced us to the world of playing Dungeons and Dragons, which, yes, can be just as nerdy as it sounds, but it sure is a whole lot of fun.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Another Week

Now this is my kind of day. The sun is shining (except for when it's not) and the wind is blowing strongly, keeping the temperatures comfortable.

This is going to be a fun week. We have a lot of friends coming up this week to hang out for dinner and various fun games, so it's a full week but a good one. The upside is that the books that Amazon has had on backorder for me for about a month now should be shipping out today, so I'll finally get to see what happens to Captain Jack Aubrey next. It'll be sad when I run out of those books.

The morning passed in a blur of errands and the afternoon will be zipping by with some chores. I have a little cleaning and yard work left to do yet, but nothing really strenuous. After polishing that off I'll be diving back into the book I'm working on with Devan. I've fallen behind on that, but with everything I've had happening in the past couple weeks, I'm fine with that.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Weakness For Cheese Balls

Now this is what I call a quality week. Yes, it was busy, but I managed to check off every single thing on my to-do list and even knocked out a few extras. It just doesn't get any better than that.

The best part was Saturday, which I spent entirely with Bethany and even made a trip to Roanoke for some supplies for the pantry from Sam's. Late Saturday we polished off Alice In Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes, though both those movies kept us up until after 2 a.m. Great movies. Alice always has been one of those movies that seemed to reach out to something slightly surreal, and this one most definitely kept that tone. The Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp, was a pretty impressive character, I thought. I'd be curious to know more about his story.

Oh, and apparently I have a weakness for cheese balls. If I were Superman, those things would be kryptonite. Those little orange balls of goodness catch me every time I walk by them. I'm going to have to stick them over the dryer and close the door.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting Started All Over Again

Yesterday was, as Gandalf once said of Minas Tirith, "...the deep breath before the plunge."

Today is the plunge.

After a weekend of very successful shooting, Bethany and I have the better part of 1,000 pictures to sort through and process. At least half of them must be done by the weekend. Not only that, but I'm meeting with Heather this weekend to discuss the new project, so I need to have something significant to show her as well. On top of that, we have another bridal setting to shoot Saturday.

Oh, and I really want to find out how everything ends in the Percy Jackson series by polishing off The Last Olympian at some point.

Going to be a busy week.

I think I'd better go fix a sandwich first, though. I just can't do anything on an empty stomach.