Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you! I hope this Eve treats you kindly (and safely). 2009 has been a fantastic year for me, and I'm definitely looking forward to whatever 2010 has in store!

And thank you very much for visiting SightSalad. It means a lot to me!

277/365 Holiday bokeh

"Bokeh" is one of those ambiguous terms that refers to one general photographic technique -- but no one can seem to agree on one absolute definition.

Some say it's simply the technique used in creating a very blurred background, usually featuring spots of light of some kind -- like the lights on the Christmas tree above.

Others say it's the more creative technique of turning those light spots into shapes.

What's the one, true definition? Who knows? I like the effect, whatever it means and whatever you want to call it.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 100

276/365 Chilly morning

It's starting to really look like winter around here.

For about a week, we've had a constant dusting of snow on the ground, and we got 3+ inches of snow on Sunday. It's nothing like the multiple feet of precipitation seen by our neighbors to the north and east, but I won't turn down a few healthy inches.

Even if the day is dreary and gray, a few good inches of snow make it a lot more pleasing to the eye.

Camera: Canon 40D with 24mm wide-angle lens, 1/125s, f/5.6 at ISO 100 at about 8:00 a.m.

275/365 Please, sir, I want some more

Buster -- who was sporting a festive Christmas scarf on Christmas Day -- would have loved to have cleaned the whole family's plates after dinner. But alas, he didn't get his wish. He got a couple tidbits of ham and a healthy bowl of dry dog food.

Yum, right?

He doesn't get a lot of food scraps. But that doesn't stop him from gazing longingly at the dishes in the dishwasher that still smell like dinner.

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 640

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

274/365 Disguised gifts

Our stockings were hung by the chimney with care, filled to the top with gifts of shapes that aren't easily mistaken.

CDs and DVDs are common stocking gifts in my family. Because they're small, they make good stocking stuffers -- but there's no mistaking that shape when you pull it out. When they make it under the tree as gifts there, we often go to more trouble to disguise the shape. I like retaining a little bit of the mystery for the recipients of the gift.

Chase did a great job of disguising one of my gifts this year. The outer package was round and about the size of a basketball. When I discarded the paper, he had wrapped the gift in layer after layer after layer of bubble wrap. We all laughed while it took me a couple minutes to actually get to the gift in the middle.

What was it? A nice rain gauge. He wins the prize for best disguise this year!

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/3.5 at ISO 640

273/365 Hand-me-down silver

I received these silver candlesticks as a hand-me-down this past summer. I like using taper candles to create table centerpieces for special meals, so I was very excited to get these.

They hadn't been used in quite some time, so they need a little polishing. I wanted to try an easy, nontoxic DIY method first, so I found instructions online:

- Line a pan with aluminum foil -- or use an aluminum pan. (I used a plastic dish tub.)
- Fill the pan with steaming hot water
- Add a couple tablespoons each of salt and baking soda
- Drop in your silver items, and it's recommended that they be touching each other
- And voila, the tarnish is supposed to melt away before your eyes

Did it work?

Amazingly, yes! The dark tarnish disappeared within five minutes. They still need some more attention and polishing, but I was shocked -- and glad -- that the DIY method actually worked.

I love when that happens!

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 400

Monday, December 28, 2009

272/365 The perfect cup of tea

I love ending the day with a hot cup of tea. And ever since my trip to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, I'm completely obsessed with their tea.

My current go-to evening tea is their Madagascar Vanilla Red. Rooibos tea is supposed to be incredibly good for you, and I like the added smoothness of vanilla. Add some honey and a little milk, and voila, it's a great cup of tea.

But pardon me for the advertisement. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 100

Sunday, December 27, 2009

271/365 The road to the Creamery

I made a quick trek to the Trader's Point Creamery after work one day last week. Some friends of mine are enthusiastic believers in the organic food movement, so for part of their Christmas gift, I got them a selection of the Creamery's special cheeses.

The Creamery's cattle are 100% grass-fed, and all their foods are organic. They claim to be the only creamery in the country to provide 100% grass-fed whole milk in a bottle -- I'll take their word for it.

The Creamery is not far off my regular commute to and from work, so it was a quick stop for me. What I didn't expect was how narrow and secluded the road to the Creamery actually was. I'm completely used to roads like this, but the mental image in my mind of its location was a bit more well-traveled.

I plan to make it a point to return for their Farmer's Market and in-house restaurant at some point soon.

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000 at about 5:30 p.m.

270/365 Dusting of snow

Around this time of year, I start to get very excited about the prospect of snow. I get jealous hearing stories of 12 inches in other states -- or even in the northern portion of our own state.

I believe that winter isn't winter without snow. After January 2, I'm ready for 75 degrees and sunshine again -- but I feel like living in those mild conditions year round would just make the passage of time feel very slow. You don't get any seasonal signs that the year is progressing. And what is Christmas without the prospect of a blanket of white?

But alas, I live in central Indiana. So the vast majority of our snowfalls consist of a dusting or perhaps an inch of accumulation. And I'm not really interested in moving north.

So I guess I'm stuck, huh?

Camera: Canon 40D, 2 seconds, f/4 at ISO 100, lit by an incandescent porch light at about 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

269/365 Crocheting a kissing ball

I love watching Mom knit and crochet. She's been knitting more often in recent years because it's a newly acquired talent, but some projects call for a return to the crochet hook.

This project? A crocheted kissing ball, which will have mistletoe tied to the bottom and hang at Christmastime.

She's also been busy with doilies and snowflakes, two other projects that often come out at this time of year. Years ago, she made a large batch of crocheted snowflake ornaments for the Christmas tree, and they continue to be one of my favorite ornaments to hang. I'm always partial to handmade items and those with sentimental value.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640

268/365 Adopted white poinsettia

Personally, I'm partial to red poinsettias.

I won't turn down a white one (exhibit A, pictured here), but I definitely prefer the red variety.

I adopted this (very large) white one last week, and it's offered a little more Christmas cheer to my sparsely decorated house.

And of course, knowing me, there's no way I can bring a flowering plant into the house and not photograph it. To ignore it would be sacrilege.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

267/365 Winter colors

I never tire of beautiful sunsets.

It's a subject that is often noted as a cliche among photographers -- and yet, do you know anyone who doesn't appreciate a great, colorful sky? Very few.

Whole books and calendars are dedicated to the subject. Your computer may have even come with a pre-loaded sunset photo from which you can choose to set as your desktop background. These things wouldn't exist if there wasn't a genuine interest and demand for it.

So let's relax and give a collective, "Oooooh.... aaaaaahhhh," shall we?

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000 at about 5:30 p.m.

266/365 Good, old-fashioned toothbrush

Call me cheap, but I think a manually operated, old-fashioned toothbrush works just fine. And if it comes free from the dentist? Even better.

In the last few years, I've moved toward favoring a brand other than the one my dentist hands out for free, but I still can't bring myself to invest in an electric toothbrush.

I'll resist that technology for as long as I can.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

265/365 Growth in Indianapolis

I attended my second positive press conference of the year last week. This one, like the last one, announced the creation of jobs in Indiana, and both the governor of Indiana and the mayor of Indianapolis were on hand for the announcement. This time it was the announcement of jobs being added by the newly renamed BC Forward.

[Excuse that big Christmas tree, it was blocking my view.]

I find it interesting to see how things like this work behind the scenes. You see press conferences on the news all the time, but it's always different to be in the audience watching it in person. Unless you're directly affected by the news, it's honestly not that exciting.

A bunch of people gather around, out walks the Important People, they make their announcement, take some questions, and that's that. I'm sure it's much different when the news is controversial or negative. But both of these in my experience have been low-key and positive.

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000 with flash

264/365 Working out in style

I admit I'm a little jealous.

When I was a student at Butler, our fitness center consisted of one small room in the basement of the union. It held about six treadmills, eight ellipticals, a dozen weight machines, and a small aerobic class area.

Then what happened the year after I graduated?

The school opened a gorgeous two-story fitness center complete with an indoor track, two pools, multiple aerobic rooms, and a juice bar.

I hope those kids know how lucky they are.

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000 at about 6:15 p.m.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

263/365 Decking the halls

Last weekend, Mom and I pulled out all of her Christmas decorations and decked the house. My guess is that we're not the only people who feel it's absolutely mandatory that Christmas music be played on the stereo during the decorating process.

It would feel empty without it.

I love decorating for Christmas, but I admit that I don't particularly enjoy the de-decorating process. It just emphasizes that holiday let-down and means that the dreary, cold days of January and February are on their way.

But let's not think about that now. We're a week from Christmas!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640

262/365 New ornament

Starting with the year I was born, I've received a Hallmark Christmas ornament to commemorate the year. It started with my grandparents on my dad's side of the family, then my Mom picked up where they left off.

The idea was that these ornaments would give Chase and I a good start when we got our own Christmas trees. It's true! My little 4.5-footer is full!

It's fun to see the progression of interests as we've grown. All the first ornaments were pretty much the same: "Baby's 3rd Christmas," little kids' crayons and toys, etcetera. Then our personalities came out. Chase's ornaments began taking on a more outdoorsy, rugged feel, with lots of boots, wild animals, and large machinery.

Mine? I had a streak of seven or eight years that featured puppies and kittens, then the theme switched to girlie fashion accessories. For the fourth year in a row, my ornaments have been shoe-related.

How did that happen?

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 800

Friday, December 18, 2009

261/365 Office holiday party

Last week's office holiday party was definitely one of the most fun I've been to. We had an ugly Christmas sweater contest that nearly everyone took part in, a fun white elephant gift exchange, and a gingerbread-building contest.

For the last portion, we were divided into eight teams, and we had about 20 minutes to decorate a gingerbread house. The wait staff at the restaurant judged and chose the three winners.
My team got robbed, but I admit I'm a little biased. We had (second house from the right in front) pretzel sticks as shingles and a chimney made from Cheese-its. And we finished with enough time left for me to walk around and photograph the other teams working.

Lots of fun with the coworkers!

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/3.5 at ISO 800

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

260/365 Sneaker Stilts

White elephant gift exchanges can be fun... or go pitifully wrong. I've participated in both.

The worst I've been to involve gifts that are complete second-hand junk. It takes the fun out of the game, partially because no one is interested in "stealing" a gift from another participant.

I inwardly groaned a bit when I learned that our office holiday party would include a white elephant gift exchange. All I could do was hope that my coworkers put a little more effort into selecting fun/funny gifts.

My contribution was actually an item that I (or my brother) got in a white elephant exchange about ten years ago -- a pair of stilts, complete with plastic sneakers on the ends for "feet."

It was a perfect white elephant gift: 1) wrapping it was incredibly difficult, meaning it was a large, oddly shaped package that drew attention and curiosity and was chosen early; 2) it was second-hand, but instead of being junk, it was actually a fun thing to have; and 3) it inspired people to "steal" it from other exchange participants until the rules mandated it could no longer be stolen.

I ended up with a workout video -- "The Abs Diet Workout." I'm actually curious to try it out!

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 800

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

259/365 Peppermint gelato

For part of her job, one of my friends reviews local restaurants. She invited me last week to have dinner with her at an Italian place north of Indianapolis. Dinner with her? Italian? There was no possible way I could turn that down.

Our food was truly excellent, and we capped off the meal by sampling some of their gelato. I chose peppermint, because I'm on a particularly strong peppermint kick right now, surrounded by seasonal colors and flavors.

It was wonderful, and it made a nice cleansing-palate end to the meal. And it inspired me to buy some Edy's peppermint (light!) ice cream at the grocery store a few days later.

Man, that sounds good right now...

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000

258/365 Red cabbage

My last Farm Fresh Delivery bin contained some beautiful red cabbage that I couldn't resist photographing.

I've been having their organic produce delivered to my door for a couple months now, and I absolutely love it. It's giving me healthy variety in my diet -- as well as some great photo subjects.

When the fruit and vegetables are delivered on your doorstep -- already paid for -- it's hard to ignore them. And when they're attractive and interesting, that's impossible to resist, too.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 800

Monday, December 14, 2009

257/365 Pet names and attachment

It's amazing how attached to our cars -- completely inanimate objects -- we can become.

I know a lot of people who have affectionately named their cars over the years. My grandmother named every car she owned. The ones I specifically recall were an old gray pickup named "Old Gray Lady," and a full-sized van named "Traveler."

My first car was a bright blue Volkswagen Beetle, and I called it "Zippy." I intended to name my next car, but nothing inspired me, and after a while I forgot about it and just stuck with "my car." How boring.

When you face the facts that the relationship with [insert car's name] is no longer a positive one, does your research process for a new vehicle constitute as emotional cheating? And does it become a full-on affair when you first take the new beauty for a test drive?

Then there comes a time when you reason with yourself and remember that it is an inanimate object, after all. A box of metal and plastic on four wheels.

How cold.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 800

256/365 Cookie haul

Remember that cookie exchange party I told you about in my last post? This is what my haul looked like afterward. Great!

I kept a few for myself and shared the rest with friends and family -- which is part of the intention of such a party. Get your holiday baking done all at once.

The bonus was that I came away with some fun containers as well.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 500

Sunday, December 13, 2009

255/365 Cookies everywhere

For the second year in a row, a friend of mine invited me to her annual cookie exchange party. It's a fun concept: Each invitee brought a half dozen cookies packaged for each person at the party, plus a dozen cookies on a platter for taste testing. We each also brought copies of the recipe that we made.

The idea is that you go away with some of your holiday baking complete, with a variety of new cookies to give, and a handful of delicious new recipes.

This year 13 of us attended, meaning we each had to make 7 1/2 dozen cookies for the party. That's a lot of cookies, let me tell you.

I planned to do my baking in Mom's oven, because mine is smaller than average (only 17" wide inside). That means I can't use ordinary, large cookie sheets, and it multiplies the time it takes to make something in "batches."

But Chase came down with the flu the day before I was to go bake, so plans changed, and I stayed home. My little kitchen was covered in cookies.

Two and a half hours later, I had eight dozen Cocoa Fudge cookies cooling on the table. Yum!

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/3.5 at ISO 500

Thursday, December 10, 2009

254/365 For the love of Jane Austen

Ah, Jane Austen, how I love thee.

I first read Pride & Prejudice in my freshman year of college. My required literature class was themed "From horror to high tea," so we read Frankenstein, Dracula, Pride & Prejudice, and Jane Eyre.

I honestly need to go back and reread Frankenstein and Jane Eyre, because I didn't put nearly as much effort or focus into reading them as I should have at that point. I remember being rather bored with both, and I did a lot of skimming of the text.

Dracula I had read before, so I already had a good understanding of it. Pride & Prejudice was the only novel of the four that I actually liked. It did take me some time to get used to the language and get through it, but by the end, I was hooked.

As an English Writing minor, I took another literature class during my senior year that focused solely on the work of Jane Austen. We read five of her six complete novels: Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion. Again, I need to give Mansfield Park and Persuasion another go. But that class truly turned me into a Jane Austen fan. I've read many other authors' adaptations and continuations of her stories since then, and I can't get enough.

So Northanger Abbey is the only one of her six novels that I had yet to read. That became one of my goals for 2009, to read the book. Well, it's now mid-December, and I'm doing it. I will accomplish that goal by the 31st.

I'm having an easier time than ever getting into the story and the style, and I'm enjoying the book very much. At this point, I'd say it's among my top three favorites, joined by P&P and S&S.

Check another resolution off that 2009 list!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 400

253/365 Home fires burning

One of the best things about winter is having a fire burning in the fireplace. I think it gives the whole house a more homey feel, and adds emotional as well as physical warmth.

I love coming in from the cold outside, shedding my coat and boots, then hurrying to the fireplace to stand as close as humanly possible without touching the hot surface. You do have to rotate yourself like a rotisserie chicken, but that intense heat is heavenly.

I also have to say that roasting marshmallows indoors over a fire is tons of fun. I definitely need to make time for that this winter.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/30s, f/2.8 at ISO 1000

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

252/365 Popcorn

Sometimes you just need some popcorn.

It's not a snack I gravitate to often -- maybe once every few months -- mainly because it's just not top of mind. Though if you do it right (and boring), it's a perfectly reasonable snack.

There really is nothing like the smell of popcorn, don't you agree? When someone makes it at work, the entire building fills with the scent of fresh popcorn in a matter of minutes.

I think the only other smell that really permeates like that is fish. But in my book, that's not a pleasant fragrance.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 100

251/365 One little Christmas tree

"I found a Christmas tree today!"

"Great! How big is it?"

"Eight feet tall, and 60" in diameter. I know it's really big for my space, but I just fell in love with it and couldn't resist."

Silence. "Oh my gosh...?"

"Just kidding! It's a cute little 4.5-foot tall, Norfolk pine that has pinecones. It's very cute."

I couldn't help but tease my mom a little when I found my tree. She had helped me scope out options a couple weeks before I found this one, and she warned me about not falling for one too big for my space.

If past precedent says anything, though, she would be the one person who would understand loving a big tree. The story goes that when she and Dad bought their first one, when I was a baby, she went out, intending to get a small tree, but came back with a 7-footer.

I've grown up with artificial trees, so I naturally gravitate toward that variety. I put my tree up this year the day after Thanksgiving, but as of now, it's adorned with just four ornaments. I suppose this will be a year for decorating gradually.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1 second, f/4 at ISO 100

Monday, December 7, 2009

250/365 A beautiful bookcase

I've found that my collection of hand-me-down furniture hasn't provided me much space for setting decorative items, lamps, etc. out in my living room. My grandfather made a beautiful clock for me, which is a replica of a clock he made several decades ago -- but it's been sitting on the floor for four months because I simply had nowhere (stable) to put it.

I found that one of the first things I needed/wanted was a fairly large shelving unit to sit against one large wall. Having a unit like this would be more aesthetically proportionate on that wall, it would give me more space for DVDs, photo albums, and books, and it would also provide a stable surface on which I could put my clock, photo frames, and other decorative items.

I collected some ideas (via the pages of Pottery Barn's catalog) and one day showed Grandpa what I was dreaming of. He immediately saw a fun project, gave me an idea of what the various kinds of lumber cost, and told me to sketch out my dimensions.

I designed my bookcase, gave him the sketch, and he got to work. Just over a month later (last week), I became the proud new owner of a beautiful cherry bookcase that not only gives me exactly what I needed -- it gives me yet another piece with great sentimental value.

Even the residual smell of sawdust and polyurethane makes the space feel more like home.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640

Friday, December 4, 2009

249/365 Holiday music

It's not Christmas without piano music in my family.

I have memories from my earliest years of singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty, the Snowman," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," etcetera etcetera etcetera, standing by the piano while Mom played.

When I got old enough and began taking lessons from her, I started playing the songs as well. (Though I cannot play while people sing, so I leave that to her and just play for my own enjoyment.)

Several years ago, we got a four-hand duet book and started playing Christmas songs together. Even when the music is simple, it's challenging (for me, not for her) to play alongside someone else. We laughed when we both subconsciously started swaying back and forth on the bench while we played "White Christmas."

I pulled out some of the Christmas song books last weekend and started warming my fingers up.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640

248/365 Shorter days

When it comes to the dark days of winter, it seems to me like the days shorten very quickly prior to the winter solstice -- but the speed at which the days lengthen afterward doesn't seem proportionate. It takes forever for the days to get longer again.

Does it feel that way to you?

The sun sets here around 5:45-6:00 p.m. right now. That's early. I go to work while the sky is just beginning to lighten, and I get home after the sun has set.

We measure time with New York, on Eastern time. It would seem to me, though, that geographically we should mark time with Chicago instead. We're 700+ miles west of NYC, but we're less than 200 miles southeast of Chicago. Does that make sense to you?

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 400 at about 5:45 p.m.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

247/365 A merry Black Friday

Some of my out-of-town girlfriends were in town for Thanksgiving, so we took advantage of the timing and got together for dinner and our ornament exchange.

We met for dinner at Santorini Greek Kitchen in Fountain Square on Friday night (Black Friday). Everyone seemed to enjoy their food, and there was plenty of flaming cheese to go around.

Afterward, we ventured downtown to Monument Circle to see the newly lit tree. It's touted as the "largest Christmas tree in the world" (debatable), and the switch is traditionally flipped on the day after Thanksgiving. I've been present several times for the actual lighting, which is fun but admittedly anti-climactic. I enjoy seeing it after the crowds have dispersed just as much.

We got hot chocolate at a store on the circle (photo above) and had lots of fun catching up. Happy holidays!


Camera: Canon 40D
First photo: 1/80s, f/4 at ISO 1600
Second photo: 1/80s, f/3.5 at ISO 1600 with flash

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

246/365 Thanksgiving traditions

I'm one of those people who vehemently believes that Christmas music should not be played nor decorations unboxed until the day after Thanksgiving.

12:01 Friday morning? Christmas is on!

I believe this because Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday that deserves to be celebrated on its own, not merely as the holiday that kicks off the Christmas season.

My family's Thanksgiving celebrations have become very low-key over the years. When my paternal grandparents were still around, we drove to Michigan to celebrate the holiday with them and my aunt and uncle. My grandparents have both passed away, so we now observe the holiday in a very chill style, among just the four of us at home.

One practice that has humorously become tradition is this: we must watch the National Dog Show on NBC. It's usually on right after the parade, and as a dog lover, I find it really fun to watch.

Of course, we root for the Bichon. Buster does, too.

We had a great meal in the evening this year and watched a movie together after dessert.

Now? Time for Christmas!

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 400

245/365 Annual ornament exchange

I'm all in favor of gift exchanges. It brings a group together -- reinforcing the spirit of gift-giving -- but lessens the strain on our wallets.

Until last year, the adults in my extended family did an annual Christmas gift exchange. The kids of the family were added to the pool when we graduated from college (time to be a grown-up). I had only briefly been a part of the exchange when the majority of the family voted to discontinue the practice.

I miss it. Sure, some people are difficult to buy for. But I enjoy the process of thinking of a person, considering what they do and love, and finding a great gift for them. The family Christmas gathering now feels empty and rather cold without it.

Luckily, my girlfriends still continue to do an annual exchange. Rather than doing individual gifts, though, we each buy an ornament and exchange them instead. The tradition was borne from meager young-professional salaries and rather barren Christmas trees. I really enjoy it and look forward to this part of my holiday.

We did our ornament exchange a little early this year to catch as many people as possible who were in town for Thanksgiving. The one I bought and exchanged is pictured above. I chose black and white to reflect the spirit of the Indianapolis 500 (with which we were all associated as Princesses), but the majority of the ornaments did not follow any particular theme.

The one I received was the first ornament hung on my tree this year. The season is here!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 400

Monday, November 30, 2009

244/365 Squeaky clean and can't resist

As a general habit, I don't wear perfumes or girlie lotions that smell of anything from lavender fields to citrus groves. Straightforward soap and unscented lotions are the name of my game.

And yet, I can't resist these kinds of stores. They completely suck me in.

Bath & Body Works? Yep. I go in and all of a sudden have a huge desire to own everything that smells of vanilla or lemon. Of course I need yet another half-used hand lotion cluttering the top of my dresser.

B&BW is a common sight in central Indiana, so my really-don't-need-that self-control has become better about resisting the temptation to even enter.

But then we encountered a store called Lush in Chicago. Oy vey. Handmade soaps with natural ingredients being sold by ultra-enthusiastic hip female saleswomen. I was doomed. Just one of these stores exists in Indiana, and it's two hours away in Fort Wayne. But in Chicago, we passed three different locations in four days.

They have piles of fresh soap bricks stacked against one wall, which they'll cut to any size you like. They have tennis ball-sized "bath bombs" that bubble up, smell heavenly, and make your bathwater soft and luxurious. I don't even take baths -- but I want some!

Somehow I managed to escape with just three bars of soap for about $25. But I wanted to keep going and try every one, believe me. Lush's sales strategy is very interesting to watch -- in a store space the size of a large family kitchen, they easily had six sales reps or more on hand. They attach themselves to you, one on one, through the entire shopping experience. They demonstrate the bath bombs, encourage you to try any and every thing, and don't leave you to "just browse."

And yet I didn't really find this oppressive, like I often do with these kinds of sales strategies. Rather than being overly pushy, these women were excited and passionate -- giving you the impression that they'd volunteer their time working there, they love it so much. It's genius. And persuasive.

What soaps did I get? The one pictured above is Porridge, which has chunks of oatmeal to exfoliate. I also got a bar of Honey I Washed the Kids (which smells like honey, yum) and Bohemian, for the fresh lemon scent I can't resist.

I have a feeling I'm going to become good friends with Lush's website.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 400

Sunday, November 29, 2009

243/365 Piles of receipts

I generated a lot of receipts over the course of four days in Chicago.

This view is slightly exaggerated because each is folded at least once, but it's still a lot for four days. It wasn't so much that I spent that much on shopping for clothes and accessories, but I picked up the tab for each meal. Four lunches and dinners for two people in four days adds up.

I normally eat the majority of my lunches and dinners at home (or in a packed lunch at work), so it's very unusual for me. After even a short trip like this, I'm ready to just open the refrigerator to find a meal.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 400

242/365 Waving grasses

I spent the day after our return from Chicago utterly exhausted. I honestly felt as sluggish as if I'd been drugged, though I know it was just the relaxation of being home, after walking miles (and trekking through hours of shopping) in a relatively unfamiliar city for several days.

I could barely keep my eyes open, and I didn't venture outside for my photo of the day until close to sunset.

This is the top of some (now dried) ornamental grasses. They remind me a bit of the tassel of a corn stalk, but finer and more delicate. They flutter in the slightest of breezes, but the day was lovely and the breeze was calm -- meaning they held still enough for me to capture.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/250s, f/2.8 at ISO 100 at about 4:30 p.m.

241/365 Home from Chicago

This is the extent of the ultra-luxurious train station in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Twelve plastic red chairs in a cube-like glass shelter.

Mom and I did a test run the weekend before our trip to figure out where the station was, what the potential parking situation looked like, etc. Parking is free (yay!), and consists of about a dozen reserved spaces just 20 yards from the station (another yay), across from the police station (security). No traffic to deal with whatsoever.

When you get out of your car, directions painted on the neighboring brick building point you to the above Amtrak station. The walk takes a grand total of about 20 seconds.

When we arrived (30 minutes early) for our departure, we didn't even have time to go inside the station itself, because we heard the approaching whistle of our train. The train stops right at the station, a conductor hops off, asks for your name, checks if you have tickets or need to buy one (you can buy it on the train itself), and then helps you board.

We boarded, found seats in the middle (no seat assignments), and the train took off again. This all happened in under five minutes.

The whole process felt very foreign, as though we were traveling in a time not only prior to 9/11 (with no security), but a time decades ago. It was incredibly simple and easy.

Considering the fact that it takes about four hours to drive to Chicago from here, which was the length of the train ride, in this case it's a superior mode of travel. Our round-trip tickets for two people totaled $86, we didn't have to worry about driving through downtown Chicago, and we didn't have to search -- or pay -- for parking. I may not want to travel by train on a longer trip across the States, but for a quick jaunt like this, I'd definitely do it again. 

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/60s, f/4 at ISO 1600 at about 11:00 p.m.

Friday, November 27, 2009

240/365 A lovely walk around Chicago

One of the items on my must-see list in Chicago was the Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park. This sculpture is a huge visual draw for tourists, and I see it online all the time as a fun photography subject.

It's very cool in person -- surprisingly simple but totally captivating and fun. You can walk all around it, underneath it, and right up to it. It looks like a giant, utterly smooth silver jelly bean. 

It reflects the city in thousands of different ways, depending on where you stand. Luckily, we got a beautiful, clear, cool day for this part of our trip. It wouldn't have been nearly as fun in the rain (though, admittedly, I think that would add an unexpected twist to the photos.

Because we were there on a Friday morning in late November, very few people were around. I'm sure this place is completely milling with people in the summer time.

Opposite the Cloud Gate is a very cool pavilion theater designed by Frank Gehry. I'm sure it's a great place to see concerts, when the sky is clear, the stars are out, and the air is warmer than the 50 degrees of our visit.

After walking around Millennium Park, we walked westward toward the Macy's on State Street, a flagship store whose floors of clothing and wares stretch into the double digits. On the walk there, we stumbled upon Mom's worst nightmare:

See the cars parked on the lower levels of this building? Each car's rear end was pointing outward, and I'd love to know why that is -- and how they do it. But Mom just about had a cow thinking of having to park so close to that edge.

We laughed for a long time.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/125s to 1/650s, f/4 and f/5.6 at ISO 100 between 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

239/365 A rainy day in Chicago

Oh, the lovely weather you find in Chicago.

Mom and I spent our second day in the city trying to stay dry. It dawned gray and miserable, steadily raining until the afternoon. And of course, the jacket I chose to take does not have a hood.

One big reason we wanted to venture to Chicago was for the multitude of shopping opportunities to be had. On that rainy Thursday, we focused on shopping up and down the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue, all day. Luckily there are several shopping centers that have multiple stores in one location -- so it's reasonably easy to stay indoors.

We wandered through Water Tower Place (with Macy's), the 900 Shops Mall, which features Bloomingdales (scored an item off the shopping list!), and the Filene's Basement next door (a huge score on the shopping list).

I did not inherit a Marathon Shopper gene, so a trip focused on shopping is not something I care to do very often. My idea of the perfect shopping day involves a dedicated list of needed items, focused searching through stores, and calling it quits when the list is complete. And stores that involve digging through racks and displays admittedly make me cranky.

I had a focused list of needs -- and was very successful, thanks to Chicago -- but I was exhausted and tired of shopping by the end of this trip.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/50s, f/3.5 at ISO 1000 at about 6:00 p.m.

238/365 A trip to Chicago

For four days last week, Wednesday through Saturday, Mom and I took some time off and went to Chicago!

We traveled by train for the first time, so that alone was a bit of an adventure. The fares were fantastic -- $19 to Chicago, $24 home. Compared to $300 plane tickets, I'd say that's a good deal! Rather than boarding in Indianapolis, we chose Crawfordsville instead, which put us a little farther north. [Check back for an upcoming post about that train station.]

Traveling by Amtrak was a little like stepping back in time, especially to a time prior to 9/11. The most striking difference was the fact that we never once had to be screened by security. Amtrak recommends getting to the station 30 minutes before your train departs -- a big difference when you consider that most airlines recommend arriving at least two hours prior to your flight.

The trains were clean, the seats were larger than a plane's, and we had tons of leg room. I'd definitely travel that way again!

On our first afternoon in Chicago, we visited the Field Museum. My favorite exhibit was, hands down, Sue, the T Rex. The Museum had many other dinosaur skeletons on display, but a disappointing majority of them were casts of the original. Not real. It's just not as awe-inspiring when it's man-made material. Sue, on the other hand, was the real thing. Wow.

Also cool was a featured exhibit that focused on diamonds. When an exhibit has dedicated guards stationed throughout, you know the materials are real.

We were so exhausted at the end of our first night that we were in bed and asleep by 9:30 p.m.

Yep, we party hard. 

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/125s, f/3.5 at ISO 1250

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

237/365 Vestiges of Halloween

Yes, I'm still working on my Halloween candy.

This isn't unusual for me. As a kid, more often than not, my candy ended up forgotten in a desk drawer before I finished it.

Chase used this to his advantage. He'd bide his time, waiting about two weeks for the moment when it appeared I'd lost interest, then swoop in and offer to take it off my hands. He earned a lot of free candy using that method. Smart.

It takes a while for one person to get through a bag of Tootsie Rolls when you eat them four at a time, one serving per day. But I'm almost there.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 500

236/365 Hanging on

I was surprised to look out the window last weekend and see a few petunias still holding on. They're not looking as great as they once did, but I admire their tenacity. I'm still trying to eke out the last bit of warmth from the air, too.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 640 at about 5:00 p.m.

Monday, November 23, 2009

235/365 Sycamores

I love that though everything is dying right now in late-fall, the sycamore trees offer a little bit of interest in the dreary landscape.

Their white, peeling bark stands out against the blah, ordinary brown. They're most commonly found growing near water, so in this case, I drove to a nearby creek to find some. I'd imagine that if you were wandering lost in the woods searching for water, looking up and seeing this telltale tree would offer a good natural symbol.

I don't often find myself wandering in such a situation, but it's still interesting to be able to spot water by looking up instead of down.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 400 at about 5:00 p.m.

Friday, November 20, 2009

234/365 Swing dancing at Fountain Square

I may have found it.

I went out swing dancing with some friends last week at an open theater in Indianapolis, Fountain Square. The Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra was on hand to play live big-band music, and we danced until after 10:30.

It may be exactly what I've been looking for.

When it comes to dancing, I've never been one to be terribly interested in competing. I've done it, both in clogging and ballroom, but my heart really belongs to pure performance.

I love dancing on stage, whether it's with a team or a single partner. I'm in it to please an audience, not win a trophy.

But finding that kind of an outlet in central Indiana, for ballroom dancing or anything besides clogging, has been a real challenge. Opportunities exist for social dancing and mingling, but (with all due respect) most of the attendees at these events tend to be a little ... older than I.

Judging by the size of the crowd at Fountain Square last week, the dancers on the younger end of the spectrum seem to be flocking to swing dancing. I had a ball, and my friends seemed to as well. I'll definitely be going back.

This looks like it's worth investigating!

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000