Tuesday, August 31, 2010

89/365 Are you ready for some football?

Fantasy Football.

Two words that have circled around me in conversation for years, but I've primarily wandered around clueless about the process involved. At work, among friends... at this time of year, it's everywhere.

No more. I'm now a rookie team manager.

Yep, I've bravely jumped into the fray. Blindly. But looking forward to it, nonetheless.

My coworkers have a league together, so it's prime fodder for lunch-room conversation. This year, when the call went out for people interested in participating, I raised my hand. We actually had enough interest this year that we had to split into two separate leagues.

I joined for two main reasons: 1. To learn more about football. 2. To have some fun with coworkers.

The first milestone in my rookie team-manager career happened last week: the draft. Now, here's the thing: I'm competitive enough that even though this is my rookie season, I want to actually stand a good chance of being a contender in the league. So, preparing for the draft was a bit like studying for a test in a class I'd been sleeping through all semester. "Where in the world did all of this information come from and how am I supposed to learn it by then?!"

I consulted some veterans for advice, did some Googling of "fantasy football 101" keywords on my own, and spent some serious time preparing my strategy for the draft. The pressure mounted even more when I was randomly selected to receive the first pick. That meant that of all the offensive players in the NFL, I got first choice for my team. All eyes were on me; that's a coveted position to be in.

I quickly learned in my researching that my initial thought of, "Oh, well, I'll pick Peyton Manning, because he'll go quickly" was a bad idea. Rookie move. Let him go. Go for a top running back instead, because they'll earn you lots of points.

Essentially, what I learned was: load up on running backs and wide receivers. Pick your quarterback in the third or fourth round. Don't worry about a backup quarterback until later, and then only if your primary QB has an early bye week. Leave your defense and kicker until the last two rounds.

Sweating yet?

So here's where I ended up, in order:

1. RB Adrian Peterson, MIN
2. WR Marques Colston, NO
3. QB Aaron Rodgers, GB
4. RB Ryan Grant, GB
5. RB Joseph Addai, IND
6. WR Hines Ward, PIT
7. RB Jahvid Best, DET
8. WR Steve Breaston, ARI
9. RB Justin Forsett, SEA
10. WR Mike Wallace, PIT
11. TE Brent Celek, PHI
12. RB Chester Taylor, CHI
13. QB Matthew Stafford, DET
14. DEF San Francisco 49ers
15. K David Akers, PHI

Next lesson coming up in my education: What I actually have to do each week with these players! Here we go...!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/60s, f/2.8 at ISO 1250

Monday, August 30, 2010

88/365 After the tree has fallen

The mighty tree has fallen!

The huge maple tree that has reigned over my backyard for the past who-knows-how-many decades has met its match, all in the course of a single day. It's amazing how different the space -- both land and air -- looks without that tree. The sunlight coming in through my kitchen window is now completely unfiltered, which I don't mind at all.

Cleanup in the spring and autumn, when the helicopters and leaves fall, will be monumentally easier without this tree. That's mainly just an annoyance, though, compared to the interference the tree caused with the house's plumbing.

Aesthetically, I think the house looked better with the tree intact. Cozier.

I'll guess I'll just have to find a new way to dress up the place!

Camera: Canon 40D with 24mm wide-angle lens, 1/125s, f/5.6 and f/2.8 at ISO 250 at about 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

87/365 Timber!

Big changes are happening in my backyard. This is a 'before' shot.

The 'after' shot, coming in the next post, will not include this tree.

While I hate to see any large tree disappear, this one has caused some serious problems. It was just planted in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As you can see, the deck has been built around it, which begins to give you a clue about how close it is to the house. It's only about 15 feet from the back door. While it's been great about providing shade, its activity underground has been the root of my house's septic problems.

Pun intended.

The unfortunate news is that if the tree itself doesn't disappear, then the plumbing issues will only continue. It's a huge job that has to be handled by a professional tree removal service, but it needs to be done.

So we'll take a moment to applaud the long, strong life it's had and begin planning on where to plant a new tree to take its place. And that place will be much farther away from the house!

Camera: Canon 40D with 24mm wide-angle lens, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 200 at about 9:00 a.m.

86/365 Fresh basil

I'm already planning my 2011 garden. What better time to plan it than while everything is fresh in your mind?

Some of my thoughts right now: my 2011 garden will be bigger; the plants will be farther from the garage wall; the cucumber and tomato plants will each have more space to themselves (they need it, because they're completely entwined in each other); I'll have some additional varieties of vegetables; and I want some herbs!

Because I don't have any herbs of my own, I bought a huge bag of fresh basil on my stop at a local farmer's market. I actually didn't realize at first that I was buying the entire bag of basil (about a gallon-size baggie full), but I was certainly happy to get it!

I kept a sprig to use fresh and dehydrated the rest. It made the house smell wonderful! Basil will definitely be a feature in my garden next year.

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

85/365 New recipe: Butternut wontons

Mom and I teamed up in fixing a new recipe this week and made it together. I had been wanting to make wontons at home and had never personally done it, and it seemed like a good two-person escapade.

We combed through a bunch of recipes and landed on this one, which isn't traditional but sounded tasty: Crispy Butternut Wontons with Spicy Tomato Sauce, from Cooking Light. It helped that Mom had fixed butternut squash the night before and had enough left over to use -- gotta love when you can cut down on prep time! After reading the recipe's reviews, we chose to go with a standard bottled marinara sauce instead of fixing the tomato dipping sauce, so that also made things a little faster.

It turned out great! They were really tasty and would definitely be worthy of a repeat appearance. Some recipes mentioned that wontons are a good item to make ahead of time and stick in the freezer, but I can't personally attest to that. We made the whole batch and kept the leftovers in the refrigerator for the next day. They were definitely better when fresh out of the oven (the wrappers got soft and chewy in the fridge), but still perfectly edible the next day.

This was a fun recipe to make and would be great for a get-together. I'll warn the chef in that case, though: they'll be gobbled up rather quickly, so be prepared to see your considerable labor disappear!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/125s, f/2.8 at ISO 800 in natural light by a window

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

84/365 Silage harvest

I passed this corn field on my way home from work the other day, and I was surprised to see it in the middle of being harvested. Corn in this area generally isn't harvested until the end of September or October, when it's completely browned and dried out. But this was still halfway green.

So I asked Chase, my favorite expert on all things farm-related, and he told me that it's actually silage. Silage, in this case, is corn grown specifically to be cattle feed. The farm next to this field is a cattle farm with a couple different breeds, so that does make sense. I'd heard Chase mention silage before, but I'd never seen the process in action. Interesting!

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/250s, f/5.6 at ISO 100 at about 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blogging outside SightSalad

This past Friday, I got the chance to attend Blog Indiana 2010, a social-media marketing conference in downtown Indianapolis. I blogged about what I learned on my company's blog -- you can read about the top seven things I learned there!

Monday, August 23, 2010

83/365 Blooming geraniums

Red geraniums are Dad's specialty when it comes to potted flowers, and his are absolutely bountiful right now. Other plants may be wilting in the recent (ridiculous) heat wave and dry spell we've had, but these are doing just fine.

I love the buds that haven't yet opened or are just starting to, like these here. I like that you can see the red petals beginning to peek out through the green, before the red completely blows you away.

It's like Christmas Eve: the anticipation is the sweetest part for me.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/250s, f/4 at ISO 100 in direct sunlight at about 5:30 p.m.

Friday, August 20, 2010

82/365 Homemade jam

We have a saying in my family: "We're not normal."

It's true. And we embrace it.

We often use it as a way to remind ourselves that the way we do things may not be the norm, so be conscious of your expectations for other people.

Take summertime, for instance: Sounds of summer for me include the pinging of shelled peas as they fall into a metal bowl (before being frozen), and the rattling of a pressure cooker on the stove (storing green beans). My family has always grown a large garden, and Mom stores a lot of food for the winter. It takes work, and it's a dying art in a lot of ways. I realize it's not the norm. But I sure do love it!

The latest item to be preserved this year is homemade jam, made from concord grapes grown at home.
Because I'm used to having a reserve of home-grown and -made jam, it feels... wrong... to buy jam. It helps if it's from a local producer, but I still feel a bit like I'm committing a crime when I buy jam.

It's not normal.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/250s, f/4 at ISO 100 in direct sunlight by a window at about 5:15 p.m.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

81/365 Golf course gone to seed

Sometimes, I feel abandoned land is a good thing, because it's returning to its natural state. Other times, it just seems sad.

I pass this every day, a closed and abandoned golf course. It just looks rather despondent. Fenced in, gone to seed, no longer manicured.

Not being manicured anymore is probably a great thing, considering the CO2 contributions from lawn mowers and water used to keep it green. But this course's return to nature isn't one of the more attractive transitions.

It still makes me wonder, though: who will figure out what to use the area for next?

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/250s, f/11 at ISO 100 at about 5:45 p.m.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

80/365 Wildflower or weed?

What exactly separates wildflowers and weeds? More than just a difference in name, the two definitely come with rather opposite feelings or connotations.

When I hear "wildflower," I think of freedom, in plant having found its own way and carved out a piece of real estate. I think of natural beauty that exists without the aid of humans. I think of summer, colors, delicate blossoms, and softness.

On the other hand, what comes to mind when you hear "weed"? I'd put money on the idea that it's quite different. Words like nuisance, obstruction, hard work, and kill come to mind.

But a friend commented on a previous post here that considered dandelions, asserting that a weed might just be a plant out of place. Makes sense! If you think of it that way, does that dandelion in your yard earn a promotion from weed to wildflower?

The flower in the photo above is one I'd call a wildflower, but it's not growing in my yard -- so someone else might feel differently.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 100 at about 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

79/365 Wildflowers

In pursuit of photos, I recently fell victim to Overstatement on Facebook.

I recently started following the county parks system on Facebook and was happy to see that they frequently update about special events and opportunities in the area.

One day, a post about flowers in a local park popped up in my feed. It read something along the lines of, "____ Park is in bloom! Come walk the trails and see it for yourself!" Knowing the kind of flowers that draw me, you'll understand that it caught my eye.

So I made the trip to the park that shall remain nameless and quickly discovered that "in bloom" referred to three rather underwhelming species of wildflowers that were overwhelmed by the natural grasses and greenery.

Bummer. I made the best of the situation, got my picture of the day, and headed home.

Next time I'll be a little more skeptical.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 400 at about 6:00 p.m.

Friday, August 13, 2010

78/365 Time for Three

The full Symphony got a break last weekend at the Prairie, as they do on several weekends late in the program season. Instead, we got to see Time for Three, a trio of young musicians from the Symphony.

I was completely blown away!

At a previous Symphony on the Prairie performance, I'd been a bit disappointed in the show, because I felt the Symphony was too far in the background of the guest performer. Brandi Carlisle was great, and I enjoyed her music, but I realized that I wanted to see the Symphony featuring Brandi Carlisle, rather than Brandi Carlisle with some backup provided by the Symphony.

So my expectations weren't the highest for this trio last weekend, but I still wanted to go and hang out with my friends. When these guys took the stage -- two violinists, one of whom is Zach De Pue, ISO Concertmaster, and a double-bassist -- they had me hooked during their very first song. Their laid-back, casual approach was refreshing.

I wasn't the only one who was impressed, either: As the night progressed, the crowd of people sitting on the ground near the stage (rather than farther back in their lawn chairs) exponentially increased in size, and the thrilled cheers after each number increased in volume by just as much.

They gained a new fan in me after that show! I downloaded their latest album on iTunes the next morning and listened to it from start to finish at least a half-dozen times over the weekend. I'll look forward to seeing these guys again!

Camera: Canon 40D with 70-300mm IS lens, 1/125s, f/5.6 at ISO 640 and 300mm at about 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

77/365 Potato frittata

Deep in my cook-something-new-each-week project, I was a bit of an overachiever last week and made two new recipes in one night.

It didn't really happen intentionally -- I didn't think to myself, "I think I'll spend a couple hours in the kitchen tonight and go for two new things at once." Instead, I found myself 1) cooking something new for dinner and 2) making a new dish to share with friends at our next Symphony on the Prairie picnic.

Item #1: A cheddar-potato frittata -- my first-ever frittata, if you can believe it! I made my first quiche just a couple months ago, too. This frittata was a recipe from a borrowed 1995 Cooking Light collection. (Bonus: I used my brand-new cast-iron Lodge skillet for the first time, which I just bought on my recent road trip through Tennessee.)

The frittata turned out perfectly, and I was able to stash a couple slices in the freezer for future quick dinners or breakfasts. It will be a repeat item.

Item #2: A greek pasta salad, with homemade dressing. This also turned out perfectly and will be one I'd like to make again. I actually might make some of the dressing to have on hand in the fridge for everyday salads.

Whew! What's next?

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 500

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

76/365 New digs

Our PR department at work has been getting an environmental overhaul over the past couple of weeks.

The office building itself is cool, but much of it hasn't been updated in 15 years or more, including the furniture. Now, with the help from a large client that creates office furniture, the PR department is benefiting from an upgrade!

They moved their computers, files, and personal stuff to the basement last week while the new furniture and electrical work was installed. It's been really cool to see the progress and the dramatic change it gives the area! What I find especially interesting is the shift from more open work-spaces back to a more cubicle style. And they were all looking forward to it.

Who knew you could look forward to a cubicle? I think trends in space just tend to fluctuate between open and more private.

At least these cubicles are really cool. That always helps.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/60s, f/4 at ISO 1000 indoors in fluorescent lighting

Monday, August 9, 2010

75/365 Purple petunia

This shade of purple is one of those colors that makes me feel happier just by seeing it. Do you have certain colors that affect you in that way?

When I painted the rooms of my house, I was mindful of the moods I wanted to cultivate in those rooms. Kitchen: lively, cheery. Bathroom: energizing (for those early mornings), happy (for those early mornings). Bedroom: calm, serene, peaceful. Office: creative, inspiring. I love my bright, bold colors.

When I spent time in New Orleans last year and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, they had the same idea: paint the new houses bright colors that will bring life back into these devastated neighborhoods. I don't want the outside of my house to be this shade of purple, but I get where they're coming from!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/400s, f/4 at ISO 100 at about 6:00 p.m.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

74/365 Hibiscus bloom

Dad added a hibiscus to one of his big flower pots this summer, and it has just started blooming. It's gorgeous!

When I searched for "hibiscus" here on my blog to see what I'd posted in the past about it, I was reminded of an interesting fact: Hibiscus is used in a lot of tea! The day I toured the Celestial Seasonings tea factory in Boulder, Colorado, the company was cleaning and preparing hibiscus for use in their teas. It's an ingredient found in all of their Zingers.

This one will just be decorative, and that's absolutely fine by me.

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/250s, f/4.5 at ISO 100 at about 5:30 p.m. in direct sunlight

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

73/365 Excavating

It seems like I've been hauling my laundry around for eight years straight.

It's not true, and is an exaggeration, but sometimes it seems that way! While I was in college, I took my laundry home with me on Sundays and did it there, rather than at the dorm or sorority house. It was cheaper, I didn't have to fight for an unreliable machine, and I (best of all) got to see my family.

When I moved into my house, it took us a while to find and buy a washer and dryer that would fit in my teeny space -- which meant hauling my laundry to Mom and Dad's to do every weekend.

Then I had a couple months of relative ease with my own washer and dryer.

But then, one day this past winter, the septic system backed up. Oh, the joy, if you've never had that happen! We discovered that there were tree roots growing inside the pipes of the septic system in my yard. We had the pipe from the house to the tank roto-rootered, but it didn't fix the problem.

So it was back to hauling my laundry to Mom and Dad's, until we could have an excavator come out to the house and do a bigger fix on the situation. That day finally came last Saturday!

Chase (pictured above, once again demonstrating his amazing skill with machinery) and Brent Sellers, of Sellers Excavating, tore into the backyard and figured out the problem. The good news is that we think they've fixed it (knock on wood!), and it should last for at least 10 years. They cleared out more tree roots from the finger system and replaced a clay section of pipe with PVC. We feared the problem would be bigger than that, so we're all relieved.

So, Saturday night, I happily did laundry in my own house. It was marvelous! Big round of applause to Chase and Brent for saving the day.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/400s, f/4 at ISO 100 at about 9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

72/365 Monster cucumber

I'll be honest. I gasped and exclaimed out loud when I found this monster in my garden.

It's a cucumber, if you'll believe that! Somehow it managed to hide from me, under the leaves and amidst the vines, until it reached record-setting proportions and could no longer evade me. Holy cow.

Unfortunately, they aren't very good when they reach this size, and the seeds inside pretty much take over. I guess it just underscores the idea that we chose the right spot for my garden!

I'll be taking notes for next year's planting, and near the top of the list will be: "Enlarge garden and provide at least two extra feet of space on either side of the cucumber!"

Camera: Canon 40D with 430EX Speedlite, 1/125s, f/4 at ISO 200

Monday, August 2, 2010

71/365 Matcha

A new tea has entered my life, and it's Nickelodeon green. But that's where the amusement ends, because this is some serious green tea.

Matcha is a high-quality Japanese green tea traditionally used in ceremonies but has now found its way into the American mainstream. I discovered it first not in a Starbucks latte but in a BrainReady podcast. The podcast introduced the incredible benefits of this tea that are still being uncovered, and they encouraged the listener to switch from standard green tea (that you find in tea bags everywhere) to matcha.

One immediate differentiator that separates matcha from the usual green tea is that rather than steeping the leaves in water, matcha is a finely milled powder that you actually consume. So you're ingesting the leaf itself. No tea bags or infusers here.

Green tea, in general, is very good for you, and studies have found that it contains EGCg, a serious antioxidant. Scientists are still studying the cancer-fighting properties of this catechin (and probably will be for a long, long time). EGCg is particularly concentrated in matcha.

I've started adding matcha to my daily routine in the hopes of garnering some of its specific health benefits. I tried adding it to my morning smoothies, but I already have too many things in my smoothie to make it really tasty. So I'm drinking it straight up with a little honey. The flavor without a sweetener, for me, is a little too earthy or leafy. But with a little help, it's great.

Dissolving or mixing it is a bit of a challenge, because the powder tends to clump together and settle to the bottom of the glass. I've ordered a hand-held milk frother (rather than a traditional bamboo whisk, so that it's a multitasker) that I'm hoping will help me out.

I may not be following the ceremonial steps to preparing my morning matcha (check out the process in the video below), but I'm enjoying it nonetheless!

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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

70/365 Full moon

Imagine what it would be like living on a planet orbited by multiple moons. Our lone moon captivates quite a bit of our human attention as it is; do you think it would escalate exponentially with more?

Would the obsession with nocturnal creatures (i.e. the Cullens) become even more stratospheric?

Seeing as how we're not likely to acquire any more moons in the foreseeable future, I'll stick to enjoying this one. I'll also enjoy the fact that getting photos like this with my latest lens is possible without serious amounts of cropping. And that's pretty darn cool.

Camera: Canon 40D with 70-300mm IS lens, 1/125s, f/5.6 at ISO 100 and 300mm at about 9:30 p.m.