Thursday, December 30, 2010

131/365 Outnumbered by sweet goodness

I had to laugh when I walked in the lunch room at work and saw this.

Finding a haul of sweets in the office at this time of year is a given. My willpower certainly gets a workout in the weeks before Christmas!

Finding a clementine on a plate with taffy and cupcakes? Now that's something you don't see every day. Kudos to the person who tried to inject some healthy food into the mix, but I think they were outnumbered!

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/100s, f/4 at ISO 640 under fluorescent lighting

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

130/365 Christmas service

I'm not a regular church-goer, but I go at Christmastime to be with Mom and to celebrate the season. Mom plays the piano for a couple small churches in her area, and this year they joined together and presented a community Christmas music program.

I love hearing a big adult choir sing. As much as I appreciate children's choirs, I always feel like they're really missing the lower tones you get when some adult men are part of the group.

There's something about hearing traditional Christmas carols in a small-town church that really makes it feel like the season has arrived!

Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1000 at ISO 800

Sunday, December 26, 2010

129/365 Playing squirrels

My yard is a playground for squirrels. While watching these two, I learned that the trees are close enough that they can jump from one to the next without touching the ground.

I started watching them through one window on the north side of my house. I grabbed my camera, waiting for them to chase each other back to my visible side of the tree, but they disappeared. It wasn't until I saw their shadows that I realized they had made it to a tree two away from where they were.

How cool would it be to have the trees be your playground like that? To not have to return to the ground unless you needed to, and to have the confidence to leap from one (small!) branch to the next.

They looked like they were having great fun, but I wished they'd hang out a little closer so I could photograph them some more!

Camera: Canon 40D with 70-300mm IS lens, 1/250s, f/8 at ISO 100 at about 12:00 p.m.

Friday, December 24, 2010

128/365 A little handmade Christmas gift

Merry Christmas Eve!

This day has always been one of my favorites. I actually like it more than Christmas Day. For me, Christmas Eve contains all of the excitement and anticipation. My family has always had fun traditions on Christmas Eve, including dinner together, opening stockings, and watching a good movie (which is usually a big action flick so the boys will be interested!). Christmas Day is great, but our traditions are so laid-back that after we've opened the gifts under the tree, the holiday is pretty much complete.

Call me a sucker for delayed gratification, but Christmas Eve is my favorite!

I love giving homemade gifts, so I pulled out my tools and made some earrings for a girlfriend this year. She's pregnant, expecting in the spring, so this is something that will fit, no matter when she wants to wear them!

And I had to make a pair for myself, too. Couldn't resist.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/100s, f/2.8 at ISO 500

Monday, December 20, 2010

127/365 Snowflakes on the window

I've been waiting for the perfect day to try photographing snowflakes. This day was far from perfect, but it at least gave me a chance to give it a try! I'm looking forward to another day and location to do it again.

This photo reminds me of being a kid and finding things around the house to look at through the lens of a microscope. I distinctly remember being amazed to see the difference between sugar and salt on that scale, since they look so similar at a normal distance. Human hair was another object that was always fun to see on a microscopic level.

I find that same feeling goes with looking through a telescope. The first time I saw the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn with my own two eyes for the first time is something I'll never forget -- and those were sightings through a home telescope. I took astronomy during my freshman year of college, and we got to spend an evening gazing through the telescope on campus -- the largest in the state, and one of the largest in the world. Talk about mind-boggling! Seeing something with your own eyes that you've only read about in science books is pretty amazing.

Do you have a memory like this? Do you remember looking through a microscope for one of the first times, discovering an entire world under your nose? Or have you been amazed to see for yourself what in science books seemed so foreign?

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/100s, f/2.8 at ISO 500 at about 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

126/365 Koi in a frozen pond

This shot makes me think of those scenes in natural-disaster movies where people are trying to a) run from a thundering avalanche, b) escape the lava flow from an erupting volcano, or maybe c) gather a few last gulps of air before their car sinks under water.

Maybe I've watched one too many action movies?

I was photographing a pond when I happened to look down and see this school of vibrant koi near the surface of the unfrozen water. The color took me by complete surprise. (I think I actually said "oh!" audibly. Good thing no one was nearby!) I love finding reserves of bright color in the winter!

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/125s, f/8 at ISO 100 at about 12:45 p.m.

Monday, December 13, 2010

125/365 A blanket of snow at Butler University

You may recognize this scene from a post just a couple months ago. At that time, the trees were full of colorful foliage for fall.

It's the often-photographed pond and bell tower at Butler University, but now the trees are bare and it's draped in a blanket of snow. I love photos that show the same scene in different seasons. I was on campus to get tickets for the annual Christmas Rejoice concert, so I had to stop and get my photo of the day!

Being on campus at this time of year doesn't just give you a treat for the eyes; you get a treat for the ears, too. And his name is Dominick the Donkey.

[One word of warning before you hit play: this song will get stuck in your head.]

What the heck does this have to do with Butler? The gentlemen at the TKE house set speakers out on the front porch of the fraternity and play this song -- loudly -- over, and over. And over. And over. From Thanksgiving all the way up to Christmas break.

It drives you nuts, but over time it becomes a symbol of the holiday! Crazy but true. Now I remember it with fondness and have to roll my windows down when I drive by.

Camera: Canon 40D, 1/250s, f/8 at ISO 100 at about 12:30 p.m.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

124/365 Holiday cookie exchange

It's early December, which means it's time for one of my girlfriends' annual holiday cookie exchange party! Each year she invites a bunch of people, then those of us who can make it bring 1/2 dozen cookies for each person to take home, plus another dozen for everyone to sample at the party.

So you can understand how the number of attendees drastically affects your workload the day before!

This year it was a small crew, so I only had to make five dozen, which ended up being two batches of my recipe. I chose to do these fantastic peanut-butter cookies that amazingly don't call for any flour. I made them for a Symphony on the Prairie outing this past summer and they were a huge hit. Combine positive reviews with few ingredients and a simple recipe and you have a winner!

I highly recommend you give them a try if you're at all a fan of peanut butter. Or cookies. Here's the recipe, or you can find it at TheKitchn:

Sensational Peanut Butter Cookies
18 cookies

1 cup peanut butter (see note)
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
additional sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees°F.

Mix all the ingredients up in a bowl. Roll walnut-sized pieces into balls and roll balls in the additional sugar. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten slightly with a fork in a crisscross pattern. Bake for 10 minutes (you may need to lessen the time, depending on your peanut butter). Remove and let cool before removing from baking sheet.

Note: Peanut butter comes in all kinds of configurations and the kind you choose will influence your outcome. Some peanut butters are very sweet, some have been hydrogenated, some have a whole lot more in them than peanuts! Then there is the chunky versus smooth debate. If you choose a drier peanut butter, you may find that you need to add some oil to make the batter stick together.

Happy baking!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/60s, f/2.8 at ISO 320 by a window at about 3:00 p.m.

Monday, December 6, 2010

123/365 First snowfall

We've had our first measurable snowfall of the season! If that doesn't wake you up and make you realize it's December, I don't know what will.

Early Saturday morning, as I was gathering ingredients to make five dozen cookies for a party the next day (more on that subject later), I got a call from my grandmother with a tip for this photo opportunity. She let me know that their holly bush in the front yard looked absolutely perfect with the light snow settling on top, and if I wanted to stop by, please do!

How could I pass that up?

So I ventured out, with my purple wellies, heavy coat, hat, gloves, and umbrella to shield my camera and lens. After a few chilly minutes, I came away with some shots that I'm very happy with. I'm thinking you may see this on a holiday card next year!

Thanks to Grandma for the tip!

Now excuse me while I go find some Christmas music to play...

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens, 1/100s, f/5.6 at ISO 100 under cloudy skies at about 12:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

122/365 Saying goodbye to fall

I'm pulling out my Christmas decorations this weekend, which means it's time to say goodbye to the gourds that have been gracing my bookcase for the last couple of months.

I got these from a couple of older women who were selling gobs of gourds at a roadside stand in their front yard. They had varieties of gourds that I've never seen or heard of, so I really had fun sorting through them and buying a bag full to take home with me.

The green and orange variety on the left always makes me remember getting them as a kid, because when they dried out, you could shake them and hear the seeds rattle inside.

These met a less musical end:  fodder for my garden's compost heap!

Camera: Canon 40D with 60mm macro lens and 430EX Speedlite, 1/60s, f/2.8 at ISO 200

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nine reasons why I love Google Reader

I manage the company blog at my day job, and this week was my turn to contribute a post! I shared it there, but I feel like it's worth sharing with you, too. Maybe you'll find yourself convinced to give it a try!

I love blogs. Actually, “love” should probably be said with capital letters and in bold italics. I have some dear favorites I’ve been following for years, and I find new ones to investigate nearly every week.

When you consider that most bloggers aim to update their content at least once a week, that kind of love adds up to a lot of time spent surfing the Internet to stay on top of the latest news and ideas! It’s the kind of love that requires a serious, long-term relationship that I’m not always ready to commit to. So how do I juggle it?

Google Reader.

Life before Google Reader was chaotic and inefficient. It involved countless open tabs in my browser and lots of clicking between sites. Blog surfing with the help of an RSS-feed reader like Google Reader is an entirely different ballgame. If you haven’t tried it – or if you’re just beginning to explore its benefits – here are nine reasons why you should.

[Side note: All of these reasons apply specifically to Google Reader, because it’s the one I’m familiar with. I would bet that many of these apply to any feed reader. Find one you like and run with it!]

1. Google Reader makes following multiple blogs easier. You’ll notice that the first five items on this list all pertain to increased efficiency, and I believe that’s the biggest benefit you’ll gain with a feed reader. Remember that love of blogs I mentioned earlier? I currently have 113 feed subscriptions in my Reader. (I admit it’s probably too many.) But that’s part of the beauty of Google Reader: it puts all those blogs at my fingertips in one location. They’re there when I’m ready to read their latest content.

2. Efficiency. There’s that word again. How is #2 different than #1? Using a feed reader enables me to read all blog posts in one – and only one – browser window. If I want to see more details on a specific post, I can simply click on the title and it will open that post in a new tab or window. Then I can read it on the actual blog itself.

3. Reader allows me to organize blogs into categories. Rather than having to sort through a long list of blogs, Google Reader has a collapsible folder system for better organization. For example, some of my folders are Photography, Health and Fitness, Blogging, Local, Green Environment, Cooking and Food… and so on.

4. Quickly see what blogs have new posts. New posts are noted with a bold title, and the number of new posts is shown in parentheses by the blog name and cumulatively in the folder name. When I see SightSalad (3), I know there are three new posts I haven’t seen yet. As I read them, Reader removes the bold emphasis. (Also cool: Did you just get back from a week-long vacation and know there’s no way you’re going to catch up with everything? Simply use Reader to mark a batch of posts as “read” to start fresh.)

5. Move to the next post without wearing out your scrolling finger. This is especially useful for blogs that have long posts and don’t use jump breaks. To get to the next post, click “next item” at the bottom of the screen or simply use your spacebar to jump ahead.

6. Want to share a post with someone? Email it to them directly! At the bottom of each post is a series of options, my favorite of which is “email.” Click that link and it brings up a window for you to compose a new message. You can customize the subject line, add a note for the recipient, and send it – all without leaving Reader. What makes this even better is the format your friend receives: the post itself -- with a link to the blog, the content, images, video, anything above the jump – is contained in the body of the email.

7. Search your blog subscriptions within Reader. We’re pretty familiar with Google search – so apply that to your feed subscriptions. In a box at the top of the page, you can search all your subscriptions, or by folder, or just one specific blog. For example, when I typed “cyber Monday” into my search box and left it to search all subscriptions, it returned results from the New York Times, Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim, Mashable, FitSugar, Lifehacker, etc.

8. See trends in your own blog-reading behavior. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to stats. This feature shows you trends in your own content consumption, such as how many posts you’ve read or shared in the past 30 days. It may not be especially useful, but it sure is insightful!

9. Find more blogs. You may argue that I really don’t need to find any more blogs (isn’t 113 enough?), but the Recommendations feature in Reader is a great way to do just that. It combs the blogosphere and provides suggestions based on your interests.

The greatness of Google Reader doesn’t stop there. Now I encourage you to go forth to your favorite blogs, find the link to their RSS feeds, and start reading! And if you have a different feed reader that you love, tell me in the comments!