Monday, May 30, 2011


My grandfather is an amazing craftsman when it comes to anything wood. And one aspect of his talent that gives me an even higher regard for him is the art that he puts into his work.

This 90-year-old man is a modest, decorated WWII veteran from Kentucky whose beliefs and leanings tend to be very conservative. He built a long career on carpentry and is a pretty cut-and-dry, upstanding man. All of these traits aren't extraordinary when you consider other men of his generation. But one word that doesn't immediately come to mind when I think of Grandpa is "artistic."

And then I see the detail and the artistry in the pieces he builds, and I'm reminded that even though he may not fit in a typical "creative" mold, he definitely belongs there.

More than 10 years ago, I saw some wooden earrings I liked in a catalog or a magazine. I took the picture to him and asked if he could make some beads for me out of scraps of wood he had sitting around his workshop. He got right to work and gave me four pairs of wooden "beads" to work with.

My jewelry-crafting skills -- and my budget for nice hardware -- were limited, so I didn't wear the earrings much after I made them. But I've kept them all this time, safely tucked away and forgotten in a drawer.

This weekend, with an extra day off for Memorial Day and armed with some quality hardware, I deconstructed the earrings and got back to the original wooden focal pieces. I've now remade three of the four pair into earrings into updated, more quality renderings that I can't wait to wear!

The wooden beads in this pair are some of my favorites, because they show off one of Grandpa's strengths: he can seamlessly -- and artfully -- join three different kinds and colors of wood into one larger element. He's especially well known in the family for using this technique to create amazing bowls.

The colored beads that I used in this pair are leftovers from another project from years and years ago: a beaded watch.

These feature the same grain of wood as you saw in the first photo above. It's gorgeous all by itself.
I can't wait to wear these this week and have yet another great reminder of Grandpa nearby!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Historic Indianapolis 500 weekend

When you live in Indiana, the month of May features one very big event: the Indianapolis 500. Life during this time of the year revolves around the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It's so big, road construction calendars all around Indianapolis are structured around the incoming traffic for the race.

It's an incredible event, and the 500 Festival plans dozens of activities with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to celebrate it and get fans involved. It really kicks off with the Mini-Marathon on the first Saturday in May -- the largest Mini in the U.S. -- which deserves attention all by itself.

Six years ago, I earned the opportunity to be involved with the festivities as a 500 Festival Princess. Thirty-three of us (the same number of cars in the starting lineup of the race) represented Indianapolis and Indiana at all of the events leading up to the race, and it was an unforgettable experience!

Today officially kicks off both Memorial Day Weekend and Race Weekend. This year's race is especially worth paying attention to, because it's the 100th anniversary of the very first Indianapolis 500-mile Race. The Indy 500 is often listed as one of those things you MUST do before you die, and I agree!

If you're new to the festivities, you can fill your long weekend with race activities. Here's what you can expect to find (with some of my photos from 2005 to help illustrate!).

On the Friday morning before Sunday's race, a memorial service is held on the Circle in downtown Indianapolis. It concludes with a ceremonial flyover that is sure to leave goosebumps on everyone's arms.
Usually, Saturday's main event is the 500 Festival Parade. All 33 drivers can be seen in the parade, in starting order, and it's bigger than ever this year, with 300,000 people expected to come and see it. (Can you picture what 300,000 people looks like?) Anderson Cooper is this year's Grand Marshall, and local mascot-celebrity Butler Blue II will be a featured honoree in the parade.

As I said above, usually Saturday's main event is the parade. But I actually think a special event at the track this year looks really cool: To celebrate the centennial, more than 100 veterans of the Indianapolis 500 will be on hand for one big autograph event. Activities at the track on Saturday aren't often publicized, so this is really a cool opportunity.

Race day morning on Sunday starts bright and early for anyone going to the race. The race itself starts at noon ET this year, but if you want to park anywhere near the track, it means hitting the road by 9:00 a.m. -- and that may be pushing it.

My experience as a Princess -- the one time I've been to the race -- probably spoiled me for life. We met early at the Festival House and had the luxury of being chauffeured to the race in buses with a police escort.

Yeah, that's not the normal experience.

Each member of the 500 Festival's Board of Directors gets to drive a special car during the month of May, which in 2005 were yellow convertible Chevrolet SSRs.

The Princesses arrived at the track around 9:30, and we got to take a couple quick laps around the track to wave to the crowds already claiming their seats. The track is a 2.5-mile oval, and it takes a trip around it (which the public can do on Community Day the Wednesday before the race) for the sheer size to really sink in.

 The glass building in the center of this photo is the Pagoda. This current building was finished in 2000, but there have been several iterations of this building during the history of the Speedway. It was from the 500 Festival's third-floor suite in the Pagoda that I got to watch the race. Again, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Even if you're not a race fan, you can't help but get swept up in awe during the race. The sound is incomparable. In 2005, I was there to see Danica Patrick lead some laps of the race -- the first time a woman has ever led in the Indy 500. Each time she came around the track, the cheers from the crowd outdid the roar of the engines. Goosebumps again.

As a photographer, I found this especially interesting: when the race is nearing its conclusion, a metal stand was wheeled out with numbers marking spots, and a bevy of photographers lined up and whipped out their massive lenses. The toting the weight of those cameras and lenses must have been a real workout for them, especially since the race often falls on one of the hottest days of spring!
One of the most recognized traditions for the winner involves drinking milk in the Winner's Circle after the race. Dan Wheldon won in 2005, and I got to stand just above the Winner's Circle and see it up close.

Finally, each winner's face is sculpted and added to the Borg-Warner Trophy, which is housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum 11 months out of the year. It's not until you get next to it that you realize the sheer scale of this trophy -- it weighs 110 pounds! The winner gets a replica to keep.

This is a really exciting time to live in the Indianapolis area. Memorial Day weekend always signals the start of summer, but I can't imagine it without the Indy 500.

The Speedway has a great YouTube channel with lots of clips from memorable Indy 500 moments over the years, if you have time to check some of it out. I'm sure they'll be adding more in the coming days.

Happy holiday weekend! How will you be celebrating?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Podcasts: Why you should be listening

My newest blog post for our company blog was published this morning, and it's one I definitely want to share with you!

Free content that’s especially good for the multitasker

Business books put me to sleep. I know they offer a lot of expertise, but I find it physically difficult to slog through most of them.

But you know what? I don’t feel like I’m really missing out on much. Call me a product of generation Y, but because of the up-to-date, relevant information I can get through blogs and podcasts – many of which are offered by those business-book authors themselves – I feel like I’m staying educated.

I’ve extolled the virtues of blogs (and feed readers) here in the past, but podcasts deserve a post of their own.

What is a podcast?

Podcasts are audio files that are released through the web in episodes and generally on a schedule. This Mashable article includes a good introduction:

“[Podcasts] are simply audio files released through the web on a — more or less — regular basis. Like a YouTube video, podcasts don’t really have a set time limit. They can range from just a couple minutes to upwards of two hours. But unlike YouTube videos, podcasts rely more heavily on subscriptions, meaning people actually sign up to receive your podcast whenever it comes out (though they can listen without subscribing).”

Podcasts share characteristics with both blogs and radio shows. Like blogs, anyone, whether novice or expert, can create one, and each post – or episode -- is distributed online and can be subscribed to via RSS. Like radio, many are audio-only episodes (though more and more video podcasts are being produced) and feature a host who either speaks on a particular topic in each episode or interviews a guest. (Many traditional radio programs are also available after broadcast in podcast form online.)

After you’ve downloaded a podcast audio file, you can listen on your computer or sync the file with your favorite MP3 player or smartphone. (I favor the iPod route, myself, so for the purposes of this post, that’s the method I’ll refer to.)

Why you should be subscribing and listening

Podcasts offer a wealth of knowledge and commentary on any topic under the sun – and it’s usually completely free to listen. Want to learn about marketing? You’ll find hundreds of options. Interested in Internet marketing specifically? Dozens are at your disposal. It’s a bit like perusing the shelves at your favorite bookstore.

If you’re one of those people who find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to read,” then podcasts are definitely for you, because you can listen while you multitask. My favorite time to listen to podcasts is in my car during my commute to and from work. I know of at least one of my coworkers here at MB who listens to podcasts on his iPod while he walks his dog. Maybe you’ll want to listen while you’re fixing dinner, getting ready for work, working in the yard... you can take advantage of the opportunity to keep busy while you’re listening at the same time.
Where to find podcasts

The major hub for podcasts is the iTunes store, but other sources like are available, and you can often get the files directly from the provider’s site.

If you go the iTunes route, you can download podcasts directly from your smartphone. Or you can launch the program on your computer, open your iTunes store and click Podcasts in the menu bar at the top. On the Podcasts home page, you’ll find new and noteworthy episodes, staff favorites, and a list of featured providers.

You can narrow down your options by using the drop-down menu (tiny white arrow next to Podcasts in the menu bar) to broadly navigate categories or by doing a search. The search box at the top right is at your disposal, or you can return to the home page, click Power Search near the top on the right side, and choose Podcasts from the first drop-down menu you’re given. This is handy if you’re looking for something more specific, like podcasts about marketing in the business category.

Now it’s up to you. You can try an episode or two before you decide to subscribe, or jump right in. Download to your heart’s content; the only limitations are how much storage space you have for your files and how much time you have to listen.

Finding good recommendations

The magnitude of available options can be overwhelming, so how do you narrow it down? Check out the listener ratings in the iTunes store, search your favorite blogs for suggestions, or try asking your friends.

And what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t give you some recommendations myself? Here are some of my favorites, all of which are free and available through iTunes:

Give podcasts a try. Whether you only have five minutes or you’re willing to listen for 60, podcasts are a treasure for the intellectually curious. Listen for professional development, listen for fun -- just listen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reason #173 to do yoga

I'm a big fan of yoga; I try to do it at least once a week. Tonight, I figured out reason #173 to continue making it a part of my routine.

Sometimes I see things that just call out to me to be photographed, and I can't walk away. Tonight, after watering my herb seedlings on the deck, I looked down and saw this maple leaf covered in misty droplets that was practically screaming my name.

I couldn't have staged it any better myself if I'd had a hose and a spray bottle full of water.
The bright green underside of this leaf practically glowed against the dark, soaked deck.

But how does yoga figure into this post? Well, getting these photos -- without getting soaked from sitting or lying on the deck -- required some serious maneuvering: 1) squatting as low as I could go, without my butt hitting the ground, 2) leaning over, between my knees, to get the macro shot, without my elbows hitting the ground, and 3) holding variations of that position long enough to shoot 80+ shots of one little leaf. Hooray for flexibility.

Sure, I could have gone back inside to get a towel and plop down, but where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Five books worth reading

I've been a voracious reader since I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, I used to sneak books and a flashlight to bed with me. I'd wait to be tucked in by my parents, then pull the covers over my head, make a tent with my knees up, prop my flashlight on my shoulder, and read before falling asleep. I felt like such a rebel!

Now I generally read a couple books a month. I'm no longer in a book club, but I've found that just having been in one -- and wanting to read books for it that incited thoughtful discussion -- has helped to change my taste in books a bit. I'm not getting as much enjoyment out of the simple, light novels I used to read. But that's okay!

I'm always looking for my next great read. One of the best ways to find that next book is to ask a friend -- so I want to share some recommendations with you, in case you're looking for your next page-turner! I've included a lot of variety in this list.


In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan: Claiming that a book changed your life is a big statement to make, but I feel like if I'm going to attribute that sentiment to a book, this would be one for me. From his website: "Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By urging us to once again eat food, he challenges the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach and proposes an alternative way of eating that is informed by the traditions and ecology of real, well-grown, unprocessed food. Our personal health, he argues, cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part."

This isn't a diet book. It's not an extreme, faddish meal plan. As I read this book, I felt like something clicked in my mind -- everything he suggests about how and what we should eat makes so much sense to me. His style is matter-of-fact, well researched, but easy to read. Reading this book encouraged me to analyze my own eating habits. I think everyone -- and I mean everyone -- should read it.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson: Larson has written a fascinating account of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, especially as it related to two important men: the lead architect, and a serial killer who preyed on the city's visitors. It reads like a detailed novel. As much as I enjoyed reading about the fair itself, what I didn't realize was how much this fair really changed the status of Chicago, both physically and in the minds of the country and the world. I also found it fascinating to learn what advancements were made and what products were invented for the purpose of this fair.


The Valley of Horses, by Jean M. Auel: This is the second book in Auel's "Earth's Children" series. I read the first in the series, The Clan of the Cave Bear, a few years ago and finally got around to book two. The story revolves around one woman during the Ice Age, roughly 35,000 years ago, who is separated from her family and raised by a clan of Neanderthals. Auel's research for this series is highly regarded, and she explores the sociological and physical separation of these two branches of human ancestry. Ayla, the main character, struggles to fight or embrace her instincts in order to fit into the Clan or become a more independent woman. These are both great books that really make you think about our ancient history.

One Day, by David Nicholls: This is the lightest book on this list so far, and it's going to be released as a movie this summer (and you know the book is usually better). It's a story of a twenty-year friendship between two friends, as told on one day in July each year. You meet them as they're graduating from college, with very different ideas and goals for themselves, then you see how their lives evolve over the next two decades. One thing I liked about this book was its emotional depth, which it doesn't appear to have if you judge it by its cover. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez: Here's a quick summary from the Amazon listing: "[This is a] tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government." I've always had a love for historical fiction, but I tend to gravitate toward stories based in Europe, or England, in particular. This is the first book I can remember reading that is set in the Dominican Republic, and I enjoyed reading about this small piece of history in that part of the world. I've been reading more and more books set in the 1960s, a time I find fascinating for two reasons in particular: 1) the social landscape was so turbulent, and so different, than today's, and 2) it all took place within my parents' lifetimes. It's not ancient history, which is often difficult to relate to. Fifty years is nothing in the bucket of time.

Summer is usually seen as a time to catch up on your reading, so I highly recommend that you give one -- or all -- of these a try! And please let me know if you do!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day tulips

It's a shame that tulips don't bloom more than once, because they're such a welcome sight at this time of year! These are special tulips for Mother's Day, and I couldn't resist photographing them before they wilted away.

Happy Mother's Day to all the amazing mothers in the world!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Homemade snack bars

What did we do before the invention of individually packaged snack or granola bars? They've become a great, convenient staple for those of us who need something to toss in our purses, backpacks, or desk drawers.

But finding a good grab-and-go snack with few, quality ingredients can be tough. Read the list of ingredients on most packages of granola bars, and you have to wonder how they get all the type to fit on the small wrapper.

Because of that, I love Larabars. True, their calorie tally is higher than many other snack bars, but take a look at the ingredients and you'll understand why: the list includes as few as two and no more than nine items. And they're all common, household ingredients that you can usually find in your own pantry.

Generally, my only obstacle to not having more of them around is that they're a little on the pricier side. They're generally sold individually, so I find it to be a snack I savor and consider a treat.

But why not try making your own?

In the class from Fermenti Artisan that I took in February -- the class about soaking and sprouting your foods before cooking and eating them -- one of the recipes we made in class was a model of a homemade Larabar. Your ingredients are really up to you! These guys had two general guidelines for when you develop your own mix: use stickier kinds of dried fruits for the best results (since they act as the glue that holds everything together), and use about twice the quantity of sticky fruit to dry ingredients.

The rest is up to you!

I made my own this weekend for the first time, modeled after Larabar's "Cinnamon Roll" flavor because I had everything on hand. My approximate quantities were:

1 lb sticky fruit (dates and raisins, for me)
1/2 lb nuts (walnuts, almonds and raw cashews)
1/2 t cinnamon

Beyond that, I had slightly more weight in dates than raisins, and my mix of nuts was about 2 parts walnuts, 1 part almonds, and 1 part raw cashews. How do you do it? Here are the Fermenti Artisan guys' directions, with my notes:

1. Chop by hand, or pulse in a food processor (always my preference), all the nuts until they're in small, coarse pieces. Dump into a large mixing bowl.
2. Puree in the food processor, or chop by hand and mix thoroughly, your dried fruits. Dump them into the bowl with the nuts.
3. Blend in your spices, using a spoon or your hands to thoroughly mash everything together. My hands were definitely the easier method here.
4. Grease a glass baking dish (mine was 8x8" square) with a small amount of coconut oil to prevent the mixture from sticking. I used wax paper instead, because it makes for easier cleanup and doesn't add any additional oil to the recipe.
5. Press the fruit and nut mixture firmly into the dish, smoothing out to the edges.
6. Allow to sit for at least 2 hours before cutting into bars, and you can put it into the fridge for a short time to help it set.
7. Cut into bars and wrap into individually packaged snack bars. Store them at room temperature, or in the fridge in the warmer months. They'll keep for a month or so, after which you just risk them drying out. Enjoy! The potential combinations of flavors are endless.

I calculated out the nutritional info for my recipe, to see about how many bars I should (and could reasonably) cut my recipe into. Twelve became my lucky number.

Nutritional info per bar: 12 bars in the above recipe
235 calories
11g fat
3.8 g fiber
25 g sugar
4g protein

I can't wait to try making more! Have you ever tried making your own snack bars?