Saturday, December 29, 2012

Winter wonderland

This is what December in central Indiana is supposed to look like: blanketed in white, perfect snow. We sure got it this week!

In the last four days, two storms have dropped a total of about 12 inches of snow on my neighborhood. The first consisted of heavy, thick snow that the family across the street used to make an impressive igloo/fort. The second fell last night in big, fluffy, light flakes that settled gently on everything, with no wind to disturb it.

Not long after daybreak this morning, I took my camera out for a little trip around the yard. Few people were stirring, and the snow plows hadn't come through yet—so the neighborhood was beautiful, still, and the muffled quiet that we only experience with the insulation of snow.

A perfect winter wonderland!

Come January 2, though, I'll be ready for it to be 75°F and sunny again!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eat your Brussels sprouts

As a child (okay, and as a teenager, too), I was one of those kids whose picky-eater tendencies give parents migraines.

We had to pick restaurants that served chicken nuggets or spaghetti—and they had to allow me to have the sauce on the side, in case it didn't taste like Prego.

I carried a Subway cold-cut sandwich into a Chinese restaurant on more than one occasion.

I ate a plain bagel and cream cheese for lunch every. single. day of fourth grade.

When I started college, I decided that I needed to learn how to like salad. Because it's one food that you can find at just about any restaurant, so it would ensure that I could eat out with friends.

So today, when I tell you this next statement, you understand how significant it is:

I love Brussels sprouts!

Many people are scarred by unfortunate experiences with these miniature cabbages. They tell sad tales of slimy, smelly, overcooked vegetables they were force-fed as a child. And I don't doubt that it happened. I don't have anything like that to relate—I just avoided vegetables in general. Thankfully, I now adore vegetables and am becoming a much more adventurous eater.

If you share a similar abhorrence, I ask you to give these beautiful vegetables one more chance—because if you roast these babies, they become sweet and crispy. No slime to be found.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 t each Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano
1/4 t dried Garlic
(or your favorite blend of herbs)
Grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray.

Cut dry/hard stem ends (usually 1/4") off each sprout, and remove any wilted outer leaves. Slice each sprout in half, or quarters if they're as large as a golf ball. You want them to all be about the same size, so they'll cook in the same amount of time. 

Place cut sprouts in a gallon zip-top bag. Pour in olive oil and add herbs. Seal bag and toss/tumble the sprouts inside, ensuring all get coated with the oil and herbs. 

Dump bag of sprouts onto cookie sheet and spread out in an even single layer.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pan and toss the sprouts. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until the edges brown and become crispy. A fork should easily slide into the core of a sprout.

Serve, sprinkling with parmesan cheese.


Thursday, November 22, 2012


This Thanksgiving is an unusual one for me, because I'm literally between jobs.

After nearly four years at a full-service marketing and advertising agency, I turned in my key last Friday said goodbye to many friends. As I made that final commute home, I felt nothing but excitement about my next venture.

Because of that, this week is a true stay-cation: While taking time off at work is always great, this is one week off where I don't have to feel like I'm missing anything or getting behind. My brain is getting a chance to relax and shift gears before I start my new job in downtown Indianapolis next week.

So this year, I'm thankful for change. New opportunities. New adventures. New challenges. New environments. New things to learn. New friends to meet.

Oh, and new foods to try, like this persimmon that has been sitting, lonely, on my countertop for five days while I try to figure out what to do with a single persimmon. (Besides photograph it.)

I'm thankful for free days of few obligations and the chance to let my brain and my body de-stress. I'm thankful for excitement. I'm thankful for optimism.

I'm thankful for little pleasures, like hearing fresh cranberries *pop* while cooking my annual cranberry sauce for our family gathering tomorrow.

I'm thankful for a family who is safe, healthy, and will spend this holiday together. I'm thankful for the health and presence of my four-legged family members, too. Life would be incomplete without them.

I'm thankful for a growing extended family that will include a baby in 2013, making me an aunt in spirit (though not on paper).

I'm thankful I've had the chance to spend yet another year being thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you! And thank you for being here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Behind the scenes with lampwork artist Samma Parcels

At work over the last six months or so, we've been going through a testing/profiling process based on the book Strengths Finder. It's a similar idea to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and there are dozens of other tests that companies use when they're hiring people and evaluating teams.

With Strengths Finder, you learn what your top five "talents" are, then you can better structure your day and life around building upon those talents. My top two talents describe how I'm interested in many things, like to collect information, and love to learn. It makes total sense: from the time I was a kid watching PBS television, I always loved the behind-the-scenes videos that showed how everyday products like crayons and balloons were made. So when I got the chance to profile a local glass artist for the HCCVB blog and watch her work at her studio, it was right up my alley.

I sat and watched her, completely riveted, while she melted two pieces of glass together to create two gorgeous glass pendants in under 45 minutes.

The first was a heart-shaped pendant, and the second utilized a technique in which it looks like a flower has been encased in the glass. For that one, she worked from the front of the piece toward the back, creating the stamens first, followed by the outside edges of the petals, then slowly melting the petals inward toward the center.

I asked her a ton of questions, and I could tell she's a great teacher, because she patiently answered every one I asked—while continuing to work without missing a beat.

For the first time, I shot video in addition to still photos. I'm still amazed by the capabilities of an iPhone. I love that I don't have to have any other special equipment to be able to do an informal video.

You can read my full profile of this incredible artist on the HCCVB blog.

Hendricks County glass artist: Samma Parcels

Looking for a one-of-a-kind holiday gift for someone on your list? Consider something handmade by a local artist. Not only can you find many great shops around Hendricks County, but dozens of incredible artisans call this area home.

I chatted with glass artist Samma Parcels about her work, and she even shared some of her favorite places to visit in Hendricks County. Read more...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall colors and fading time

We say the same thing every year, and with every season: "Where has the time gone? How is it already fall? How is it that we've already consumed most of October?"

And yet it takes us by surprise every time.

With the unusual year we've had in central Indiana—an early spring, a scorching hot summer, severe drought conditions—many people worried that our fall would be a lackluster one.

If it is, it's subtle enough that I haven't noticed. Our leaves officially peaked last weekend, and the majority have now fallen, but I'm still enjoying some of the remaining colors.

Burning bushes, like this one right by my front door have always been a favorite of mine.

And I'm partial to red and orange-leafed trees. I photographed this one in a Danville park last weekend while I was researching a blog post for the HCCVB blog. I love the mix of yellow and deep orange.

Where has the time gone?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Inspiring speakers

Remember those days as a kid when the school organized a convocation and brought in an inspirational speaker? Everyone loved getting to skip class and do something fun, but I was one kid [cough cough nerd cough cough] who always enjoyed hearing inspirational speakers. 

I still remember one who encouraged us to answer the question, "How are you?" with something like "I'm great!" instead of your run-of-the-mill, expected, "Fine." It stuck with me, and to this day, I rarely answer "fine" unless it really is a ho-hum, just "fine" kind of day.

Over the last 10 days, I've had the opportunity to hear two inspirational speakers with two very different life stories, and I picked up some nuggets of wisdom from both of them. 

The first: Michael J. Fox

Last week, I attended a conference for work, and Michael J. Fox was the keynote speaker on the opening day. All you have to know is that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at age 29, see what he's done in his life in the 22 years since then, and you can't help but be amazed. 

But what really moved me was his attitude toward life. A diagnosis like that would hit anyone hard, but he said that over the years, he's come to recognize this: "I've learned that my happiness grows in direct proportion with my acceptance, and in opposition with my expectations." 

That line has really stuck with me, and it's one I want to remember. Many people never get to that moment of clarity, so I hope I can remind myself of it and start living with that in mind now.

The second: Delia Ephron

On Wednesday evening, I went to the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis and for a whopping $5.00 admission got to hear Delia Ephron speak. (I think I was one of about three people in the room under the age of 50.)

She spoke about her life and career, talking in general about being a female writer, a woman with friends and family, and an individual. She grew up in a family of writers: both her parents were screenwriters. Her mom had a successful career, which was unusual for the time, and she expected all four of her daughters to be nonconformists—and grow up to be writers themselves.

Her mom's unconventional view of the world made an early impression on her. She said her mom liked to say, "Being related to someone is no reason to like them," which can be a hard idea to accept—but she said it has helped her to write real, believable characters who have feelings that are a little hard to acknowledge. 

The two most important things I took away from her presentation were: 1) she's living proof that it's never too late to change the direction of your life, and 2) having a support system of girlfriends and family will help give you the courage to make those changes. (It's a very Oprah-show idea.) I mentioned that she and her three sisters are all writers—but what I loved hearing was that one sister didn't become a writer until she was 39, and another just started writing at 49.

She came across as an open, earnest woman who would be a great girlfriend. Her new book is The Lion Is In, and I'll definitely be picking it up.

Have you heard any speakers who inspired you? Who said something that has stuck with you for years, no matter how small? 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Road trip with my grandparents—and a new understanding of family

Royal and high-ranking families around the world keep painstakingly accurate records that preserve their ancestry and chart their lineage. The records document thousands of years of history and are worth safeguarding forever.

But if you’re not a member of one of those prestigious and few families, chances are the best knowledge you have today of your ancestors dates back just a few generations at most. That’s the case, for me, on the paternal side of my family. But the maternal side? It’s an entirely different—and amazing—story.

One of my second cousins on my mom’s side of the family, along with his wife, has spent years charting the Halcomb/Cobb family. They’ve traveled around the country tracking down leads, visiting libraries, monasteries and historical centers, all in the pursuit of documenting our family’s story.

It’s truly incredible. They’ve traced our roots all the way to William I, more commonly known as William the Conqueror, who was the first Norman King of England from 1066 to 1087.

I can hardly wrap my mind around it!

This past weekend, I took a road trip with my mom and grandparents to the Cobb family reunion in southeastern Kentucky. The reunion is held every year, but this was the first time I’ve been able to make it.

It’s something that’s very important to Grandpa, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday this month. While he speaks with many of these family members on a weekly or monthly basis on the phone, this annual reunion is generally the only time he sees many of them in person.

I’ve known that family and the associated gatherings are important to him, but it really wasn’t until recently that I realized just how important it is. Part of it is a generational difference, I believe, but it’s also a testament to the region where he grew up.

One of the sites I was most interested to visit on this trip was the old house where he spent much of his youth. The house—that he built himself—is still standing, structurally sound, and looks like it could be liveable with some TLC. The house is nestled in a valley (or “holler,” to use the regional lingo) alongside two barns, one tobacco, one livestock—that he also built himself—and is only accessible by an off-road vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Just around the corner from the house, a little farther down the one-lane, gravel "Bull Creek" road, is the family cemetery, which was our second stop. Cemeteries generally don’t mean much to me. I find it interesting to see especially old dates on headstones, but my interest usually ends there. But in visiting this cemetery last weekend, it did help me see how important it is to Grandpa, as well as the rest of the family who still live in the area. The graves are maintained by family members themselves, who take up a collection at the reunion each year to help pay for the mower’s gasoline and the flowers. My great-grandparents are buried there, along with dozens of other family members.

(It also helped me understand why Grandpa wanted to show me his own burial plot and headstone a month ago. It’s ready and waiting for him—all it needs is the death date and the actual burial. I found the experience weird and unsettling, but I could tell it was significant to him.)

The following day, the actual reunion didn’t start until 11:00, so we drove to the Cumberland Gap. We spent some time wandering outside and inside the Visitor’s Center, which included a small museum that documented the importance of this pass through the Appalachian Mountains. Daniel Boone helped to widen the trail through the Gap in 1775, making the passage to Kentucky and Tennessee easier for settlers to manage. Today you can drive through it via a ¾-mile tunnel.

(I should say that I actually spent most of my time at the Visitor’s Center wandering through the Southern Highlands Craft Guild’s store. That alone was worth the stop.)

At the reunion lunch, Grandpa was more social than I’ve ever seen him, and he made a point to work his way around the room talking to various people. He’s a revered figurehead in this family, known and respected by multiple generations. Several men and boys of the family are actually named after him.

To me, he’s always been Grandpa: honored WWII vet, skilled woodworker, sports enthusiast. But to the family in Kentucky, he’s the man who quit college to move home and help his mother after his father lost his eyesight. He’s the man who built his family’s house and barns. He’s the man who essentially raised his nephew when the boy’s parents proved to be incapable. He’s the patriarch. They’ve known him for decades longer than I have, and since he’s someone who doesn’t talk much about his life (without determined probing), I saw a side of him I never had before.

He may be days from his 92nd birthday, but his mind is still sharp as can be. It made me happy to know I made him happy by going to the reunion. I’d had the feeling that it was something I really needed to do, and I’m glad I got the chance to make the trip.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hot Blown Glass

As a kid who grew up watching endless programming from PBS, those programs helped to shape a great sense of curiosity in me. I especially loved seeing videos of how things were made or how they worked behind the scenes. I know I’m not the only one—I’ve had conversations with other people about the “how crayons are made” video in particular.

I now love tours (see my post from a few years ago about the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory in Boulder, CO) and taking classes to try my own hand at new projects.

Glass blowing is one of those arts that I’ve seen plenty of on TV but have never before had the opportunity to see it in person. When I learned that there’s a glass-blowing studio in Hendricks County, I put it on my radar. Finally, an opportunity to visit and profile it for the HCCVB blog came up.

Seeing some glass blowing done in person, then getting to see samples of finished pieces next door, really made me appreciate the practice and artistry that goes into this. If you have any desire to try it yourself, check out my post on the HCCVB blog for a list of several workshops coming up this fall. 

Second Saturdays: Hot Blown Glass

Just south of Cartersburg Road between Danville and Plainfield, Ind. in Hendricks County, marked with a simple white sign by the road, you can find one of the most unique, hands-on art studios in the state: Hot Blown Glass, Ltd.

As part of the Rural Routes to Main Street Second Saturdays schedule, Hot Blown Glass is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month. Lisa’s hot shop is one of very few of its kind in the state of Indiana, and after seeing glass-blowing many times on TV, I was excited to see this done in person.

It was just as fascinating as I’d hoped. Read more…

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pampering places

When I started blogging for the HCCVB, and I learned that they wanted me to be their go-to person for "girlfriend getaway" posts, I couldn't wait to get started. An excuse to get together with my girlfriends and try some new places in the county? Sign me up.

For my latest post, I got my second mani/pedi ever, and it has been more than two years since my first one. If this is what "work" entails, then sign me up for more!

School is back in session. Summer is coming to an end. The holiday season is just around the corner. 

Sounds to me like now is the perfect time to rest up, prepare to face the remaining months of 2012, and pamper yourself! Plan a weekend with your girlfriends and make sure at least one of these Hendricks County sites is on your to-do list. (Then ditch the to-do list and enjoy.) Get the list.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Photo opportunities in Hendricks County

If there's one thing I've done in the years since I started this blog, it's take thousands upon thousands of photos of Hendricks County (just look through the tags on the right, and you'll see many that pertain to "home" and "Indiana."). So when I pitched the idea for my most recent blog post to the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, I knew I wanted to turn it into an ongoing, seasonal series.

So here's part one: the late-summer photo tour! Look out later this year for a fall tour, as well. You can also check out my earlier summer-themed posts here on this blog.

Bring your camera for a Hendricks County photo safari

Each season of the year offers its own range of interesting scenes and subjects to photograph. Whether you’re an aspiring shutterbug or professional photographer, be sure to bring your camera with you when you visit Hendricks County.

For great late-summer or early-fall photographs, make use of the nice weather and changing light and focus your efforts on outdoor scenes. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Read more...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Perseid Meteor Shower

For my latest assignment for the HCCVB blog, Mom and I packed blankets, lawn chairs, my camera, tripod, and remote trigger, and we headed to McCloud Nature Park to see the Perseid Meteor Shower.

This annual meteor shower peaked over the weekend (very convenient), and at its height, experts predicted that we could see up to 60 meteors per hour. We didn't see nearly that many (it happened in the wee hours of the morning...way past my bedtime), but in the couple hours we were gazing, we did get to see some great shooting stars.

This park hosts the Indiana Astronomy Society once a month during the summer, and they welcome the public to come for free and peer through the eyepiece of their telescopes. The program on Saturday night was a special event for the meteor shower, and I wasn't sure how many people we'd be joining. Mom and I actually looked at each other and said, "Well, we could be the only people there, but that's okay."

So we were wonderfully surprised when we drove into the park and saw a full parking lot and dozens of people already camped out, waiting for darkness to fall. By the time it was truly dark, there were more than 100 people there. I was thrilled to see that kind of turnout for a park program.

It's been years since I did any night sky photography, and this just got me itching to do more!

Stargazing at McCloud Nature Park

I will never forget the first time I looked through the eyepiece on a telescope and saw the rings of Saturn with my own two eyes. Sure, I’d been learning about our solar system for years in science class at school, but truly grasping the existence of other planets and celestial bodies can only go so far when you’re learning from a textbook.

Seeing it for yourself, though, even if it’s small and hasn’t been richly colored in photo-editing software—seeing the rings of Saturn, the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, and multiple moons orbiting these planets… it makes it all real. Read more... 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer trip to Chicago

Everyone looks forward to vacation. I especially look forward to mine each summer, when Mom and I make it a point to do our yearly girls-only trip. It started about four years ago with a trip to Colorado, and we enjoyed ourselves so much that we've made it an annual event.

We've also made a couple trips to Chicago for some intensive shopping, but we've somehow always chosen to go in November—and weather in the Windy City in November is temperamental, to say the least.

This year, we debated about going to some new destinations for our summer trip, like Niagara Falls or Gettysburg, but in the end, we decided that we just really wanted to explore Chicago without the bulk of winter coats, scarves, hats, boots, gloves...

For our third trip to Chicago, we stuck with tradition and took the train. Boarding in Crawfordsville, the scheduled route takes about four hours, just a little longer than it would take to drive the same route. We've had great luck in the past, so I guess it was about time we had a delay. The train was 90 minutes late arriving (the engineer overslept... oops), then because it was off its schedule, we had to stop several times and yield to CSX freight trains along the way. So while we were scheduled to arrive in Chicago around 11:00 a.m., we actually arrived closer to 2:30 p.m. We were both ready to get off the train by then!

Even though the high temperature that day was close to 100 degrees, we enjoyed seeing the city without the weight of winter clothing. After escaping the heat of mid-afternoon at the Art Institute—where we both loved seeing Monet's work in person but in many other cases felt that a nice frame and well-crafted write-up can make "art" out of anything—we walked back toward our hotel through Millennium Park. On our previous visit to the park, it was pretty deserted for winter. But this time, all the fountains were flowing and dozens of people, young and old alike, enjoyed splashing in the cool water.

Every visit to Millennium Park has to include a stop at the Cloud Gate, with your camera in hand. It's such a simple design, but it's captivatingly fun and engaging. You're reflected much like what you'd see in a carnival funhouse... without the creepiness.
You can't help but want to get close to it, and stand—or lie—in different spots to see the world from this unique perspective.

We spent the next three days shopping 'til we dropped. For years, Mom has talked about wanting to go north of the city to the Vogue Fabrics (a.k.a. sewer's mothership) flagship store in Evanston. We researched different modes of transportation and decided to go with the 'L,' our first time to do so. My cousin and her husband, who now live in Chicago, gave us pointers, and we were thrilled with the convenience and price.

Our transportation cost for our four-day vacation was:
$46 each for round-trip tickets to Chicago and back on Amtrak
$10 cab ride from Union Station to the hotel, then again on our last day
$5.75 each for a one-day pass on the L
Total: $123.50 for two people on a four-day vacation!

When you consider that gas is about $3.95/gallon right now, it's a 175-mile drive, and parking at our hotel alone was $42/day, we really got a great deal—not to mention great convenience, since we didn't have to fight traffic.

We both felt like this was one of our most relaxing vacations, even though we walked more than 20 miles in four days. With an existing familiarity with the city and our favorite places, plus the beautiful weather, it allowed us to take our time and focus on the things we both really enjoy.

Now I'm looking forward to planning my next vacation!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Top 10 evening activities and upcoming races

If you're looking for ways to enjoy (cooler!) summer evenings, or you want to lace up your running shoes, my latest two posts on the HCCVB blog should give you some ideas.

Top 10 things to do on a summer night in Hendricks County
Long days and nice weather mean we’re all looking for ways to spend more time outside, and Hendricks County has endless options for you! Whether you’re looking for family-friendly fun, cultural festivities, or a night on the town, here are 10 ideas to get you started. Read more...

Upcoming events allow runners, walkers to see Hendricks County on foot
Runners and walkers alike — both seasoned athletes and beginners — have more than a dozen opportunities to participate in organized fun runs and timed races through the rest of 2012. Check out this list highlighting some of the scheduled events throughout Hendricks County— and bookmark it for future inspiration. Read more...

Did I miss anything that you would add to these lists?

You can also find all of my posts for the HCCVB on my author page.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The difference between "small" and "miniature" art

To the untrained ear, "miniature" and "small" might essentially mean the same thing. But when it concerns artwork—including quilts—a very specific line of demarkation separates the two.

As I learned last week, "small works of art" can include any piece that's relatively small in size. Miniature fine art fits within this category, but its definition is much more specific. Artistic Designs Gallery in Brownsburg will be hosting its annual Miniature Fine Arts Show beginning July 14, and I visited to get a preview for my latest post on the HCCVB blog. 

What gained popularity at the court of King Henry VIII continues this month in Hendricks County: a celebration of miniature fine art. So what exactly separates miniature art from a small piece?

Artistic Designs Gallery’s annual show actually plays a role in art history, because it helped incite discussion among the miniature art community about establishing standard guidelines for what constitutes “miniature art.” Read more...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Addicted to learning: classes at Frazee Gardens

When I want to learn something new or refine a skill, my first instinct is to look for a class I can take. Some people learn from a book, others from watching a video, but I love taking classes. Outside of the standard school routine, I've taken classes on photography, cooking—including basic knife skills and soaking/sprouting—jewelry making, swimming... I'm addicted to learning.

For my latest post on the HCCVB blog, I took a class at Frazee Gardens, a local garden, landscape and gift shop in Brownsburg. I chose one that focused on growing and using lavender and roses. 

Frazee Gardens offers a variety of classes and events throughout the year. Past classes have included themed planters with ingredients for homemade salsa or pizza; pressed-flower picture frames; bonsai trees; and butterfly habitats.

In Lavender and Roses, Dottie shared tips on growing lavender, how to harvest the flowers, where to dry rose petals, and what to look for in a perfect rose hip. After we learned how to cultivate our own raw materials, we sampled cookies and dove into making sachets, lotion, candles, potpourri and soap. Read more...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Civil War Grand Ball

The second of my two assignments for the HCCVB blog this past weekend took place Saturday night, and it was quite an evening to remember.

This year, the organizers of Hendricks County's Civil War Heritage Days added a Grand Ball to the weekend's schedule of events. Participation was open to any pairs who wanted to participate, and while the dress code was open to your "Sunday best," period costumes were definitely encouraged.

People really embraced the opportunity. Men were sharply dressed in Union and Confederate dress uniforms or period tuxedos, and women swept around the room in hoop-enhanced ball gowns. 

My mom was one of the courageous partipants. A friend of hers, John, really wanted to do it, but his wife couldn't be talked into it, so he asked Mom to go with him. John's wife and my dad went as modern spectators and enjoyed watching from the sidelines. I photographed Mom and John beforehand and had fun enhancing this one with a sepia tone:
Dances were done in period fashion: mostly group dances, with progressive movements that meant you danced with most everyone in the room. The waltz was the only outlier that you danced in closed dance hold. 

The dress up-loving little girl in me loved seeing everyone in Civil War-era attire, especially the women in their ball gowns. Mom dove into the opportunity, researched the period's fashion, then designed and made her gown. It looked incredible, like molten steel flowing around the dance floor. She bought a pair of white gloves, pulled a beautiful red fan out of storage, and voila!
Fans played a role later in the evening, when a "fan dance"—also called a "hat dance"—came up on the schedule. It didn't involve much dancing. Three chairs were placed at the head of the group. A man started by sitting in the middle chair, with a woman on either side. Each woman was supposed to whisper a secret in the man's ear, then he chose his favorite and danced to the end with her, leaving the fan with the woman left behind. Then she moved to the middle chair, and the next two men in line sat down on either side of her.

The dancers were all warmed up by then, and as the dance went on, they got more and more into it, with great facial expressions and theatrical flirting. I stood on the side laughing out loud while I watched.
Nearly everyone had big grins on their faces all night and seemed to be having a great time. I enjoyed getting the chance to mingle and photograph everyone.

You can learn more about the evening and see more photos in my post on the HCCVB blog

Civil War Heritage Days Grand Ball Photo Gallery

The photos above are just an extra sampling!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Plainfield Garden Tour: flowers galore!

My camera's memory card really got a workout this weekend! I had two big assignments for the HCCVB blog, the first of which was the Plainfield Garden Tour. I got a sneak preview of the first garden a few weeks ago and was looking forward to the opportunity to photograph some new flowers.

For me, it was an ideal scenario: people with beautiful gardens and landscaping welcomed the public onto their lawns, and I was able to photograph to my heart's content without being cited for trespassing. Count me in!

Brownsburg also held its garden tour this weekend, and another blogger covered that. We wrote a combination blog post together, which is now live on the HCCVB blog. You'll see a few of my photos there, but more of my favorites are below.

A weekend of garden tours

Landscaping enthusiasts rejoiced this past weekend when both Brownsburg and Plainfield presented their annual garden tours. Plainfield’s fourth annual garden tour, sponsored by the Friends of the Plainfield-Guilford Township Library, did not disappoint. The tour featured seven beautiful gardens in Plainfield, with an eighth “bonus” garden in Morgan County. Read more...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

San Diego Zoo and the best Italian meal I've ever had

I was a kid whose television entertainment was heavily weighted toward PBS: Sesame Street, Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, 3-2-1 Contact, you name it. And when I think of the animal-education segments on those shows, it seemed like the San Diego Zoo was always featured as the go-to organization for experts. So when I got the chance to spend time in San Diego, visiting that famed zoo was near the top of my list of must-do activities.
And boy, is it a zoo. You can definitely spend most or all of a day exploring it, especially if the weather is nice and your companions are up for walking and have long attention spans. Our weather was pretty crummy: the temperature didn't get above 61°F, and it stayed gray and overcast all day. I was cold enough to contemplate buying a sweatshirt in the gift shop, but I ended up toughing it out.
The Zoo is definitely built to take full advantage of San Diego's (usually) nice weather: all exhibits were outdoors. Having visited the Indianapolis Zoo many times over the years, which encloses many of its exhibits indoors (i.e., Deserts Building, Oceans Building) to enable year-round visitation, this definitely struck me as different. Even all of the restaurants and cafes were outdoors, which on a chilly day when you're looking to get warm was a little inconvenient.
I also noticed that the Zoo features primarily land (and air) animals, with very few water-centric creature exhibits. I wonder why? Could it be because of the area's naturally dry climate, or perhaps because of its proximity to water-focused SeaWorld?
One exhibit I found particularly interesting blended exotic and domestic animals. The Zoo has at least two cheetahs, and each of them has a domestic dog buddy—an "animal ambassador"—in the exhibit with them. They've found that when raised together from a young age, cheetahs and dogs can bond very well, and the dogs help to keep the cheetahs calm. They all looked pretty chill to me!

I think this was also the first time I've seen a peacock displaying its tail in full glory. He seemed like he might have been a little confused, though, because he spent most of his time flirting with the wall behind him, then fending off the native ducks between us. Confused or not, he made quite a statement.
The giant pandas were definitely the headlining act of this show. They're the only ones in captivity in the United States, so I did really enjoy seeing them. They had two males out for us to see, and a female off-exhibit because they were monitoring her to see if she's pregnant.

These two pandas were much smaller than I pictured. When I hear "giant panda," I picture a bear about the size of a grizzly bear or polar bear. But these were much, much smaller (and I do think they're full-grown), and looked like they'd be small enough to just about sit on your lap.

One of the pandas was sleeping, but the second guy looked like he was enjoying watching us as much as we enjoyed watching him. That, or he was so oblivious to visitors anymore that he was just chilling and enjoying his bamboo.
We called it a day around 4:30, dragged our tired feet back to the car, and warmed up. For dinner, we ventured into San Diego's Little Italy. When I make it back to San Diego again, this is an area that I really want to spend more time exploring.

The area felt truly authentic, especially owing to the old men calling across the street to each other in Italian. We read in a blog post on Design*Sponge that you could pretty much choose any Italian restaurant on India Street and get a great meal. So we consulted our Yelp apps, looked at some menus, and picked one that looked good, Trattoria Fantastica. And let me tell you, this was the best Italian meal I have ever had. No joke. And I'm a girl who loves her Italian food, and always has. I had the Contadina, and my friend, Sarah Lynn, had the Lasagna. All through dinner, we kept pausing in our conversation to say things like, "Oh my god, this is so good!" We both cleaned our plates.

After dinner, we walked down the street a bit and saw some great-looking local shops that had closed for the evening, and we wished we'd discovered them earlier. I'll just have to go back!

The finale for the great day and evening—which happened to also be my birthday—was a treat of gelato right next door to the restaurant. Oh so good.
The weather in San Diego may not have been ideal, but I had a fantastic time and enjoyed exploring the area. I can't wait to go back and see more of California.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Preview of Plainfield Garden Tour

When I got the opportunity to cover the upcoming Plainfield Garden Tour for the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau blog, it didn't take much to convince me. Me? Visit, photograph and write about people's beautiful gardens and flowers? A match made in heaven.

I got a sneak preview when I visited the first home on the tour and talked to the homeowners. Below are a handful of photos I captured that day. I can't wait to get more at the other homes on the tour!

Sneak preview: Plainfield Garden Tour

Looking for inspiration for your next landscaping project? Then pull out your calendar and make time for the Plainfield Garden Tour on June 23 and 24.

In its fourth year, the Plainfield Garden Tour, sponsored by the Friends of the Plainfield-Guilford Township Library, will feature eight beautiful gardens around and south of Plainfield, in the southeast corner of Hendricks County. I stopped by the first home on the tour for a sneak preview.

Eric Turner and Michelle Tramm have cultivated 17 separate gardens on their property, and they have a particular love of daylilies. You'll see more than 400 different varieties of daylilies at their house alone.

You can see a few photos of their gorgeous flowers below and more in my full post on the HCCVB blog. Read more...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Diverse cultures of San Diego: Old Town and Ocean Beach

It comes as no surprise that you can find great Mexican food in San Diego—you can drive to the Mexican border, and Tijuana, in about 25 minutes. Having some great, authentic Mexican food was on my list of must-do items for my trip to southern California.

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After our day in ritzy La Jolla, we spent our next day exploring Old Town San Diego. Right in the heart of the city, it's an area that has preserved and restored a lot of the original, Mexican-influence culture and architecture. Part of Old Town has been set aside as a state historic park.
We found the best quality, authentic shopping at the Bazaar del Mundo. It offered beautiful pottery, handwoven fabrics from Guatemala, home decor, etc.

If you want Mexican food, this is the place to get it: the streets of Old Town are lined with restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. We chose Miguel's because it was recommended specifically by a San Diego-native friend, and we weren't disappointed.

After exploring Old Town, we drove to Ocean Beach to see the coast and walk along the pier. It was another chilly, overcast, windy day, but the surfer culture of Ocean Beach was still apparent. True surfers were everywhere, fully dressed in wetsuits to be able to stand the cool water.

Ocean Beach seemed like a neighborhood that caters to the low-income surfer who may spend time living out of his car, but whose passion in life is spending time in the water.

We found a beautiful view of the city and mountains beyond on our drive back to the hotel.
I fully realized that San Diego is an interesting city with a lot of diverse neighborhoods. From ritzy La Jolla to Hispanic Old Town and surfer Ocean Beach, there's something for everyone.