Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Nook - Get Shorty

Get Shorty written by Elmore Leonard is a novel as cool as its hero, Chili Palmer.  This is the first novel I've read by Leonard (and definitely not the last) and I'm in awe of his talent.  He has a way to convey a thought, feeling, mood and the ability move the plot along with minimal words and seemingly minimal effort.  Take the very first sentence in the book (which, incidentally, I saw on a list of great first sentences, which is what prompted me to read the novel in the first place):

"When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio's on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off."

There is so much information in just that one little sentence & those handful of words bring up a lot of questions about why Chili moved there & the story with his coat (that story from the past ends up bringing lots of complications for Chili in the present).  And the entire novel is written with compactness and precision.  No wonder Leonard has had such a successful career.

In the story, Chili travels from Miami to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to track down Leo the dry cleaner, who has scammed an airline for $300,000.  When Chili arrives in LA, he meets Harry Zimm, a film producer and his ex-girlfriend, scream-queen Karen Flores (how he meets them is typical, cool Chili-style).  Chili learns that Harry has a script that has big potential, called Mr. Lovejoy.  He somehow manages to get involved with the development of the film, but Zimm has investors that want to get involved too - limo guys to whom he is greatly indebted.  The limo guys (led by Bo Catlett) don't like Chili and want him out of the picture.  To complicate things, an old foe of Chili's, Ray Bones, is following his trail via Leo the dry cleaner's trail - the score is not settled from that incident with the coat 12 years ago.

Yes, it's a complex plot with lots of players.  But we're in good hands, thanks to Leonard's skill as a writer.  The story moves along nicely and there's never a dull moment.  The dialogue is pitch-perfect - some characters tend to leave out things like pronouns but that's exactly how you would imagine them speaking in real life.  I thought Catlett's voice and character was especially great: he's a perfect bad guy.

DH and I saw the movie based on the novel years ago & we both loved it (along with the cool, jazzy soundtrack).  They, as well as the novel, are cool without even trying......just like Chili Palmer.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Ohio corn

It seems like everywhere you look in Ohio right now, there is corn.  The Bachsters love to tell each other in the car that there is "corn on my side"as we drive around.  And such sweet, yummy corn it all is!  We always try to visit a local farm this time of year to get the best corn.  This year, we visited a farm and a corn field!

While we were out on a recent photoshoot, we parked right by a corn field.  It's amazing how tall the crop gets.  Did you know that there are little purple flowers that grow in the corn?  I have to admit that I didn't know this, but we saw several:

When we visited the farm, they were so busy.  Of course, we got the baker's dozen and had fresh corn and green beans from the farm for supper that night & the next.

I think another trip to the farm is in order this weekend to get more!  Fresh corn on the cob with lots of butter and salt sounds so yummy & is the perfect end-of-August treat.

Have a nice Friday!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Nook - Half Magic

Half Magic, written by Edward Eager.

This is a really magical book that is likened to Harry Potter, but way before its time (published in 1954).  The storyline is nothing like Harry Potter's, but the sense of magic and wonder is all there.

Jane, Mark, Katharine and Martha are four bored siblings.  It's summer and they're not allowed to do anything fun, like go to the country or a lake.  However, they enjoy going to the library and especially love the works by E. Nesbit, which brings them around to discussing magic (on a side note, I love how the author incorporates a recommendation for E. Nesbit's books - on the section about the author, we are told he does this in each of his novels "so that any child who likes my books and doesn't know hers may be led back to the master of us all").

One morning, after the children have finished their chores, they escape outside, and Jane finds a coin on the sidewalk.  It just looks like an ordinary nickel and Jane's only thought about it is that she'll think about how to spend it later.  And later, when the kids are all lounging around, desperate for something to do, Jane tells them all out of bored frustration that she wishes something exciting would a fire!  And at that very moment, fire trucks go roaring by.  The children follow, and discover that a neighbor's playhouse caught on fire.  And the next day, the children's mother, visiting relatives, wishes that she were home instead.  Unbeknownst to her, she has Jane's coin in her possession, and no sooner than she thinks that wish, she finds herself halfway home.

By putting together the pieces of the puzzle, the four siblings realize that they are in possession of a magical, wish-granting coin, except only half your wish gets granted.  Just by wishing for everything twice or double, you can have exactly what you want!  Too bad they don't learn that until after Mark makes his wish, to be on a desert island (they all end up in just the desert).  In turn, each of the children get at least one wish on the coin, and the adventures they have are fun & exciting.  Even the cat gets involved, and a nice man named Mr. Smith, who comes into their lives in a way they never dreamed.

I recently read this book to the Bachsters and they loved it.  My 6-year-old was a little scared by all the magical events at first, but once we got further into the story she loved that aspect of the story.  The pace is fast and keeps young reader's attention easily.  My only complaint about the book is the scene with the knights battling in the castle - it's a little violent (but pretty tame compared to today's standards).  But even that scene, things are repaired & put back in place, so it's really not too offensive.

I highly recommend Half Magic - it's well written and full of magic (well, technically only half-full of magic).  And after reading it, I can't wait to check out more books by Edward Eager.  And E. Nesbit, too.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Focus on photography week - backyard bugs

I meant to do this posting yesterday, but we've had such a busy weekend around here, so today it is.  That makes "focus on photography" week officially 8 days long instead of 7!  I hope you've enjoyed some of the photos this week.  It's been a fun summer with lots of photoshoots, but I've been feeling a crunch for time with Fall right around the corner.  I'd like to get some more shooting in before the cooler weather gets here.  And if I do, of course I'll share my shots here!

I wanted to devote a posting to backyard bugs because it seems like our backyard is the place that I do the most shooting.  I love going to local parks, but realistically, I just don't always get the chance.  But the neat thing is that the closer you look, the more you find, and that's certainly true for our backyard.  There is a whole world of bugs and birds and Bachsters right outside the back door.  My goal is to capture it all.

Since one of my favorite subjects to shoot is insects, I'm always excited to see a new interesting critter, and I run inside to get my camera.  This August, we've been hearing the cicadas all day, every day.  So, it's particularly fun when we get to see one, not just hear it.  Here's one the Bachsters & I found, newly emerged from its shell, shortly before it took off:

Another day, the girls and I found a cicada in our grass, which is a strange place to see one (usually they're on a branch or a tree trunk).  Our 6-year-old got bold & picked him up and put him on the bark of our maple tree.  He sat there for a while and then slowly started climbing to the top of the tree.  We watched him until he was out of sight:

One of my favorite backyard bugs is the lightning bug.  We enjoyed catching and watching them in June & July, but we haven't seen many this month.  I've heard that the lightning bug population is dwindling & I hope that they'll make a comeback in numbers because they are so neat.  Here's a little before & after:

We never see praying mantises in our yard, yet this summer, we've seen several:

There are many insects to be found in our backyard, but let's not forget the front yard, too.  This painted lady butterfly was enjoying our flowers in the front earlier this season:

Hardly a bug can fly into our yard without me getting my camera!

Hope you're having a great weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Focus on photography week - FPC

Earlier this week, we were faced with the prospect of a cool, cloudy, rainy day (it ended up being sunny all day, but oh well).  What to do indoors on such a summer day?  We decided to head to the Franklin Park Conservatory, a gorgeous conservatory in Columbus.  There is so much to see there - they have different rooms with different themes (desert, tropical rain forest, an outdoor garden with bonsai trees).  But our favorite area of the conservatory has always been the butterfly room.  You walk through paved paths, among the waterfalls and lush tropical foliage, butterflies fluttering around you in every direction.  It's a magical place.

I don't think I'm capable of going to the FPC without my camera.  This visit, I let the Bachsters each take a turn with the camera, too.  In fact, after we had seen the entire conservatory, we all decided to go back to see the butterflies once more.  And I'm glad we did - I took this shot from a unique perspective on that second time through:

I love plant curlicues & can't resist taking their picture:

This beautiful butterfly was hanging around a plant right by the path, so I was able to go right up to him for a portrait:

We try to get to the conservatory at least once a year because it's just such a neat place.  Check out our pics from our last visit here.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Focus on photography week - caterpillars

One thing the Bachsters cannot resist is a caterpillar.  One thing their photography-loving-mama cannot resist is taking pictures of caterpillars.  Whenever we spot one, whether it's in our backyard or while we are out on a photoshoot, it's just giddy excitement for us all!

Our 6-year-old is the resident caterpillar finder.  She can spot them, even if they're miles away (or so it seems).  She spotted this one recently, hanging around in our backyard playhouse.  Of course, I just had to do a little photoshoot with him in a more natural setting.  We were only planning on keeping him in our bug jar overnight, but the next morning, he had started spinning silk to make a cocoon.  So, he must be some kind of moth (we searched the internet to try to identify him, but no luck).  Regardless, he's part of the family now, at least until he emerges from his cocoon:

Our caterpillar-finder also discovered this unique guy while on a recent photoshoot at a nearby park.  She also found the same exact type of moth, as already within minutes of each other.  Oh yes, she's good at her job!  Here's Little Dude with our new-found fuzzy friend:

And here's yet another caterpillar that the 6-year-old found, at a nearby creek:

Finally, here's one that I discovered.  This fuzzy woolly bear was saved while we were driving along a country road.  It was a beautiful day last October, and the woolly bears were out in full-force....they were everywhere.  I was dodging them as I was driving so that I wouldn't run over any of them (luckily, there was no other traffic).  I couldn't resist pulling over & saving at least one from a vehicular-related-death.  We kept our little woolly bear in a quiet, cool place in the basement all winter; but, alas, he never emerged from hibernation in the spring, so we placed him under our pine trees.  I'd like to think that he waited until then to wake up, and maybe he's fluttering around our yard now, as a beautiful Isabella moth.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Focus on photography week - underwater

Last week, I had a photoshoot like no other that I've done before: an underwater photo shoot!  Of course, my Bachsters were totally game to join.  It was a rather quiet evening at our local pool & it seemed like we had the place to ourselves, which was great because it gave us the chance to try all sorts of crazy underwater shots.  Here are a few that I took:

It was just so fun to get 3 excited kids & one underwater camera in one place.  It was a very fun shoot!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Nook - Extreme Exposure

It's focus on photography week!  And this week's Book Nook book is a timely choice, giving the reader all they need to take their shots to the next level.

Extreme Exposure: Pushing the Limits of Aperture and Shutter Speed for High-Impact Photography written by David Nightingale.  If you love photography, then you should check out this book: it goes over all the elements of exposure.  And once you understand what your aperture can do and the results of different shutter speeds, then you can really tweak your photos - in some cases, to the extreme.

The book starts off with the basics about exposure: the equipment that you need (besides your camera), how to read a histogram, ISO and exposure value.  The author then explains depth of field and how you can control it by choosing the aperture.  And then shutter and how you can drastically change the look of your photos by your choice of shutter.  Excellent photo examples are given and the author shares which camera body, lens, f-stop, shutter and ISO was used for each example (which I love - that information always helps me really understand the photo).

There are informative chapters on ultra-long shutter speeds (like in night photography and shooting fireworks), ultra-short shutter speeds (like for panning), ultra-wide apertures (to get shallow depth of field - this chapter also has some good info on extreme lenses, such as tilt and shift lenses and the lensbaby) and ultra-small apertures (when you want everything in focus - also this chapter has some information about focus stacking).  Within some of these chapters are sections on doing some really extreme shots, like painting with light.  There is a lot of inspiration in this book, and for me, it really got me excited to try some of these extreme photos that I've never thought to try.  This would be a great book for someone in a photography-rut - surely, the images and techniques shown will serve to inspire!

Of course, getting out of auto-mode and going full manual is the best way to go - learn by experience, and before you know it, you'll be a pro at exposure.  However, this is a great book to guide photographers along, whether you are an amateur or a pro.  Just trying out some of these techniques, that push us a bit out of our comfort zone, will only make us better photographers.  And there will be some pretty cool images to show for the attempt, too!


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Focus on photography week - the Mona Lisa

It's "Focus on photography week" here - I did the same thing last year (here is one of the posts).  I have found that my favorite season for photography is summer - I love shooting insects and flowers and my Bachsters, all in the glorious summer light.  In fact, I rarely do any shooting in the cold winter months.  So, since I've got photography on the brain right now, I thought this would be a perfect week for all things photog-related!

A few years ago, I was reading a photography book by Nick Kelsh (I think it was this one: How to Photograph Your Family).  In this book, the author poses a very intriguing question: would Mona Lisa's parents rather have a picture of their daughter or would they rather have the Mona Lisa, of course painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

My first reaction was, of course her parents would rather have the Mona Lisa, a priceless, famous, beloved, perfect masterpiece by one of history's greatest artists.  But, as I pondered the question more, I started re-thinking my original reaction.  Yes, the Mona Lisa is exceptional, but then again, so is photography.  With photography, you can capture a precise moment in time, as it truly was, without the artist's intervention (well, a photographer has means of intervention too, but not like a painting), and every time you look at that photo, you will be reminded of your life and the subject's life at that moment.  It's really a very magical thing we hold in our hands, when we hold a photograph. 

On top of the perfectly captured moment, we also have the privilege of taking lots of pictures, from different angles, at different times of the day, with different backgrounds (something that digital photography has made much easier).  I don't think Leonardo da Vinci had such luxury at his hands: once he started his portrait, if he wanted to make major changes in the perspective, angles, lighting, etc., it might have meant just starting over from scratch.  Perhaps Mona Lisa's parents would want a painting, something that was created in a meaningful, deliberate, thoughtful way.  Of course, I believe most professional photographers would argue that they compose their shots with the same attention to detail as the painting maestros.

I must admit that I am a delete-phobe.  I save almost every picture, especially if it's of my Bachsters.  And over time, I have come to thank myself for that, because even the ones that are blurry, or uninteresting, or show clutter in the background have becomes treasures.  I love them all, because they remind of first dates and wedding dates. They remind me what it was like to have a newborn baby.  They remind me of a time when we had a diaper changing table.  They remind me how fleeting time is.


So, which would you choose: the Mona Lisa or a photograph? 
I think I've made my choice!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Our Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, Ranger, has been in our family for a little over a week now and I thought I would share some "baby" pictures with you!  It's funny, because when people tell you having a puppy is like having a baby - they're right!  We've been monitoring his eating schedule, sleeping schedule, potty schedule, play schedule, etc.  Phrases like "you need to sleep when he sleeps" and getting up at 3:00am to take care of him were common in his first few days at home.  And, just like a baby, after a while, he has found his own routine with everything.

This picture is from his very first day with us.  DH had just brought him home from the breeder's and we all sat down on the floor with him - he was so timid and uncertain of everything (boy, has that changed since then):

Before he adopted the area under our computer desk as his den, he fell asleep in the TV room, right on Little Dude's blanket (which he was so sweet to share with the puppy):

Here's a picture of Little Dude & Ranger playing in our backyard - this gives you an idea of his size.  He has grown a tremendous amount in the little time he's been here.  DH and I both commented that you can see the increase in his size just by looking at him.  Oh, he's going to be a big dog!

He loves to play outside (it's a good thing we got him in the summer - I'm not sure what to expect in the winter - will he want to be outside at all?).  He loves the Bachsters' slide & really wants to climb up to the top.  Based on his growth, that will be no problem for him one of these days!

The Bachsters have been finding old toys to share with him, which he loves.  We're working on getting him to not bite us or our clothes, to bite his toys instead.  I've read that all puppies like to nip, and Ranger is no exception, so we always make sure we're loaded up with lots of toys before we head out to play.  This little red-haired doll is one of his favorites:

We're so fortunate because he is such a quiet puppy (he never whines and only barks when he's super-excited about something, and even then, not always.  However, he does snore!), is a quick learner and, above all, he absolutely loves the Bachsters.  There are still things that we're working on, like house training & eliminating his occasional nipping, but overall, but that comes with having a puppy.  He's just wonderful.  Ranger, we're so happy you are part of our family!


Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Nook - Tuck Everlasting

Ever notice that some books are just begging to be read at a specific time of the year?  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is one that comes to mind - obviously, Winter (especially around the holidays) would be a perfect time to sit down and read that novel.  Well, Tuck Everlasting, written by Natalie Babbitt, is also a seasonal read & the time to read it is now - early August.

This is the story of Winnie Foster, a 10-year old girl who lives in a "touch-me-not" cottage on the edge of a wood.  Winnie is tired of always being told what to do and always being watched by her overbearing family, and she yearns for a little bit of freedom.  She plots to run away, but changes her mind and decides to explore the woods by her house instead, something she has never done, which surprises her when she realizes it.  She never dreams that she would meet anyone in the woods.  And she never dreams that the people she meets there would have such an amazing & unbelievable story.  For this family, the Tucks, have told her an incredible truth: they will live forever.

The plot of the story moves quickly (since it's only 139 pages long, I suppose there's not much choice) - one minute Winnie is exploring the woods, the next, she is meeting the Tucks and before she can catch up with everything, she is being whisked away on their horse to their house, miles away, so that they can all talk things over with the patriarch of the family,  Angus Tuck.  To make matters more complicated, there is a mysterious stranger, who wears a yellow suit, who seems to be following Winnie and/or the Tuck family.  When his intentions are realized, things take a turn for the worse, for all of them.

I really enjoyed this book for its quick pace, believable characters, smart dialogue and overall feeling of the scenery and time that the novel takes place.  However, the thing that had the most profound impact on me is Babbitt's beautiful, poetic descriptions.  The novel starts out with this: "the first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot."  Another great description comes when Winnie, at the Tucks' house, notices "three armchairs and an elderly rocker stood about aimlessly, like strangers at a party, ignoring each other."  The novel is full of these little gems, astute observations by the author.

The only downside to the novel, in my opinion, is the lack of information about the man in the yellow suit (specifically, lack of a name).  Perhaps it's just the "man in the yellow suit" reference that bothers reminds me too much of the "man in the yellow hat" from the Curious George books.  And the man in the yellow hat is too lovable to be a sinister bad guy!

I highly recommend reading this intriguing short novel - but do it soon because, unlike the Tuck family, early August won't be around forever.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Display at Groveport Town Hall

For those of you who live in Central Ohio, you'll be happy to know that the Columbus Metro Parks is opening a new park!  Located in Groveport, the park is called Walnut Woods.  In late July, part of the park, a 1.5 mile trail, opened.

In celebration of the new park, the camera club that attend regularly, Lens & Leaves, is having a display at the Groveport Town Hall (here is the link to the address & more info. about Groveport).  Many Lens & Leaves members have photos on display, myself included.  A few days ago, we all met to hang our pictures - here's my little corner:

I didn't realize how the glare was affecting that bottom picture, so here's the shot, so that you can actually see what it is:

 Groveport even made this awesome sign for the display, using one of our member's photos:

I believe there are over 40 pictures on display, which runs through the end of August.  Almost all the photos in the exhibit are also priced for sale, so if you're looking for some new wall art, there is a great selection of amazing images from our club members.

If you live in (or are visiting) Central Ohio, please stop by to see the photo exhibit this month - and also check out Walnut Woods!


Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Nook - Marley & Me

Marley & Me: life and love with the world's worst dog, written by John Grogan.

I picked up this book because I was in the mood for a good dog story: as we just got a new puppy, I figured the timing was perfect.  This is the story of John Grogan, a columnist with the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, his wife, Jenny and their new dog, a yellow lab they named Marley (after Bob Marley).  The story starts with the author reminiscing about his childhood dog, an absolutely perfect mixed-breed named Shaun, who the author refers to as Saint Shaun because of his excellent behavior.  He was in all ways the perfect family pet.

So, it is with Saint Shaun in mind that the Grogans answer a classified ad for puppies for sale.  They go to the owner's home and meet the mild mannered mother and all the 5-week old lab pups.  As they check out a spirited male puppy, the owner tells them that one is less expensive than the others ("Clearance Dog" as they temporarily call him).  They agree to get Clearance Dog in a few weeks, after he is weaned, and leave feeling elated and excited with their choice.  It's only after they are on their way out that they meet the father of the litter: he is running wildly around the yard with a crazed look in his eyes, leaves and other debris all over him.  The Grogans start to question their choice.........

After they bring Clearance Dog home (or Marley, as he is now named) the author shares one hilarious story after another about his crazy antics and bad behavior.  Marley gets kicked out of obedience training class.  He licks his way out of his dog cage.  He throws up not on the linoleum floor, not on the hardwood floor, but rather on the very expensive Persian rug.  He destroys every inch of his surroundings whenever there is a thunderstorm.  And my favorite one, when Marley, leashed onto a table at a cafe, causes all sorts of chaos when he races after a poodle, table in tow.

Despite all his bad behavior, Marley redeems his self on several occasions.  Once, there is a crime in the neighborhood, and Marley stays close to the author and their young neighbor in a protective stance.  Marley comforts Jenny after she has a miscarriage.  And Marley (despite every attempt to sabotage his chances) is in movie!

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that follows the lives of the Grogan family through the birth of children and changes in careers, an interstate relocation and family vacations.  And all the while, Marley is there, a lovable, destructive, big-hearted, "one-of-a-kind" companion.  If you are a dog lover, you'll love this dog!