Saturday, June 28, 2014

Must Read

Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Yet another winner from Jojo Moyes.  She has a fantastic voice that keeps the reader engaged throughout the story.  More importantly, she is able to juggle dynamic characters and their backstories, developing relationships that make you empathize and wonder how things will ever be resolved.  This story takes place on the coast of Australia, in a small town supported only by a thin stream of tourists interested in the seasonal whale watching.  Once a large land development firm sets their eyes on the town, it becomes a fight for the whales, a fight for a way of life, and a fight for love.

Lazy Weekend

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

I didn't give this one a "Must Read" because it got tripped up in its own concept.  The idea is that there are certain people throughout time who, when faced with a life changing event which is often death, are able to zip forward in time.  These people are managed by a time traveling organization, The Guild, that takes care of their acclimatization in their new time period.  While Nick is starting to enjoy his new life, he knows that he left behind the one love of his life; so when The Guild creates an exception to the rule of no time travel back to your former life, Nick is confronted again with the opportunity to both find his love and help save the time spectrum - of course this is where the time traveling concept gets overly complex.  Overall, not a bad story, but I probably won't purchase the sequels.

London Belles by Annie Groves

I got this book from an iBooks sale a few months ago.  It chronicles four women with widely different personalities and circumstances, living together in boarding house in central London while coping with the change brought on by impending war and German air raids.  It's not a horribly compelling story, most likely because it was meant as an intro book for a series, but definitely worth consideration for a lazy weekend.

Thirty-Two and a Half Complications by Denise Grover Swank

This is the 5th book in the Rose Gardner series.  I plowed through the first 4 back in April, and loved this new book equally as much.  Now the wait until November's release of the 6th book...

Skip This

The One and Only by Emily Griffith

A Joe Paterno-esque 56 year-old football coach, a football obsessed Texas town, and a young woman (Shea) with daddy issues.  The coach is Shea's best friend's dad.  Shea hooks up with her best friend's dad!!  I basically skimmed the rest of the book after that.  Oh and there's also some suspected domestic violence that was swept under the rug for the good of the college football program.  Nice! (note the sarcasm) I have not read any of Emily Giffin's books, but I have seen the movie for Something Borrowed where the main character sleeps with her best friend's fiancee, so really one could say I should not have been surprised by the plot of The One and Only.  I guarantee it's the last Emily Giffin book I will read, or partially read in this case.  When I looked it up on Goodreads, the number of 1-star ratings was too many to count.  Thankfully, I received this book as part of my PopSugar monthly subscription box, and it wasn't a direct purchase.

Top Secret Twenty One by Janet Evanovich

I love the Stephanie Plum character and the books, but I strongly feel that the story line started to deteriorate a few books ago and now is completely exhausted.  Janet Evanovich should exert more energy on her newer series.

Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2014 by Julie

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Sunday, June 22, 2014


While the Palouse Region is most known for its colorful, rolling wheat fields, there is life begging to be captured beyond what is growing in the ground.  I was very fortunate to be with a fantastic landscape photographer (and all-around great person!), Justin Reznick, who knew exactly where to find the area's best hidden treasures - beautiful trees, bright red barns, and abandoned old homesteads.

While it would have been great to have sunny blue skies with puffy white clouds in our scenes, much like a background you might see as a wallpaper option on Windows or Mac OS, sometimes the gray clouds we inevitably encountered worked to our advantage when we wanted to emphasize the moodiness of the composition or to bring out a particular color - like the greens of the fields or the red of the barn.

My favorite shooting location for the weekend was an abandoned house and storage shed that had ample opportunities to expand my experience with HDR, or high dynamic range, photography techniques.  HDR is where you improve the luminosity of a photograph by bracketing 3 or more shots - taking one shot at the correct aperture and shutter speed for the scene based on the histogram,  then taking the same scene at shutter speeds several stops lower and higher (or multiples of the shutter speed gap in the case of bracketing additional photos).  This way you will get greater highlights and lowlights that can be emphisized to better replicate the scene you are seeing through your eyes, which have a more sophisticated dynamic range impossible to replicate with a DSLR camera.  Keeping the same aperture and using a tripod with a wired shutter release is key to getting the same shot that can easily be merged later during processing without losing too much sharpness.  HDR is great for scenes where you have a very bright subject and a very dark subject, like looking out a window or open door.

The yellow chair photo is my favorite photo, HDR or normal, from the weekend because I find the scene is telling me a story, with the chair perfectly placed in a way so that you can imagine the person sitting there, looking out the window and thinking as she (yes, I think it's a she) ponders life or waits for a visitor to come down the drive.

This shot of the old walled railroad bridge is a bracketed combination of 9 shots that surprisingly worked out really well.  This bridge is only 10 minutes outside of Colfax, and it was a location suggested by a local.  What wasn't captured in this photo is the giant snake that I saw in the grass next to where we were standing, which we later may have identified as a gopher snake.  Whatever it was, it was probably 3 feet long and not a pretty sight!!

I'll be honest, my least favorite location of the weekend was without a doubt the Palouse Falls for sunset.  It's quite a drive from Colfax, then the actual spot where we were to set up our tripods was on the edge of a cliff.  Literally, two legs of my tripod were over the edge and balanced on two rock pieces jutting out from the side of the rock wall.  I needed a lot of help because I am afraid of heights in situations like these, so Justin generously set everything up for me and let me crawl over to where I needed to sit, holding the back leg of my tripod in one hand and my shutter release in the other.  Since I was panicked about the location, I could barely move let alone play with the settings on my camera, so unfortunately I had to manage with what shots I got and hope they were in focus and I could improve upon it during processing.  The end result, to me, is just ok considering the amount of stress I had to endure to take the shot.  Mother Nature could have at least delivered a magnificent sunset, but instead we got a "meh" blue with pale pink cloud effect.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time out in Palouse, and highly encourage anyone who has an interest in photography to make the trip out there!  Even if you're only taking photos with your iPhone, you would be hard pressed to not be amazed by the natural scenery the region presents.  If your goal is to take really good photos, definitely go with someone who knows where to go to make your time there the most efficient!  He's in high demand, but if you can get a spot on one of his tours, I can't recommend Justin Reznick enough!   

And now, I have to go figure out what photos I want to print for my wall, so I will leave you with your new Windows background...

Posted on Sunday, June 22, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Last weekend, I was out in Eastern Washington on the Idaho border in a landscape photographer's paradise.  Collectively, the area is called the Palouse region, and is about a 5 hour drive from Seattle or an hour drive south of Spokane.  I know, not exactly a location you would expect to be mobbed in the late spring/early summer season by photography enthusiasts, but trust me it is gorgeous.

This is the only place in the world that has these perfect rolling hills planted with wheat, barley, garbanzo beans, and other legumes that, when hit by dancing light at different times of the day from the puffy clouds blocking the sun, generate unreal natural colors - purples, golds, and all shades of green.  We, unfortunately, did not have the greatest luck with said puffy clouds, often getting overcast or mostly cloudy skies, but I think we were still able to get some gorgeous shots.

Based out of Colfax, Washington, our shooting schedule was crazy.  We were up at 3:30am in order to leave at 4:00 for potential sunrise shots (successful only one of the three days), got back at 6:00 for breakfast, napped until noon, then went back out to shoot from 2:00 to sunset.  And, of course, we would stay up late processing our photos from the day, so my sleep schedule got way out of whack! 

In this post, I'm going to focus on the rolling landscape; and in my next post, I'm going to share with you some of my favorite scenes of buildings and other items of interest.  Hope you like them!

Posted on Saturday, June 21, 2014 by Julie

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Here's the third drink in my summer series...

When I think about how I didn't like cucumbers when I was a kid, I can't believe it.  I think they are very tasty now, and a great addition to sandwiches, salads, and water.  Add a little citrus, lime juice in this case, and you get a nice sparkling beverage to sip on a summer evening.  This particular concoction was part of a series by Real Simple magazine.

Cucumber Lime Spritzer


2 12-oz cans club soda
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (3-4 limes)
1 Kirby cucumber thinly sliced

In a pitcher, combine the club soda, lime juice, and cucumber.  Serve over ice.

Super simple!

Posted on Monday, June 16, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

The site of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, Seattle Center used to be a place to go for the panoramic city views from the top of the Space Needle or the thrill of the rides and games in the arcade or the first stop on a monorail journey into the downtown shopping area.  By the way, a fun fact about the monorail is that it was designed by the same company that designed the monorail at Disneyland in 1959 - ALWEG.  Today, the Seattle Center still has the Space Needle, but the land is occupied primarily by museums such as the Pacific Science Center, the Experience Music Project developed by Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen in conjunction with the Jimmy Hendrix family, and the small Dale Chihuly Museum.  To visit all the sites, prepare to fork over a lot of money!

EMP Museum (formerly the Experience Music Project) is housed in a building designed by the world renowned architect, Frank Ghery.  Personally, I'm not a fan of his work, finding it distracting and confusing rather than interesting or innovative.  But that's just me.  In addition to temporary exhibits, the museum is a rather focused collection of permanent exhibits.  First, you can tour the Nirvana room - it's Seattle, there has to be a room dedicated to grunge.  

After your trip through the early 1990s, you can head into the guitar gallery.  

The final exhibit rooms in the music section are dedicated to the short musical life of Jimmy Hendrix.

Upstairs in the music section is a sound lab where you can, sort of, learn to play songs.  I tried my hand at a little "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the electric guitar.  Returning downstairs, you pass into the other section of the museum - from music into fantasy and science fiction.  Here I found a replica of the metal sword throne from the popular show, "Game of Thrones," available for you to sit on and snap that critical Facebook/Instagram photo.  Along with some of the "Game of Thrones" actor's costumes, additional costumes from popular fantasy shows and movies were in glass exhibit cases.  All in all, I was a little perplexed by the museum and the poor quantity of items being exhibited for the ridiculous price ($18-23 for an adult, unless you get the Seattle CityPASS that gets you into the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, EMP, Aquarium, and Harbor Cruise for $64).  I was also annoyed because they tempted me with a Beatles 50th anniversary poster of their first trip to America, only to find no exhibit with memorabilia, just a short video clip.  Not a nice thing to do to a Beatlemaniac like me!

Speaking of expensive, next door to EMP prepare to drop another $19 for a ticket ($33 combined with the Space Needle) to see glass works by Dale Chihuly at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum.  Yes, they are indisputably beautiful pieces of art, but I think I've just become very spoiled by all of the free museums in Washington D.C.  If I could price my own ticket, maybe $10 max was the value I perceived. Two of the rooms are occupied by massive glass sea sculptures.  Another piece I liked was the boat filled with colorful glass spheres. The gardens contained a random collection of Chihuly pieces intermingled with plants - spheres, glass yuccas, other glass objects stuck in the ground, etc. 

While I do like a good science museum (have you been to the one in Boston?), unfortunately time constraints dictated we had to pass on the Pacific Science Center.  The featured exhibit was one on international espionage, so with the Spy Museum here in Washington D.C., I didn't feel like I was missing out on too much that I wouldn't be able to take in on a future visit.

Posted on Saturday, June 14, 2014 by Julie


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

When visiting family in Seattle, I decided I wanted to challenge myself photographically to take a photo of the city's most iconic landmark.  The only rule was that I could not take a direct photo of the Space Needle.  Instead, I searched for reflections in office buildings, on the exterior walls of the rainbow colored Experience Music Project, in windows, and in puddles left by sprinklers.  I had already taken a similar photo to the one above a few visits ago, same office building but on a different facade, so I knew it would create some fun shots.

Next to the Space Needle, there is a museum dedicated to the glass artistry of Dale Chihuly, best known for his glass ceiling-scape in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  While the museum has several indoor displays, there is also a garden with several glass orbs placed amongst the grasses and flowers.  And, look what I found in some of them....the Space Needle!

I often find that when I'm bored with my latest photography efforts, or more like attempts, it's fun to give myself a goal - be it take only photos of one color, doors, windows, reflections, etc.  It reminds you to search for the art in the everyday things we see.

Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 by Julie

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