Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas in the New House

Freja had a chance to meet Santa for the very first time. He happened to visit our local library on the same day as the holiday bake sale. And by "happened" I mean they had a brilliant way to sell all sorts of goodies at $9.50/pound. A new friend, Alex Bledsoe, tipped us off on how important it was to get there early. In order to see Ole St. Nick it was purely a "take a number & wait" sort of deal.

Thankfully we got an early number, while the guy in red was still fresh. We told her that it was important to only ask for the ONE toy she truly wanted. She had time to think, so was ready to get up there, and have her turn.

To Santa's inquiry of what she most wanted her reply was, "Ummm. I want a robot dinosaur that is as big as the REAL Godzilla! Yeah, and it has to breath REAL fire!"

That's my girl!

The Thursday before Christmas weekend we got hit with a blizzard that dumped 16" - 24" of snow. I doubt there was anybody as excited by this as I. It meant we were snowed into our new home for the first time! After a quick stocking up, moving firewood onto the porch, and simple prepwork, we were ready for a six-day home holiday!

Teri did work from home, but thankfully she was able to take short breaks in order to enjoy simply being home. Having her here, for almost a week, combined with the Christmas surprise I had in store for her, was the best. For practically the very first time we where going to relax, and enjoying our home. We've done a lot of work since March when we bought it, with more to do. This first time though, it was just about being home for the Holidays.

Naturally, we did a lot of just playing with the kid. Freja was beside herself with both of us here to entertain here. As we all played, and endured being examined by an "Angel Doctor," all I could do was count down the hours until the surprise I had in store for my wife.

After days of preparing "to go shoot photos" of whatever, I was able to slip over to the airport, pick up my stepson, and make it home in a reasonable amount of time. I dropped him off a block away, and then parked in our garage. When I entered I complained of the bad lighting conditions, and started unpacking my gear bag. In actuality I was preparing to try to take the shot of her being surprised.

After unlocking the front door, I had just enough time to get my gear pointed out the kitchen door, into the house. Gabriel, my stepson, was just walking in. My wife was combing out her wet hair as she began to head towards the front.

At the sight of him, she began to whirl towards me, a look of disbelief on her face. We'd achieved total surprise!

We spent a couple of days just celebrating the Christmas Holiday! Having family at home, a warm fire burning, lots of great food, and beer, not to mention the great guests who all stopped by, made for the perfect Christmas! I can't wait until next year. Hopefully more family will come.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Just a Few More Days...

Over the years I've been fortunate to know, work with, and be inspired by talented, passionate artists in the Pittsburgh area. From my early apprenticeship in a prop fabrication studio, to being Creative Coordinator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History; I've always had the desire to generate quality, artistic work. In the early years I worked at various studios, learning to create the various elements that tend to go in front of cameras. Prop and diorama fabrication, theatrical/movie set construction, special effects, and lighting was my passion. Eventually I began to delve into computer animation, graphics, and digital movie production. Something essential seemed to elude me. In everything I did, from creating realistic dioramas, to producing short educational films at the museum, I’d never truly found my personal artistic medium of expression.

In 2003 I bought my first digital SLR camera. Delivered a day before a trip to Maui. I actually read the manual for the first time during the long flight. On that island something magical happened! Through that first lens everything I’d learned over the years suddenly gelled. An aesthetic formed inside me that tied all the various elements of my professional skills together. I’d found a medium that sparked an intense passion to learn, and explore.

Sunset Through Jacaranda

As I began to grow as a photographer, I found an excitement of purpose that hasn't stopped. I doubt it ever will. The enjoyment of doing good work, constantly learning new aspects of the craft, and engaging with new people is something I’d not trade for anything.

I eventually resigned from the museum. Not only to become a photographer, but also to become a stay at home father. In 2007 my daughter Freja was born, and I've never been happier. I live my life these days. I’m fortunate to be able to enjoy my life as a parent, and to have met success as a photographer. In late 2011 we had another sudden change of direction.

A few rides down the big plastic slide and she’s charged up enough to light a small town!

My wife, Teri, had a career opportunity that saw us move from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. At the time of this writing, December 2012, I've been officially closed (minus one wedding shoot at Virginia Beach) for over a year. Relocating a family, and all the accumulated “stuff” in an organized way, and then remodeling/repairing our old house, and the new, meant putting my photography aside. Other than family photos, I've tried to resist my urges to go shooting.

Needless to say, I’m VERY excited that 2013 is just days away!! I can set aside my self-imposed hold on exploring my craft. Here I am, in an entirely new region to explore. We love our new life as well. I've been fortunate once more and have found the perfect place for me to grow, not only as a parent and husband, but as an artist as well.

Just a few more days…

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mother's Day, 1st Canoe Trip in WI

On Mothers' Day we went on our first canoe trip in Wisconsin. I packed up a picnic lunch, got the gear out of storage crates, and picked what I hoped would be a quiet lake. Just shy of an hour's drive west of our home is Blackhawk Lake, a "no wake" body of water. It proved to be very peaceful indeed. The water was so amazing clear we could see the bottom, at least until it became too deep!

View Larger Map

The really incredible thing was just how many fish we saw! I don't think I've ever seen so many panfish, bass and pike! From little babies to a couple of trophy sized fish! It made me want two things; one, to start fishing again after all these years, and two, to get a quality polarized filter! I didn't even try to take photos of the fish as I had the wrong sort of lenses on me, and no polarizer...

We ended the trip with a nice picnic in the shade. There was a decent little playground, a small beach and a handful of children for Freja to play with. One of her favorite things to do was collect snail shells along the beach. We let her get in the water as it was so warm. A perfect day really. I do believe we'll be going back!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catching Up: New Home!

It's been a while since I've updated this blog. After closing on our new home March 30th, life's become very hectic. All the packing up from the apartment, unloading PODS full of stuff, renovations, etc., have left little time for online activity. I didn't even have my workstation set up until this past weekend, May 12th! I'll try to quickly sum up everything...

To begin, the 30th was a GREAT day, at least for Teri & I. After waiting for 6 months we were finally the owners! For months all we've done is imagine living in the house. On that day it became a reality. We didn't move in right away, instead taking two weeks to begin redoing things while the place was empty.

While we were ecstatic; Freja, on the other hand, wasn't so thrilled. She'd just become used to the apartment and didn't truly get excited about our having to move again.

I think this photo of her sums it up.

To be fair, when you're told this is going to be your room, when you really wanted to have the attic, it can be a downer.

As you can see, our first order of business was removing ALL the wallpaper in the house. Every room had it! We hired a contractor to come in and take it out, leaving the walls primed and ready. It was the most frustrating, unprofessional job I've ever dealt with. BUT it was done! We then were able to start actually painting rooms.

Waiting for the work on the walls also meant waiting to unpack everything. Our garage was packed to the rafters by piles of "stuff." We also kept one of the storage PODS for a while, waiting for room to open so we could unload. I think carrying crates, boxes, and furniture around has been the most tiring part of this.

Within a short span Teri repainted Freja's room. We unpacked a LOT of Freja's toys, furniture and such. It was like Christmas all over again! This made her very happy indeed!

While it's not completed, lots of details to still do such as curtains, shelves, artwork, etc., we think the room's very different now. Most importantly, Freja loves it!

Her kitchen fits in her closet too!

She's her goofy self again!

I have to run, as there is a lot for me to do today. I'll write more later.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Last Weekend Renting!

It was a very mellow weekend for us. Having less than 7 days to go before we own our new home, we thought it would be best to simply relax. Life is going to become very busy indeed, so a couple of days of doing nothing important made sense.

On Saturday we just went for walks around town, enjoyed a breakfast at Fink's, and took Freja to a playground. Teri went to a knitting class, making use of the birthday gifts I'd given her. She's been knitting a lot lately, it's so good to see her enjoying a hobby. Her previous job kept her so busy there was little time for her to do something just for herself.

Today, Sunday, the weather was simply PERFECT! Sunny and in the 70s! We can't believe it's March, my least favorite month of the year. Usually, at least back in PA, it's gloomy, cold, and damp. This year it's more like late April!

I packed up a picnic, strawberry spinach salad, and drove us to Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Today they had a special Maple Syrup fest. While Teri & I found it a little dull in comparison to other similar events we've seen, Freja really enjoyed herself. That, in itself, made it worthwhile. Afterward we enjoyed our picnic at Stewart Lake, near the new house. Before you know it, we'll be swimming here!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Early Warm Weather!

We had a really mellow weekend spent mainly around Mount Horeb. The weather has been unusually warm for days now, with at least one day reaching 82°F! It feels so much like summer already, it's making us excited. Before we know it, we'll be swimming at the lake near our house!

On Saturday we took a nice walk to a small restaurant called Fink's. It's right at the end of the street we're moving to. I'm happy to say that we enjoyed the food, and the "local feel" of the place. I have a feeling there will be at least one of two mornings/month spent there! On the walk back I dropped by the Grumpy Troll for our weekly growler of their Baltic Porter. When I walked up to the bar, I asked, "so you guys make this particular porter all year round?" I was told that no, it's a special brew that takes 6 months to make. As the bartender rang up my purchase, my growler under the tap, we saw something that almost brought me to tears. The LAST of the porter only filled my growler half way! He handed me back my money, the half full growler, and told me THAT WAS IT! I choked back sobs as I met Teri & Freja in the book store and told my wife the news! The real kick in the pants was by the time we walked home, the half full growler had made the beer go flat. Thank goodness I'd picked up some of Tommy's Porter made by Lake Louie the night before!

House Finch

The rest of that day was spent preparing food for the next day. I carefully prepared a leg of lamb, cubing it, and then marinating it in olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, salt & pepper, etc. I also made a tabouleh salad, all for Sunday's dinner. As I worked I enjoyed my beer, and watched out the back door for the finches to show up. They'd arrived a few days ago with the warmer weather. I wanted to try to get a shot of them, and was rewarded for my patience. The male actually put on a display towards his mate, which I was able to capture.

Sunday I was able to go adventure on my own while Freja and Teri spent time together in town. About 20 minutes from where we live there are a series of small trout streams that meander through hilly terrain. I found an access parking area and enjoyed a nice, long stroll. While there were plenty of birds, I didn't get a shot at any of them. I then drove around a bit, finding other access points the streams, and natural areas. I even met a fly fisherman who shared some great information with me on the lay of the land. These are areas I plan on getting to know very well as time goes by. Instead of fishing these streams, I plan on wade/walking them in order to take photos of wildlife/nature.

I found a number of cool places for me to explore in the future, but I wasn't finding any wildlife to shoot. I could hear birds, frogs and insects all around me, but wasn't getting a chance to snap a photo. At one point I stopped on a dusty road to take the photo of the rock formation you see above. As I turned to get back in the jeep I spotted the eagle you see in the photo below! It was just sitting in a large tree, directly over the trout stream. This tells me this stream must have some nice fish in it for sure! I may just have to get my fly rod out of storage...

Bald Eagle

Speaking of storage; less than two weeks until we move into the new house!! Soon our storage pods will be arriving, and we'll be able to actually get to our stuff!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring is HERE!

It's been a great early spring weekend! Friday was a perfectly sunny day. It was still cold, but there was a spring feel to the crisp air. I wanted to go on a photo safari but I also had our weekend grocery shopping to do. Instead I took a long, rambling drive into the city. The terrain around our new home is not what I had expected before we came to Wisconsin. I'd thought it was all flat. The area we settled is on the edge of the Driftless Area. It feels a lot like Western PA.

After shopping I ran into Freja's preschool early. It was fun to spend some time there with her. She spent most of it showing off for me, riding a tricycle around and around. I never knew she could move so fast on one!

On Saturday the temperature climbed almost 30°! The winds were also too strong to spend a lot of time outside, so we just relaxed around our apartment. In the early afternoon we walked to our favorite place in town, The Grumpy Troll. We really love their Baltic Porter!

Today, Sunday, the weather was truly the first day we felt that winter is OVER! Warm sun, no need for jackets, and mostly dry ground to hike on. After a leisurely morning we went to nearby Pleasant Valley Conservancy. This is easily becoming a favorite place to go and just relax. Today we also met the land owners, and found out more about their organization. I'm tempted to volunteer there.

As we left the apartment, I outfitted my camera for shooting birds. I had a feeling this would be a good day for it. The very first thing we encountered was a pair of newly returned Sandhill Cranes! Then the owner of the conservancy alerted me that she'd seen a Red-headed Woodpecker. We have so many woodpeckers back in PA that I truly thought it was going to be a species I'd seen before. It was a great surprise to find out I hadn't.

Sandhill Crane
Red-headed Woodpecker