Category Archives: Family Ramblings

Fixing a Digital Camera

A Dusty Lens Ruining the Sunset

One of the reasons we replaced our old camera ( an Olympus C-750) was because there was dust particles on the lens. In the photo above you can see one of the particles just above the sun. This lens is sealed and requires taking the entire camera apart which is why this hasn’t been done until now. There are other reasons we upgraded cameras but this was the catalyst that dictated when.

The Camera's Been Dismantled

I’ve been known to dismantle electronics before and get them back together successfully most of the time so why not give a digital camera a try. How hard could it be? Besides I came across a website with information on cleaning the lens on a similar camera to this one with nice pictures and everything. Didn’t look to terribly difficult. After some searching for a few screws I managed to get it apart without breaking anything as you can see in the photo above. That’s always a good start. There were 4 screws that hiding making it a bit of a challenge but once I found them all went pretty well. The lens is that black tube with some ribbons coming out of it.

Getting It Back Together

After some thorough but gentle cleaning I got it all back together. Now the final test is does it all work. The photo below was taken with this camera and there is no more dust visible on the lens. It may have taken a couple of weekends to accomplish the cleaning but I learned a lot about point and shoot cameras along with more capabilities that I didn’t know this model has. I always knew it was a good camera but there’s more versatility than I ever imagined using the manual modes. Certainly not SLR quality but better than most point and shoot cameras.

No More Dust

How Your Camera Works

While thinking about adventures in the Rockies or Isle Royale and dreaming of exploring the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week during the winter I decided to start the photography experiment.  The first spot on the board is How Your Camera Works. As luck has it, girl scout cookies are now available and since I have two girl scouts I thought this was a great opportunity to use a few thin mints as photo subjects. In addition, is there a better treat during the football game of all games – the Super Bowl?

One of the experiments listed on this post by Peter Carey is to take 10 photos of one object and make each one different in some way. So here ya go:

Cracking Open a Case of Thin Mints

Without the Flash The lighting while taking these was not great so I had   the opportunity to play with the flash a little bit while  watching Super Bowl commercials. The photo on the left is without the flash.

 

 

Playing with Perspecitve

Changing Shutter Speeds and Exposure

Looking for different perspectives. The low ambient light combined with light from the television makes for an interesting situation. Shooting in shutter priority seemed to give the best shot. Of course this could have been helped by using a tripod as the shutter was slowed down. Surprisingly this photo came out pretty clear.

Adding Flash

Adding in the flash and manual focus to the shutter priority improved the overall picture. While looking at the information of this one I noticed white balance was manual. Knowing that could bring a little better color. More to play with I guess.

Another Set of Hungry Eyes

Looks like I’m not the only one looking for a snack of thin mints.

Tunnel Vision

Watching the game with tunnel vision.

Another Tunnel

Adding flash to a different tunnel gives a whole different photo.

Changing Focus

Adjusting the focus allows me to highlight different portions of this subject.

A Low Perspective

Shooting from the bottom. Not sure if I like it for this particular photo but it provides for a unique shot. There is one advantage with the camera I’m using, the LCD adjust so I don’t have to stand on my head for a shot like this.

Where Can I Get a Cookie?

Does anyone know where to get girl scout cookies? I think it’s going to take me awhile to eat all of these. When I tell people I have walls of cookies at the house they’re not sure exactly what I mean. This is what I mean. Is this an indication of a girl scout cookie problem? They just keep multiplying.

As a side note, I did not alter these photos if you couldn’t tell. Digital processing comes later. This experiment just focused on learning more about the camera.

Just Another Christmas

A Wintery Christmas Eve

I really don’t want to be at work today. At least traffic was light on the way in this morning and the office is really quiet. What do you expect? Tonight is, after all, Christmas Eve. I use to really enjoy this holiday but every year it gets less and less enjoyable. All of the hours spent shopping at busy stores and trying to figure out what to get each person on a list that continues to grow. At least the internet has made shopping easier as long as you plan ahead a little. Focusing on the reason for the season – the birth of Christ would help make the season better until I found out that Christmas Day isn’t even the actual birthday of Jesus. The church chose to celebrate it on this day. Almost as if the church is trying to make this holiday all about them. It seems they have to find a reason to steal all of the celebrations and guilt people into attending. I’m sure I’ve got this mixed up somehow but that is just how it seems to me. So now it’s just another Christmas.

Should be a slow day around the office because so many people have taken the day off so I won’t be able to take care of things that require help from co-workers. Probably a good day to take care of things that have been on my desk awhile as low priority. Hopefully I can get out of here a little early and finish up my last minute shopping before going home and getting ready for Christmas Eve dinner at our house. At lunch time there wasn’t much going on so I decided to leave for the day to get home with the family to celebrate. As luck would have it, trying to walk out the door I get stopped to take care of a problem since there really isn’t anyone else around that can take care of it. Fortunately I have a few minutes so let’s hurry up and get this taken care of. An hour and a half later I finally made it through the front. Lunch is out of the question in order to take care of the last few gifts and get home on time.

Great, it’s starting to snow! This is going to make the afternoon that much more fun. Finally arriving at the store and the parking lot is full. After driving around the lot for several minutes a spot opens up and I take it. A quick glance at my phone highlights the fact that now I’m running late and need to hurry through the store. Like that is possible with all these people here! This is what they call battle shopping. Weaving in and out of other people, dodging shopping carts, working your way in between people to get to the shelf only to find the person ahead of you grabbed the last item you were looking for. Not quite as bad as black Friday but close. Some people consider this fun. Not me! Surprisingly shopping went faster than expected and all that is left is to check out with the cashier. This certainly helps put my timeline back on schedule until my phone starts singing telling me there’s a new text message. Yep, I need to fight my way through the store once again to pick up forgotten items for this evening. Patience is running thin as I’m in a hurry once again. Looking around the store it is clear I’m not the only one. We are all try to be cordial if only on the surface.

Racing towards the exit I can see the snow is still falling. The roads must be covered by now causing traffic to move slowly. Using my gloves to remove the snow from the door so snow doesn’t fall inside when the door is opened, I shove the packages into the car. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a woman bent down. She must have dropped something. After brushing the freshly falling snow from the rest of the car I open the driver’s door ready to get in when I see this woman again and she is still bent down. Another quick gaze at my phone tells me I really need to get going. A further look reveals a child with this woman. Walking towards the pair shows they are both wearing tattered sweatshirts and shivering. Not enough to keep warm in this wintery weather. Quickly my jacket is around the child and I’m running back to the car to retrieve what blankets there are in the trunk. Within a few minutes they are both wrapped in blankets trying to find any bit of warmth they can. Their thin, pale faces indicate they have not eaten in awhile so I ask if I might provide a meal in a warm place pointing to a sandwich shop nearby. A few moments pass and the mother hesitantly agrees bringing the first smile to my face this holiday season.

Driving a short distance we all get out of the car and go in to enjoy a quick meal and warm our fingers. They each order a full meal while I get a warm drink. While these two eat like they have not had anything in a couple of days I send a text to my wife admitting that I would be late tonight and apologizing. It’s almost as if I had just finished typing when there was a reply: “Another late night at the office? We really need you here! Your mom and dad will be here any minute.” I could feel the displeasure in this response but this mother and child are more important than another Christmas dinner right now. As the mother is finishing her sandwich I could see some color entering her face and the child was beginning to move a little more fluidly. The warmth had started thawing their muscles allowing them to relax a little. Appearing as though conversation might be possible I asked the child what her name was. She quickly responded with “Sara”. A few minutes more revealed she was 4 years old and really liked ice cream. I mentioned that I had two daughters with the youngest being just a little bit older than her.

Turning towards her mother I thanked her for allowing me to buy them lunch and asked where they were headed. She said they really didn’t know. This economy has impacted them greatly forcing them to leave their house and sell whatever they could to get by. Knowing this I asked if Sara and Michelle (Sara’s mom’s name) would like to join us for a wonderful Christmas meal and a warm, comfortable place to sleep. Michelle refused saying I had done enough already and they weren’t about to impose on my family further. I continued to press, inviting them to our home with no luck. Michelle did not feel up to meeting a bunch of new people in her present condition. Understanding this, I offered an alternative – how about staying in a hotel for the night with a warm room and place they could get a good night’s sleep? Immediately she began to reply “No” but then hesitated while looking at her daughter. Finally she agreed and we retreated back to the car.

The snow had continued leaving beautiful wonderland and slow driving making what usually would have been a quick trip to the closest hotel a bit more challenging. Inching along with the heater blowing full blast, their blankets started to loosen indicating Sara and Michelle were finally warming up. Finally we entered the parking lot and I pulled up to the front entrance. I walked up to the front desk and asked for a room while the other two hung back close to the door. Apparently the hotel was booked up for the night with nothing available. Pleading I asked if there was anything they could do. These two have been out in the cold for a long time and have no place to stay tonight. Again the reply was there was nothing available.

Feeling defeated heading back towards Michelle and Sara to tell them the news a gentleman spoke up “Sir!?” Turning around with a disappointed look I pointed to myself as if to ask “me?” He walked towards me and said his family had two rooms reserved for the night but that I could have one for these two ladies if he could get a cot to add to one of the rooms. Bounding back towards the desk with this kind man in tow we inquired about a cot for his room. After getting him and his family set up, one of his rooms was transferred to Michelle and Sara and at a nice discount thanks to the hotel staff. I shook his hand aggressively thanking him to whole time for the generosity of him and his family. As they headed off towards their room I spoke with a loud tone almost shouting “Merry Christmas!”

I walked with Michelle carrying Sara towards their room. Both were beginning to yawn as these weary travelers were warm and full. A nice shower and comfortable bed will be the perfect way to spend this wonderful holiday. Reaching the door Sara had fallen asleep in my arms bringing yet another smile to my face. Looking over towards her mother I could see she had the beginning of a smile also. Entering the room I placed this wonderful child on her bed and started for the door. Michelle thanked me for all that I had done on this Christmas Eve day. I was grateful for the opportunity and wished her a “Merry Christmas” while hurrying out the door as I was incredibly late for celebrating with my own family. Returning to the car I remembered the gifts I had purchased earlier. They should be able to open presents too I thought.

Knocking I could tell I surprised Michelle as she slowly opened her door to see who was there. Handing her the packages I whispered “Merry Christmas” one more time so as to not wake up Sara and explained which ones were for her and her daughter. There were tears beginning to well up in her eyes causing me to quickly turn away and say good bye one last time before those same tears entered my eyes. As I neared the exit I could hear the pounding of footsteps racing closer and closer. Turning around there was Michelle with my jacket saying that I had forgotten it. She wrapped her arms around me giving one of the most grateful hugs I have ever received saying “thank you for saving our lives today!” As tears began to roll down my face running into my ever smiling lips I thought” I didn’t save you, you saved me!” Michelle and Sara were two angels sent to remind me the meaning of this great holiday. This wasn’t just another Christmas. It was one of the best Christmas’s ever!

A Christmas Tree

The Hobbies of May

Woodland Stream

May is when the memories of winter start to fade as plants start to grow and flower, the leaves of the trees become large enough to provide shade, and natures orchestra begins playing once again with the birds singing, frogs croaking, and the breeze moving through the trees. There are many things about this time of year that I truly enjoy. Flowers gracing us with their beauty and fragrance, the smell of freshly mowed grass, and the warmth provided by the sun. While these are great moments to enjoy one of the things I enjoy most about May is going on a darter hunt.

Rainbow Darter

What’s a darter hunt you ask? Well it’s not really hunting as there are no guns or arrows. Instead a group of people are armed with the appreciation of nature and a few nets. A darter is a relatively small fish related to perch that are native to North America. Every May the Minnesota Aquarium Society plans a few trips near the Twin Cities in search of the different darter species that are native to this area. Along with members of the aquarium society they also invite members of the North American Native Fishes Association to participate of which I am a member.

Banded Darter

Members of these two organizations get to take some of these darters along with other minnow species home to learn about and enjoy in aquariums. Some of these fish end up in school aquariums or even at the Minnesota Zoo allowing more people the opportunity to see native fish they probably never new existed. I do have an aquarium dedicated to native fish and will bring some home from these darter hunts but mostly I participate because I enjoy seeing what fish are in area lakes, rivers, and streams. A special permit is required by the MN Department of Natural Resources in order to keep these darters which the aquarium society obtains every year so this is the one time of year I can get this unique fish.

Collecting Darters

A darter hunt begins by donning waders or hip boots for those that do not want to get wet. The water is usually a little on the cold side but there are those that don’t mind getting wet so go without waders or hip boots. Once dressed for the water we grab a couple of nets and minnow buckets to put in our catch and head for the stream. Or lake. Or River. And don’t forget the cameras but the real trick is to keep them from getting wet. A couple of people go a short distance downstream and hold a net across a portion of the river or stream keeping the bottom secured to the stream bed and the top above water if possible while a few other people begin chasing fish into the net by shuffling feet across the stream bed. Once this group chasing the fish gets to the net they quickly reach down and grab the bottom of the net and pull this whole thing up above the water to see what was caught. If this is not done in unison with those holding the net the likely scenario is escape. Fish are quite adept at escaping and only require the chance to do so.

Finding a Darter

As the hunters begin combing through the debris caught in the net to reveal fish the look on their faces is almost always the same – amazement. Amazement at success of actually catching some fish, amazement at how colorful some of these fish are, and amazement that these fish actually live in these bodies of water. As soon as first timers actually see and hold some of these darters for the first time they are hooked and ready to spend an entire day searching for more. Sometimes they are ready to hunt for much more than a day. Watching someone’s reaction to this success may be the best part of a darter hunt. Although, the beautiful surrounding could also be the best part. I can’t really decide.

Underwater Habitat

My first darter hunt took place a number of years ago now. I remember the hunt but I don’t remember which year it was. I was hooked on native fish and prefer to keep native fish above tropical fresh water fish and even saltwater fish. Mostly this is because very few people have or even know about these fish and knowing exactly where this fish was collected makes keeping them more memorable. There are many people who would like to collect tropical fish that they see and buy in fish stores but are unable to. Native fish allow a person to experience fish collecting without arranging a trip to some tropical place. This being written, I do still have a tropical fish aquarium and a saltwater aquarium.

Jack in the Pulpit

 

Where Darters Live

Orchids A Year Later

Yellow Orchid with Purple Hyacinth in the background

Late winter a year ago I wrote a post about becoming a little stir crazy after being cooped up inside during a particular cold and snowy season longing for a little greenery. Orchids were the key to keeping my sanity at that time and a year later I get to enjoy the fruits of growing these orchids for the past year. Of course many would say that my orchid craze has caused insanity instead of cured it. A year later here are a couple of photos of those orchids.

Another Yellow Orchid with the Hyacinth in the Background

What a contrast to last year. This time around the grass is green and the hyacinth are in full bloom.

Just Starting to Open

Amazing how many different colors and textures of orchid flowers there are.

Tropical Ladyslipper Orchid

The ladyslipper orchids are probably my favorite. Especially when some of the petals curl as they do here.

Yellow Tint with Purple Spots

 

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There are so many colors in this one that it requires an inspection close up.

Purple Orchid Loaded with Flowers

Now this orchid thing may be starting to get out of hand. They’re all over the house.

Winter Hardy Orchid Emerging

Even my perennial ladyslipper orchids are beginning to grow. I’m certainly looking forward to watching these grow and bloom this spring.

More Ladyslipper Orchids

Another tropical ladyslipper orchid.

Full PlantAmazing Colors and Patterns in This Bloom Up Close

This orchid has such a great WOW! factor both as a whole plant and close up with each individual bloom.

If these don’t cure the winter time blues than I can only think of one other thing that can. A trip to a tropical destination where they grow wild.

A Vacation Without the Kids

Going on Vacation Just the Two of Us

On our recent excursion to southern Florida Karen and I made the trip alone.  Every three or four years we try to take a vacation while leaving the kids at home with relatives. These trips allow us to reconnect with each other and have helped to re-invigorate our marriage in ways that are very difficult in our everyday family lives. I have read recommendations of doing this as frequently as once a year. I would imagine that could be quite re-energizing to the family unit however, time goes by so fast that by the time we realize we are in need of some time alone with each other, three to four years have already flown by.

Going on vacation without the kids allows/forces us to spend time together without interruptions giving us the opportunity to find those reasons that brought along the decision to get married in the first place. There are days and even weeks that go by which bring the question “why did we get married again?” usually brought on by all the hectic activities scheduled into such a short time. My answer to that question is often “so we can shuttle the kids everywhere and be interrupted every 10 minutes I guess!” Going on a trip with Karen can often return the original reasons for getting married. I find that focusing on each other ultimately is beneficial for everyone. My belief is that a healthy marriage translates into a stronger family and ultimately is better for the children. In order for a marriage to be healthy, there has to be great connections with the people in that marriage. Maybe this is just my way of justifying some fun without the kids.

Fun Without the Kids

For us a trip usually goes like this. We’re getting ready to leave for the airport and we see the kids with their sad faces and the question of going without them immediately comes to the forefront. We manage to get out of their sight knowing that we won’t see them again for a week causes sadness as we miss them already. To keep from turning back to see them again and to calm them down we remind ourselves and them that they can call us anytime and we will call them later that day when we arrive at our destination. Mobile phones and the ability to use programs like Skype to video call really do help to get through the first couple of days however get away from them for a majority of your trip or the purpose of leaving the children behind is irrelevant.

I'm Sure the Kids Would Enjoy This

Shortly after arriving at our destination we are talking about and thinking about how much the kids would enjoy this. “We wish they were here” is a common theme for the first couple of days often forgetting other things that come with them such as “I’m hungry! when are we going to eat?” or “I have to go to the bathroom!” every 15 minutes. Something as simple as eating on your own schedule can be liberating. Usually by day 3 or 4 we start to get use to and enjoy doing things on our own schedule. We can spend 2 minutes or 2 hours eating when and where WE want. Also by this time the phone calls back home have minimized and we begin to feel like we are on vacation with each other. Put the phones away! I didn’t say shut them off all the time because emergencies do arise but don’t spend most of your time with looking at this little 3 inch screen. Use your hand to hold your spouses hand, not your phone. There will be plenty of time to quickly play a word in Words with Friends while your significant other is fueling the vehicle or taking a shower.

Enjoying a Peaceful Sunset

Something I find interesting is how people treat you a little differently while on vacation alone. At a restaurant or excursion or even the hotel I find the treatment a little different from some of the staff once they find out you are there without the children. Usually a “Good for You!” comes first. Out of the corner of my eye I will see them give you a little smile as you and your significant other are talking or holding hands. Possibly a little more privacy is given. Those who are parents themselves immediately understand your situation with missing the kids and the importance of going somewhere without them. It’s kind of an unspoken bond between you and that person. It may be subtle but it is still there if you look. This understanding is re-affirming that you are not be terrible parents by leaving your children behind while you’re off having a good time.

Near the end of the vacation we start to prepare for the trip back home and realize it has been a few days since we talked to the kids. We start to miss them again and are happy to be returning to see them. It is at this point you begin to understand all of the commitments you have made that fill the weeks causing them to go by so fast and how much you didn’t miss all of that for at least one week. Now is a good time for a reflection of all of these commitments and how important they really are. Maybe one or two should go away so that there is more time spent as a family. One of the things I realize is stressful for me is daily mail. It may be odd but I dread going through the countless pieces of mail and not having to deal with this is one of the things that relaxes me while on vacation.

Traveling Back Home

If you can find a way to get away from everyday family life with just your spouse, I highly recommend it if even only for an extending weekend. This really does help you understand how much you need your kids and how much they need you. They will try to lay on the guilt trip but that is only because they want to get away to someplace fun too and miss you.

What Will 2012 Bring?

The Dawn of 2012

As one year ends and another begins I like to reflect on the events of the previous year. On what worked well, things that did not go so well, and maybe even pass briefly over those memories that are better off forgotten. Why do this? For me, I imagine myself much older and unable to do the things I can now. When I get to that point in life I want to have as few regrets as possible. Whether that be things I regret doing or things I would regret not doing. Reflecting on the past year helps to find things to improve upon or objectives I did not meet as well as those I did. Once I figure this out I can determine why I did or did not meet those goals and what I need to change for the next year. The ultimate goal is to end the year completing all of my objectives unable to improve upon them. Well, I’m sure we all can guess how many years go by that I can improve on nothing else. NEVER!

Watching the World Go By

Last year was almost a blur if went by so fast. Every year one of my goals is always to take a beautiful summer day and watch the clouds float by enjoying a light breeze and the sounds around. I may have forgotten to do that in 2011. Fortunately there were some nights sitting by the campfire after everyone else had turned in for the night watching the fireflies and enjoying the peace of the moment. Watching the world go by for at least part of a summers day is yet again one of my goals for 2012. Along with that, a trip to California to explore Yosemite and a week in Northern Minnesota/Michigan camping in Isle Royale and possibly Voyageurs National Park are on the list of places to experience. Travel tends to be a fairly high priority in my house so many of our goals are centered around that. There are objectives to provide as many experiences for Lysa and Kristy without over doing it. They are still kids and need to spend some time being one.

There are home improvement goals, financial goals, and professional goals to go with the objectives decided on for travel. It is fun for me to look at what we accomplish in a year and sometimes there is disbelief that certain goals are met. I tried the New Years resolution for a couple of years and decided that setting goals was more encouraging and ultimately more successful.

Where to Celebrate the New Year

Cruising in the Caribbean

There are countless ways to spend the waning moments of the current year and usher in the new year. You can enjoy a meal out with friends or family, watch the ball drop on TV, or gather at a bar with hundreds of other party goers. Many years I ask the question “Where would I like to be for the beginning of the New Year?” I’ve often thought that being on a Caribbean Cruise would be the ultimate place to welcome the new year. Cruises have become less interesting to me however I would still like to celebrate the new year in a tropical location as I have experienced every new year so far in a cold location.

As I continue to travel my list of places continues to grow. Spending the new year in Taiwan or Rio de Janeiro would be a great new experience. At least, as far as I can imagine it would be. The small amount I have read or watched about those locations peaks my interest. One place that tops my list right now is Sydney, Australia. The fireworks display they put on looks incredible to celebrate the new year. I would love to witness it in person. In addition, the Great Barrier Reef is on my list of places to see. With Australia’s summers occurring at New Year’s time this may be a great time of year to plan a trip their. Check out this video of last years display.

Hmm, I wonder if you could celebrate the New Year in Sydney, get on an airplane and celebrate the New Year again in Rio de Janeiro? Hold on while I check this out. Ya, that’s what I figured. Currently time runs faster than airplanes. If you could find a direct flight it would take 16 hours to get to Rio. It was an exciting idea to think about for a minute or so. What a memorable way that would be to celebrate the New Year! I could still celebrate the beginning of a year twice. I just need to be on one side of the time zone and then quickly go to the next time zone to celebrate again. It might be fun just to say you Celebrated New Year’s twice. What ever way you decide to celebrate the beginning of 2012 I wish you a very Happy New Year!

A Fireworks Celebration

Holiday Displays

Winter '10 019

Most years I like to add a few holiday decorations to the inside and outside of my house. Typically I will use the traditional lights to decorate areas inside and outside along with some evergreen branches, a few wreaths, and maybe some birch branches if I have access to them. This year, however, I used a few braches from our Christmas tree to decorate one container outside and also covered other areas that house plants and annuals during the summer and a couple of wreaths that the kids decorated. That was it. I guess there was less motivation to do anymore since many years we have holiday celebrations but this year we didn’t host any.

As I was reflecting on my lack of holiday decorating I began to wonder how all of this began. What was the motivation for someone to begin decorating for this holiday season. Apparently this idea of decorating for the holidays all began in Germany with using candles to decorate Christmas trees. I recall learning about early Christmas tree decorating but didn’t connect this to our outdoor décor. Once electricity was invented, the use of colored lights outside was first used by a theater to promote the opening of an opera. After that, businesses started to use this practice which eventually made its way into our homes. If you’re interested in learning more details go here….

It is very intriguing for me to think about starting out with attaching candles to evergreen trees (I can only image the number of fires that must have caused) to using thousands of colored lights placed all over our streets, businesses, and houses. These lights are now used in animatronics and set to music. After going through some videos of holiday decorations on YouTube, it’s difficult to not get inspired to decorate more.

 

Holiday Lights