Friday, March 22, 2013


"What kind of camera do you have?"  I've received this question a few times over as many weeks, so I thought I'd talk about my camera and equipment.  I'm just going to start up front by saying, I'm really really new at a lot of photography and camera related stuff, so I could be wrong on a lot of this and way more other people know a lot more.

Before Jason and I got married, we talked about getting a nice camera as an investment for our upcoming honeymoon, travel, and way to document our family.  I really didn't do too much in-depth research, besides a few articles saying Nikons and Canons were kind of the same if you don't have a preference, so one night at 11pm, I pulled the trigger when Best Buy was running sale and bough a camera that seemed in my price range.  (Confession: I am the worst.  I'm the biggest sucker for buying stuff just because it's on sale.)  I bought the Nikon D5000.  Reviews said it was a little higher end on the beginner camera scale, which I figured would be good for me.  I'd heard the lens that comes with cameras really wasn't worth it, but I couldn't find an option to buy without, so I got it anyways.  I can't remember what I paid for Best Buy's sale price, but I think it was around the current amazon price is about $600 (with the kit lens).  It is a good camera for basics if that's all you want.  The included lens still took great pictures like the one below.  For me though, the more I started to take pictures, the more I realized why people said the kit lens was too basic for what I wanted.

still a good picture of the train tracks outside our first apartment

Once I started looking into lenses a few months later I started experiencing buyer's remorse and wishing I'd done a little more research.  If I could do it again, I would have bought a Nikon D90.  It's a step up from the D5000, classified in the "enthusiast level" but without the kit lens, it's the same price.  My problem was, I'd done a little digging into cameras, but not really the lenses.  I wanted to take be able to take those artsy pictures of people or flowers with the blurred background.  I learned for that you needed to have a lens with a lower aperture (f-stop) than what I had.  After taking the camera on a few trips, I realized I also wanted to be able to zoom in further than what I could.  What I didn't know when buying my camera, which DR Preview points out, is that my camera does not have an in-body focus motor.  That means the motor has to be in the lenses.  That means the lenses are more expensive, way way negating any cost savings in buying a less expensive camera.  For example, if I'd got a camera with the motor in it, a popular 50mm lens would have been about a hundred dollars less.  Start looking into zoom lenses or anything else, prices get pretty high pretty fast.

Since buying a new camera to save money on lenses at this point doesn't make sense, I count it as a lesson learned: don't buy big stuff really late at night.  I don't really know anything about Canons and didn't look into them much, but I've heard good things about the Rebel series and may have heard their lenses are a bit cheaper even though you may pay more up front.  Over the past few years, I did get the following lenses/equipment:

50 mm 1.8
One of my favorite photographers, Peter Bang, includes this on his list of cheap (under $500) lens recommendations.  This lens allows you to get pretty close without being too up in someone's face, and gives the background a nice blurred effect like with this picture:

close ups of a display at the Botanical Gardens
18-200mm 3.5-5.6
Often when traveling, it helps to have a wide angle lens to get really big buildings or landscapes.  It also helps to have enough of a zoom that you can get good shots of far away things.  Instead of buying two lenses and switching on the go, I got one that does both extremes and everything in between.  While this lens was pretty pricey and is really heavy for my weak arms, it's really nice to have one lens for most of what I want.  I didn't link to the lenses since you have to be sure to get the one for your camera, but especially with the zoom lens, I'd say get one that is at least 200mm (the 300mm didn't seem like I'd need it enough to justify the extra cost of weight) with the lowest f-stop you can afford (3.5 in my case).  This lens allowed me to zoom in and out with results like this:

wide angle

same lens: zoomed in

I found that a lot of my evening pictures or pictures that I zoomed in on a lot were often blurry.  My wonderful hubby got me this tripod for Christmas this past year to help with that.  Granted, it's too cumbersome to always have with us, but we've gotten some great low light pictures with it:
the tripod helped light and shadow to be more crisp
I think the next on my wish list might be a 35mm 1.8, just cause sometimes the 50mm one is hard to get people or objects if you don't have a few yards to back up.

As far as other camera resources go, I'm still learning.  I read and as funny as it sounds, the Pioneer woman's portion of her blog devoted to photography. (I know.. she's a chef, but that woman has some good pictures and some killer food!)  I also like the daily inspiration ProjectLife365 provides.

I hope that helps if you're in the market for a camera, or maybe if you are stuck with one you don't love at least you know you're not alone! Nothing wrong with the basic point and shoot either... most of my everyday photos end up being on the iphone, and then I don't have to worry about it being too dark, too blurry, etc.  What works for you? Anyone have comprable Canon recommendations or maybe other lens suggestions? Plus, really, we all know this was just a fun way to share some more pictures.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What I Ate in Portland

I am blessed enough to have a few friends with whom I've been close since high school. Time, marriage, and jobs have result in everyone being spread out across the country, but we do our best to stay in touch. So when Caitlin and Kris moved to Portland last fall to be part of Hinson Baptist Church, and Southwest ran a sale a few months later, plans for a reunion were in motion. The timing worked out to be a good break for Bekah, whose husband is on a year-long deployment. (Even though I miss Jason on his trips away, it’s nothing compared to the year on your own with two kids. God has given that woman serious grace!  Plus, travelling with kids is no joke.  Thanks, Bekah, for making the trip despite the trunk-load of stuff that you had to bring across the country.)

Caitlin, our wonderful host

Because this trip was on the heels of our Africa trip, the only thing I really had time to research was where to eat, so I think that’s about all we did (priorities!). If we had been there when it was a little warmer, I would have loved to check out more of the hiking or gardens. Another blog I read had a nice list of things to do in Portland right after we got back, so I’d probably have done some more of these things if I’d know.

When we made the plans I kind of forgot Kris and Caitlin live in a place the size of our condo, which is to say: way too small for three extra adults and two kids. Rose and I ended up staying at the Hotel Monaco, which if you have ever stayed in a Kimpton hotel, you know is amazing! It's right in the middle of downtown, walkable to lots of good eating, shopping, the river walk and Powell's. They upgraded us so we got a sweet suite (get it!) and (because Rose found their secret password of the month) free breakfast.

So Portland was a really fun city. A little grey, a little granola. Known for being environmentally friendly, coffee, food and micro brews it is my kind of place. Well.. mostly. I'm not used to feeling like I'm the pretentious one because I'm wearing a pea coat and not a Marmot jacket. Plus, it was the first time I've had a friend who takes more extreme steps to recycle than I do (although Caitlin will be the first to admit she only composts because it's the law). I guess I didn't realize there was such a different vibe between East Coast and Northwest. One person asked me about that show "House of Cards" upon learning I am from DC, which I thought was funny.  (I don't watch the show so could only pass along hearsay.)  I loved the abundance of good eats, neighborhoods with unique character, and boutiques filled with items made by independent artisans. (What does that word "artisan" even mean? It just seems to fit in Portland so I said it.) We went to the zoo, took a drive up Mount Hood, saw the view from Council Crest, Multnoma Falls, and explored Powell's bookstore. But really the main thing we did was eat. Like, sometimes we had to find things to do to fill the time between meals, which usually meant getting a coffee or a snack. So here is the list:

Red Star Tavern (American, at the hotel): I had the caldo verde (pork w chilies, chard & potatoes), with the Occidental brewing hefeweizen, and both were some of my favorites of the trip.

Broder (Scandinavian): I was a little disappointed with the lefse. Mostly because I was wanting the sweet version my grandpa used to make and this one had a savory and slightly sour taste. Rose loved her breakfast though.

Stumptown Coffee: So famous. Enough said.

Pok Pok (Asian): Their special fish sauce wings and pineapple vinegar soda were unique and flavorful enough that I'd definitely go back, though, what I think was the Cha Ca "La Vong" (a fish vermicelli dish) was somewhat bland.

Tasty 'n Sons (American): Here we split a bunch of dishes and they were all so so wonderful (French toast, sausage ragu polenta, fried chicken and cheddar biscuit, mortician chicken hash).

Timberline Lodge hot chocolate: we did this more for the scenic drive, though the hot chocolate was pretty scenic as well.

St Jack's (French): I don't even like tomatoes but their tomato soup w puffed pastry was delicious as were the steak frites.

Food truck: of course we had to eat at a food truck! DC has food trucks that drive around but Portland's were more like "food trailers" as they were all set up in a designated parking lot and didn't appear especially mobile. Either way, I got a huge Pad Thai for $5, so they've got us beat on price.

Coava Coffee: this place wins for the tastiest cappuccino, coolest space (it's in a woodworking shop) and most expensive beans, though they comp your drink if you tell them it's your first time there. (Although don't tell them that if you've been there before. What? I wasn't conjuring up dishonest ways to get free stuff!)

And some pictures.. I forgot to bring the charger for my big camera so these are just iPhone pics and I never did get a good one of us girls together:

These kiddos couldn't handle the excitement!
Multnoma Falls

Timmy is four, which is a really fun age because he can hold conversations, but his logic is not always the same as adult logic.  We were driving down a bumpy road and every bump he'd ask me, "ARE YOU OK?" I'd say, "I'm ok, are you ok?"  And then he'd launch into an explanation of what I really should have said instead, "When I say 'Are you ok?' you say 'Are you ok?'" 

"But Timmy, that's what I said."   And then the same conversation would occur the next bump.

Left to right and clockwise: Tasty 'n Sons, lefse from Broder, Timberline Lodge hot chocolate, and Pok Pok 

Stunning views from Mt. Hood

Was that it? If that's not enough for you, I can send you my spreadsheet based off the Eater top 38 list and a few other sources.  After this I put on my stretchy pants and didn't make it home because I was over the allowable weight limit for the plane ride home. Not really, but I did force myself to jog one morning.

Honestly it was awesome just to hang out with good friends. We had lots of talks, laughs, and maybe even unknowingly broke some laws. I'm sure we'll be back, and this time I'll remember to pack some Tupperware as well as a flannel shirt and some Toms.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Once Was Blind

Good news: I am not typing this by braille! I had my LASIK and survived! I just wanted to alleviate the suspense that I'm sure was created after my last post.

I'm just going to back up a bit and say that I've been planning on getting LASIK done for over a year, but laziness and business and hesitation has made me put it off until now.  Jason had it done a few years ago at the Katzen Eye Group.  I decided to go there also.  Even though it is a bit of a drive to Baltimore, it was worth the extra drive time to me to go to a doctor I had a personal recommendation for and who also made me feel at ease.  I don't get anything for saying this, but I'd definitely recommend them. 

Overall, it was a painless process.  They gave me a Valium a few minutes before the surgery to "take the edge off."  I was a little concerned while sitting in the waiting room that it wasn't going to be enough and actually asked the receptionist, "Shouldn't I be taking the Valium now? How long does it take to feel the effects?"  I needed the full effect!  Also in the waiting room, I tried to look at pictures of Jason just in case, you know.  I started scrolling through my phone pictures for one last look at my hubby: food pictures, my niece, more food pictures, my god daughter, a purse I want to buy, more niece pictures, finally Jason making a funny face.

The surgery itself was weird, because you know what is happening but can't feel anything and can only see a blinking light.  In my Valium-induced haze I could hear the doctor describing his every step while using a device to keep my eyes open, and the nurse counting down the number of second they were running the laser.  I pictured myself looking a little bit like Mel Gibson in "Conspiracy Theory" when they taped his eyelids open although I'm pretty sure I actually looked the opposite of Mel since I was hugging a turtle shaped pillow, and at one point I asked if my eyes were open when they were actually closed. 

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, both because I napped and everything literally was blurry to me, but I could wake up the next morning and actually see things that were farther than 5 inches from my face, an experience I haven't had for over a decade!  Since then I've still been seeing good and get to wear some pretty cool protective goggles around the house.  Actually, I only have to wear them while sleeping, but find myself rubbing my eyes when I'm not supposed to, so I'd rather be on the safe side and just wear them whenever I'm at home.  They kind of look like safety goggles you wear when doing construction projects, so the good news is I'm ready for any emergency drilling or sawing the next few days.  Huge thanks to my mom for driving me on surgery day and Rose for driving me to the post-op appointment and to everyone else praying and caring for me!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Potential Last Post

Two things are happening right now: one, Jason is out of town, and two, I am getting LASIK next week. How are these two things related? Let me tell you. It means I am getting carded every time I order a drink now. Part of the prep process for LASIK is that in order to get my eyes to their normal shape, I can’t wear contacts. Therefore I am wearing the glasses I have had since right about the time I could legally drink, and which apparently make me look even younger than that. "Oh, you're my age, you just look younger," one waiter told my sister-in-law and me.  I actually think the glasses have less to do with appearing underage than the absence of my husband. It’s not that Jason looks “old,” but he is definitely over 21, and I think the association puts servers more at ease since in addition to looking legal drinking age, he apparently must not look like a cradle robber either. I know part of it is that the restaurant business needs to do their job, and I certainly am glad they are doing their part to follow the law, but it kind of gives me a fake-underage-drinking guilt. At this point everyone older than me gets mad and says I’ll be so glad that I look younger than I am at a later point in life.

Of course, I miss Jason for more than the impact on my gastronomic life. I have had to make my own coffee, every noise at night is a burglar, and I been watching excessive amounts of Downton Abbey... not that that last one is a bad thing. Because of his schedule, I only get to talk to him once a day or sometimes every other day, usually very late at night when my brain is done thinking. I’ve started making lists of all the “practical things” I need to ask him. (Although I make these lists anyways when he is here and working 20 feet away from me. It takes extreme self control to not take advantage of working together to interrupt him every time I have a question or exciting thought. Instead, I have my list and try to just interrupt him once a day... or probably twice.)

The other thing that makes me a little worried about having Jason gone while getting LASIK is that if I go blind, I won’t have had a good last long look at his face. Instead the last time I was his face was a quick goodbye at the airport. I’ll have to look at some pictures. Luckily for me, I have some experience of how it feels to suddenly go blind. I was alone in the house one night some years ago when everything suddenly went pitch black – like, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face black. So I had the logical thought, “Did I just go blind?” I was relieved a few seconds later to find that I could in fact see my phone light up when I hit the buttons, and the power had just gone out. (By the way, I am so sorry if anyone actually has experienced losing their sight or knows someone who has. The doctor also reassured me that while sight loss is a risk of LASIK, it is a very very one.)  Hopefully the surgery will be fine and this will not be the last post I can see to type, but in case it is, you know why.

All of that to say, I will be very relieved once my husband is home and LASIK is over. I’m not that thrilled about the surgery itself so have been wondering if stiff drink beforehand will help calm my nerves, but given the current suspicions about my drinking habits and the early nature of my appointment, downing anything stronger than espresso at 9 am might just make it worse.