Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cosette for Xmas

Cosette decided that our Christmas tree was pretty but it seemed to be lacking presents.
We thought it would be nicer with her brother Jasper, but he was a very reluctant participant.
We will see if they return on Christmas day to offer some pet love.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving with the moms

I haven't been blogging much this past week because we have had company. Julie's mom (left) and my mom (right) both flew in last Monday and we have been pretty busy ever since.
Of course the biggest activity was Thanksgiving.  Julie put on a great meal with help from the mom's.  It is always a multi-day event in the kitchen and I just steer clear unless instructed to do otherwise.  Here was the 21 pound guest for the evening.  He was accompanied by tons of stuffing cranberry sauce, potatoes, pumpkin pie, Deer Valley carrot cake and more.  I think I ate my body weight in food.
For last year's Thanksgiving, Julie and I were going on a trip down to warm, sunny southern Utah.  We had to cancel it because of two heavy snowstorms.  With no Thanksgiving dinner planned, Loris Benson came to our rescue and had us over to join their festivities.

This year we were able to host the dinner.  On the left hand side you see Seth, Loris and Bill Benson.  Seth is their son and he recently left a big job in NYC to live the calmer, more outdoorsy life in Denver.  Thanks to Loris for a wonderful soup and veggie, filling out the menu.
Last night we trekked into Salt Lake to hit the Costco for some more Christmas lights and then to Temple Square to see what you can do with a big church, 50 bajillion lights, and three months of prep.  It was pretty spectacular.
Our timing was such that we missed the numerous choirs they had singing, but the visuals alone were worth it.  I guess I am going to have to step up my game for Christmas lights.  Are we allowed to say that any more?  Do they have to be Seasonally Adjusted Lighting?
Another day, another trip. My mom is a very avid bird watcher and has traveled the world in search of winged species.  Oddly enough, I kept seeing one right here in Salt Lake that she had never seen, the Chukar.  I've only seen it out on Antelope Island, out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.  So, we went in search of...

Finally, right before the sunset, we found a collection of the little guys.  The picture stinks, but a Chukar is a Chukar.  Add one more to moms list.
A more interesting sight along the way was the ever present Bison.  This one wandered out right in front of our car.  One year I am going to have to go photograph the annual fall Bison roundup.  They do this to keep the population from overtaking the island.
Another mammalian find was a fat, waddling little porcupine.  We got close enough to get good pictures, but not so close as to piss him/her off.  How do you tell whether a porcupine is a male or female?  I wasn't going to check.

Jasper (my dog) wanted to chase the "furry" little animal, but we left him sitting in the car.  No need for an avoidable trip to the vet.
The most interesting sighting of the day was a very long ways off, so the photos are marginal.  (I need a 500mm lens for Christmas).  We saw an animal standing out in the shallow water, stalking some ducks and geese.  It was a coyote, and we eventually saw a second one a few hundred yards away from the first. I'm not sure how they planned to sneak up on the waterfowl with nothing to hide behind, but then again, I am not a coyote.

Then we heard coyotes howling from the hillside behind us.  The ones in the water started tilting their heads and howling back in response.  Back and forth they went.  Now I am pretty sure that any duck that might have been unaware, had a good idea of who was there.
We have had lots of other adventures during the week.  Shopping on Park City's Main Street.  Dinner out at Mustang to celebrate Julie's birthday.  Hot tubbing. Long walks around town. Tonight we plan to grab a drink up at the Montage Hotel.

The only downside of the week has been the lack of snow.  Sunny is OK to a point, but let's start dumping the white stuff!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Revenge of the turkeys

After gorging on turkey, stuffing and so many other things yesterday, I had to go to CrossFit to try and burn some of it off.  Here is my scaled down workout.
  • 10 Handstand Push-ups
  • 15 Deadlifts  with 205 pounds
  • 25 Box Jumps on a 30 inch box
  • 50 Pull-ups
  • 100 Wall Balls with a 20 pound ball
  • 500 Jump Ropes
  • Run 400 meters carrying a 45 pound plate 
I think I will be hurting tomorrow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ebay? Craigslist? Gazelle? UsedCameraBuyer?

Everyone has heard about selling things through eBay or Craigslist, and many people have done so.  It can be great, but it can take a lot of time and be a big hassle.  I have had fairly expensive things, like a laptop or a camera, get "bought" by a scammer at the end of an eBay auction.  They want you to ship the equipment to some far off country, knowing that their payment is worthless.  You have to file a bunch of complaints and restart the auction.  Yuck.

Along comes an easier model.  You go to a buyer's web site, tell them what you want to sell and what condition it is in, then they give you a price.  If you are willing to take it, you ship your stuff to them and after they verify the condition, they send you the money.  Fast. Easy. Reliable.

So far I have used two of these:
  • UsedCameraBuyer was good for selling my old Nikon D200 DLSR and a lens that came with it.  They were a bit slower than I hoped though.
  • Gazelle was great for buying old phones and other electronics. When I moved to Verizon on a new iPhone 4S, that left me with an AT&T iPhone 4.  Gazelle bought it from me for $170 and paid for the shipping. In fact, if I took payment with an Amazon gift card (and I did), I got another 5%.
I was pleased with both of these services.  Has anyone out there tried others like this? Any advice of ones to try or to stay away from?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vacation in Kauai - The plants, animals and water

So, one last post from our trip to Kauai, then on to other things.

When you have a place with so much sun, rain and humidity combined with nearly perfect temperatures, stuff just grows everywhere.  Watching people work over our 10 day stay convinced me that landscaping in Kauai wasn't about making things grow.  It was about cutting back all the stuff you either didn't want, or wanted smaller.  The growing part was automatic.

This field of flowers (something like Floweris Yellowis) was natively blooming along one of our many hikes.  Keep in mind, this is in November. They were growing about 100 feet from the coastline, which is actually kind of surprising.  The normal winds bash waves into the southeast side of the island and the wind carries the spray up onto the land.  These must have tolerated, or perhaps actually enjoyed all the salt spray.
Right near our house were a few large bushes covered with red flowers.  Again, I have no clue as to what they were.
... and you had to walk a few feet down the street to mix in some yellow.  Both of these bushes were about 8 feet tall and covered with flowers, top to bottom.  I'm actually fairly sure this is a Hibiscus.
Throw in a little sunset, a wave and some palm fronds and it looks quite pretty and very Hawaiian.
We saw very few mammals around the island, mostly just dogs and cats.  The one exception (not photographed) was the humpback whale.  They come to Hawaii in the winter, but don't really start showing up until December.  We watched and watched hoping for early arrivals.  Finally, on the last day, with only a few hours before heading to the airport, Julie saw some whales from our porch.  I counted three of them. They were a good ways off, but you could see them come out of the water and blow out their spouts.

We also saw some porpoise, sea turtles, and a number of colorful reef fish the day we went snorkeling.  The birds were beautiful, especially the Tropicbirds.  (this is not my picture)
But by far and away the most common was the chicken.  Their are tens of thousands of chickens wandering around the island, and those are just the ones I saw and counted.  I am sure the true population is around a bajillion.

When hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992, it was a category 4 hurricane and it gave the island a good ass-whopping. One side effect was that lots of the chickens (some for eating, some for cockfighting) escaped their coops and became the true free range chickens.  Since, they have gone forth and multiplied.  And multiplied.  And then multiplied again.  They are everywhere, just wandering around, eating, and making more chickens.  Their only predator appears to be Americus Automoblius, which kept begging the question "why did the chicken cross the road?"
I was curious about why more locals didn't get good at catching chickens, plucking them and cooking them up.  We learned that perhaps they aren't they tastiest of poultry breeds.  It is said best in this recipe:

Kauai Wild Chicken Recipe

1 Kauai wild chicken
1 large onion
1 bunch seasoning spices of your choosing
1 large rock
Salt and pepper

Put all ingredients into a large covered pot. Simmer over a low flame for several hours. Remove the rock. Discard the chicken. Eat the rock.

I was left wondering at what population the chickens will hit some tipping point of being so large that they either suffer from some malady or just really piss of the Hawaiians.

If you follow my blog, you know I love photography and find things whose beauty just amazes me.  Waves are one of those.  This is a collection of photos that show some of the different ways you can capture the moving water.

We start with the waves crashing into the sharp black lava rock.  The contrast of the white exploding sea and dark stone is dramatic.
Same thing, different wave on a different beach.  These were shot with a fast shutter speed, around 1/500th of a second, to capture the crashing of the wave.
Now we slow things down a lot with a longer exposure, around 1/4 of a second.  The rock stays sharp, thanks to a tripod, but the waves begin to blur with their movement and time.
The sun was beginning to set but it was still much too bright for a long exposure.  To do this you need an Neutral Density filter (often written as ND filter).  This darkens the picture without effecting the color, hence "neutral".
I have one that adjusts from 2 to 8 stops of filtering.  It's fun trying to figure out what looks good.  A quarter second looked interesting but 1 or two seconds looked pretty ugly.
I found the between 4 and 6 seconds gave an entirely new look. The waves took on the appearance of fog and mist.
It's fun to get such different pictures from the same place, same rocks, same waves, same lighting, but just a few changes on your camera settings.

And we will end our Kauai trip with a very happy Julie and Steve.  A fabulous vacation that we would love to try again soon.  As always, notice how pretty Julie looks and how much like a beach bum I appear.   Aloha!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vacation in Kauai - The activities

One weird thing about blogs is that if your write about something over multiple days, people always read the last thing you wrote first.  So, to make more sense of this, you might want to start with the post below.

The one thing I would suggest to everyone visiting Kauai is a helicopter ride.  It's the only way to see vast sections of the island and you get spectacular views.  Julie and I went with Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours.  Lots of the helicopter companies use big helicopters that can seat six people plus the pilot.  That means that some people have middle seats and are struggling to see out the windows over others.  Mauna Loa offered three things:
  • Only three people, so no middle seats
  • If you booked with two people, they wouldn't bother adding a third
  • If you prefer, they leave the rear doors off.  As a photographer, you just can't beat the view with nothing but open space next to you.  If you have a fear of heights, you might want the door.
They operate out of Lihue airport and we had a great experience.  All of the photos from the trip that look like they were shot from the air, were.

Another day we hiked the Kuilau Ridge Trail.  On a dry day, it's wet.  On a wet day, it muddy.  On a rainy day, it's a sloppy, muddy stream. I am not sure they actually have dry days.  It was nice getting wander through different ecosystems, most of which looked like variations out of Jurassic Park.  Thankfully we had some spare shoes in the car.
There is a famous 11 mile trail along the Napali Coast called the Kalalua Trail.  It's very rocky with large elevation changes which make for slow going. We did the common, non-camping version, which is two miles to Hanakapia Beach, and then back.

This is Julie at one of the overlooks.
This is Ke'e Beach, which is where the trail starts.  As you can see, we have climbed quite a bit in the first half mile.  Simply gorgeous!
But it isn't all fun and games. The official beach warnings included:
  • Waves break on ledge
  • Rip currents
  • High surf
  • Sudden drop off
  • Strong current
  • Slippery rocks
That's enough to get most people's attention
The unofficial sign said "Hanakapia Beach.  Do not go near the water.  Unseen currents have killed xxx visitors",  where xxx seemed to be a very large running count.
Can't imagine why there is a problem. Just some little waves...
and the rocks they smash into.  I guess that could be a problem.

However, having done the hard two mile hike to get to the beach with the violent surf, we discovered these two locals. Both cats were fairly small and seemed quite comfortable.  We couldn't figure out how they got there, but I guess as long as there are lots of people with food, no hurricanes, and lows in the 70s, being a beach cat might be just OK. Hang loose little kitties!
Another day, another trip.  We did an 8 mile kayak journey down the south side of the island.  The ocean waves were fairly calm that day. There were five of us and a great guide (Adam).
We stopped at two beaches along the way, one for some body surfing and this one for lunch.  As you can see the beach was quite crowded.  This little protected cove had the smoothest water we saw the entire trip. I couldn't grab pictures, but we saw about a dozen Green Sea Turtles and an endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.  The turtles would float along a few feet from the kayaks until they decided we should probably be avoided. The biggest were about 3 feet across.

If you want to do a kayak or adventure trip, I would happily recommend Outfitters Kauai.  They were well organized, had great guides and equipment and for us, were located conveniently in Poipu Beach.
The big activity that unfortunately, comes with no pictures, was surfing.  We were both in the water, struggling for success, so there was simply no time to go grab a camera.  Trust me though, it was AMAZINGLY fun.  I think our biggest trip regret was not having done this sooner in the week. If we had, we definitely would have done it a few more times.

Julie and I took a class from Jamie at Kauai Surf School.  You did about 30 minutes of training on the beach before heading into the water.  We had nice big beginner boards and some fairly small waves to learn on.  The trick was to get up and ride the board all the way on to the beach and then simply step off the board.  There were lots of crashes along the way (accompanied by great laughter), but we both did some nice beach rides and we felt for a very brief moment, like surfers.

At this point the instructor left and we had another 30 minutes trying to do it on our own, which meant that you had to learn to pick your own waves and get the timing right.  This is WAY up on our priority list for a return trip.

One more post in another day or so....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vacation in Kauai - the trip

As I have blogged already, Julie and I did a 10 day trip to Kauai, the northern most island in the Hawaiian chain. It was one of the best vacations we have ever taken together.  Normally at the end of a week, we are both ready to head for home.  In Kauai, we stood around on the 10th day trying to think of some reason that we could stay.

We rented a house off VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner). It was a fantastic find. It was a two bedroom house, ocean front, in Poipu Beach on the south side of the island.  You can see it's location here.
The real prize was the porch that ran across the back of the house.  There was also a small lawn with some lounge chairs for sunning.

We knew the house was special when this was our view from the porch the first afternoon. It was clearly a sign of a good vacation.  We had some shower the first few days and there seems to be some magic about rainbows in Kauai.  They seemed to be everywhere you looked.
We somehow managed to find ourselves sitting on the porch with a glass of wine ten evenings in a row. Highs of 80 and lows of 70 every day, makes for some good porch sitting.
If the sunset wasn't enough, throw in a catamaran.
...or a surfer.  There were some surfers who came every evening, probably from work, and surfed until the last of the light disappeared.
The incredible thing was that this house cost us about the same as we would have paid for a room at the Grand Hyatt that overlooked the parking lot.  An ocean view hotel room would cost about three times as much as our house. Yeah VRBO!

Now lets take a look around the island.  If you haven't been to Kauai, it is one of the most spectacular places on the planet.  Beaches, mountains, jungle, reefs, bays, a dry side, and the rainiest spot on earth. 

This is the Waimea Canyon.  It's 10 miles long, one mile wide, and 3500 feet deep.  Not quite the Grand Canyon but very impressive.
This is the north coast, up at Hanalei Bay.  Long sandy beaches offer good surfing and snorkeling.  The mountains just shoot up from the coast.
And this leads along the north side to the Napali Coast.  The only way to travel this coast is by hiking trail or boat.  The mountains are way to steep for a road.
You get some perspective of the heights when you notice the tiny white dot, which is actually a large sailboat.

The Alakai swamp is the wettest place on earth.  They get about 300 inches of rain per year. The humid air comes rolling across the Pacific, hit the 5,000 mountains, and dumps all the moisture. This results in nonstop cloud cover at the peaks.
And all that moisture results in forests and jungles that seem to have more shades of green than you could name.
And there are waterfalls everywhere.  Little ones. Wide ones. Some that are 3,000 feet tall.  Most are back in the mountains where there are no houses, but this one had a house right at the top.  I wonder if they can see any of it.

I'll put some more things out tomorrow.  Just too much for one post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time to head home

It's very sad but we have to head home tomorrow evening on the red eye.  Our vacation has been about as perfect as you could ask for.  Today was a gorgeous 8 mile kayak along the southern coast of Kauai, hanging out on some beautiful beaches as we traveled along.

This is last night's view from our porch.  If you look on the right side, you can see one of the surfers who comes out every evening, probably after work.
I may have mentioned this before, but Kauai definitely does not suck.