Yes, I Can Cook

After many days, weeks, or maybe even months of pleasantly letting trivial little disagreements slide by, suddenly some little nothing seems so important that we go to great lengths to prove we’re right.
Pat and I recently had a conversation that started when a new acquaintance offered to give me a recipe even though Pat was standing right next to me.

Later, when we chuckled about how often people erroneously assume I would be more interested in a recipe than Pat, I felt the need to remind my husband that I used to feed myself quite well. The conversation went like this:

“I can cook!” said I.
“Since when?” said he.
“I used to cook all the time.”
“Honey, what you did is called warming ingredients. You can’t really cook.”

I, who take great pride in my grilled cheese masterpieces as well as my incredibly fluffy scrambled eggs, decided I was going to have to dig deep to find photographic evidence that U have more than basic warming skills.

Thankfully, the first Thanksgiving after I got my trusty old PowerShot G3 was also the first (and last) Thanksgiving we invited Pat’s family to our house and I did the cooking.

Some may argue that having to go back 9 years might seem more like evidence that you can’t cook (especially since no one came back). However, I contend that everything in that meal was delicious, from the assorted cheeses and crudités for starters to the perfectly roasted turkey, to the freshly baked pumpkin pie. Oh, wait, Pat’s mom made the pie. And probably the stuffing. Pat made the mashed potatoes. But I, and I alone, made the turkey, the gravy, the green bean casserole, the vegetables, and the sweet potatoes.


Funny thing . . . I just realized I really did just heat all the ingredients. Don’t tell Pat.

As I was looking at the photos, I recall seeing a show on photographing food. I believe it was actually a show on careers and the career was “food make up artist.”

The food make up artist demonstrated making a fast food burger look good. It was quite clever. She was required to use the same portion of food as is actually used to make the product we buy. However,she kept the burger looking huge by simply searing it just long enough to turn it brown, but not cooking away the fat, keeping it from shrinking. Then, she split it in the back so she could spread the burger out to fill out the front. By shooting at a low angle from the front, the burger not only looked bigger, but all the stuff she’d dome to make it look that way was completely out of sight.

Explains a lot about those fast food burgers.

I think my turkey might not look so appealing because it tasted good. To make it really beautiful, it would have had to have been raw inside.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Bat Cave

In my early 20’s, a co-worker invited me on a group caving trip.  In preparation, I put on approximately 7 layers of cotton.  Cotton underwear, cotton long underwear, cotton jeans, cotton shirt, cotton sweatshirt, cotton everything.

We, of course, decided to do a crawl (more like a drag–there wasn’t enough space to actually get up on your hands and knees) through a 160 foot long “tunnel.”  I was immediately behind the leader, who was wearing waterproof coveralls.

My co-worker was the last person in the group.  When we caught up in a large cavern, I was soaked through.  I said, “I thought you said it was a dry cave?”  He replied, “What are you talking about?  It was completely dry.”

This was probably true, but only because my 7 layers of cotton had absorbed every drop out of every puddle I drug my body through.  I have since read that you will actually stay warmer stark naked than you will wearing wet cotton.  I believe it.

I shivered for about 3 hours straight.  The group debated on whether to take me to the hospital, figuring I was on the verge of hypothermia.  I was OK as long as I kept shivering.  I’ve never been so cold in my life.

Since then, I haven’t been so excited about caves.  But when I learned that Outdoor Chattanooga offered a kayaking tour to a bat cave, I couldn’t resist.

We kayaked across a small section of Nickajack lake to the entrance of the bat cave.  This is not a lair for a superhero, but rather a cave occupied by approximately 80,000 gray bats.

We sat in our kayaks near the fence that keeps people from getting too close to these endangered mammals.  While we waited, we learned that the gray bat is not just important for mosquito control (one of the reasons I adore bats), but that it’s also a major pollinator.  The fact that it’s endangered has vast implications for our ecosystem.

As the sun dropped, a whir started deep within the cave.  After a while, there were so many bats flying out of the cave, it was like a blur of black motion rising from the opening and heading into the woods.

When we looked against the still-light sky, we could see hundreds of them darting around above our heads, collecting the insects around us.

It took at least 20 minutes, maybe 30, for all the bats to exit the cave.  We sat in awe, watching until our necks ached.  Then, we paddled back in the dark, each with a single light on our kayak.

As we arrived back at the launch, the crescent moon sank towards the horizon, setting very early (or late).  It loomed larger as it approached the horizon, beginning to take on a golden cast.

We sighed and said out loud what a nice way it was to spend a Saturday evening. I wasn’t wearing a single stitch of cotton.


Fourscore years ago, Rock City was created.  80 years later, in honor of their anniversary, Rock City held a naming contest for a rescued Peregrine Falcon recuperating on their property.  The winning name was Fourscore.

Fourscore was the offspring of a mom who wasn’t mature enough to take motherhood seriously.  His more mature father took over incubating the eggs and doing the feeding.  But, as the two brothers grew, the father couldn’t keep up with their eating needs without the help of the mother.

One of the chicks died before a human intervened.  The other, Fourscore, survived, but he was too weak from underfeeding to survive on his own.  Fortunately for Fourscore, his rescuer turned him over to S.O.A.R. and Rock City for rehab.

Kept safe inside a box perched high on Lookout Mountain, the little guy gained in strength until he was well prepared to fledge for real.

Pat and I were invited to Fourscore’s launch.  It meant getting up at 4:30 AM to have time to take care of the dogs before driving up to the top of Lookout Mountain, but we were game.  I, of course, packed my backpack full of camera gear.  I wanted my 100-400mm lens to get a good shot of the falcon launching, but they were opening the box at 6:00AM–the light would be low.  Since my 70-200mm lens is faster, I figured I would have a better chance of getting something usable with the extra speed than with the extra length.

As the Eastern horizon started to show the first signs of dawn, I crouched behind a shrub while John and Dale lowered the front of the box, creating a shelf that the falcon could step out on.  I sat with my face pressed against my viewfinder, resting the lens on my knee in an attempt to hold still while we waited.  Nothing happened.

John had warned us that sometimes it can take a couple of hours for a bird to fly when released after being rehabbed.  We waited.

I realized I could not possibly keep my face pressed up against my camera for two hours.  I was getting a cramp in the muscles I use to close my left eye.  I pulled back and started to relax my arms, which were also cramping.  Then I realized we’d only been waiting about 3 minutes.

This was not the first time I questioned my desire to shoot wildlife.

Then, just as I was about to stretch my wrists, there was a noise.  I got back into position as quickly as I could, but I missed.  I managed to catch a dark silhouette against the sky when Fourscore circled back around and flew for the woods.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.

We spent the next half hour with John wielding an antenna to track a radio transmitter on Fourscore.  As we were about to leave, we saw him being chased by a group of swallows.  He looked like he was having a ball.


Out with a Bang

When Riverbend ends, it doesn’t fade quietly.  Rather, a pyrotechnics display to rival some of the best 4th of July fireworks I’ve ever seen announces the close of the festival.  This massive display causes virtually every person from miles away to descend upon Chattanooga.  After all, they may charge $25 to go inside Riverbend for one evening, but the fireworks are free for all within viewing distance.

As residents of the North Shore of Chattanooga who live in a building with a roof top deck in an apartment on the 4th floor with a view of the riverfront AND who happen to be house/dog sitting for some friends who have a condo in a high rise with a club house on the 7th floor right on the riverfront, we had the unique advantage of being able to choose from a variety of great viewing locations.

However, we ended up on our own balcony.  The crowds were overwhelming on the rooftops and shared balconies.  I wanted to shoot and there was no room for a tripod in a crowd.

Since our visiting friends were staying at our place and we were staying at our neighbor friends’ place, I brought over as little as possible to enjoy the fireworks.  For me, that means my camera, one lens, and my tripod.  I decided on my 70-200mm lens having seen fireworks from our living room on many occasions.  There are fireworks most Friday nights at the baseball stadium for the Lookouts, a minor league baseball game.  Assuming that was representative of the fireworks we were about to see, I figured I needed at least 200mm to get much of a shot.

Boy was I wrong!

First of all, these fireworks were fired from this side of the river, MUCH closer than the baseball stadium.  Second, this was a massive display of fireworks!  I mean massive!  We’d heard that Riverbend was not profitable and we wondered how that could be with the entry fees they were charging.  Now we knew.  All the money that didn’t go to the bands was going to the fireworks!

What this meant for me was I couldn’t get the fireworks to fit into my frame, so I had to pick out part of the display to shoot.  I still had fun.  But, I couldn’t help remembering fireworks from my childhood.

We would take a blanket to the park for the 4th of July fireworks display.  One rocket would be fired and it would either explode into a glorious display or it would fizzle and die, a dud.  We would clap and say “Ooooh” and “Ahhh” and then, as the sparkles were fading, the next rocket would scream into the sky.  It seemed like it lasted an hour.  The whole show probably used as many rockets as we saw in 3 minutes this night.  It was incredible to watch, but sometimes I do long for simpler times.  Plus, it would be easier to figure out what to shoot.  🙂

Shots Not Fired

There are so many things to do within an hour’s drive of Chattanooga.  It’s hard to imagine ever running out of new things to show people.  However, it’s a little different when you’re thinking of things to do with children.

On day 3 of our friends’ visit, I recommended we go where there were cannons.  After all, if there was one thing that fascinated the four-year-old, it was guns.  The bigger the better.

When we arrived at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, we thought we’d hit the mother lode.  A group of people were out by a row of cannons loading them.  We were all sure we were about to witness the firing of several cannons.  I’m not sure which one of us was most excited.

Unfortunately, it was just a training session for volunteers who would be firing the cannons at a future event.  Today was not the day.

There’s nothing worse than disappointing a child.  I try so hard not to let a child hear me when I make suggestions so they don’t get their hopes up.  I don’t know why I think children shouldn’t have to deal with disappointment–maybe it’s good for them to start preparing young.  I just don’t want to be part of the preparation.

I’m sure I get this from my mother–she was always one to avoid getting our hopes up.  If she thought we might get to do something special, she kept it a secret until the last possible moment.

For example, the year they decided to take us to Disney World, they never mentioned that we might get to go because they didn’t know if there would be enough money to pay for the trip.  I don’t think my brother or I had even dared to dream about going to Disney World because it seemed so far out of reach.

Not until we opened our Christmas presents and found airplane tickets (which had to be explained to us since we’d never been on an airplane) did we have any idea our parents had even considered taking us to Disney World.  To this day, I still remember the excitement of that surprise.

I always appreciated that about them–we always knew we could trust them to deliver on their promises.  It’s something I try to emulate–especially with children.  I don’t want to be that person who gets a child all excited only to find out it’s not going to happen after all.

I felt like our visit was like that a lot for our four-year-old friend.  We didn’t go on a boat ride because the stroller wasn’t allowed on the boat.  We didn’t go on the merry-go-round because wet clothes weren’t allowed and he was wet from playing in the fountains.  And now, the cannons were not actually going to be fired.

I feel like I may be first on the list of people who will disappoint him in his life.

Food and Water

After a few hours of wandering around Chattanooga and the Tennessee Aquarium, it was time to eat.  The six of us headed towards Big River Grille and Brewery.  Although Pat and I have been there a few times, it was the first time for dinner.

The 7-month old entertained us through the whole meal.  She is one of those babies that smiles and laughs and looks amused most of the time.

The 4-year old did some interesting things with his food.  He created a whole new presentation by rolling it into balls.  Since we had just come from the aquarium, perhaps he was thinking about fish bait–he is apparently quite the fisherman.  He already knows far more than I do about fish.

After filling our bellies, we took a brief break so we could play with the dogs and the four-year old could change.  Then, we headed over to Coolidge Park to check out the water fountain.

This is a fun feature in Coolidge Park.  Large animal sculptures surround the fountains, providing nice climbing structures.  I enjoyed shooting the 4 year old at play.

I recently had a conversation with a couple of photographers about using the “aperture priority” setting.  (Aperture priority allows you to set the aperture manually and then the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed.)

Apparently, this was stressed as the setting to use all the time at a recent workshop.  I’m of the opinion that there is nothing that applies all the time, but aperture priority is nice when you’re shooting a subject that is moving quickly through different lighting situations.  However, I’ve found that shooting a subject where the background changes but the lighting on the subject doesn’t in aperture priority causes the subject to be incorrectly exposed depending on how light the scene is behind the subject.  For this reason, my default mode is manual.  If I change to aperture priority, I make a conscious decision to do so and I know why I’m doing it.

The irony of this is that I either had a mental malfunction that caused me to not check my exposure or my camera malfunctioned when it read the exposure.  Since I’ve not had this problem before or since, I’m guessing it was user error.  I ended up with about 300 shots that were either horribly over exposed or horribly under exposed.

If aperture priority were my default, I might not have gotten the depth of field I wanted, but I would have at least gotten properly exposed images.

The best default would probably be to always check my settings and my exposure before I fire off 300 shots.  🙂

I’m going to write to Canon and suggest an alarm that goes off if you start shooting without changing settings or viewing a shot.  It can be called the “Alzheimer’s Indicator.”  If it goes off more than 50% of the time, it’s time to get an evaluation.  Photography as diagnosis–who says it’s just a hobby?

Opportunistic Photography

The other day, I listened to a photographer explain how he had a vision for an image of a knight in armor on a horse in fog.  He went to great lengths to find a renaissance festival where there would be jousting.  He flew to England and shot a knight in armor on a horse.  Back home, he bought a sword and shot that.  He found a dark, foggy setting, and shot that too.  Then, he Photoshopped it all together to get the image he originally imagined.

Frankly, I’ve never had a vision of anything that would motivate me to go to that much expense to create it.  I don’t know if the image was commissioned or if this was just for fun, but I cannot imagine deciding to go to England just to get an image of a knight on a horse.

Perhaps that is why my photography is not getting significantly better.  I go out with my camera in the hope of something happening that’s interesting.  I’m an opportunist.  As such, I find myself in situations where I can’t get a good angle, the light is horrible, or it’s just too intrusive or disruptive to arrange the subject or setting.

Take our recent visit with our friends who came to see us.  We spent the second day in downtown Chattanooga.  In the first image in the gallery, I told my subjects to stand still for a second and took a shot where you can barely see them.  Why did I do this?  Because they were all standing together and I knew they wouldn’t be by the time they caught up to me.

When I showed the image to my husband, I said, “You know what would make this picture better?”  He said, “If we weren’t in it?”   That’s sad–but he’s right.

Asking people to model when their intention is to have fun seems rude.  On the other hand, sometimes people really appreciate the pictures.

However, I imagine my subjects thinking things like, “How long is this going to take?  How much longer is she going to do this?”  I also find that many people think a shot I consider barely OK is wonderful.  It’s hard to imagine asking them to pose significantly longer so I can get a really great shot when they may like my hurried version just as well.

Take the shot in the gallery with the four-year-old inside a bubble in a tank at the aquarium.  He ran in there specifically so I could get a picture.  I told him he was going to need to hold really still (slow shutter speed).  That was more than I could expect from him at that time.  So, I inconvenienced him for a blurry shot of his head.  Not exactly worth the energy for either one of us.

Perhaps I just need to figure out how to be a more artistic opportunist.