Category Archives: holidays

photographing fireworks (friday foto finder: fireworks)

In the US, the 4th of July (aka Independence Day) is traditionally celebrated with (among other things¹) displays of fireworks. We took the kids to see some fireworks a couple of years ago at a nearby town, and this year we went to a school field at a different nearby town. (Our own town doesn’t host any such displays.) Both times, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture the fireworks in photos. I’ve learned a bit more about how to use my camera² in the past 2 years, so I think I had a higher success to failure ratio this time around. (So funny to realize that July of 2010 was before I embarked on my daily photography adventure for project 365.)

As best I can tell, it helps to have a camera that you can set to full manual mode: you’ll want to set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO levels, and also not try to rely on auto focus. (Things typically move too fast with fireworks for my camera to find a focus on its own.) I played around quite a bit with the settings, and took probably well over a hundred photos, to get some shots that I liked. (Two of the great things about digital photography are the cheapness of taking so many exposures, and the near-live feedback about how your photos have worked out, letting you make adjustments accordingly.)

Here are a few of my favorite shots.

A big poof of red, with white and blue accents. (This was taken with my telephoto lens, zoomed to 45 mm: aperture f/4, iso 1400, shutter speed 1/50.)

Next I switched over to my 20 mm fixed-length lens, which can open to a really wide aperture. It looks like I stuck around an aperture of f/1.8, set the iso down to 400, and then a shutter speed of 1/10 (a tenth of a second).

This is one of my favorites, as it reminds me of a dandelion gone to seed.

This was taken at a lower shutter speed (1/2, or a half second), and the added blur gave the effect of shards of ice crystals.

This was another slow one, and it reminds me of ribbon.

This upward-dripping effect may have been due to me playing around with moving the camera as I took the shot. (I do remember intentionally moving the camera for some shots, but don’t remember whether this was one of them. It’s also possible that somebody bumped me. Or maybe I sneezed.)

Many of the colors didn’t come out for me, except when a single color dominated. I liked the way this one, while sparse as the blooms went, showed a wide range of intense colors.

I love all the shapes formed by the puffs of smoke in this one. I see butterflies and flowers and ducks. Also a few blobs of oatmeal.

Here’s an early one from the show, where I was still trying to work out the focus. Clearly, I missed, but I like the result anyhow.

Theo was quite scared by the fireworks 2 years ago, or at least by the loud noises. (He did like the pretty lights.) This year, he only half-heartedly covered his ears. Phoebe was fully entranced. (Here I had to crank the ISO way up to 1600 to see anything. The red glow is likely from some red fireworks–the only light I had in this shot.)

I have a few more shots in the slideshow below in case you are compelled to see more. Click on the photos above to see them bigger.

And in case you are wondering why I’m now posting 6-month old photos, it’s to participate in …um… last week’s³ friday foto finder with the theme of “fireworks.” (The photos would have been exactly 6 months old if I’d managed to post on Friday!)

To see what fireworks people were celebrating, go check out the friday foto finder blog. And if you’d like to participate this Friday, the theme will chocolate.

¹ Also hot dogs, potato salad and flag-waving.
² An Olympus Pen E-P1, which I have been known to refer to as “my epi-pen.”
³ It was a hectic week, and the last few days were a crunch of presentation preparation followed by a bit of conference attending. This time without traveling.

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Tidings of comfort and joy.

For the past several years, Neil of Citizen of the Month has put together a remarkable online concert to celebrate the many and varied holidays of the winter season, and he has graciously hosted once more. Please go check out the amazing musical and photographic stylings on exhibit at The Seventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert. As always, the entries are varied and wondrous.

I didn’t manage to get my act together this round, for a variety of reasons, but I hope to again next year. You can find me and my voice in several of the past concerts, but I’m too lazy to see which. Last year was one.

I have been in a dark place since Friday, but I’m not yet ready to share those thoughts. Too many thoughts. I wrote something on Monday, but it is still too raw to post. In the meantime, I have taken comfort in many things, including music. Most of all, I take comfort in having my little ones with me and holding them close.

May they remember only joy this holiday season.

Happy Turkey Day

Here are some happy turkeys.

Here in New England, it is not uncommon to come across roving flocks of wild turkeys. I came across these guys a couple years ago while heading to a nearby farm to buy some eggs. (Chicken eggs, mind you.) They were in the long winding driveway, and as I drove up, they just kept running ahead, seemingly reluctant to spend the extra energy to get over the towering snowbanks. (That was the winter of Too Much Winter.) All the way at the top of the hill, they figured I was in it for the long chase, and took flight.

a little batty

A couple months back, Phoebe and I discussed what she wanted to be for Halloween this year. I was determined that we’d get things worked out well in advance, and that I wouldn’t turn into a costume-crazed working on things last-minute. (Not that anything like that would ever happen. Nope.)

Anyhow, Phoebe said she wanted to be a bat, a plan both John and I heartily endorsed. She also wanted to make her costume, and I figured we could swing it.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by a fabric store to get some black cloth. The store also had a selection of costumes, including, as it turned out, a bat costume: a black cape with a zig-zag bottom, and a hood with ears. It beckoned. (It was, after all, a finished costume. Also 60% off, as it was getting close to Halloween.) I was so very tempted. (Last year, Phoebe wanted to design her own witch costume. But when I found a finished witch costume in the second hand store, complete with sparkly, fluffy embellishments, Phoebe was more than happy to give up her own design plans.)

I eyed that finished bat costume, hanging there in all its $5.99-sale-price polyester glory.

And I moved on.

After all, making such a thing from fleece would be a snap. Possibly a stitch or two needed here and there, but no major sewing or engineering.

Come last week, we still hadn’t found a chance to work on it. Our schedule is rather packed what with school, work and after-school activities. But there was a Halloween party coming up on Friday, and a Halloween-themed birthday party on Saturday, so on Thursday night, it was well time to tackle the bat.

I got out the fabric, held it up to Phoebe, and described what I imagined: wings draping down from her arms, much like a cape. Phoebe was not happy. This wasn’t what she imagined. After various rounds of her trying to explain what she wanted, and even a trial version of making a mini bat costume for a doll with some stapled rags, I finally got Phoebe to draw for me how she envisioned the wings. Here’s what she drew:

Not draped. She wanted her arm to go through some straps on a wing shape, which would extend up above the arm.

There was much back and forth that followed, with me saying we couldn’t do it with fleece, at least not without something stiff to hold the shape. She wanted to make something much more complicated than I felt was necessary. (I have no idea where she gets this. No idea.)

Happily, I remembered that I had some bits of upholstery foam left from when I made a spider costume back before Phoebe was born. More remarkably, I was able to find them.

The result was that I managed to make something that was in between our two original visions, with the wings extending up over her arms, and then with the fleece draping down behind.

Wings down.

Wings extended.

The ears are just cat ears, but they worked well enough for a bat. The rest of the costume is just various articles of black clothing she had.

Here is Phoebe swinging at her friend’s party on Saturday. (I don’t know how I managed to get photos with just Phoebe, as it seemed like the swingset was swarming with costumed first-graders.) The foam and fleece combination was flexible enough that she could still easily play in her costume.

This photo shows a bit of the foam peaking through. I had it sandwiched between layers of fleece. If I’d had more time, I probably would have fixed this. But it only showed when her arms were in certain positions.

You can’t see the costume especially well here, but Phoebe is so dang cute. This was during the parade at her school gym Halloween morning. Wow, that was only yestereday. It’s been a crazy stretch.

So, there it is. The bat costume that was going to be simple, but ended up more complicated than expected. (Yes, I should have expected that.)

our pumpkins

Happy Halloween!

As I’ve said before, I love Halloween. It is quite possibly my favorite holiday. I wish I’d had time to post more Halloween-themed things, but so be it. But here, at least, are a few photos featuring our pumpkins. (Carving pumpkins early in the evening on Halloween seems to have become a household tradition. )

Theo drawing a the face for his jack-o-lantern.

Phoebe at work.

Two finished pumpkins.

4 finished pumpkins.

In other news, we came through the storm almost entirely unscathed. (Sorry if I left anyone worried or wondering. Parts of New England were indeed hit hard by Sandy, but we live quite far inland, so we got off easy.)

In other other news, I have once more committed to daily blogging for the month of November. So you will be hearing more from me soon.

Ce matin, un lapin…

This morning, as I went about my business, which included doing tasks which I shamelessly attributed to an imaginary rabbit, a song popped into my head that I remembered from when I was little. “Ce matin, un lapin…”

I don’t know when the last time I thought of this song was, but there is a good chance it’s been many a year. For one thing, I don’t think I ever googled it before, so that may be an indication.

Back in 1980, I moved to France (along with my mother and sister). My sister and I went to an international school outside of Paris. We weren’t exposed to a huge amount of contemporary popular French culture, as we didn’t have a TV, and went to a school with primarily non-French students. However, at some point in the year, I went on a trip with my class into the French Alps. I don’t remember how long of a trip it was (2 weeks, maybe?), but there was a bit more cultural immersion, staying in a dorm run by French employees. There was certainly more music played than was typical of our regular school. I’m pretty sure this was when I would have heard the song, because those are the memories it triggered.

It probably shouldn’t surprise me that I remembered the lyrics a little wrong, or perhaps that I’d misheard them in the first place. (I was 9, and not a native speaker of French, and I don’t remember how often I would have heard the recorded version of the song, and how often I would have heard it sung by other kids.)

I’d thought it went:
Ce matin, un lapin. Ou tu es un chasseur. Ou tu es un lapin qui avait un fusil.
(“This morning, a rabbit, or you are a hunter. Or you are a rabbit who had a gun.”)

I think 9-year-old me interpreted the song to mean something rather philosophical, and somewhat twisted, along the lines of: “Today, will you be the rabbit, or the hunter? Or will you be a rabbit with a gun?” The tenses don’t really make sense for my interpretation, though.

It turns out the song was much more literal:

Ce matin un lapin a tué un chasseur.
C’était un lapin qui avait un fusil.

“This morning a rabbit killed a hunter. It was a rabbit who had a gun.”

Yes, a perky little kids’ song about a homicidal rabbit.

Happy Easter!

When red + white = blue. (Experiments using red cabbage to dye eggs blue)

+ =

A couple of years ago, I learned that it was possible to dye eggs blue using red cabbage.¹ Typically, we have used a variety of artificial coloring options for our egg-dying needs, whether liquid food coloring or the store-bought Paas-type kits. Last year I was determined to try my hand at doing some natural dyes with vegetables. In the end, I gave up on my plans for using onion skins or artichokes. (The water from steaming artichokes is often an intense bright blue-green, but not from the particular ones I made that day). But I followed through with the cabbage.

I had forgotten how long it took to dye the eggs, but looking back at the photos, I see that it did indeed take a lot longer than the food coloring. So be warned: The eggs took a good couple of hours of soaking to get blue.

I started by cutting up some red cabbage and boiling it in some water.²

The resulting juice was quite purple, and I was doubtful that it would produce blue. It was, however, quite pretty. (6:18 p.m.)

We dunked the first egg and let it soak. 16 minutes later, a peek showed the egg looking somewhat lilac-colored. (6:34 p.m.)

At some point, I added a bit of vinegar to the cabbage juice, inspired by the instructions for dying eggs on the box of food coloring. The purple cabbage juice turned even redder, which made me even more doubtful of achieving blueness. So I poured some more cabbage juice into another glass to have one without vinegar, and dunked another egg to soak.

Here we are, almost an hour after first dunk. Getting to be the kids’ bedtime. Time to break out the chemicals. Here’s Phoebe, squeezing out some blue food coloring. (7:22 p.m.)

I don’t have a time for when the first egg (from the vinegar mixture) came out, but it did indeed come out blue eventually. Having read up a bit on red cabbage (as one is wont to do), I had learned that red cabbage juice changes color based on pH levels. Acid leads to redder colors, and adding something alkaline, and raising the pH, should make it bluer. I then tried adding baking soda to the cabbage juice with the vinegar. The change was instant and dramatic, turning from red to greenish blue.

Here we are, hours after the first dunk. (11:27 p.m.) The two glasses show “neutral” cabbage juice (left), and alkaline cabbage juice (right). In the background are the rest of the completed eggs, mostly dyed with food coloring. (I think the first cabbage dyed one is there in the photo, too. Second row, left, behind a yellow egg.)

Here are the chemically-dyed (top) and cabbagely-dyed (bottom) blue eggs arranged together. The lighter-colored leftmost cabbage-dyed egg is the one from the baking soda solution. (Blotchiness is due to condensation that happened from putting the previously-refrigerated eggs outside for the egg hunt.)

3 of one, a half half dozen of the other.

In the process, I realized why it is that it helps to add vinegar to dye eggs. Egg shells are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is commonly used to neutralize acidity and raise the pH level: it is the main ingredient of antacids such as Tums, as well as agricultural lime. Acids can dissolve calcium carbonate. I’m guessing that adding vinegar starts to break down the egg shell, allowing the color to permeate and bond more quickly to the shell.

This would explain why the redder cabbage juice with added acidity led to a bluer shell (or got there faster) than the bluer-appearing cabbage juice with baking soda added.

Future study:
This year, I’m hoping to try the cabbage dye again, and also to experiment with beets, carrots, berries, and turmeric. I also may play around with acidity levels of the dye solutions again, as well as using brown eggs in addition to white. I wonder if pre-soaking an egg in vinegar would make it more permeable to dyes. (Did you know that you can dissolve the shell off an egg with vinegar? That’s another science experiment for us to do.)

Can you tell I’ve been wrapped up in academic writing? I need to get to bed.³

More resources on using natural food dyes for eggs can be found at various places around the web:
Natural Easter Egg Dyes on, Making natural Easter egg dye, Three ways to dye eggs, Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Here are all of the photos from above, plus a few more.

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¹ I think it was from NotSoSage, who sadly, has purged her blog archives. I’m pretty sure she also made red/purple eggs using red onion skins.
² That’s not entirely true, I started by buying a red cabbage. And there were steps leading up to that as well. I had to get up in the morning, for example. Sometimes that is the hardest step.
³ Seriously, I need to get to bed.

tine’s happy day valen

Theo wishes you a tine’s happy day valen.

Phoebe wishes you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

As for me, I haven’t made any valentines yet this year, and certainly nothing to top last year’s paper heart. I do feel I deserve credit, though, for overseeing and assisting Phoebe with the production of over 40 valentines. (Over twice as many as last year.) This year we started with some pre-made blank cards, and had a bit of assistance from from stamps and stickers (thanks to the resourcefulness of a neighbor/friend), which greatly sped up the process. (Especially after Phoebe spent several hours on the first 10 or so cards, and realized that she had to make at least a couple dozen more. She already complains about not having enough hours in the day.) I feel especially pleased with myself that I was able to rein in my control freak tendencies, and let Phoebe do her thing with minimal interference, such that she had (mostly) complete control over the art direction.

And if you don’t mind stale candy hearts, please revisit my Valentine’s Day treats from previous years: (Click the images to see the posts.)
I give a rat's ass for you

biteme-yellow.jpg blahblah.jpg oh_crap.jpg wtf.jpg

scone heart figure12.png

Want to make your own candy hearts? Visit the ACME Heart Maker.

Enter the Dragonfruit

On my trip to Hong Kong last August, the morning of the start of the conference, a group of attendees and I arrived at the conference venue in search of breakfast. Winding up in a little cafe in the sprawling convention center, we purchased a variety of baked goods and hot beverages. A colleague of mine also bought a container of mixed fruit slices. Mingled among the identifiable slices of melon and pineapple were a couple of rectangular white slabs, speckled throughout with little black dots. My colleague was kind enough to share her fruit, doling out slivers of the mysterious thing to the half dozen of us sharing the table. I had a little nibble, and found it to be pleasant: quite soft, a bit like a cross between a cantelope and a watermelon in texture, and with a bit of crunch from the seeds. Perhaps it was the presence seeds, but the taste reminded me a bit of kiwi, but much milder. Someone at the table was able to suggest that the fruit was a dragonfruit. I had no idea what such a thing was, or would look like outside of a container of mixed fruit slices. (But I did have a strong suspicion that it didn’t grow in rectangular slabs.)

A couple of days later found me on a fairly cringeworthy bus tour, which in retrospect did get me some good photos and a few stories to tell. It also landed me in front of a fruit stall, where (among other fruit options) there was a big stack of brightly colored dragonfruits (identified to me by my tour companion). I bought one.

While I intended to eat it, I admired it primarily for its looks. Here are a couple of photos of it as it posed while waiting for the cringeworthy bus. (Actually the tour bus wasn’t the problem. The tour guide was.)

It wasn’t until a couple more days had passed that I had a chance to try it. Here it is, back in my hotel room, sitting on a hotel towel. In spite of its resemblance to dragon scales, I found that the skin to be surprisingly easy to cut with the dull standard plastic knife I had.

It sliced up easily, revealing the the flesh inside with its speckling of black seeds. (I hadn’t been sure yet whether I’d gotten the same kind, as there is also a variety with red flesh inside, and a similar-looking outside.)

I seem to recall that the skin slipped off the fruit easily, but I have no supporting photographic evidence. I didn’t eat the skin, in any case. (I don’t actually know whether one can or should, but I have the impression that people don’t.)

(Sadly, this particular dragonfruit was more photogenic than it was tasty. It didn’t have even the hint of the kiwi-like tartness of the earlier fruit I’d sampled. In fact, it didn’t have much flavor at all.)

More dragon things to come…