Spring Planting and a Photography Assignment

It has been quite awhile since I posted in this category. The biggest stumbling block has been our erratic weather that is the norm this time of year. If we manage to get a day without rain I have to choose between running and yard work, often running wins that debate. But, lately we have managed to eek out a few days with not just dry weather, but some sun to go along with it! Spring is slowly trying to make its way into the Pacific Northwest, so I have finally been able to weed, clean and plant in the yard.

This time last year I custom built planter boxes for our fence line. I described how I made them from small palettes in a previous post, these were stored under our house during the winter.  Now it was time to pull them out, check for damages and fill them up!


The repairs were minor for the most part, a few staples and some cleaning were all that was required. I am fortunate enough to live near some beautiful nurseries, one of which is Flower World in nearby Snohomish County. The selection is enormous and the prices are really good, compared to other nurseries in this area. Which is really important because I need 72 plants to fill these four containers! I also have several large pots that require several annuals each-you can see how the price tag goes up really fast! You can see one of those pots on my home page. So, Flower World was my first stop.

flower world

This would be enough for a great start!

When it comes to organizing the plants I have to really pay attention to the height the plants will be in a few months. I try to put the tallest along the top rows, middle and low growers on the second and bottom tier, and some trailing varieties in the corners of the lowest portion. Of course, I try to mix up the colors, but that doesn’t always go as planned.

I started by lining them all up and sorting into height categories, then figured out how to divide the colors among the four planters.

I plant them at the fence, so that they can be lifted into place as they get fairly heavy when full of plants, soil and water.








Everyone is fairly small now but in a few months the boxes will be full and, hopefully, colorful.

So, what about that photography assignment? Well, I have been taking a digital photography class at a nearby college, in their continuing education program. It is 7 weeks and we have completed the third class now. We have had a number of assignments designed to help us learn the various functions of our cameras, I am really learning a lot! One of the biggest lessons for me is how to use the aperture priority function for more control over my compositions. Another big help has been the white balance function, which is usually set on cloudy around here! Our instructor assigned us the task of taking 15 photos of our backyard, and has challenged us to take a different perspective. So, I decided to photograph the fence line where these planters are mounted. Sort of a “squirrel’s view” of the fence when they run along the top, which they do often!




In a few weeks I am heading to the Washington coast to take some landscape shots, complete with tripod. This should be interesting!

Food Photography: An online course from Craftsy


At the beginning of the year I stated that I wanted to improve my photography skills, meaning I wanted to actually have some! I began to use my extremely old digital camera instead of my cell phone camera and signed up for Blogging University, which was offered through WordPress. The assignments were great for me as they got me thinking more about framing my shots and photographic composition in general. Since the class was through WordPress it also acted as a guide and informed me about some of the features supported by this platform. In short, I learned quite a bit about the operation of my camera and the (very) basics of photo editing. My husband then surprised my with a new Canon DSLR camera for Valentine’s Day. Now there is so much more to learn!

My new camera has infinitely more ability and intricacies. I have been using it on our travels and have seen a huge improvement in my photography, in general. My posts about the Hearst castle and the Botanical Garden in Arizona are some examples from my new camera.  I love the quality of the pictures but am now more aware of my lack of knowledge about photography as a whole. So, to start my new, much longer and steeper learning curve off right, I decided to take more classes. I have identified two major issues for myself. The first is understanding the camera’s features and using the ISO, F -stop and manual focus abilities correctly. I feel that I need an actual hands on class with an expert for the proper instruction, so I have enrolled in a digital photography class which will begin next month. The second concern which I would like to improve upon is in the specific context of food photography. Craftsy.com is a great resource for recipes, online shopping and online classes. I have purchased several of their courses in the past and have always been happy with the information they have provided. The specific class I viewed this time was Food Photography, from plate to photo with Andrew Scrivani. There were seven lessons each focusing on a different aspect from how the camera functions, to lighting, and finally food styling.

Lighting is a tough tackle for me. My kitchen is beautiful and I wouldn’t change a thing but  there are overhead, strong lights and the granite counters are shinny, as are the stainless steel appliances. There are a lot of reflective surfaces that do not lend themselves to great pictures, so I made a few purchases to help redirect the light. The instructor advised using a black background to absorb light and white, or silver surfaces to remove shadows, or create ones where they are needed. I also purchased a light diffuser to help with the direct, east facing daylight that enters from the right of the photo below.


I also bought a few clamps to hold up the boards


When it came to the food styling portion of the class, I found that there were many ideas that I could incorporate in my “emerging” style. I really liked Scrivani’s style as well and found that I was drawn to many of the natural elements he presented. My current collection though is too shiny or reflective for the camera, so I took inventory and bought a few items as well.


I like these fabrics and hope they will keep the shin down on my counters. The wood palettes are in keeping with my other natural elements

I then turned my eye to plates, glasses and any other items I thought I might want to incorporate in the future.


I was trying to get a mix of colors, but remain in the muted tones. The glasses I found at Value Village and remind me of the ones my grandmother had when I was young.

I tried to take a couple different angles, to see how the light played off of all the pieces.


3/4 light from the right side


This is the top view with the light perpendicular from the right.

Overall, I am please with these pieces and found the information from the Craftsy class extremely helpful. Tomorrow I will see how it all fits together with an actual recipe. I will be making the cinnamon roll cookies from Sally’s bake along challenge, wish me luck!

Botany and Brunch in Phoenix!

I have mentioned before that we lived in the high desert for six years in Southern California. We were incredibly busy during that time and I really didn’t have the luxury of wandering the desert and looking at the flora or fauna. Now that the kids are grown and on their own we decided to revisit the desert through calmer, more leisurely eyes. We went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Arizona yesterday. I wasn’t sure what would be worth seeing since it is winter, but there were plenty of blooms and impressive succulents to make the trip a success. There is no way to capture the entirety of the ecosystem that would do it justice, so I tried to focus on plants that are unique or dramatic in some way.  And, no I don’t know the names of any of them! I am a molecular biologist not a botanist. I can extract their DNA but that is the extent of my plant based knowledge.

The park is divided into 5 distinct loops, or trails and each has a main theme. Desert plants found around the world, those that are used for food or medicine, ideas for succulents in your landscaping at home, desert wildflowers and a vista loop with uniques perspectives and views.  I guess I will just jump in!





















There were several sculptures and water features in the various gardens as well.











This sun dial was on time












These seed pods were horseshoe shaped















Remember when I mentioned fauna?


This bird appeared to be nesting on the ground. You cannot see from this angle, but its wings were spread out as if it was roosting.


We were told that some birds will hollow out a portion of the larger cacti to nest in or for protection.


Do you see both birds?

Remember when I mentioned the trail with the great views?






We were finally done and on our way out of the gardens when a couple other interesting sites popped up!


Touch down, Seahawks!




These last two pictures are of Dale Chihuly Glass sculptures that mark the entrance/exit to the park-just beautiful!


We spent a couple hours hiking around the park and we were good and hungry. We headed over to the Biltmore Resort for Sunday Brunch, which was being served in their Wright’s Restaurant.img_0509

This was quite the spread! Included in the price of the brunch was this all you can eat buffet that included the mussels, shrimp, crab claws, smoked salmon and capers that you see above. What you do not see is the rest of the cold buffet and the dessert bar, both of which were extensive! Additionally there were hot items made to order (also included in the cost of the brunch). I chose the chipotle maple glazed pork with farrow, golden raisins, grilled broccolini and sunny side up egg.


As good as this was, it was nothing compared to my second choice! Blue corn pancakes with jalapeño, lime and mexican creme. Beyond delicious!


Another amazing taste was from the cold buffet. I had a smoked salmon bowl, with pickled vegetables, mandarin orange and salmon roe.


Of course I had to leave some room for dessert. There were many great options but I took only two small bites to sample. A salted caramel cheesecake and the raspberry chocolate macaron, and coffee of course!


Both desserts were outstanding! Now that we were replenished from our morning, my husband and I set out to check out the Biltmore Resort grounds.




The resort had an 18 hole putting course that we had fun practicing on. I didn’t too bad that day!


We could have played a game of chess on this giant outdoor chess board, but golf was our first choice.

Then we saw the pool! This is hard to forget-just stunning and so inviting!





We finally wrapped up a very busy and incredibly fun day! If you are in Phoenix you are going to want to hit up the Desert Botanical Gardens and Wright’s Restaurant at the Arizona Biltmore Resort!

A few last beautiful images!





Blogging University, Late Assignments!

Ok, so I have been a bad student, which is quite embarrassing for someone who has been teaching for 20+ years! I will now play the role of many of my former students and offer the following lame excuses. I have been focusing on exercise and spending a lot of time in the rock climbing gym and yoga studio, my son had two of his wisdom teeth removed which took a little time, my daughter took the GRE on Friday and we went to celebrate the good returns, and I attended a women’s workshop with a friend and learned some great new tips for blogging. All excuses are valid and true so now I need to catch up!

I am double dipping on some of these shots as they fit a couple different assignment criteria. The first missed assignment was titled “Bliss”, but did not specify who’s bliss was to be recorded. I went with our cat Monti who’s entire life appears to be one big vacation!



See what I mean? Life’s rough! This is just one of her favorite nap sites in the house.

The next assignment was to interpret the theme of “connections”. I grabbed my camera and a lot of layers, since it was 26°F, and headed to one of my favorite running paths.

Bridges are a symbol of connecting and these two are ones I pass as I am running along the slough. I also feel connected to nature in this area, even when it is cold and most intelligent life forms are looking for shelter.


This picture reflects the cold, barren feeling of the day


But I was not alone for long-these ducks are accustomed to humans feeding them at all times of the day and came running! 

This is where I start cheating (sort of). One assignment challenged us to zoom in on subjects to work on close ups, and the ducks where cooperative that day so I took a number of different shots for this purpose while I was documenting connections.


Not too far from this area is a small park with several sculptures. I decided to try my luck with the assignment that covered perspective and the concept of “point of view”. I am short so I often feel like I am looking up at everything. So, I began experimenting with upward angle shots.


This is a large glass sculpture outside of our city hall building


This view is from beneath one of the spires


A close up shot of one of the segments of the sculpture with the building in the background


The view from beneath that same segment

Just to the left of the city hall building is a smaller sculpture and I lay down on the very cold ground (people walking their dogs must have thought I was crazy) to take these images.


 A tree branch against the winter sky


The view through this cylindrical sculpture

Now that stage two hypothermia had set in I decided to head home and warm up! The next morning I was up early and saw the moon setting over our neighborhood. I used this opportunity to take a photo of something “big” and “lonely” which both define the  moon.


So now I am only a couple days behind with this course! More pictures to post soon and the final wrap up of the class.

Blogging University, Day 3

Today’s assignment is “water” and our interpretation of how water has inspired us. We had our back yard redone two seasons ago and we have had some mild winters in the last couple years. That is not the case this year! It has been cold, very cold. I went out to check on our fountain and was shocked to see the ice build up. I chose this water feature as my inspiration for my assignment. Take a look!


This is the establishing shot


moving in a little closer and you can get a feel for the thickness of the ice on the front ledge


These icicles almost touch the water!


Just about every surface has icicles


This angle is looking straight down from the top of the falling water, look how thick the ice is on the front ledge


The icicles on the adjacent side are also close to the surface of the water


This is my favorite shot, look how clear this cold Pacific Northwest water is!

Thanks for visiting! I look forward to tomorrow’s assignment.

Blogging University, Day 2

Today’s assignment was titled: “Street”. The goal was to practice taking wide angle, establishing shots, in an attempt to set a scene. We were encouraged to wander around, take photos from different angles. We were also reminded that we may have to climb some stairs to get a better view. I decided my “street” would be my climbing gym, that way I could combine my workout with my photography assignment. It turns out that it is quite difficult to take pictures while I am climbing or belaying my daughter, so only half were useable!



These three shots were taken from the top of adjacent walls, approximately 30 feet high. I climbed to the top and my daughter, who was belaying, suspended me while I took the pictures.



For these images I lay on the ground and angled the camera upward.

It was fun to climb and photograph the gym, and I did learn about a few new features on my camera. Hopefully, I will do better on the next assignment. I did get three projects done, two of which were lead climbing!

Blogging University, Day 1

I am working on my photography! God knows I need it! The first assignment is “home” and what that may mean to me.  I took the literal interpretation and went outside to the curb and took a couple shots on my iphone6s. We do have a small digital camera that needs to be charged tonight, so I will start experimenting with it tomorrow. For these shots I used the brighten feature to make the light better, but I did not choose a filter. Please let me know how they can be improved! I want all feed back! Thanks.