Friday, February 18, 2011

My Alma Mater, William & Mary

Even though I've been meaning to, I haven't done a Show Us Your Life post in awhile.  But when I read that this week's topic was alma maters, I got very excited, because I LOVE William & Mary and am so proud of my school.  (I wrote most of this back in 2009, so for some of you, a little of it might be familiar.)

See that cannon in the lower left hand corner of the picture?

 That's me on that cannon!  Now where else can you do that?

The Princeton Review once said of William and Mary, my alma mater, that it's "where fun goes to die." And I don't know why, but for some reason that makes me really proud!  With the exception of Spencer, graduating from W&M is my most proud accomplishment.  I can't promise what I'm about to write next is true because I don't remember, but my mom promises that I called her crying the first week of school telling her that I wasn't smart enough to be there and that they must have made a mistake when they let me in.  Chances are, I just blocked that memory clear on out of my head! 

Kappas on Graduation Day 2004

Just received my Diploma, which was written entirely in Latin!  

William and Mary diplomas are written in Latin because we are BIG on tradition and that's how it was done back in 1693.  In the Colonial days of yore, English was still considered "vulgar" and "common;" Latin was the language of the scholars.  It all goes back to the real days of Roman yore, when Latin was the language that united all the learned folk throughout Europe.  Diplomas were written in Latin, the common language of all the educated elite,  as a means of ensuring that your qualified status would be recognized no matter where you were.  

Here are a few fast W&M facts:
  • Founded in 1693, it's the Nation's 2nd oldest University
  • Located in historic Williamsburg, VA
  • Ranked #31out of all the colleges and universities, public and private
  • Ranked #3 out all public colleges and universities
  • Ranked #1 in Best Value Colleges
  • Ranked #1 for Best Small Colleges and Universities
  • Ranked #4 for Top Public Colleges
  • Ranked #5 in Best Undergraduate Teaching- ahead of Yale and Brown
  • The average GPA of an accepted applicant is 4.0
  • The average SAT 25%-75% score is 1350-1450
  • The average Writing SAT score is 620-710
  • They accept only 30% of all their applicants
  • Home of the first Honor Code- and let me tell you, it's strict!
  • Undergraduate Enrollment is 5,850
  • Average GPA of a graduating senior- 2.7 (mine was 3.2)
  • Founder of the first Honors Society, Phi Beta Kappa
  • Madeleine Albright said the International Studies Department was "perhaps the finest in the nation."
  • Famous Graduates include, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Tyler, Henry Clay, John Marshall, John Stewart, Glenn Close, Mike Tomlin, Bill Lawrence (Scrubs creator and writer), Perry Ellis, Robert Gates, Wand Michael K. Powell

W&M gets a lot of flack for having geeky students who spend Friday nights in the library. And while I spent many a Friday night studying, I also had the best college experience I could've ever hoped to have. I made the best friends, both from my freshman hall and my sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. I learned so much while being there and I got to meet (meaning I spoke to them and they spoke back to me) fascinating people, including Henry Kissenger and Margaret Thatcher. 

Statue of Lord Botetourt. You always rub his shoe before a big test or final.

It's hard to believe I graduated in 2004- that just seems so long ago!  My years at W&M were some of the best ones of my life and I'm really hoping Spencer wants to go there so I can relive it all vicariously through her, haha!

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Photography Hints, Tips, Suggestions & Rules Part II

The Editing

Over the course of the last four years, I have made many, many, many photo editing errors.  I think when every person is first learning how to use Photoshop, they have tendency to be a little heavy handed in their editing- especially in the over-saturation department.  As I've learned more about actual photography, I've relied less and less on post-processing work.  When you are taking a picture, you should act as if you can't do any post editing.   If you're thinking that you can always go and fix something later, you won't take take the best possible picture.  But, almost all pictures can benefit from a little post processing work and I now have a few rules that I always use when I'm editing a picture.

First thing- you don't need Lightroom or ACR, but it might be something you should think about buying.  You can download a free 30 day trial of both from Adobe to try it out.  I know that they're expensive, but I purchased a used copy of both off of craigslist and I paid $35 for Lightroom 3 and $40 for Photoshop CS 4, which includes ACR. There are many free online alternatives, the only problem with them is that you can't edit a RAW picture with them. 

I open my RAW image in either ACR or Lightroom and do most, if not all, of my editing there.  I never adjust the saturation or sharpen my images because these are two sure fire ways to make your picture look photoshopped.  I almost always only adjust the contrast, brightness, and black; here is a before and after edit using only those three changes.

In the second picture, the contrast and brightness are both at 10 and the black is set at 6.  If you think that your picture is under saturated, increasing the contrast and black will give you a much more natural look than it would with an increased saturation.  I would just like to note that if I wasn't trying to show you that saturation isn't necessary, I would I have used lower settings to edit the picture. To me, it's still a little too much.

Below this, on the left, is the same picture where I've increased the saturation to 10 instead of the contrast- the brightness is still 10 and the black is still 6 and on the right is the one from above with contrast and not saturation

Now some people might like this picture better than the previous one, but it hurts my eyes and I think it looks a little unrealistic.  Yes, it's definitely more colorful, but it also looks like it's been edited and that's not what you want. The other problem with the one on the left is that it will not make a very good printed picture.  What looks okay on the computer does not always look good when printed because of the ink. A computer is capable of producing many different colors that ink printers just can't produce. So the many subtle changes in color you might see on the computer picture version will turn into one big blob of color on the printed one.

Once you've finished editing the RAW picture you can either choose to save it as jpeg or PNG or open it in photoshop.   I generally will only open a picture in photoshop is if it needs some touching up, ie., blemish removal.  There are a few other reasons I will do further edits in there, like adjusting the exposure on only a certain portion of the picture; something you would need to do with a photoshop layer mask. 

The Equipment

Most people will agree that the lens matters more than the camera.  So what does that mean?  It means the quality of your pictures will improve much more with a better lens than it will with a better camera.  If you are in the market to buy your first DSLR, and you're looking at the Canon Rebels, I would recommend purchasing only the body of the camera, without the lens kit, and buying your lens separately.  Why? Because the lens that comes with camera is not very good- certainly not worth the extra money that tack on for it.  You would be much better off buying the 50mm f/1.8 and it will save you about $100 in the long run.

I would also recommend renting any lens that you're thinking about buying.  There are many companies where you can rent a lens for just a day, or longer, at a very low cost.  A new lens isn't cheap and before spending your money you should first try it out and make sure you're getting what you want.  The things you'd want to check out are the weight, ie., is it too heavy for you, ease and speed of focus, distortion of subject, and overall performance.  If you are purchasing a zoom lens, you'll want to make sure of the quality of it's image stabilization or vibration reduction.

I hope this has been helpful and that I've answered some of your questions.  Please email me if there's anything else you'd like to know!

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Photography Hints, Tips, Suggestions & Rules

I tend to get a fair amount of questions about photography, my camera, lenses, tips, and editing.  Last night, I was emailing back an answer to someone when I experienced a little deja vu- didn't I just write that exact same thing last week to someone else?  So I've decided to write down some of my own personal photography rules and give you a few of my suggestions and tips.

Taking Pictures

I only have a few rules that I consistently apply when I'm taking pictures.  These are just my own personal suggestions and everyone has a different style, so they might not work for everyone.


One of the main advantages to a DSLR is being able to control all aspects of how the camera takes each picture.  This is why it's so important to shoot in manual mode. If you have a DSLR and you are still in the automatic modes, get out of them and try practicing with the creative modes!   If you are already using the creative modes, like Av, Tv, A-Dep, etc., you're almost there- just start to practice in manual (M).  I wouldn't recommend practicing at your child's birthday party- stick with what is comfortable to you in that type of situation.  But the more you shoot in manual the easier it will get and the quality of your photos will greatly improve.


I never use the flash unless I absolutely have to and even then, I probably won't.  If I'm in a low light situation without a tripod, I use the lens with the lowest capable f/stop and increase my shutter speed. The reason you need to increase your shutter speed, which actually lets in less light, is that it closes the shutter very quickly, meaning your picture won't be blurry (but it will be darker). If that still doesn't work, I'll bump up my ISO.  The reason that's my last resort is the higher the ISO, the more noise in the picture, ie., grainy.  If that still doesn't work, I will look for any available light source and try to use it to my advantage.  When every available option has been tried and I still can't get a good picture, I might resort to using the flash.  If you have a built in flash, this doesn't apply to you, but if yours is attachable/removable, aim the flash upwards.  That should provide you with the necessary light without the full harshness a flash tends to produce.


I prefer to shoot with the highest possible f/stop because it produces sharper and brighter pictures.  A low f/stop means smaller aperture, ie., less light.  Unless you are trying to take pictures of fireworks, the moon or stars, generally, in low light situations a lower f/stop is needed (with the aforementioned exceptions you will need to use a tripod and a larger f/stop) but not if you are outside on a nice sunny day. I like to go by the Sunny 16 rule of thumb:  In full light, during the brightest part of the day, the best camera settings are an f/16 aperture, 1/250 second shutter speed, and 200 ISO.  Using that as my go-to setting, I can then make the appropriate adjustments depending on the light I have.


(I'm a little crazy about photo storage and archiving- I have a ridiculously deep fear of losing all my pictures, so please don't think you have to do all of these.)

Taking pictures with a DSLR gives you the option to shoot in either RAW, jpeg, or both- I always choose both.  That may sound a bit redundant and like a waste of space considering RAW files are enormous. I know that the large size of the RAW file is a deterrent to many people who only have a two or four GB memory card, but there really are so many advantages to shooting in RAW and I will get to why I also do jpeg in a minute.  My advice is to purchase a few of the smaller sized cards or search for some good deals and buy one that has a large capacity.  I just got one that is 16GB for Christmas and I can't tell you how nice it is to not have to constantly worry about running out space and trying to delete pictures when when I should be taking them.  (My 16GB was $50, which, when considering I paid $29 for my 2BG one, was a huge bargain)  If you are someone who never edits their pictures, then there is no reason you need to have a RAW version of your pictures- jpeg is all you need.  But, if you do edit your pictures, especially in either ACR (which comes with all editions of Photoshop) or Lightroom, you need to be shooting in RAW.

When you attach your camera's memory card to the computer, whether via card reader, internal slot or USB, it will automatically select the option Delete After Importing.  I deselect that check mark right away!  After all my pictures are on my computer, I then immediately upload them to two different "in the cloud" services; first to my private picasa web albums and then I pick out the ones I want to make sure get saved and upload them to either flickr or shutterfly.  Finally, I save them to my external hard drive.  None of these pictures have been edited yet because I like to keep one copy in their original format- which is why the extra jpeg file is needed.

The only real disadvantage to RAW files is that they need to be converted to another format before you can see them on your computer or upload them to another site; this conversion is generally done in a program like Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) or Lightroom.  (There are other many other programs that also do it)  Since I like to upload a "just in case something bad happens to my computer before I'm finished editing" copy of the original picture, I have to have a jpeg file or else I won't be able to upload it. I hope that makes sense!


Once I have everything safely stored in both locations, I breathe a sigh of relief.  Now comes the part you probably haven't have heard of or have been afraid to try.  With your memory card back in your camera, you have two options that will erase the images; using the trash can button or reformatting.  Choosing to reformat is the best option because it greatly decreases the likelihood of your card becoming corrupted and crashing.  When you erase pictures with the trash can, fragments of the files are still left behind and over time, this decreases card stability. 

Okay, well I think this is long enough for today!  Tomorrow I will post on my rules and suggestions on editing and and equipment.  Please let me know if there is anything here that needs some extra clarification and I will try to better explain myself.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Maybe It's Not So Bad

Back in the day, my days of youthful angsty love, I celebrated Valentine's Day in two ways:  wearing all black and putting up bitter love quotes on my AIM profile and away messages.  It became a thing and soon I had friends sending me their bitter love quotes, poems and song lyrics.  A few years after I started my tradition, I had so many people sending me things that I put up a different quote for the first 14 days of the month, saving the best one for last.  A good example, just so you get the picture about the depths of the the bitter, this was one of my favorites: 

Even though you outwit me, I’m not going back to you ... I am not going back to the axe of your love, O triumphant husbandman and lasso king of the gateless horses, I am not going back to you, even though I squirm in your arms and surrender to your will the total essence of my dusty shell here in this captured sweat-hall, I am never coming back, I swear that I will lie to you forever, and I will be never again the cup of your need. 

~ Leonard Cohen

What makes all of this kinda strange is that I loved love, like, really loved it.  If you walked into my room, it would be pretty clear, as I had a wall full of kissing pictures and love quotes.  But, Valentine's Day, it was my Achilles Heel; it didn't seem to matter whether or not I had a boyfriend or was single, the day was always bad.  The boys would say or do really dumb things, like, the one time I got " I thought you'd appreciate it more if I got you flowers the day after Valentine's- that way you wouldn't be expecting it."  There was also the time I got a card from the boyfriend and he had scratched out the word "love" where it was written on the card.  And I don't mean he wrote "love" and then decided against using the word- I mean he bought a card, or found one for free at his parent's house (the more likely choice even though he was in college), and the card itself had the word love written on it.  And he scratched it out.  With pen.  And gave it to me.

Year after year I set myself up for disappointment by having great expectations for the actual day itself as well as for the generally unwise objects of my affection.  So I stopped celebrating it as a day all about the "we" and made me it all about me. 

Looking back on all of this, I can clearly see how I was trying to protect my heart on a day where I was particularly vulnerable.  For the past few years I haven't felt that way anymore, but I still didn't like to acknowledge Valentine's Day out of respect for the old me who promised herself she'd never celebrate it again.  And even though I feel a little bit like I'm letting her down, I've decided that the 29 year old me can't be held to a decision I made at the age of 18.

If I didn't have my Spencer, I might feel differently, but there is something magical about the way a young child is capable of loving everyone and everything without reservation.  Yesterday at church, my faith in Valentine's Day was restored by a four year old boy. He told his mom he wanted to give Spencer a flower and so she went out and bought a rose- which he shyly gave to her in front of me and his parents.  I almost cried.  It was the sweetest thing I have ever seen.  How can I not celebrate a day like that?  I don't want to be closed off because I really believe there is a great love for me out there and I don't want to miss it.

In honor of my decision, and maybe to make a little restitution for all the bitter love quotes I spread throughout the world, I'm putting up my favorite, I love love, love quotes.

When I was apart from you,
    this world did not exist,
    nor any other

~ Rumi

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.

~ Pablo Neruda

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.
~ Emily Bronte 

In the whole of the universe there
are only two: the lover and the

~ Bhai Sahib

If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.

~Michel de Montaigne 

I love her and that's the beginning of everything.

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.

~ Pablo Neruda

 Once in a while, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.

~ Anonymous

What will survive of us is love.

~ Philip Larkin

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Only

Most days I rarely ever think about the fact I'm a single parent.  I'm always of aware it, like in the same sense I'm always aware that I have blue eyes and curly hair, but it's not something on which I fixate. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with that I've never known anything else- it's not as if I started off as part of a duo and then went to being just me.  In many aspects, but not all, I think that would be even harder; to get used to someone being there, helping out, making tough decisions, etc., only to wind up having to do it all by yourself.  And if I'm being completely honest, there are many times I have actually thought that being a single parent is sometimes easier, especially for a control freak know-it-all like myself! 

But recently, I've felt things start to shift a little.  More and more I'm thinking about how exhausting it is to be just me, the only, the good parent, the bad parent; just me.  And by exhausting, I mean completely and utterly draining of all my mental faculties; exhausting.  Spencer is extremely precocious and very strong willed. And by strong willed, I mean possessing the inner strength and willpower of a Buddhist monk on his 20th day of a fast; strong willed.  Most days I appreciate this about her and I celebrate that I see so much of myself in my little girl.  But then there are other days, like yesterday, when I want to lock myself in the bathroom and cry like a baby because I can't stand being the "bad guy" for one more second.

I am a control freak, yes, but it's not in my nature to be the constant disciplinarian.  I can remember being a little girl and telling my mom that I was going to let my daughter eat whatever she wanted for dinner and if she just wanted to eat cookies, that would be FINE with me!  Cue last night:  Spencer has her head down on the table crying and crying that I don't love.  Why?  Because I said she couldn't get up until she finished her mac-n-cheese.  Spaghetti was her first meal and then she informed me that she didn't want spaghetti, she wanted mac-n-cheese.  So I gave in.  Probably not the smartest decision, but in the end, I think it's more important that she eats then trying to make another issue out of something.  Well, three bites into her second meal, I hear "I'm fuuulll."

I counted to three, took a deep breath, and told her that she wasn't getting up until she had eaten at least half of what was on her plate.  And that's when the full on you don't love me, no one loves me, theatrics began. I told her that I will always love, no matter what she does, I will never stop loving her- just because I'm not happy with her or I'm making her do something she doesn't want to do, doesn't mean I don't love her- because I will never stop loving her. Twenty minutes later and she's still sitting there, giving me the same look I know I gave my mom many moons ago.  Here's the thing- logically, I know that she's just three years old and she doesn't really understand that the words she's saying to me are like little daggers to my heart- but, every time she said "you don't love me anymore?" my heart broke a little.  I wished there was someone there with me to help share that burden, to be the bad parent, if not instead of me, than at least along with me.

Eventually, she ate her food and then when she was finished she asked me for an Ogre Bar, aka, a Shrek granola bar, which made me laugh and laugh.  Everything was fine again except that I felt like I'd been through a war.  I don't like that I'm so rarely the fun parent- the mom that I thought I'd be. I know that a lot of what I used to envision was seen through immature eyes and that being a good parent means making rules and then enforcing them.  But every now and then I wish that there was someone else to help me do those things. 

I think part of what is getting to me isn't the current, but the future.  Is this how it's going to be 10 years from now when she wants to wear some inappropriate outfit, something I used to fight with my mom about ALL the time?  I can see my past words, something along the lines of "I'll always let my daughter wear what she feels comfortable wearing and NOT what I feel comfortable with her wearing" coming back to haunt me.  Haunt. Me. 

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Never

  • Wake up without hitting the snooze button at least twice
  • Sleep with socks on
  • Use 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Drive behind a logging truck
  • Get on an airplane without patting the outside it three times (by the door when you walk on)
  • Have run out of gas
  • Eat lobster
  • Watch TV without doing something else
  • Know when to use who or whom
  • Drive in the outside lane when I'm on a bridge
  • Have watched an episode of The Simpsons
  • Can keep my purse free from junk
  • Go anywhere without my camera
  • Have or plan on removing the innards of a chicken or turkey
  • Go to sleep without kissing Spencer goodnight

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