A Well Hung Peter

Spent the morning hauling water and figured I’d pop out a post while taking a quick break from the cold.  Probably the most overlooked part of any of my posts is the title.  There is actually a lot of time spent on coming up with an appropriate title – don’t worry, this is time is usually spent while doing some mundane task around the house (laundry, mopping, cleaning windows, taking out the trash, bathing the boys etc. etc.)  or while in the car trying to pass the time.  It is rare when there are so many options but with a name like Peter Lik you can have a lot of fun – Alex, I’ll take “Cheap Laughs for 100 please”.  If you recall from a previous post (link here), we (translated my wife) bought a picture from the gallery of Linda’s favorite photographer.  What I did not mention in that post was how concerned I was about actually getting the picture hung on the fireplace – there’s a reason there hasn’t been anything put there to date – I had no idea how to accomplish that.  This feeling of concern was significantly amplified when the picture showed up at the house.  There was no more time to push it off, Linda was pretty insistent about it being displayed soon after arriving.  Adding to that pressure, we had a Christmas dinner scheduled at our house a few days later.

Might as well jump to the Peter Lik money shot (I crack myself up).

Hit the jump to read how all this went down

Continue reading A Well Hung Peter

Santa Lost a Cylinder

Sorry folks, but this post is not for the squeamish (or for kids with Elf on a Shelf “narcing” on their every move to Santa).  Over the years, I’ve made a few posts that might have concerned some people and assuredly typed out  a few sentences that might have made a few readers raise their eyebrows.  Some of that is by accident, or more likely intentional (always keep your readers guessing).  Most of the time someone will call me on it and make some clever comment…. and then there are those times it just kind of slide by apparently unnoticed.  Those are the situations that are most intriguing to me.  Has my reader base defected? maybe it was too subtle or worse, readers are starting to associate these situations as “normal” for me (eesh).  As prime example, take a previous post on the Halloween decorations (link here).  In that post I was recounting how difficult it was to get ready for our annual Halloween party due to all the activities that were swirling around at the time.  Let’s recall the following sentence from that post, “Oh, on Tuesday I had to dispose of a body… but more on that in an upcoming post.”  I distinctly remember hashing over that sentence a couple of times and was kind of feeling bad since it was an obvious ploy to generate more comments to pad the year end summary – that is due shortly.  Guess how many comments I received as a result of that specific line?  20? 10? 5?  NOPE  – NADA.  Apparently disposing of a body is less controversial than letting my wife become a Peter Lik groupie.  The good news is this post is the referred to “upcoming post” and therefore I can set the record straight.

I’m not kidding about the queasy nature of this post so if you can’t stand a little bit of gore I recommend shielding your eyes – maybe read it through your fingers to cut d0wn on the exposure – don’t forget to hold your nose at the same time.  Proceed whenever you feel comfortable.

This all started when I was scouting out the woods for the Haunted Trail.  Everything was in fairly good shape.  There were a few trees down that had to be moved to the side, branches that had to be trimmed of their summer growth over the walkway and of course a mowing and weed whacking session to make it easier to navigate.  While mowing the last section of the trail I noticed a foul stench emanating from the direction of the stream.  There are some smells that immediately trigger memories (some good.. some bad … some veeerrry bad).  In this case, the olfactory perception was triggering the latter.  My mind immediately went to the dreaded coyote incident (link here).  A week before the party and there’s a dead coyote on the property.  The mind started clicking away – could I get by with just saying it was part of the Haunted Trail – added realism?  Maybe it will just dry out before the party and go away on its own.  As much as I wanted to believe the first option, the thought of horrifying children who might stumble on the dead carcass eliminated it.  The second option was debated some, but the fact was the dead coyote from before lasted quite a while and it was staying pretty warm out.   Crap, only option left was to deal with it – so off I went looking for it.  The coyote assumption had improperly prepared me for what I found.  20 feet off the path I was mowing and directly on the banks of the stream was THIS:

If you have a strong stomach, feel free to hit the jump to read how this all turns out

Continue reading Santa Lost a Cylinder

The Brent Chapman of the Birding World

Merry Christmas everyone!  I was sitting around on Christmas Eve and wondering what a fitting topic would be for this festive day.  I decided I’d hold off a little more before I go off on the latest gun restriction talks and it didn’t seem right to post a recent experience with a deer (it is pretty gruesome and didn’t want Santa to get offended).  There’s the Hank Williams Jr. recollection (NOT) and I am not ready yet for either the Wisconsin trip post from earlier in the year and much to soon to go with the recent Vegas birding shots.  What to do, what to do.  Hey, nothing says Christmas like a super fisher!  Okay, it is really a gift to me to help pad some year end stats but it actually has a tie in to the last post on Allerton.

While processing the statue shots from the Allerton Park shoot (link here), a pleasant surprise caught my eye.  In the middle of shooting the Loch Ness shots a familiar sound emanating out from the nearby woods.  A sound that caught my attention having heard it for the first time a few weeks prior to making the trip up to Monticello.  Imagine, if you will, a long rattle – somewhat like a cricket on steroids.  Immediately the Beast was reoriented to the location of the sound in hopes the source would show itself.  A few minutes later a now “familiar” crested blue bird flew out of the woods and took a position in the trees along the bank of the pond.    “Familiar” may be  a strong word since it was still pretty new to me, but to my credit I had taken over 200 pictures at the first encounter.  You kind of get to know a bird after staring at it for that many shots.  The original shoot was at Jubilee Park and those shots tended to come out nicer so let’s lead with those.

And here it is:

If this is new to you, you might assume a common Blue Jay from the similar coloring.  However, the beak may be throwing you off… and if not, it should be.  That beak is HUGE!.  Add to that the overall large relationship of the head to the rest of the body pretty much eliminates the Jay.  This is actually a Belted Kingfisher and a brand new bird to the Blog.  This is one of those birds that is supposed to be common to our surroundings, but was never in the right spot at the right time.  That is until Linda and I took a quick run over to Jubilee Park to see what was hanging out around the pond. This is becoming a hot spot for new birds for us.  If you recall, this is where we shot the Green Heron (link here).  Not only were we at the right spot.. we had the Beast.

Without the Beast this would have probably been a missed opportunity.  Our subject (a male) was keeping its distance and really didn’t appreciate me being in his hunting area.  He would give me about 4 shots before fluttering off to some other branch.  Even with the large glass the bird was buried in tree branches for most of the time throwing the auto-focus all over the place.  The entire time I was shooting it, my assumption is it had a white eye and the light was working in my favor giving a nice glint.  During post processing, it became apparent that this was wrong.  The Kingfisher actually has a black eye – the white is just part of the base of the beak coloring.  This is why you never trust the LCD screen on the back.  Although it could not be seen while looking through the glass, the culprit for the focus walking was the twig positioned right in front of the bird – again, too small to see in the eyepiece or the LCD screen.  The shot below gives a good view of the eye in relationship to the white spot.

Some interesting facts.  The female Kingfisher actually has a burnt orange band on the belly – odd since the male is usually the more colorful of the sexes.  They are very common in North America (could have fooled me). They are year round in our neck of the woods (Illinois).  According to our friends over at Wikipedia, they actually nest in the banks of streams/ponds making an upward slanting tunnel to help guard against flooding.  As you would expect they carry a Least Concerned conservation status – again, hard to believe this was the first time I’ve really come in contact with one.

Hit the jump to see more shots of the Belted Kingfisher

Continue reading The Brent Chapman of the Birding World

A Day in the Land of Odd

Happy Holidays everyone!  With all the activities as of late it has been difficult to find time to get out the remaining posts of the year. .. and by activities that includes tonight’s accomplishment of finally drumming through every single song on my Xbox for Rock Band 3 on pro-drums – including all three cores (RB1/2/3)  expansion packs (LEGO, AC/DC) and too many downloaded songs to admit in public.  Since I had a few minutes to spare while resting the arms, I thought I’d crank one out that I did the prep work on just a few days ago.  While going through my list of ideas I noticed one that has been on there for a looooong time.  To be specific, that would be like 1 year and 7 months.  This is actually a mixture of shots taken by both myself and Linda although not entirely sure which is which so for the most part assume equal credit.

So, back in May of 2011, Linda and I had the opportunity to visit an old friend of mine called Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello IL (link here).  If you were fortunate to attend the University of Illinois, it is likely you are familiar with this location as it is a nice place to get out and away from the grind.  My brother Ron first introduced me to this place while he was going to school there.  The best thing about this place is that it’s more than just a place for some peace and quite – it is also a rich environment for creativity and a godsend if you are in to “photographing the odd”.  The site was the estate of one Robert Allerton who was heir to his father Samuel’s fortunes from his association with the First National Bank of Chicago and many stockyards including the Union Stockyards of Chicago.  Robert was passionate about art becoming an avid collector and philanthropist.  This passion resulted in his estate becoming  full of eccentric sculptures collected during his worldly travels.  Robert was also heavily involved with the University of Illinois along with his adopted son John Gregg.  I was not aware of this before reading up on Wikipedia and their official site, but it was actually deeded to the university back in 1946 (one of the largest gifts to date to the university).  I’ll let you read up on the history of this place, but hands down, if you are looking to spend the day behind the camera .. this is an excellent place to start.

First of all, there are statues all over the property that are stunning in both their size and subject.  Take for example this one.

I believe it is called Death of the Last Centaur.  Guess this is a good time to mention that a large majority of these images were SHOPPED.  I admit it (unlike Peter Lik) but the digital darkroom is one of my favorite parts of photography.  Unlike with wildlife photography I take a little more liberty in landscape shots – the animal world is a little more picky on maintaining the “natural” coloring of the species.  I wanted to learn some advanced techniques and the shots from Allerton provided a fertile ground for that.  I’m guessing from the wide angle shot that Linda actually took the one above – otherwise I would have had to hiked about 1/4 mile away to get that coverage with Beast.   The shot below shows the tighter ones I was shooting.  My goal was to fade out the background so the statue would pop a little more.  A lot of work with masks and filter brushes in Lightroom got me here.

Not bad, the sharpness of the status stands out better than in the first shot.  Some color manipulation accelerated the timing about 5 months into the fall.  The next task was to try my hand at some B&W and tone manipulation.  This is harder than initially thought.

The background did not lighten up as much as desired – need to read up a little more on the Dodging and Burning in the tool but the statue’s coloring came out close to expectations – it would have popped a lot more on a lighter background.  Maybe next time I’ll see if there is an angle that takes some of the trees out.

Hit the jump to see other shots from Allerton…

Continue reading A Day in the Land of Odd

Book Recollection: Drop Dead Healthy

Let me guess, you probably thought there was never going to be another book recollection.  Figured since it’s been like September since you’ve seen one of these come through that I’d tossed away the reading light and spend my free time watching cartoons on the boob tube.  Truth is, I’ve actually been reading a book just taking a really really really long time to get through it.   A big thanks to the Peoria Plague for allowing me to get the task done – a silver lining in every cloud.  One of my favorite authors A.J. Jacobs brings us today’s recollection.  If you don’t recall his other reads, check out his link here, here her…

Huge thanks to my brother Ron who made me aware this new book was on its way.   The latest offering could not have been more tailor made for me if I’d been able to pick his next topic myself!  His latest self-experiment is to become the embodiment of health and fitness.  A book devoted to experimenting with various theories and products to transform himself into an in the back of old comic books (the guy kicking the sand, not the puny dude whining because he got sand in his shorts).  Anybody who reads this blog knows I also enjoy trying different things to tune my body for whatever activity my Life List has set in front of me.  Last year being a huge hurdle in that journey getting through two half marathons and the previous year of dropping some major poundage to enable it.  Add in all the experiments on what to eat, lift or stretch and you can compile quite a few years of successes and … sigh failures.  Now here was a book that chronicled a similar journey written by the king of guinea pig journalists.  I could hardly wait to start reading it knowing the minute I cracked it open I’d never put it down until every page was consumed with vigor and laughter…. well, that is what I thought.  The truth was I did put it down… a lot.  Granted a lot of that was due to some busy times but it was a HIGHLY anticipated read.  Thinking back it is hard to determine exactly what the issue is.  At first I thought it was due to not getting much out of it while compiling the takeaways, but after doing that realized it was a pretty healthy list so doubt that is the problem.  Maybe it was a majority of experiments didn’t interest me.  That can’t be it because that is the part I enjoy – experiencing something I would never do myself  from a safe distance away.  Was it not believable?  Don’t think so – talk about similarities, he was on the same weight loss journey that I was on at about the exact same age (41 vs 43 when I did it) and his numbers were slightly off of mine (I beat him actually! hehehe).

If I have to provide a hypothesis I’d have to say depth and sadness.   On the depth front he tended to rush through some of the experiments.  The book was set up in chapters devoted to a specific topic like the brain, the feet, the ears and yes, even the gonads.  On average, those chapters only really lasted on average about 10-15 pages and then on to the next topic.  This provided a much too convenient stopping point where longer chapters tend to extend my reading window.  As mentioned, I found myself putting this book down all the time.  It is hard to really get the experience out of such a short time – divide that up into an understanding of the experiment (intent of the product or test he was going to try), some details on the highlights and the results and you do not have much time to put yourself in his shoes make you a passive observer at best.  I was hoping to spend time mentally comparing and contrasting with all my experiences.  Now, this may be a completely different experience for a casual reader so take that within context.  I am eager to have someone else read this book and let me know their opinion.  Okay, now for the more difficult part.  There is an undertone of this book that I couldn’t shake.  This is not something I really want to go into detail here because I get very uncomfortable. In short, here is a guy on a journey to become the embodiment of health but the people around him seemed to be going through a quite different experience.   While writing this book (and soon after) A.J. lost hist Grandfather and Aunt.  Add to this recollections of some lost acquaintances and an expert he had planned to interview make it all more difficult to get through.  I’m leaving it there but I think it did have an impact on my overall feeling of the book.. and maybe the title now that I look at it.

In summary, I did not get the amount of enjoyment I had anticipated out of it.  This could be setting the bar to high (think Expendables 2) or too much going on at the same time.  Maybe a a second account will help set me straight but for now that is where I am.  I still had some laughs and man, do I feel for what his wife has to go through during these experiments.  I’m still eager to see what he comes out with next!

Hit the Jump for the takeaways (oh.. for the record, just crossed over 100,000 words for this year’s blog posts!)

Continue reading Book Recollection: Drop Dead Healthy

Extirpating Biased Journalism

Since apparently I have some undefined plague wreaking havoc on Peoria, figured I’d take a little bit of time to get a post out there for December. This happens to be one of those cases where the prep time for the post significantly exceeds the actual post effort. The post really originated back in August do to becoming completely disgusted with the level of journalism these days. Well, to be honest, this might not be so much new as just me becoming over sensitive to it and with the election in full swing I was probably a little more tuned in to it. One of my hard fast rules is I NEVER read a story with emotionally charged words in the title. You know, those charged words that are intentionally placed either to excite their audience to reading their drivel or meant to demean whatever the subject happens to be.

Now take for example this article on 10/4/12:

specifically Mitt spoke forthrightly.  Now this isn’t the headline cap, but if they had used “Mitt Spoke Forthrightly During the Debate”, what kind of emotion would have that generated with you?  Is it enough to get you to click on the link to find out the details, does it reveal what position the author is taking on the subject?  Maybe it feels a little snooty.  To be honest I have no problem with it and since my intent was to learn about the debate anyway I’m likely going to hit the link anyway and, more importantly, I’ll be able to form  my own opinion of how it went.

Okay, now from 10/25/12

One dingy dingy, two dingy dingy, three dingy dingy.  If anything, this is a de-emotion word.   To Ding – To Dent (something).  Traditionally implying something small, trivial if you will.  By interpretation,  whatever the Register did to Obama was discarded as meaningless.  Guessing this had something to do with them having the audacity to cast Obama in bad light so the use of that headline by the media is expected.

Time to step it up a bit. Next up is 9/21/12:

To Hammer – Hit or beat (something) with a hammer or similar object. Now I find it extremely difficult to believe that a group of Senators was chasing down Obama and beating him with a hammer (or similar object).  Now again, since I would never read an article with such a charged headline I can only speculate but the little caption below it indicates they …wait for it … gave speeches.  More truthful would be The GOP Hurled Words at Obama.

The bloodshed continues after the jump

Continue reading Extirpating Biased Journalism