Monday, December 31, 2012

Sixth Day of Christmas: Sunday

There was church in the morning.
Some cleaning up around the house.
Then I saw a few snowflakes fall whoosh!
Back up to Millcreek.


Love the transparent daisy and roses!

The six sided plates are really common; they fall like specks from the sky.

I of course am hunting for the more detailed shapes.

It was awfully pretty up there...and jammed packed with folk going cross country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, hiking, and dog walking.
That's typical for a Sunday afternoon.

Still in my power suit and snow boots, I drove the fifteen minutes downtown to the library to load up on books.
Salt Lake City Library is so awesome!

I checked out six books, one dvd, and then in the library store I found seven picture books that I bought for 50 cents apiece. 
The library's "gift" to everyone: an entire cart full of books all priced at fifty cents!

So cold...such a beautiful sunset!

When I got back home I ripped into the Rum Cake Bernie had brought home from Puerto Rico a few weeks back.
There has been some chatter about evolution among my scientific/academic friends on Facebook.
One friend (since kindergarten!) is university professor who declared that he would always follow any statement about evolution with the disclaimer of it being something that occurs under intelligent design, (not just by chance in other words, but one can decide for one's own self what "intelligent" means.)
As I munched the cake I mused to myself about the part of the scientific/academic community who feels that evolution just happens.
Like wheat evolved and rum and leavening agents and heat source and just like that Rum Cake arrived on the planet earth!
Rum Cake isn't nearly as complex as a human why shouldn't it be a product of evolution without intelligent design?
After all, I didn't see anyone make this sucker.
For all I know it just evolved somehow or another in the airport gift shop.
And was bought by another bit of evolution, that being my husband.
I probably shouldn't mention about how the beach sand evolved just by chance to make my computer....

Well, the cake was good but I had made the mistake of smelling the Chinese food scent from the restaurant across the street from the library.
Bernie asked me what I had planned for dinner.
(Me happily munching rum cake after a day of mostly goofing off..plan dinner? Who, me?)
I suggested we find a Chinese place to eat.
So we did.
It wasn't all that great but on the way out we saw this in the parking lot:

A tree completely encased in ice.
We stared at the restaurant's leaking roof gutter and marveled at how beautiful the tree was and what a bummer it was that the restaurant owners were probably going to have to do some repairs after winter.

I posted the picture on Face Book after we got home.

Another one of my high school buddies (a Christian) saw the photo and commented:

"Amazingly beautiful. God's handiwork for sure."

That made me I posted back:

"God's getting the blame for a leaky gutter line?"
My comment earned a "like" from my other FB high school classmate who is a math Phd and definitely NOT a Christian.

Cracked me up....sometimes even I have to smile at our Christian/non-Christian on-going talks that have now been going on for well over forty years.

And it wouldn't surprise me to find us still having these kind of zingers for years and years to come.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fifth Day of Christmas: Crater Swim, Cheese and Neffs

Our daughter-in-laws parents were out from California visiting Luke for a week.
Well...they are visiting Jeff and their daughter too of course but let's be real.
The trip is really about seeing our mutual grandchild.
He is their one and only grandchild as well.
I suggested that one day while they were here we go out to Midway (about 45 minutes from my house) and go for a swim in the Homestead Crater.
In the picture above: Rachel, Debra and Bruce just before entering the crater behind them.
It was pretty foggy inside while we were there as the water is about 96 F degrees and outside it was in the 20s.
(The picture above is borrowed from a photobucket site.)

How it works:
One calls to make reservations for an hour long swim, then when one arrives you sign a release form, fork over $11, then head inside the crater.
You find a small changing stall, change, then hang up your bag of stuff, get issued a life vest and head for the water.
Silly me...I asked the attendant if there was a bathroom.
He said "Back in the activity center there is one.  You do know you are inside a crater, right?"
Craters don't typically come with plumbing!
A bit of info on the crater:
  The crater itself was first discovered in the late 1800s when Simon Schneitter discovered the hot spring on his land and started touting its medicinal properties. He wound up opening the first resort in 1896, called Schneitter’s Hot Pots, which is now the Homestead Resort.
The crater began forming about 10,000 years ago when snow melting from the Wasatch Mountains seeped down about two miles into the earth. The water, once there, was heated by nearby volcanic activity and pushed upward again. As it made this journey it acquired minerals that eventually led to the limestone formation of Homestead Crater. Other than the water piped into the pool at the Homestead Resort, the only other way people used to be able to visit was to be lowered down by a rope. But in 1996 a man-made tunnel was created using dynamite to allow for easy access for visitors.
Rachel filled us in on the Crater's guest star role on the television show the Bachelor.  The Bachelor took one of the Bachelor-ettes out to Homestead and walked her over to the crater opening, which for the show had had a iron grid covering removed. He then asked the girl to trust him and together they rappelled down the hole.  Inside they had a swim all alone (save the camera people of course...)
So romantic.
I wonder if they remembered to take down all the signs along the way to the Crater for them or if the girl was unable to read.
Hee hee...
After our swim we took a fast tour of the local highlights and on our way back noticed a building where artisan cheese was being sampled.
Had to stop of course.
(This year there are icicles EVERYWHERE.  The other five winters we have lived here we barely saw any.  I know they are dangerous and represent damage, but they sure are pretty.)

Cute building...

The building was surrounded by dairy cattle.
Nice view they've got there!

There was a handout with a photo of the dairy farming family and their cows in summer.

I thought about my friends Judy and Elmer in Canada and their now third generation dairy farming family.

I splurged on five kinds of cheese.

"Squeaky" cheese is big in Utah.
The curds squeak on your teeth as you eat them.

Bruce bought a cheese spread that was made with garlic and maple syrup.
I had never thought about putting those two flavors together before.
They work together wonderfully!
A lunch of grill cheese sandwiches back at their house (where Bernie had been staying with Luke as Jeff was at another event...) and by then it was almost three.

Bernie and I drove the eight minutes back to our house, but before we turned onto our street, Bernie decided to drive three more miles up the road from our house to see how winter was looking up in Neff's Canyon.
It was looking awesome.

Neff's has a lot of trails and is our neighborhood Pooch's Poop Pee and Play Park.
Oh how all the dogs LOVE to race around in Neff's Canyon!

I have only hiked the canyon three times.
Frankly the trails are narrow and go through a lot of dense forests; I wouldn't feel safe going hiking there by myself.
Thank goodness one can get quite a satisfying look from just standing in the parking lot.

When I do hike here, this the beginning of the trail up into the canyon.
Neff Creek runs through the canyon and actually winds up running through our back yard area in spring time too.

On a clear day one can see all across the Salt Lake Valley floor.
The yellowish haze on the horizon is what we call an inversion:  The valley is surrounded by mountains that block air flow.  When the temperatures fall the air doesn't move enough to clear out the smog created by both nature and man.
Some times it looks quite hellish with an orange haze that looks especially like smoke at sunset.
Those of us who live a little above the valley floor are envied for being out of the inversion, which can cause breathing difficulties.

Neff's Canyon is definitely above the inversion and the air up there is pristine.

Oh and we saw our grand cats Cheeto...
and Meowsie too.

And that was pretty much it for the fifth day of Christmas!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fourth Day of Christmas: More snowflakes

"Snowflakes are the wildflowers of winter that bloom in the sky."
That was the thought that popped into my head as I beheld the snowflakes that had fallen in my snowbound garden yesterday morning.
(My brain keeps saying that the phrase needs work...thanks a bunch La Jolla High School English composition teachers! Forty years later and I can still hear your guiding and chiding voice.)

Any hoo...

Yesterday's snowflake photo op in Millcreek really rev'd my creative photography engine.
Happily the very next day it continued to snow and snow with great snowflakes!
By great snowflakes I mean snowflakes that have elegant shapes as opposed to the fuzzy white balls that so often occur during snow showers.
This time I got out my lens collection, my tripod, and got down to some serious trial and error work.

I actually started with my 50mm lens, then tried my 55-250 telephoto lens on tripod, then for this shot, used my "kit" lens, the 18-55 mm that came with my Rebel 2ti camera, the one I used yesterday, only this time I screwed on a magnifier lens in front of the lens.
Magnifier lens are available on ebay and most camera stores for under $30 and up.

I was holding my camera for this shot, with my shoulder braced against the front door porch posts to steady myself.

The sharp focus area with the magnifier lens is about the size of a pin head.
Aiming at the exact center of the snowflake is a must!
Cropping down to the tiny amount of clear image later is also a must.
It really is unlikely that one can shot from one inch away without having a microscope mounted camera.

Now picture this: I am in my decades old powder suit and lime green snow cap, sitting on our front steps looking closely at the yew bush trying to find great snowflakes.
The neighbors must have thought I was nuts.

I also spent time on my knees with my glasses lowered down on my nose with my face just inches away from the snow on the ground.
It turns out that if one sticks a needle into a pencil erasers, one can pick up snowflakes from snow piles and move the snowflake to a better photographing location.
Sometimes the flake slips off, sometime it shatters.
If first you don't succeed...
I did learn to hold the needle beneath the flake for about three seconds before moving it.
The flake sticks to the needle better.
It is also more difficult to slide it off the needle that way but nothing worth doing is ever easy, right?

This was a snow pile harvested snowflake scraped off onto the yew bark.

Experimenting with moving flakes around only took up about two hours of my life.

The deck coffee table still have one pepper plant that has shriveled up and the chilies need plucking and storing.
I moved a snowflake onto one of the chili tips, then set up my tripod and my telephoto lens, in an experiment to see if I could get a clear shot that way.
See the white blob on the tip of that one chili?

Here it is shot from about five feet away with my 55-250 lens, using a timer option to avoiding shaking the camera when clicking, and also using the sports fast shutter option.

Now I am kicking myself that I didn't just use the kit lens with the magnifier.

Bernie LOVES these shots though.

Earlier I had tripoded and shot with a snowflake where it had fallen on the deck gate rail.
Actually this was my first shot of the day before I moved on to my "experiments".
I think you will see a learning curve!

It felt really good to eventually retire to the kitchen and warm up a bit.
What else did I do on the fourth day of Christmas?
We joined our son's family and his in-laws for dinner.
Luke is their only grandchild as well.
The "Prince" was admired non-stop, and as his gift to his out of town grandmother, he began to crawl up on his hands and knees for the first time while she was babysitting him.
Wiggle waggle bottom time!
Such fun...

All for now.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Third Day of Christmas: Snowflakes and Temple Square

Well I went back up to Mill Creek with every intention of taking a good long hike.

The neighbor's gift of own pralines and divinity...and lots of other unrestrained self treating needed some redress if I still would like to fit into some of my dresses, if you get my drift.

I only stopped to take pictures a few times on the way up to the groomed trail area.

(The fact that I had my camera with me should have revealed to me that I really wasn't that serious about hiking actually.)

I admit it: I am a glutton for candy and eye candy.

The temps were in the low 20s; the wet looking roads were thankfully well salted.

This time I didn't have the canyon all to myself.
I didn't mind...and no one seemed to mind me pulling off the road at will to take pictures.
Once I got up to the groomed area I parked and started to get out my snowshoe gear.
But I was distracted.

The car was being covered with amazing snowflakes!

I grabbed my camera again, staying in my snow boots that are not really that warm.

My powder suit wasn't really all that warm either.
It would have been if I had been moving about.
But in this case I was totally focused on standing as still as I possibly could for each camera click.

Using the sports/high speed setting and my regular "kit" lens, I just wedged myself as much as possible and started shooting.

The high speed shooting setting helped with the micro movements I made just clicking the camera.

Most of these flakes are on the edge of my side mirror or along the black trim beneath the windows.

I did prowl around the cars next to my car to see if I could see cool flakes there.
The red car next to mine had a few goodies.

The parking area had been well salted and the snow turned to slush around my feet.

My feet were freezing, and my fingertip-less gloves left my fingertips feeling pretty frozen too.

Suffering for my art...yeah, that's what it was!

If you look closely you can see the etched writing on the lower corner of the side window glass.
Gives some perspective on how tiny these flakes really were. 

It was about 23 degrees about then. How there could have been water droplets I have no idea.
I did notice that breathing near the flakes was a bad idea.
They poofed into nothing if hit by the smallest breath.

Eventually a few flakes hit the windows and stayed frozen long enough for a shot.
Enjoy the next few snowflake shots while immersing your feet in ice water to get the full sensation of being right there with me!

There might of been a few duplicates in those last photos.
Picasa was acting up and I tried to fix the duplicates, then gave up.
Forgive both me and Picasa, OK?

I did finally go snowshoeing, just to keep myself honest with myself.
The snow was piling down from the sky and I got such a kick out of coming across a woman walking about ten dogs all by herself on the trail.

We had a nice chat about how beautiful the area was right now.
She explained that the dogs were not all hers; she was a professional dog walker.
Lucky dogs!

I had left for Mill Creek around three and got home (after a quick trip to the grocery store) around six.
Our neighbor's tree lights were so charming glowing beneath the snow.
A quick bowl of split pea soup that my dil had made and shared, some potato chips and yogurt for dinner and I was out the door again, still in my powder suit and snow boots.
I hadn't even taken off my ski cap to eat!
Temple Square was calling to me!

Downtown in snowfall....bright colorful lights on the streets.

Then there is REALLY bright lights in the Square itself.

Can't remember having so much snow on the valley floor.
Some of the Temple Square lighting designs were buried beneath the snow!

The place was packed.
Babies were bundled up tight with just little noses and wide eyes and pacifiers showing.

Across from the Square is the City Creek shopping center with a covered bridge over the street.

I've taken a carriage tour here before.
It is pretty hairy as the tour goes smack dab through the middle of downtown traffic.

Walking the Square itself is plenty good enough fun.

The shepherds watching the flocks were coming pretty darn close to losing sight of their sheep due to snow cover!

Various languages and cultural images shine from  the glowing bags that line the walkways.

Brrrr...I mean baaa.....

One area has a nativity scene and voice over loud speaker telling the story and playing carols sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Very stirring actually.

The scene's life sized characters, including camel riding wise men, seemed very real.

The statue honoring the Hand Cart Mormon pioneers was almost painfully realistic.
I have read the diaries of the Mormons who trekked from the East coast using just handcarts and were caught in horrible snowstorms on the way.

Temple Square at Christmas is a must see.

Downtown Salt Lake is a must see too.
One street has the University of Utah symbol glowing repeatedly the entire street.

The City-County Building holidays up by switching the lighting up top to red and green.

With the addition of falling snow and low clouds reflecting back all the lights, the building looks quite festive.

The blue trees on the second level make the whole building look both Christmas-y and patriotic at the same time.

I was back home by eight and so ended my Third Day of Christmas adventures.