Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beach Trip

After more than two years living in North Carolina, we finally made it out to the coast for the first time on Saturday. While our good friends were headed to the coast for the whole weekend (helping work on a relative's beach house) we only had time for a day trip, as we needed to be home today to keep on packing for our imminent move (closing in barely two weeks!), but we were determined to make it out there!

Although we'd heard parking at the beach could be a challenge, I think people had meant that as "the parking lots are very full", rather than, as we discovered, "The difference between parking lot and sand trap is hard to spot until you've driven into the middle of it". Out of our three vehicles headed to the beach, two ended up overshooting the rightmost edge of the parking lot and got stuck in the sand. I'm amazed that the parking lot didn't have a fence, or at least a warning sign of some sort at the edge, as ours were not the only vehicles who discovered the sand traps that day!

After some unsuccessful attempts to free ourselves, we were fortunately aided by a couple of Marines (or so I assume, but crewcut muscular guys with tattoos plus Camp Lejeune nearby would seem to make it a safe assumption...) who happened by with their pickup truck and pulled us out of the sand. Huzzah!

Our sand trap adventures seem to have set the trend for the day. Two of our friends missed out on the beach altogether that day (the house work taking much longer than expected), one of the kids came down with a sore throat and an upset stomach, I lost my new sunglasses (note to self: either leave them on the beach when playing in the waves, or invest in a retaining strap of some sort!), and Heather got badly sunburned. But we didn't let that stop us all from playing in the waves, enjoying the fresh air, having entertaining conversations, and in general having a great time.


...and other words not found in Google.

I've been a long-time hobbyist user of Photoshop and related software, starting with (if I remember correctly) Photoshop 4.0 for Mac back in the mid 1990s. It's a fun program to just play around with (at least, it is if you're a geek like me) as the sheer range of functionality in the program makes it possible to create some truly remarkable (and/or hideous) results without hardly knowing what you're doing. (True experts can do even better, of course, but I make no claim to that level of skill!) Just to give you an idea of the things it can do, in the past I've used Photoshop to:
  • preview what my parents' house would look like if repainted in a different color
  • create matching sepia-toned pictures of all the dogs my parents have owned in the last 40 years
  • insert Mr. T into a group photo (long story...)
  • mock up a china cabinet design based on images found online that were almost right but not quite
  • remove extraneous tourists from the background of a picture of us in Las Vegas
  • and so forth. It's a very cool program!
One thing that I've lately found that I enjoy doing with Photoshop is applying various artistic effects to a photograph before printing and framing it, to give it a bit of a different spin. One result that I'm particularly proud of is turning a photo into an old-fashioned black-and-white silhouette. Last year I did this with one of our own wedding pictures as an anniversary present for Heather. The original image was quite high-contrast to begin with, which made this easier:

I'm especially proud of how Heather's veil turned out in the final image:

This spring, a copy of Heather's parents' wedding picture found its way into our scanner, so we decided to give it the same treatment as a gift for them. This picture was the reverse of ours, having light figures on a dark background instead of the other way around:

so I decided to stay with this style, and go for white silhouettes on black for a bit of a different look. It wasn't possible in this case to go for the same sort of effect with the veil (as I couldn't clearly define where the back of Cathy's head ended and where the veil began) but I knew I had to add some sort of detailing to keep the silhouette from becoming too shapeless. After some experimentation (and some excellent insights from Heather) we determined that less is more in this image, so I ended up only adding a few key outlines to the final result:

I find it interesting that the flowers and the edges of Cathy's train on the grass look so complicated, yet were really easy to create (a few quick Photoshop filters and bam!), while the parts that gave me the most challenge (the choice of which lines to include, editing eyeglasses out of the silhouette, etc.) look so simple in the final result. I wonder if most art is that way?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


It's been almost two months now since our trip to Ireland, which has been enough time (for me, anyway) for the memories of the trip to transition from "Wow, that was amazing!" to "Good times... did those actually happen or am I just dreaming it?" And so, since one of the stated purposes of this blog is to help us capture our thoughts and adventures while they're still fresh in our minds and we haven't yet forgotten  them, I should go ahead and write a post about the trip.

We traveled to Ireland with Heather's parents on a great package deal including flight from Boston, rental car, and six nights accomodation in the villas at Adare Manor. This provided the framework for us to plan the vacation around - with a home base to return to each night, we could do day trips in various directions rather than having to figure out where to end each day.

Although driving on the left side of the road (which Heather and her mother both handled like pros - Mr. Smith and I chickened out...) was the first reminder that we weren't in Kansas any more, so to speak, it really hit home when we wandered over to the nearby golf course to explore the 600-year-old friary ruins 
smack in the middle of the course. 

Besides the age of the ruins, the other thing that struck us as different was how simply taken for granted it all seemed to be. No admission charges, no fancy signs, no fences, no other tourists - just the four of us, the ruins, and the occasional golf ball hitting one of the walls. Although we saw many other amazing sights on this trip, these ruins are special to us because we had them entirely to ourselves to explore. Amazing.

In fact, I would say that although we saw many of the famous sights (the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the Cliffs of Moher - which were beautiful, by the way - the Gallarus Oratory, the Rock of Cashel, and so forth), all of our best memories from the trip are of the places and sights that you wouldn't find on most maps.  There's just something about that feeling of discovery, I think, about having a place that feels like it was our personal secret, instead of just being another checkbox on the list of "Places Tourists Go To Take Pictures". There's nothing wrong with the famous sights and sites (they're famous for good reason!), but the lesser-known places have a definite appeal in their quietness and solitude.

One such place was the waterfall and hidden glacial lake at the top of the Connor Pass into Dingle. We did get a tip on finding that one from our Rick Steve's travel book, but it definitely wasn't on our map or in any of our other books. So peaceful and relaxing - we could have sat by the still waters of the lake, seemingly alone in the world, for hours.

We of course visited many pubs while we were there - fish and chips, live Irish music some nights, and of course, lots of beer. Guinness is said to be better in a real pub in Ireland, and I'd agree that this is true, but I found that I preferred Smithwick's myself. 

Heather was more looking forward to the hard cider, but found that the typical Irish brand (Bulmer's) wasn't particularly to her taste. Another reason (as if we needed more!) why we need to make a trip to England next - they have the right kind of cider over there!

I couldn't possibly fit all of the pictures into this post, so I'll just have to give you a link to our album instead. But I have to include one last image, from our last day in Ireland:

Friday, May 15, 2009


We went camping a couple weekends ago with some friends down at Jordan Lake in Apex, NC. After the torrential winds and rain on Friday afternoon (immediately AFTER we set up the tents!), it ended up being a beautiful weekend! The site was great too, right by the lake with our own little private mini-beach. It was a last minute trip which meant lots of rushing around trying to get everything together before Friday but it was well worth the effort. I really love being outdoors when the temperature is still mild enough and it isn't raining. I'll soon be heading indoors for the summer to weather (ha!) the unbearable heat and humidity.

Anyways.. it was Pasha's first camping trip and I think she loved it and we loved her being there ...except the part where she barked and growled at every single noise while we were trying to sleep Friday night. We weren't successful at convincing her that we didn't need her on watchdog alert, but thankfully she was a lot more chill by Saturday. She especially loved running at the edge of the lake and getting as disgustingly dirty as possible!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Well I got my official diagnosis yesterday at the doctors. I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome with a touch of sub clinical Hypothyroidism on the side. You can find out more about PCOS here if you are interested. Given the nature of PCOS I'm going to go with the "less is more" approach to blogging about it. If you want more info you know where to find me. :)
Here's been my general thought process about it over the last couple weeks:

"Oh wow, that would explain all of these problems I've been having for years! It's not just that my body is falling apart!!"

"Oh.. no cure for it and it can lead to very serious health problems, not to mention fertility problems..."

"I don't think I like knowing my testosterone levels are very high. That does nothing to stroke my femininity."

"But there are some treatment options that should help with the symptoms."

"Oh you're saying if the metformin doesn't help with the symptoms then there isn't much else to help with them if we want to get pregnant anytime in the near future? AND I have to completely change my eating habits? YAY!!"

Anyways, I was in a pretty bad mood about it yesterday, (poor Glenn) but I'm not intending to stay in one. Its actually fairly common in women, one out of 10 have it. I know a couple myself so I will have a few comrades in this journey. :-)