Archive for the ‘photos’ Category


Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

switzerlandI’ve not yet written a summary of my recent trip to Switzerland but at least all the photos are done! I’ve a ton of them up on Flickr if you feel like slogging through them but the following Facebook albums actually have some useful and descriptive captions:

Switzerland 2009 (1 of 5) – Basel
Switzerland 2009 (2 of 5) – Interlaken and Zermatt
Switzerland 2009 (3 of 5) – Zermatt
Switzerland 2009 (4 of 5) – Glacier Express and Chur
Switzerland 2009 (5 of 5) – Luzern and France

Curating My Family Media History

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Back in December of 2002 my husband and I spent a few days rescuing some family mementos:

Jeff’s helping me to finish digitizing the rest of my parent’s old Super 8
home movies. We did about four of them last year at the same time as a a
surprise present for my parents. Now I intend to get the rest of these onto
video tapes, and then eventually onto DVD.

This is the second holiday season I’ve spent as curator for my family’s visual history. The VHS tapes we created from the original Super 8s was hands-down one of the most successful and heartwarming gifts I’ve ever had the pleasure of giving. But how quickly times flies for technology! My parents now own nothing but DVD players – no more VHS – and it’s time to convert formats once again.

filmThe initial conversion required quite a bit of ingenuity to accomplish. My husband setup the process and together we spent several days carefully playing the original film (occasionally cleaning off a mold that can form, eating away the organic emulsion portion of the tape) through an old projector (while watching to make sure the ailing old film’s perforations actually caught on the projector’s sprockets and fed through the machine properly) onto a wall in a darkened studio. We had to stop playback several times to feed film through the projector when it failed in spots or when we came to a break in the film.  A digital camera captured the playback directly from the wall with surprisingly accurate results. The digital clips were then played back on a computer connected to a VHS recorder.

Understandably, this whole process was fairly time consuming. We could have simply handed the film canisters to a company that specializes in this sort of recovery but – at the time – that would have cost us thousands of dollars.

But with a little ingenuity and a few evenings spent in the studio marveling over the old film while I shared what I remembered – both of the content of the films and memories of evenings watching home movies with my family on our old projector – we now have the digital clips and it’s only a matter of another weekend or two to convert them to a DVD format using iMovie.


Besides the visual history, we also saved some audio recordings of my sister and myself from when we were toddlers. My mother made these tapes from time to time to send to my grandmother in Finland. (Remember kids, this was WELL before the Internet.) My sister and I would sing songs, read stories or just chatter away into an enormous tape recorder until my mom had enough to fill up a sixty minute tape and send it to her mother. When my grandmother passed away decades later and we visited Finland to settle her estate, we discovered she’d kept all the tapes.

For this conversion I made use of the fact that I worked at a media services outfit; the recording studio was setup to capture playback from audio cassettes directly into a computer. From there I could just use my own desktop computer to burn a music CD with tracks made from the recordings. I even used Photoshop to create a little CD jacket cover with a picture of my sister and I on the front cover and the tracks listed on the back.  (Listen as I recite “Humpty Dumpty” – I was 3 & 1/2 years old at the time.)


I picked up a new project this year – converting all the old pictures in my parent’s photo albums into a digital format. To do them all will, quite frankly, probably take years. At the moment I’m concentrating only on the collections from before I was born: photos of my parents when they were children, photos of my grandparents when they were married and even photos from when they were children. Some of what I’ve stumbled across may even be of my great-great-grandparents. The fact that all of these old photos come from two different regions of the world — Finland and India — makes them all the more fascinating to me.

great2 great1



The process is fairly simple. I scan the photos at a fairly high resolution and then save them – without making any changes whatsoever – as TIFFs for as little loss of data as possible. These go into a digital archive where we can retrieve them as needed. These are the files I’ll work from if I want to make a printable photo for a frame in the bookcase or on the wall.

Since I already have Photoshop open I then save a second copy of each photo, after doing some basic level, contrast and color correction as well as any repairs for water stains, tears or other blemishes. I then resize the image and save it as a JPEG, to be shared with family or on Flickr or websites.






It’s a simple process but does take some time. I’ve finished one album but I’ve got six more to go before I go home for the holidays and then I get to start on the hundred or so other albums of family photos from after I was born.

Bar M Ranch Ride

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

img_8732Ye gods, I’m sore. I wasn’t feeling it last night, or even this morning; the aches and pains kinda creep up on you and yell “psych!”

Still, it was so very worth it. I spent an absolutely gorgeous morning riding horseback through a Texas Hill Country ranch with my best friend Valerie and I can’t wait to do it again.

Valerie and I have known each other since we were in junior high school – I think that’s been about twenty-eight years now (my mother calls Valerie her “other daughter”) – and in all the time I’ve known her, Val’s always been an avid horse fan. From collecting Beyer horse models, to reading every fiction and non-fiction book about horses to her jacket full of patches of the different breeds, horses have always been a passion for her. She even manged to live her dream and own several horses, including seeing one through a pregnancy and then raising the foal to a healthy, lively adult mare.

img_4230When she was a horse owner, she took me out riding a handful of times and I learned how to (mostly) handle myself (western-style) on a horse. I even did a trailride in Cuero, Texas back in 1999. But since her Raindancer passed away Valerie hasn’t been around horses much. Cloudjumper (Raindancer’s foal) has a new home as do many of the other horses I remember Val fostering for brief periods of time.

So, naturally, it had been a while since she’d been riding and she was really missing it. That’s when she called me up and invited me to ride with her at the Bar M Ranch in Bandera, Texas:

Located just 55 miles northwest of San Antonio in the midst of the majestic Texas Hill Country, the “Bar M” ranch is situated on a hilltop plateau offering 360 degree panoramic views of the neighboring Bandera countryside. Just 2 and 1/2 miles from the historic town of Bandera, we’re only minutes away from the festivities of the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” where rodeos and horses are a way of life.

The “Bar M” is comprised of scenic mountain views and has over one mile of wooded trails along the picturesque San Julian creek. The ranch provides a safe haven for an abundance of wildlife including whitetail deer, the exotic axis deer and blackbuck antelope, Russian boar hogs, mountain lions, bobcats, wild turkey, the elusive fox, the adorable armadillo, ringtails, coyotes, jack rabbits and, of course, the curious raccoons.

The Bar M offers private and personalized horseback rides tailored to different experience levels. We chose a three hour morning ride along prepared trails through the ranch, up and over some of the hills and through different kinds of terrain.

It was early enough to be a bit nippy at first. In fact, the drive into the ranch from Bandera was so foggy we weren’t sure we’d find the ranch entrance! Still, the fog in the hills was breathtakingly beautiful and it burned off quickly to become a beautifully sunny day.

Our wrangler started by talking to us about the horses, and the specific personalities of the ones we were about to ride – Gus and Reny:



She asked about our backgrounds and experience. Since I was not that terribly experienced she took some time to show us how the bit worked, how to approach the horse, mount, dismount, sit on the saddle, handle the reins and guide the horse. None of it was unfamiliar, but the refresher was much appreciated and I did learn several new things.



After the lesson we gave the horses some treats and pats, then got our gear, mounted up and got going. The two ranch dogs, Chula and Paris, joined us for the whole trip, trotting alongside, charging up the hillside and splashing in the water. They were pretty tuckered out when it was all over.

I was carrying along a Canon Rebel in a backpack that I only pulled out when we were stopped and off the horses. Next time, I might leave the backpack behind and simply take two lenses and the camera body in the saddlebags. The smaller Canon Elf was a lot easier to whip out with one hand and take pictures of the scenery, myself and Valerie behind me.

We rode single file, in a specific order – horses do have a pecking order that has to be respected or there can be biting and kicking. Our wrangler reminded us that a little space between riders is also a good idea, especially since Gus was a bit of a prankster and liked to nip the butt of the horse in front of him if he could.

The property itself is a good example of every kind of terrain you might see in Central Texas, from flat meadows with grazing cattle and deer, to rocky hillside slopes covered in oak, mesquite and cedar. Our wrangler pointed out the creek, which unfortunately was pretty dry due to the severe drought we’ve had. Still, a few spots had some water, and she pointed out her “redneck jacuzzi” – a spot on the creek where water would normally rush over the rocks into a small pool before bubbling out, very much like parts of Perdenales State Park.





At one point in the ride the sounds our horses hooves made changed dramatically, as if the ground they were walking on was hollow. In fact, it was! We were riding over just one of the many caves on the property and the sound was especially hollow sounding because the caves were drier than usual. One cave, high on the hill, was used by the turn-of-the-century owner to store the bootleg hooch that he made with his own still. I found all the cave info especially fascinating because my sister-in-law, Jessica, is now a cave biologist who was extremely active in Texas caving when she lived here. The ranch also has evidence of its geologic past, when the Gulf of Mexico covered this part of the state.


Other historical tidbits included evidence of Native American use from long ago, from the arrowheads found on the property, to evidence of encampments, use of the caves, a pecan grove that was obviously planted, rather than natural and one oak burl carved into a bison head. The original homestead, dating back to the late 1800’s is still on the property as were two hand dug wells that dated back about a hundred years.




We saw cattle, hawks and antelope, and our wrangler pointed out a watering hole that she’d spotted a black cougar (either a black panther up from Mexico or maybe a jaguarundi) drinking from not too long ago.

In the end it seemed like the time just flew by. This ride was so very different from the trail ride I’d been on in Cuero with its hundreds of people and horses over wide open spaces, stopping every twenty minutes for a break to drink and socialize. This ride was a level of magnitude nicer, just the three of us women riding through a much more interesting countryside, at our own pace on a peaceful morning. When I wanted to stop and take a picture we could, and we could just keep going if no one wanted a break.


I enjoyed it so very much. I know both Valerie and I will be back there, perhaps several times.

Check out the whole photoset of our ride at Flickr.


Photo Friday

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I haven’t posted a picture to the Photo Friday challenge in a long time. The topic was “Best of 2008”, and I chose to interpret that as “best photo” rather than best event. Our best photo? One that Jeff took when our giant hackberry tree had to be cut down.

To be sure, this was NOT the best event of the year. In fact it was a rather traumatic experience. I still cringe every time I pull into the driveway and see stump. It was a gorgeous shade tree and a big part of our front yard. Unfortunately the tree was long past the average lifespan for a hackberry and slowly splitting into three pieces. The last ice storm that moved through our area weighed it down enough to snap the steel cable holding the major split in check. After a lot of agonizing we realized that the tree had to be taken down, before it came down of its own accord on the roof or the car.

The photo really captures the effort it took to take it down. The guy we hired admitted that he’d underestimated the job – it took almost all day and he was exhausted when he left. Oddly, for days afterward the neighborhood deer decided to hang out around the stump, nibbling on the bark.

We plan to replace the tree this spring. We still haven’t decided whether we’ll plant a pecan, oak or maple yet. A couple of redbuds scattered around might be nice as well. Still, it’ll take a while before any of them will have the height and spread of the old hackberry.