There are many things that suck: gravity, taxes, the New York Yankees, but what I’ve been busy reacting to recently is aging. Now, don’t get me wrong, getting older certainly beats the alternative, but I’m still getting used to the fact that there are some things I can’t do anymore and, just as often, some things I don’t want to do anymore. One of the latter is why I bought my new camera. When we head out on trips where we’re hauling our gear on our backs (as compared to the back seat) weight has become more and more of an issue. With my old camera gear, I needed a dedicated, specialized bag to carry the body and two (or three) lenses. My minimal kit (Canon 7D, 10-22mm lens, 24-105 lens) came in at close to 8 lbs., and that’s without the other crap I need as support gear (back up disks, iPad, chargers, batteries, etc.). When we returned from our last overseas jaunt, I told Patti that before our next major trip I was buying a new camera. If you read my last post, you’ll know I did just that, picking up an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk2 which comes in under 2 lbs. Last time, I said I liked my new camera and the intervening months have only made me like it more and more.

It comes with a pretty hefty learning curve, however. It has been described as the most customizable camera currently on the market and the folks that say that aren’t kidding. I’ve been setting it up just the way I want it and, in order to figure out what the hell I’m doing, I even bought a book to explain the various options. It’s helped.

While trudging up this learning curve, I decided to exercise one of the advanced features this camera offers. It’s called the Hi Resolution mode, and here’s how it works. The camera normally takes a 16MP image. However, when it’s in the hi-res mode, it takes a 40MP image by taking 9 separate images, moving the sensor half a pixel in a different direction each time and then combining the images into one ginormous image. It needs to be on a tripod for this to work and the scene needs to be static since any movement would show up as a blur. The sweet spot for this is landscapes and, hey, we’re going to Switzerland this spring. There’s a pretty significant chance I’ll be taking a landscape or two. I thought I’d give it a test.

So, the other morning I took a couple of test shots from the parking lot at work. See the images below. The first one is a normal 16MP shot, the second a hi-res version. The camera was not moved between them (the slight differences between the two is due to a crop/straighten I did…the camera was uneven on the GorillaPod I was using). I was about 550 yards from the base of the building shooting at a 35mm equivalent 52mm.

16MP VAB, KSC, FL, 2/4/16

16MP VAB, KSC, FL, 2/4/16

Hi-Res VAB, KSC, FL, 2/4/16

Hi-Res VAB, KSC, FL, 2/4/16

Below are two extreme close ups of the flag. Note how, even without clicking on the image to zoom in, the stars are crisper and how you can now see the vertical grooves in the panels of the VAB in the high-res version. Sweet. This won’t be a feature I use every time, but it will be used.

I like my new camera. Still.

16MP Close up, VAB, KSC, 2/4/16

16MP Close up, VAB, KSC, 2/4/16

Hi-res Close up, VAB, KSC, 2/4/16

Hi-res Close up, VAB, KSC, 2/4/16

We have a significant trip coming up next spring/summer (stay tuned) that will require us to spend a lot of time carrying all of our gear about for a couple of weeks. I have reached a point where my DSLR gear is just too damn heavy for me to lug about for any extended periods. I had told Patti that the next trip that involved that type of situation would require a new camera/lens that was: a) significantly smaller, b) significantly lighter and c) capable of taking the type of pictures that I want to take with the type of control I’m used to.

I bought a new camera last week.

It’s an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk2 with a 12-40 (24-80 35mm equivalent) f2.8 lens. It’s also small, light and full of features that I didn’t even know I wanted. I have about 6 months to get comfortable with it before we head overseas so I have hit the ground running. As I type this we are in an absolutely beautiful VRBO in Harlem celebrating my wife’s birthday with family & friends. This birthday happens to end with a zero so this trip has been planned for quite awhile. Needless to say we’re having a blast and I’m exercising the camera as much as possible. I’ve attached some shots from today for your pleasure. These are all straight out of the camera with zero modifications.

I like my new camera.

 

Central Park on a beautiful December day, NY, NY, 12/5/15

Fish counter at Zabars, NY, NY 12/5/15

Central Park North, NY, NY, 12/5/15

Harlem Church, NY, NY, 12/5/15

Santa Claus boarding the subway, NY, NY, 12/5/15

At least for us they weren’t. They were $18 for the two of us, and totally worth it.

We went camping up near Gainesville a few weeks ago to celebrate what we thought was the breaking of the long Florida summer. We were … mistaken. It was hot and humid with mosquitoes threatening to carry us away. This is not exactly an inducement to go hiking in what can accurately be described as swampland, so we hit the internet to see what else we could do under more comfortable circumstances. And by “comfortable” I mean “air-conditioned.” Gainesville, for those of you who don’t know, is the college town for the University of Florida. We discovered that it has both a Natural History and Art Museum on the campus (next door to each other, in fact) so we decided to get all cultural and check them out. Patti also read that the Natural History Museum had a butterfly garden that had received rave reviews so we put that on the list. Turns out both museums have free entry, but the butterfly garden cost $10 per person, $9 for Florida residents. We coughed up the $18, went through the airlock doors (to prevent the butterflies from escaping) and HOLY COW!

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

As soon as we walked in, we saw the photo to the right: a woman taking a selfie had a butterfly land on her screen. They were landing on kids, cameras, plants, railings, everywhere. There were thousands of them and they were beautiful. The actual walk through the garden isn’t very long, but we found ourselves just loitering about watching them, and watching the kids watching them. It was totally worth the price and an extremely enjoyable experience. It was also a LOT better than sweltering in the October Florida heat.

PS: I’m writing this on November 1st and we’re still waiting for things to cool off. <sigh>

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Hall_Wedding_Jeanne2 - Version 2Several weeks ago we had the great good fortune to rendezvous in Annapolis, Md. for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Stop and think about that: in the time since Jeanne was born, we have gone from mankind just learning to fly to walking on the moon. From the age of steam to splitting the atom. From the normal problems of the day consisting of distributing ice and removing horse droppings (for want of a better term) to supplying the device in your pocket that can access the world’s knowledge in seconds with power. The rate of change in the world’s knowledge and capabilities has accelerated to an unfathomable degree, and she has been watching the craziness her entire life. And she’s still going strong.

It was a pretty special weekend. Family and friends came in from Utah, Montana, Florida, California, Arizona and New York. For the first time since I joined this family, all four of her children were in the same place at the same time. We shared meals, sat outside on a cool August day (and let me tell you, just having a cool day in August in that part of the world is special; there’s a reason Congress adjourns in August), and talked talked talked. We also ate ate ate! It was quite the whirlwind of activity and Jeanne was going strong the entire time. In her own words, she was “floating on air.”

During her birthday lunch, we went around the table, each of us telling a story or two and thanking Jeanne for this and that. A couple of common themes, mentioned several times, struck a chord with me. Her love of travel, which was passed to her children, was one. Another was her love of reading. Both of these are passions of Patti and mine, and it was wonderful to acknowledge to her the results of the seeds she nourished. Having the opportunity to let her know how we felt was a moment that many of us don’t get to share with our loved ones, to the detriment of us all.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

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DCF 1.0

On a spring night in 2002, Patti drove from our house across the causeway to an appointment. When she turned off the car, she heard a strange sound coming from the engine compartment. It wasn’t a meowing, more a weird squawk. When she popped the hood, she discovered a 5- or 6-week-old kitten had hitched a ride on top of a brace under the hood. That’s how Nikkie (or Nicky, or Nikky, or whatever) came into our lives.

We named her after the William Powell character in the Thin Man movies. Her “sister,” adopted shortly after Nikki adopted us, was named Nora after the wife in the same movies. From the very beginning she was a bit on the odd side, which is saying something if you know anything about our feline partners. She was extremely shy. We have many longtime friends who have never laid eyes on her except for perhaps a quick flash as she ran to her safe spot under the guest bed. We had a cleaning lady for a couple of years who only glimpsed her now and again. When we would hit the road, sometimes for many weeks, the cat sitters would only see her if they knew where to look. She would come out into the common areas if people were staying the night, but only reluctantly. We were her humans and that was enough for her.

Nikki and Nora tolerated each other and were friendly enough, but not close. They seemed to divide the feline chores about the house. Nora is our huntress, tracking and killing the many lizards on the back porch (which she then eats, sometimes followed by a nice puke). Nora also tracks and locates spiders for me to remove, much to Patti’s disgust, and one time presented us with the still-twitching front half of a black snake that somehow got into the house. Nikki showed little interest in the hunt, but she was our protector. When one of the neighborhood cats presented themselves at our bedroom sliding door, she would attack. She never seemed to learn that there was glass in the way, but she got an ‘A’ for effort.

She was a picky eater, so when we changed their food a couple of months ago for something more suited to older cats she only picked at it at initially and started losing weight. Since she was a solid cat we didn’t pay much attention, but she kept on losing until we finally became concerned. We scheduled an appointment for after our return from a trip to Annapolis, but when we got home she was weak so we took her to the animal emergency room. I won’t go into the experiences of the next two weeks. All I’ll say is that we had a very sick cat. Very sick.

Last Friday, September 4, we put Nikki to sleep. While it was totally the right decision (both the vet and the vet tech agreed that it was time), it was obviously a difficult one. Although Patti and I had discussed this moment and were “prepared,” we really weren’t. An important part of our family is no longer here and we have a hole in our universe that is completely disproportionate to her physical presence. The three of us are (very) slowly coming to grips with our new family dynamic. We’ll get there.

But our “special snowflake” still has her claws embedded in our hearts and always will.

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"Gonzo", Eastern Screech Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

“Gonzo” Eastern Screech Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

"Owliver", Great Horned Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

“Owliver” Great Horned Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

"Bella", American Kestrel, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

“Bella” American Kestrel, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

I'll try (almost) anything once. Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/9/15

I’ll try (almost) anything once.
Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/9/15

During our week in Costa Rica we had a front row seat to some excellent surf, at least compared to what we’re used to seeing. I even dragged these bones out with my niece and nephew and took a lesson. I told the instructor that I will go out “until I hurt myself.” I was out for much longer than I expected. I was out for long enough.

The instructor told us that a big swell was heading our way on Thursday and that the spot where those in the know would be was just down the beach from our house, so I headed out there that morning and tried my hand at shooting surfers (in the photographic sense). It was fun. And, man those people had a good time too!

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

This one's for Bill. If Patti's really lucky, he'll comment.

(I'm off to a surf lesson…more later!)

 

The blue line is our path on the Moorea day trip on 9/26/14

The blue line is our path on the Moorea day trip on 9/26/14

As I mentioned last time, while we were on Moorea we took a 4X4 tour of the island. After seeing the photos and doing some research, this rapidly rose to the top of my “must do” list, particularly since the majority of tour time would be spent aboard ship. It was a good call. On our first morning we walked directly across the street to Alberts Tours and hopped into the open back of a Land Rover on facing benches where we would spend the next few hours bouncing around the island on sometimes dicey roads seeing the sights. First stop was the Hilton where we picked up 3 other couples for the morning: a retired couple from Michigan, newlyweds from New York and a young couple from Australia. (Interesting note: of the 6 people we picked up, 4 were chemical engineers.) The map above shows the path we took that day. We drove by Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay, drove to the top of Magic Mountain and the Belvedere, saw a bunch of agriculture, stopped at a pearl store and learned a whole bunch. Random fact: Captain Cook did not anchor in Cook’s Bay but in Opunoho Bay. So much for logic.

All in all we had a great day that was totally worth the investment in time and money. I took some beautiful pictures and spent an enjoyable morning with some interesting fellow travelers.

Patti says:

Yeah, it was a fun tour and we learned a lot. For instance, if you are prone to motion sickness, take Dramamine beforehand. This was a lesson learned the hard way. I was unable to enjoy the beautiful view from the Belvedere, the architectural site or the presentation on pearls. Fortunately I did not embarrass myself in front of all the tourists (or gross them out either) as the pearl shop had a conveniently located restroom.

The Paul Gauguin cruise ship anchored in Opunoho Bay, Moorea, 9/26/14

The Paul Gauguin cruise ship anchored in Opunoho Bay, Moorea, 9/26/14

View of the lagoon from Magic Mountain, Moorea, 9/26/14

View of the lagoon from Magic Mountain, Moorea, 9/26/14

View of a lagoon pass, Moorea, 9/26/14

View of a lagoon pass, Moorea, 9/26/14

View of the Agricultural Lycee (Agricultural School/Station), Moorea, 9/26/14

View of the Agricultural Lycee (Agricultural School/Station), Moorea, 9/26/14

Pineapple field, Moorea, 9/26/14

Pineapple field, Moorea, 9/26/14

Interior shot of lush land & beautiful mountains, Moorea, 9/26/14

Interior shot of lush land & beautiful mountains, Moorea, 9/26/14

Interior shot of lush land & beautiful mountains, Moorea, 9/26/14

Interior shot of lush land & beautiful mountains, Moorea, 9/26/14

The view from the Belvedere, Moorea, 9/26/14

The view from the Belvedere, Moorea, 9/26/14

When we finally determined that the bareboat cruise around the islands of French Polynesia was actually going to happen, we started researching the logistics of the issue. Patti eventually decided to talk to a travel agent (yup, there still is such a thing!) and we hooked up with Uschi at Crossroads Travel. We had several back and forth conversations where we discussed what we were doing (sailing with family & friends) and what the best way to execute would be. At one point Uschi said, “This is a bucket list trip, right? Then you need to spend some time ashore either before or after your sailing.” We gave that the thought process it deserved (about 20 seconds) and responded “OK!” And that is how we found ourselves at the Moorea Pearl Resort for three nights and, holy crap, was it ever the right decision.

Our (very) private pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/25/14

Our (very) private pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/25/14

One thing needs to be said up front: we are not usually “high end” travelers. It’s not like we scrimp on our comforts, but usually a clean room and decent meals meet our needs. That being the case, we can honestly state that a) the Pearl rocked and b) if we ever find our way to Moorea again we will be staying there again. The staff was exceptional, the facilities beyond comfortable (our room had a private pool!) and the meals delicious. There were enough recreational activities to satisfy the most energetic of guest (which was NOT us) and plenty to do on the island itself. We didn’t begin to touch the extent of the possibilities.

So what did we do with our three days on Moorea? Well, we took a 4×4 tour of the interior (more on this in the next post) during which I took a ton of beautiful shots, had a lovely sunset dinner at the Moorea Beach Cafe (yum!), spent a lazy morning under the big shade tree next to the Pearl’s infinity pool and wandered through the nearby village of Maharepa. A true highlight, not just of our time on Moorea but of the entire trip. was our dinner with Dr. Michael Poole and his lovely wife Mareva.

Before we left Florida we mentioned to some friends that we were going to Moorea. They said, “Oh, we have a friend there.” Turns out that our friend’s college roommate became a marine biologist, moved to Moorea many years before and is now the expert in French Polynesia on humpback whales and spinner dolphins. He offers eco-tours where he takes folks out to actually see the whales and is well known as the premier guy for this type of thing, so much so that Patti had already heard of him before we discovered this “small world” link. Although, due to circumstances out of anybody’s control, we couldn’t take the tour, Michael and Mareva picked us up at the Pearl, took us to the Hilton Resort where he gave a talk, and then we went out for a great meal and excellent conversation. One of my biggest regrets from the trip is that I took zero photos of this wonderful couple. Oh well, yet another reason to return.

After three days we flew to Raiatea and hooked up with our shipmates at the Hawaiki Nui Hotel, where we received an upgrade to an overwater bungalow! It was a beautiful experience to lie in bed and watch the sun rise over the Pacific. We had an interesting dinner with the entire crew, enjoyed a cocktail or two and got ready to board the boat!

Next time: inland on Moorea.

The Pearl Resort poolside, Moorea, 9/25/14

The Pearl Resort poolside, Moorea, 9/25/14

Patti chilling by the pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

Patti chilling by the pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

An over water bungalow, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

An overwater bungalow, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

Over water bungalows, The Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Overwater bungalows, The Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

The Admiral & Captain on our deck, The Hawaiki Nui Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

The Admiral & Captain on our bungalow deck, The Hawaiki Nui Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Poolside at the Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Poolside at the Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Sunrise over Huahine, Raiatea, 9/29/14

Sunrise over Huahine (in the distance) from our bungalow, Raiatea, 9/29/14