Gonna rise up. Find my direction magnetically.

Month: May 2010

Gentlemen, start your engines

Julie and I are running the 2010 Chicago marathon and today was our first significant run in preparation for the event. The marathon is on 10/10/10 this year and due to travel this summer (which means we’ll likely be training less), we needed to get started a few weeks ahead of what our training plan recommended.

We are following Hal Higdon’s Beginner Training Calendar which is the same training plan I followed when I ran the 2000 marathon with my dad. This plan has you running 4 days a week with 1 day cross-training. Usually it’s a Tues, Wed, Thurs run which range from 3 miles as the start of the training to 10 miles at the end. The fourth run is a long run and we are planning on doing ours mostly on Saturdays. These weekend runs range from 6 miles the first week to 20 miles in mid-Sept. where the training peaks. The cross-training day is Sunday.

Here is a google calendar link to our training plan (technically starts the fist week in June). Chicago 2010 Training Program

Lots of things to figure out: shoes, clothes, kid-watching help, work schedules, etc.  Training for an event like this takes a lot of effort and I am so excited that I get to do it with the wife.

I used an iPhone app named RunKeeper to track of today’s run. It has elevation, speed, etc. and the map it provides on their website is one of the coolest things for tracking runs I have seen. It’s just fun to play around with. I’m planning on tracking all my outside runs with this app.

Peonies at Eastgate

These couple of weeks at the end of May and start of June are always a special time around here. It’s the time when irises and peonies are in bloom and considering the love that Julie has for peonies, she seems to have a smile on her face when she is in the yard. There were just a few peony here when we moved in and now there are dozens of flowers coming up, more each day and in three different parts of the yard.

They are mainly dark pink in color but a few are pale pink. When Julie’s Grandma had her house on the market a few years ago, in preparation for a move into a nursing home, Julie and her dad decided to dig up all the peonies he had planted there many, many years ago and give them a new home. It’s a comforting feeling to know that the same plants that brought Grandma K enjoyment also bring it to us.

Julie’s dad is the peony planting wizard and it’s thanks to a lot of hard work on his part and Julie’s tending to them, that they look so great!

There’s food in that there garden

Wow! Only 4 days and already signs of life in the garden. Cantaloupe and cucumber are the first to pop. Some bean plants that we put in a pot are also showing signs of life. The girls, including Julie, are so excited!! Next step is to put the lawn clippings from this weekend’s mow in the bed as mulch to help keep these hot days from drying the bed out too much.

A vegetable garden for the vegetarian

For Mother’s Day, I told Julie we would build a raised vegetable garden bed in the backyard. We had talked about doing this for a couple of years but never got around to it. A few weeks ago I started doing some research and came up with a plan that combined a few of the ideas I had seen.


We staked out where we wanted it to go in the yard using wooden stakes and we decided on an 8’x4′ layout. Since we don’t really know how this whole thing is going to work out, we didn’t want to go too big, but Julie was excited which meant she bought way, way too many things to go into a small starter garden. She agreed to cut back her ambitious plans to a more reasonable number of vegetables and we were ready to start getting material.

It took two trips to the hardware store to get all the top soil and material for the project. The final material list was:

  • 8′ 2×12 Cedar (3)
  • 8′ 1×6 Ceder (3)
  • 8′ 1×2 Cedar (2)
  • 6′ 4×4 Cedar (1)
  • 18″ metal landscape stakes (4)
  • 6″ bolts with washer and nut (16)
  • 27 cu. ft. of top soil
  • 3 cu. ft. of peat moss

Total cost was around $225. The 2×12 cedar boards were $32 a piece! I looked at using treated lumber or something that might be cheaper than cedar, but when building something that will be containing food that we are going to eat, I wasn’t going to risk it. Several websites warned about using pretreated lumber around vegetables. Don’t do it!

I found a cool website to estimate the amount of top soil I was going to need. Thank you internet.  How to Calculate How Much Soil Is Needed in a Raised Bed Planter Box


With all the material on hand, it was time to get to work. the overall design was fairly simple, the sides of the bed were made out of the 2×12 and would be bolted to 4×4 blocks cut for each corner. The whole structure would be anchored to the ground by the 18″ stakes and on top there would be 1×6 going around the top lip to make a spot to sit your butt while gardening. I know what you are asking yourself, but Ryan, what are the 1×2 pieces for?? I know, I know, I am getting there. To finish things off, I bought some 1×2 so Julie could staple/write what she is putting where.

Power tools are the best way to start the day.

The site we chose for the bed gets plenty of sun and is out of the way a little so it won’t interfere with the kids playing in the yard. The shots below show the progression of the bed from beginning to end including removing the sod, leveling the bed, assembling the frame and finishing it up.

Final Thoughts

Overall the plan came through and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. We still need to get a few bags of mulch to go on top and install the rain barrel at the downspout that is 8′ away from the edge of the bed but for the most part, it’s done. Julie and the kids spent some time yesterday afternoon planting everything and marking it with the stakes. Now it’s just a waiting game. I have a feeling this is the first of what will turn into many of these raised beds if we have a good harvest.

Now if only I can keep the vermin from eating it all!

My first time… with a tripod

I got a shipment the other day that included a new tripod, some filters and a wireless shutter release. This should be the last of my gear before the Canada trip (although maybe another spare battery…. there is always something!).

I was driving Brooke home from drum lessons on Tuesday and the sunset looked really amazing. I got to the house, mentioned this to Julie in passing and she told me to go shot it! So I grabbed my gear as quick as I could since the sunset was almost over and drove like mad to a place on the Fox River that offered a decent view. I missed the most amazing part, but this gave me a great chance to try the tripod.  After some minor post-processing, here is what I ended up with. The composition could have been better but I was happy with my first attempt at low light photography. The auto-focus and VR didn’t help at all… next time, note to self.

All three were shot with the Nikkor 18-105mm 3.5-5.6 lens.

ISO 400, .125s, f/6.3

ISO 200, 5.0s, f/10

ISO 1800, 1/30s, f/3.8

Family Picture Time

At various events throughout the year, my immediate and extended family attempt to take shots of the whole group. This past weekend was just such an event. This was the first time I would be getting some shots using the D90 so I was excited to see the difference. I left the 18-105mm lens on with no flash. The sun was low in the western sky and we were backed up against some hedges. Usually we don’t get conditions like this for these types of shots, but the lighting looked decent. The small flash I have would not have been able to light the whole group in an even manner so I didn’t even bother.

Since I was in these shots, I couldn’t actually take them but I was hoping with the setup and getting the camera set to (P)rogram, it would be easy enough for a neighbor to help out. So here is the best of the bunch with no post-processing:

While this looked fairly good overall, I wasn’t really happy with the skin tones, exposure and white-balance. I have been using the Nikon Capture NX2 software after a friend swore by it vs. photoshop. After my first attempt to keep to correct the issues I saw with the original, I got this:

I am pretty happy with this, even if the saturation of the bright colored clothes in the front left is a little strong and there are some spots where the sunlight was shining through some trees that look more harsh than in the original. Overall, I’d say the Capture NX2 software is paying for itself by helping to take an alright picture and turn it into something that is close to wall-worthy.

Prep Work for Photographing Banff

So I have set out to give myself a more thorough education on photographing in the outdoors. Mainly focusing on sunrise, sunset, landscapes and high contrast  lighting situations since the Canada trip will likely have a lot of bright snow, blue skies and tricky landscapes. Thanks to the internet, I have found a few great lessons to start out with. Here’s a recap of some of the videos I have been watching. They are all short and most only have one or two tips, but that makes it easy to digest and I can keep the notes consolidated on a notepad that I will be taking with me.

Marc Silber has some great videos about photographing landscapes and getting the whole story.  His siblerstudios.tv site has some very interesting videos as well, but not related to my mission so I didn’t let myself get too distracted.

Some tips from the trail as Marc walks along the JMT.


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Walk For The Whisper, 2010

Sue, Al, Julie, the girls and I packed up and drove into the city for the annual National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s (NOCC) 3 mile walk to raise money and awareness for ovarian cancer.

We started doing this hike in 2005 when Julie’s mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and have done it every year since. This event was always a big deal for us when she was here to walk with us and is even a bigger deal now, since it’s a day to remember her.

It was a lot easier to attend the walk when it was held in Naperville, IL, but since they have moved it to the city (Belmont Harbor area), it has become a big logistical pain with getting there, parking, etc. On the positive side, moving to the city seems to have gotten more people involved since the number that showed up this year seemed bigger than in earlier years. Our two-hour trip through traffic was not how we would have liked to have started the day, but we arrived just in time for the 10 am start. As a result of our tardiness, we missed the opening ceremony where they march all the survivors onto a stage for a picture which is always a highlight.

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Belmont+Harbor,+Chicago,+IL&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=50.51141,104.414063&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Belmont+Harbor&ll=41.941898,-87.636529&spn=0.011683,0.025492&t=h&z=16&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Normally we would spend some time in all the different tents and enjoy seeing everyone with their families and friends. We didn’t have time for that this year and the mood after the long car ride didn’t really lead to a very heart-felt experience like we have had in past years. Adding to this was that we knew that thanks to a 12:05 Cubs game, traffic on the way home wouldn’t be any better.

For next year, I think we need a little better planing with regards to construction on I-90. We miss you Linda!

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