Tag Archives: Family

Samantha and the Fireplace

20130102_Samantha_and_Fire_004This photo shows how things have been around here lately! This is our fat cat, Samantha, who loves to sleep in front of the fireplace – especially when there is a football game on the TV. Since it has been rather cold and dreary outside, and football is in high gear right now, Samantha is spending a lot of time in front of the fireplace.

Since I did my last post, on the photowalk around the University of Texas campus, I have done some photography, but not the sort that I can put up on my blog.

On Sunday, December 16th, Barb and I met friends for brunch at Threadgill’s Restaurant (the one where the old Armadillo World Headquarters was located) and then went over to the Palmer Events Center, where they had the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar going on. The Austin Lounge Lizards were playing, and we got there early enough for front row seats. I had my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and my three fast prime lenses with me. I took dozens of low-light, high ISO photos with the aperture opened wider than f/2.0.

I would be thrilled to show them to you, but I don’t have the band’s permission. I didn’t see any “No Photography” signs, but we did pay a $5 admission to get into the Bazaar, so that means it wasn’t considered a public place. Since I’m not sure about the copyright issues, I’ll be safe and pass up this opportunity to show you the best photos that I took during the entire month of December.  Maybe I’ll send a few of the photos to the band and then ask their permission to show them here….. maybe.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_111On December 19th, I had a paying event to photography Bonnie B.’s 70th birthday party. It was in a meeting room at the UT Club, which is located within the east side of the DKR – Texas Memorial Stadium. I went there a few days in advance to see what sort of lighting I would have to deal with. Fortunately the 10′ – 12′ (<3m) ceiling was white, so I decided to use my Canon 5D Mark II with a single on-camera Canon 580EX II flash, which I attached an ExpoImaging small FlashBender to. I simply put the camera into Manual mode, set the shutter to 1/200 th of a second, the aperture to f/5.6, put the flash into TTL mode and added +2/3 stop of flash exposure compensation.  I simply bounced the flash off of that white ceiling. The results were great, and my post processing effort was minimal. Again, photos that I’m proud of, but don’t feel comfortable showing here, since I was paid to take these photographs for Bonnie.

20121219_Bonnie_Bain_70th_BDay_018Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

20121219_Bonnie_Bain_70th_BDay_058On Christmas Eve, my Dad and Rita (my step-Mom) came over for lunch and to play cards. This is the standard “line ’em up in front of the fireplace and take the shot before we eat” type of family snapshot. No flash, just try to get everyone to stand still for 1/4 of a second…

20121224_Christmas_Eve_004Here’s one of just Dad and Rita. I was using my Canon 5D Mark II that day. Again, no flash.

20121224_Christmas_Eve_006Christmas Day was spent over at my Mom’s house, where my cousin Mike and his wife, Janel, joined us. Mom’s house is pretty dark inside. I didn’t want to use a flash, so even though the temperature was a pretty chilly 42 degrees (5.5 C) and breezy, I got everyone to go out onto her shaded porch and got everyone to act like they were not cold for about 3 minutes.

20121225_Christmas_002During the weekend after Christmas, Barb and I drove up to her sister’s house in Coppell, which is a suburb northwest of Dallas. That’s a 3 and a half hour drive for us. Barb’s brother and his family drove in from Sugarland, which is a suburb south of Houston.

The sky was overcast, which would have been great lighting for a family photo, but it was very cool outside, and everyone asked me to see if I could find a spot indoors. Since I was travelling, I had brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5. In my bag I also had a single Olympus FL-600R flash unit, and I also had a small FlashBender.

I arranged a couple of chairs in the middle of Lisa’s kitchen floor and put the camera on top of my little Gitzo tripod and positioned it so that I could shoot over the top of her counter. I put the camera in manual mode, and I put the small flash unit into manual mode as well. It took about 7 trial photos to get the right amount of mix of ambient light and flash that I wanted.

20121228_Christmas_in_Coppell_002I was bouncing the flash off of the ceiling. This little flash puts out much less light than the Canon 580EX II is capable of. Even so, I dialed down the output of the FL-600R to 1/10th of full power.

After that, I simply told each person where I wanted them to sit, stand, or kneel.

20121228_Christmas_in_Coppell_005I’m not entirely thrilled with the results, but given the circumstances it isn’t all that bad. The flash appears to be a little too “hot” on some of the people in the front, and just adequate on the people in the back.

Now, this isn’t entirely appropriate, but a scene like this strongly reminds me of Robert Earl Keen’s song “Merrry Chistmas from the Family”. If you’ve never heard it before, then you should definitely take a few minutes to check it out!

So, as you can see, I have been staying pretty active with my photography. It’s just not the type of photography that would be of much interest to anyone outside of my family. The photo of Samantha in front of the fireplace seems very appropriate to me right now. We’re just snuggled into a comfortable spot during the darkest days of the winter right now.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Homestead National Monument

During the week of September 2 – 7, we were in the little town of Beatrice, Nebraska (which my Dad grew up near). The day before we were to make the 13 hour drive home to Austin, TX, we thought it would be interesting to go out and see the Homestead National Monument of America, which is located 4 miles west of Beatrice on Highway 4.

What is this Homestead National Monument of America, anyway? Let’s start with a short review of some U.S. History.

From the web site:

The Homestead Act of 1862 was one of the most significant and enduring events in the westward expansion of the United States. By granting 160 acres of free land to claimants, it allowed nearly any man or woman a “fair chance.”  This act, which was brought into effect during The Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln was president, brought about significant and enduring changes to the United States. By giving government land to individuals in 30 states this law allowed nearly any man or woman a chance to live the American Dream. Over 1.6 million people rose to the challenge and claimed 270 million acres.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has also created a website to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act. To visit it, click here.

The Homestead National Monument of America, located in Southeast Nebraska, commemorates this Act and the far-reaching effects it had upon the landscape and people. Why is this monument located 4 miles west of Beatrice, Nebraska? Because this is the location of the very first homestead, which was settled by Daniel Freeman.

The Homestead Act became the law of the land on January 1, 1863. it remained in effect until 1976, when the Federal Land Policy and Management Act repealed it (though a ten year extension through 1986 was authorized in Alaska).

Over the entire 124-year history of the Homestead Act, four million people filed for 160-acre parcels of the public domain. Of these four million, about 1.6 million (approximately 40 percent) were successful, fulfilling all the requirements of the government and earning the title to their property.

The requirement was that they had to actually live on the land, and improve upon that land. Every single one of these four million, regardless of success or failure, had a personal story. Here is my short photo story of our visit to this national monument.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

On the morning of September 6, 2012, we left the motel at 10:00 AM sharp, but due to a low tire pressure indicator on the car’s dash coming on, we took an hour long detour to investigate that issue. Turns out that the Honda dealer in Austin had underinflated all 4 tires by 8 pounds of air pressure (but I thought we got great gas mileage on the 800 mile trip to Nebraska). Anyway, no real problem to deal with – except the hour delay had let all of the softer morning light vanish before we arrived at the Homestead National Monument.

We were greeted outside the Heritage Center building by park ranger, Mark Engler. Turns out that Mark is the Superintendent of the entire Homestead National Monument.

Park Ranger Mark is also my cousin, so I’ll try not to write anything that would embarrass him…. other than to mention that he played on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team way back in the early 1980’s. Mark played on the defense, at  the position of middle guard (across from the center – the guy that snaps the ball). He wasn’t the starter, but he once showed me his Cotton Bowl watch. Very cool! Alright, enough of that…

The building has an unusual pointy tip in the roofline at the far end. Mark explained that when the building and the wall leading to the building are viewed from the highway, it takes on the shape of a farmer’s plow furrowing the field. I’ll buy that.

On the wall leading up to the building from the parking lot, are metal silhouettes of the 30 states that participated in the Homestead Act.


Within each metal silhouette, as square is cut out of the center. The size of that square cut-out shows the percentage of that state’s land that the U.S. Government gave away to successful homesteaders.

We headed up to the entrance to the Heritage Center building.

Once inside, Mark introduced Dad, Barb, and myself to some of the other park rangers as National Geographic photographers that were here to photograph the place. After a few minutes of awkward silence, we all laughed and then admitted that we were just some of Mark’s relatives from Texas.

One of the lady park rangers made sure that I photographed this contraption.

Evidently that machine was used by laundry people to press multiple items of clothing at the same time. The clothing was somehow placed under the rollers, while weight of the rocks pressed the layers of clothing.

We then went into the nice “movie room”, where we watched a very professional 23 minute movie about the Homestead Act, how the U.S. Government basically gave away land that it didn’t really own, and the hard life that the Homesteaders endured. The American Indians basically lost everything….

Inside of the Heritage Center are tons of interesting displays about the American West, and what life was like more than a century ago.

I particularly liked this exhibit, showing a goat on a treadmill, which was used to power small machines like a butter churn.

We could have easily spent a couple of hours looking at all of the exhibits of old tools, utensils, and photographs that are on display, but we only did so for 15 minutes or so before going out the door to the back of the building.

Mark suggested that I get a better close-up photo of the pointy tip of the building, which I was happy to do. The photo that I took next was the one that I showed at the top of this post. I really like that curvy-swoopy tip of the roofline!

Out behind the Heritage Center building is this old log cabin, which was moved 14 miles to this location. Note the old farm implements on both sides of the cabin.

To the right of where I took the previous photo, there is a little sidewalk that takes you over to a nice display of barbed wire. One the fence to the left of this photo, they have strung several types of the barbed wires.

We decided to head on down to the old cabin, and I took this photo with Barb in front of it, just to get the perspective of the size of this tiny home.

To the right of the cabin, sits these two old farm implements: an old plow on the right, and horse-drawn implement that raked up hay.

This plaque says that at one time, a family of 12 people lived in this cabin.

Here’s a view looking straight in from the front door.

That’s a wide an angle of view that I could get with my Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera could show, so I had to take a couple more photos to show everything worth seeing in this spacious abode. Here’s a view to my right, which includes the wood burning stove.

And a view to the left, which shows the kitchen table, and the stairs leading up to the other sleeping quarters.

How the heck did 12 people live in this cabin at the same time?

Turning around near the front door of the cabin, I thought this was an interesting view of the Heritage Center building.

Mark asked if anyone wanted to go see the tombstone of Daniel Freeman. Remember, he was the first Homesteader, and this was his land. Dad and Barb declined the offer, so they waited under the canvas awning shown in the previous photo. It was only a short 50 yard (meter) walk to get to the tombstone.

I must admit that I did some post-processing on this photo. The subject (the tombstone) was strongly backlit, so I used the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 4 to increase the exposure by + 1/3 stop on the face of the stone with all of the wording on it.

We then drove down to the Education Center (see the map above), which used to be the main visitor center to the national monument.

We went out back and examined the displays of the old equipment, covered wagons, etc. that they still have there. For some reason, I thought it would be nice to put the camera on self-timer and get a photo of our little tour group.

Mark then asked if we would like to go see a “steam tractor” that someone had on loan to the national monument. It was not located where the normal tourist would be allowed to see it, but we could, if we wanted to. Of course we did!

This 22 ton (20,000 kg) steam tractor operated just like an old steam-powered locomotive does. The operator loads wood into the back end, it burns, which in turn heats water in  a boiler, which creates steam, and the energy from the steam is used to propel the tractor.

There are no rubber tires on a 22 ton steam tractor. The wheels, and the “tire treads” are sturdy metal. The rubber band that you see surrounding the wheel is in place just to prevent the grounds and parking lot from being damaged.

We must have spent 10 minutes photographing the various angles and features of this old steam tractor. I liked this photo of this old control wheel.

That last photo was taken at 1:10 PM, so we had been at the Homestead National Monument almost exactly 20 hours. Even we had missed the softer early morning light, we still left with some very nice photos that we were pleased with.

I appreciate the special guided tour that we were given by Mark Engler, as I’m sure that he does to all of the other National Geographic photographers that drop by every now and then.

Addendum: Before this post went live, I asked Mark to proof-read it for accuracy. He could not see the photos, and he did make three minor correction. Mark also added this comment in his message back to me: “You might also find it interesting, a National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore is a friend of the monument’s and has had an exhibit at the park, as well has given a talk.”

Now that’s very cool, too! I wish I had known that when we were visiting, as I would have loved to see Joel’s exhibit.

Thank you for visiting my web site, and I hope that you enjoyed seeing my photos of The Homestead National Monument, just west of Beatrice, NE.

Exploring Beatrice, Nebraska

During the week of September 2 – 7, Barb and I drove up to be with my Dad, his brother, and his four sisters – and we all met in the little town of Beatrice, Nebraska (which they grew up near). My previous post showed my favorite photos that I took on Labor Day, which was on Monday, Sept. 3rd. When we got to the motel that evening, Dad asked if I would like to go out with him and take some photos of the town. Of course, I jumped at the chance!. This post just shows about a dozen of my favorite photos that I took on the morning of September 4, 2012 in Beatrice, Nebraska.

We met in the breakfast area of the Holiday Inn Express just before 9:00 AM, and we didn’t have to go very far to take our first photo. The “Welcome to Beatrice” sign shown above was just outside, between us and the highway, US 77.

Turning around, I thought that the morning light looked really nice as it sort of wrapped around the curved base of the sign for the motel.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Walking over to the base of the sign, I took the obligatory travel photo showing our “home away from home” for the week. That’s my Dad in the yellow “Wife Beater” T-shirt that seems to be his usual attire lately.

We got into my Honda CR-V and drove south on US 77 a few miles until we got to the Gage County Courthouse, which is located on the east side of US 77 (named North 6th Street) and north of Grant St. I took this photo from the west, looking east into the low morning sun, at 9:20 AM.

Walking east on Grant Street about 30 yards, gets you a nice view of the front of the courthouse building.

At the end of the front sidewalk, near where it meets the street, is a memorial to the veterans that have served our country in the armed forces.

I took the photo above (and all of the photos that morning) with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera mounted on top of my Gitzo GT1542T tripod. Whenever I use a tripod, I slow way down. I make sure that the camera is level, I study what is in the viewfinder, paying more attention to what is visible around the perimeter of the photo, and finally get the exposure settings the way that I want. I probably even rotated the circular polarizer on the front of the 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens to get the reflections of the windows to what looked best at the time. I probably took 2 minutes to take this one photo.

After I pressed the button on the remote cable release, I stood up straight, and noticed the couple right behind me. I do not know how long they had been patiently waiting for me, but I was in their way. I said “excuse me”, and they replied in a very friendly “no problem”, and I immediately got out of their path on the sidewalk. They seemed somewhat interested in what I was doing.

I was struck by how differently this was than how it probably would have played out back home in Austin. 9 times out of 10, they would have simply walked around me, up the sidewalk – into my shot – and I’d simply have to wait a minute or two for them to vanish – and hope no one else would wander into my photo. Sometimes I wait a long time to get the photo that I want.

As we walked back to North 6th St., I saw what appeared to be a very large black bird sitting on top of a church spire a couple of blocks away. It had spread its wings out wide, and was warming them in the morning sun.

That was as “telephoto” as my 12-50mm lens would get, and this was one time that I wished I had my Canon camera and lenses with me.

We wanted to walk south one block on North 6th Street to get to High Street. Halfway through that block, as I looked west across the street, I noticed the moon was setting above the Post Office building. It was 9:36 AM.

Just south of High Street, I caught up with Dad in a parking lot. He was getting setup to photograph St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Dad shoots a Canon 7D on a Manfrotto tripod. He is a fairly decent photographer!

Here are a couple of photos that I took of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. This church is where all my relatives that live in Beatrice attend, and it is significant to me in that I have attended both of my grandparents (on my father’s side) in this church.

We didn’t think about it at the time but we probably should have gone inside and photographed the beautiful stained glass windows.

We walked back to our car in the Burger King parking lot, across from the county courthouse. We then drove 7 blocks south on North 6th Street, turned west on Court Street, and drove 4 blocks to North 2nd Street. We parked on North 2nd Street, directly across from the Gage County Historical Society and Museum.

The building is the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Passenger Station. While riding around in the car later that week, my Aunt Virginia told a story of how she had boarded a train here sometime in the 1940’s to go the 40 miles to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. Evidently, it took a large portion of your day back then, if you drove to Lincoln in your car.

Just to the left (south) of the building is a nice looking red caboose, sitting under a windmill.

Across Court Street is a working grain elevator. It is between the railroad tracks and the Big Blue River.

The sun was getting rather harsh, and higher in the sky by 10:15 AM, but I still wanted to get an isolated photo of just the caboose. That is the shadow of the windmill cast upon the side of the caboose.

Although it is pretty “cliche”, I setup my tripod in the center of the railroad tracks, and took this photo looking north.

Walking back toward the front of the museum, I passed this decorative ironwork fence. I do not think that they have a problem with people just hanging around and sitting on their fence…

I have always thought it rather strange to see the Statue of Liberty out in the middle of the heart of America’s farmland, but here she is.

This copy of the Statue of Liberty was dedicated by the Boy Scouts of America in 1951.

I took 5 or 6 photos of this scene, and chose the one that had the American Flag outstretched best, the way I wanted it to be.

Across North 2nd Street, under a shaded structure, there are 4 different information signs that tell a lot about the heritage of Beatrice, Nebraska. Here is the one sign that told about the importance of the railroads to this area.

It was now 10:30 AM, the temperature was getting close to 90 degrees (32 C), and we needed to get back to the motel and get cleaned up so that we could get over to Aunt Jeanette’s for lunch before noon.

I realize that these are pretty much just “touristy” types of snapshots, but they do have a special meaning to me. I hope that you enjoyed seeing them.

Welcome to Beatrice, Nebraska

On Sunday, September 2, 2012, Barb and I drove to northern Oklahoma to spend the week with my Dad, his brother, and his four sisters that all met in the little town of Beatrice, Nebraska (which they grew up near). It was on Monday, which was the Labor Day holiday here in the U.S. when we finally made it to Nebraska. This short post just shows only 8 of my favorite photos from that day.

The Mid-West of the United States has experienced a severe drought this year, and we passed through several regions that looked like the entire crops were a failure, but when we stopped to take the photo above at the state line, it was sprinkling lightly.

The vast majority of the photos that I took on this trip were of my family members, but I will keep those to an absolute minimum here on my blog.

Beatrice, Nebraska is right at 780 miles (1255 km) from our home in Austin, Texas and the drive took us just under 13 hours total.

Here is a photo of my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Jerry’s back yard. The lush, soft, green grass seems so much nicer than what is grown in yards back home in Texas. Love those tall trees, too!

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Aunt Jeanette seemed awfully proud and amused that they had brought the old outhouse from their previous home to their new home, which they moved into about a year and a half ago. I just had to get a few photos of that old outhouse…

I was just trying to get an semi-interesting composition of the wagon wheel with the outhouse, when this little squirrel decided that he needed to check out what I was up to!

I’m not sure when Aunt Jeanette acquired an old outhouse to be used as a yard decoration, but it had to have been at least 40 years ago, because they had it in their old yard when we used to visit them when I was just a kid in school.

Aunt Jeanette does a nice job of keeping the old outhouse decorated. And no, it has never been used for its original purpose (at least not for 50 years).

After my Dad’s brother, Uncle Jack, took us to dinner at a local restaurant, we went by to visit his new home at the Assisted Living Center.

Uncle Jack had moved there in the last couple of years, and so none of us had seen it yet. I took more than a dozen photos inside, and it is a very nice place. I have decided to only show this one of my Dad, Robert (on the left) and his only brother, Jack (on the right). Jack is 88 years old now!

For the photo above, I used my Olympus FL-600R flash unit on top of my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, and pivoted the head upward so that the light would bounce off of the relatively low white ceiling.

As we were leaving Uncle Jack’s place, and still standing around in the parking lot, I noticed that the sun was setting. I jogged across the parking lot to hastily snap this Sunflower Sunset photo. It seemed to symbolize the American Midwest as a very fitting close to a fun day of travelling.