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Grand Canyon North Rim
Aug 30th, 2009 by Jessica

At the end of August, we took Mom and her friend Barbara up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I was the only one who had been there before, having visited in 1996 with my DaD.  I had called a few months earlier and reserved the only two nights left at all for the summer: August 28-29, 2009.

Standing on Angel's Window, Grand Canyon North Rim

Andrew and Jessica at North Rim

We arrived up after the very, very long drive on Saturday afternoon.  It’s about 8 hours from Gilbert.  We checked into our Pioneer Cabin and found it to be quite comfortable.  None of us are considered hikers by any means, so we expected to stay at the rim and enjoy the views and the nice weather.

Me on the walkway out to Bright Angel Point

Scary Bright Angel Trail

We decided to hike out to Bright Angel Point before the sun went down.  I had done this hike before – and was absolutely TERRIFIED of the narrow ledge out to the point.  The others did not seem to be afraid of heights or the canyon, but I most certainly wasn’t looking forward to facing my worst fears again.  Nevertheless, we decided to make a go of it.

Bright Angel Trail was a lot harder than I remembered it.  With narrow paths, massive rock ledges and steep, steep hills, it is hard to traverse.  About 3/4 of the way to the Point, Mom threw in the towel.  She couldn’t go any further.  She stopped on a rock and told us to go ahead without her.  We were hesitant to leave her there but I knew we were very close to the end.  Barbara, Andrew and I went out to the Point and took a look around briefly.

By the time we made it back to Mom she had made some new friends.  A trail guide and his private tour customer were sitting next to her.  The customer was very friendly and had advised Mom to take some aspirin if she felt ill.  They were chatting it up and resting on the rocks.  We said our goodbyes and thanked the two men for staying with Mom until we got back.  It was at that time Andrew announced to Mom that she had just been shooting the breeze with Paul Simon!  Sure enough we saw him later near the lodge with his family, and it most definitely was him.  He was really, really nice.  We decided not to blow his cover and approach him, as he seemed like he was having a very nice time with his family.

Sunset at Grand Canyon North Rim

Sunset at North Rim

After Bright Angel Trail, we had dinner at the lodge.  It certainly wasn’t anything to write home about.  Just food – that’s about it.  Time then allowed me to set up and capture a very beautiful sunset on the rim, along with some neat shots of Mom and the cabin.  Then it was time to turn in for the night.

The following morning we headed out by car to see some of the outlying points.  I had my 3D lens and captured some really neat shots of the points and some crazy tourist sitting out on the ledge of a rock.  Mom decided she didn’t want to hike out to the points and stayed on the trail near the car.  It really just wasn’t what she wanted to be doing.

On the way back to the cabin, I pointed out that it didn’t seem like any of us were really having a great time at the North Rim.  Barbara and Mom both agreed – they didn’t want to stay anymore.  I ended up going into the visitor center and found a couple who needed a room for the night.  I worked it out with the registration desk to give us credit for the next night’s stay and the couple picked it up for the evening.

We packed up and headed out, not even 24 hours after arriving at the North Rim.  On the way home we got to drive to Page and stop at Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam to do some more sightseeing.  We took our time getting home and arrived back in Phoenix on Sunday night.  I’m glad we went, but we most likely won’t be returning to the North Rim.

See more pictures from the trip on Flickr.

Stereo View: Grand Canyon North Rim

3D Crazy Guy on Ledge

Me capturing the sunset

Capturing the Sunset

Colorado River through the trees

Colorado River through the Trees

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Botcon 2009 & Universal’s VIP Tour
Jun 7th, 2009 by Jessica

On Wednesday, May 27, 2009 Andrew and I traveled to Pasadena to attend Botcon 2009.  For those who don’t know, Botcon is the annual Transformers convention.  This year it was in California, within driving distance, so we decided to check it out.  Pasadena is about 6 hours from Gilbert by car.  We stayed there until Sunday, May 31.  The following is an account of the trip and all the neat stuff we did.

Driving to Pasadena & Dinner at Pink’s

Wednesday morning we hopped in the car from Andrew’s parents’ house and headed on the road.  We had been staying there (off and on with Amy) since the previous Thursday because their house had been broken into while they were away in Ireland.  We installed a security door over their front door and hoped that was enough to keep them from coming back.

During our trip through southern California we stopped at several Target stores.  Super Target had decided to sell the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen figures early.  The street date for sale wasn’t until Friday, May 29 but Andrew already had several figures by this time.  We collected as many new ones as we could on our way to Pasadena and had several new ones by the time we arrived at the hotel.  I’ll let Andrew talk about specifics because I can’t keep the figures straight!

We checked into the hotel around 4pm and headed out for food.  We decided to check out Pink’s famous hot dogs since we had heard so much about the place, and my sister had told us it was pretty good.  I braced myself for a thousand people in line but alas, Wednesday at 5pm there were about 3 people there.  Hooray!  We grabbed two hotdogs, onion rings, fries and two drinks for about $20 and sat down to experience Pink’s.  Their hotdogs are not like I’m used to, because they still have the casing on.  They are crunchy.  The onion rings were really good though – overall it was a decent meal.  It would be a great place to eat if you love crazy stuff on your hotdog (but I like mine naked so it didn’t matter to me that it was from Pink’s).

We went back to the hotel and then to get in line for Botcon registration.  This was the first of many, many hours spent in line at the convention.  We were eventually able to register and Andrew got his Botcon exclusives.  I’ll let him fill in all the details.  After that we headed on back to the hotel and I crashed for the night while he began transforming his new toys.

On Thursday, Andrew attended a Transformers Customizing Class.  He learned how to put the mold together piece by piece and then paint or airbrush the parts.  I’ll let him describe that experience.

Universal Studios VIP Tour

Meanwhile on Thursday, I took a VIP Tour of Universal Studios in Hollywood.  My tour started at 10:00am and lasted until 4:00pm or so.  I arrived at the VIP Tour door and inside was a very nice lounge for VIP guests with drinks and fruit and snacks to enjoy.  The tours are limited to only 16 people and mine had 14, so it was a nice small group.  The tour guide, Mark, was fantastic!  The whole day he really kept the group together and was entertaining.  His job is not easy and I admired the way he combined his knowledge with his “acting” skills to keep us surprised.

The tour began with a trip to the Mancini Sound Building.  We got to enter the dubbing studio where the Shrek movies were voiced (among many others).  Then we actually got to go into the primary editing studio and see the Harrison console, which is a world famous sound editing console that takes up an entire room.  Apparently it’s being replaced with a single laptop soon, so it’s nice to have seen it while it still exists.  We then got to walk up with Sound Stage 12 where they film huge movie sets like Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean and some of the Transformers.  We didn’t get to go in, but heard some funny stories about it.

Sound Stage 29 was our next stop, a small building in comparison to the others.  We got to hop off the trolly and go inside the studio.  Universal rents out sound stages to all of the major production studios in the world.  It rents for about $30,000 per day, according to Mark, and all you get is literally the building.

The production wood mill, metal shop and sign shop were next on the list.  We got to walk through each area and see props and sets being made by the staff.  They showed some examples of how the sets are built for movies to be easily destructable, and described how that caused the Universal fire to be larger than it should have been.  The sign shop was pretty cool, and Mark talked about product placement in the movies and how marketing bargains with corporations for logo use and intellectual property rights.  On our way out of the sign shop we passed by Giada De Laurentiis’ office, which apparently used to be the office of Alfred Hitchcock.

We took the trolley for a tour of the back lot sets that the regular tour also sees.  Our tour was on an old fashioned trolley while most people take the little white train around.  The trolley actually got to go over the collapsing bridge that was used in several films, and have it “collapse” on us.  You can read more about the bridge here.  After that we saw the area used to film water rushing in movies such as Big Fat Liar.  The whole skit is covered on countless websites such as this one so I won’t go into much detail.

Now, onto the pièce de résistance – the prop warehouse!  This is the reason I took the tour and I am SO glad I did.  We arrived on the first floor and were allowed to wander around a bit and take pictures.  I thought this was all we were going to see so I took a lot of pictures at this point.  There were aisles of nothing but chairs – big chairs, little chairs, green chairs, yellow chairs, old chairs, new chairs, chairs everywhere.  Each section had a sheet that showed how many chairs were in the set, what the period and color was, and other identifying information.  They had tons and tons of stuff, and the chairs are just one example.

We then went to the second floor, which is the coolest place I’ve ever been on a tour!  Aisle after aisle of tens of thousands of items that can be rented for props in movies.  Assorted cups and dishes, assorted fine china, pots and pans, coffee makers, cafeteria items, signage, bronze statues, family portraits, frames, porcelain busts, computers, cameras, writing supplies, electric fans, radios, vases, caskets…  The quantity and variety of items on the shelves were staggering.  I took tons of pictures and video to see.  It was truly awesome.  Upon leaving, one of the studio employees gave away a few actual props from some movies that were headed towards the trash.  I know, trash fodder, but it was cool to me nonetheless.  I got a 5×7 picture of Ben Affleck and his “bride,” Robin Wright Penn, that was used in a movie set for State of Play.

Unfortunately I used up all my memory card taking pictures and video in the prop house, and have no pictures from the rest of the tour.  We got to see the Bates Motel and the Psycho house, followed by Whoville.  What a combination eh?  The it was off to the War of the Worlds set where our trolley stopped and we got off to walk around the set.  We walked right up to the crashed 747 and got to take pictures (well, would have, if I’d had any memory left).  Mark told us to “Wave to the regular people” on the white train as it zoomed by.  That’s one difference between the VIP Tour and the regular back lot tour – the VIP tour actually stops and lets you get off to walk around the sets.  It’s well worth the extra money, by far.

We finished up by taking a drive up and down Wysteria Lane from the show Desperate Housewives.  The funny thing was that Mark described every house and who lives their now on the show, but then discussed the previous residents.  For example, one of the homes was used for the Munsters, and it has a fresh coat of paint and new landscaping now to fit the scene.  All of the homes had previous lives and I wish I could remember all that he said but alas, no more memory card. =(  I guess I’ll just have to take the tour again… Darn!

After that it was off to the Waterworld stunt show, then to a private lunch which was included.  The lunch was a buffet with a good variety of food and all the drinks you could drink.  They even followed up with dessert.  The remainder of the tour was spent literally going to every ride in the park and cutting in front of everyone else standing in line to get directly on the ride.  I’m talking – straight to the front of the line in front of the people with “front of the line” passes.  Mark kept stopping to show us “the line you won’t be standing in” and then taking us around the back way to get on the rides.  Another very good reason that this tour is worth every penny – no lines, period.  I went through the House of Horrors, Shrek 4D and the Simpsons before calling it a day.  The tour continued but I wasn’t interested in the other rides, so I bid farewell and went back to the hotel.

Botcon 2009

I arrived back to the hotel and quickly grabbed my Botcon lanyard and headed down the street to the Pasadena Convention Center.  Since we registered on Wednesday night, for Thursday we got in line for the Club Store opening.  Andrew got there about 4:00pm and I joined him shortly thereafter.  The Club Store opened at 6pm.  We were approximately 10th in line for the Cash Only line.  Andrew was able to get all of the things he wanted there, complete with the “first issue” stickers with the May 28th date on them.  I spent a bit of time taking pictures around the convention hall, including some awesome 3D shots of the Bumblebee and Optimus Prime statues.  After that, it was back to the hotel for a repeat of the night before.

Friday morning we were in line again to enter, this time to go straight to the auditorium where the panels were being held.  Andrew hung out there while I went to sit in line for the Dealer Room.  The Dealer Room is where they have about 200 dealers all selling their Transformer wares.  I got in line at 11:30am for a 2:00pm opening.  We were about 30th in line for the room at that time.  I sat there and watched Twilight on my iPod and waited for him to finish all the panels.  He went to grab lunch and then took his place in line so I could go walk around a bit and use the bathroom.  At 2pm, we entered the dealer room and the buying frenzy began!  Andrew got autographed art prints by Marcelo Matere and Alex Milne.  I’ve never seen Andrew wheel and deal before but he was haggling with dealers and looking for the best prices… It was really quite humorous to me.  I followed him around with all the bags and freebies and posters in tow.  The rest of the day was kind of a blur to me, although I remember going back to the hotel to read and take a nap, and having Andrew go back to the conference without me to do more activities in the evening.

Saturday morning we got up at 6am and headed over to get in lines again.  As a “Primus Package” holder, Andrew was allowed to get in line for Weird Al Yankovic’s autograph at a smaller side building.  I got in line for Peter Cullen’s autograph at the main building.  Weird Al does the voice of Wreck Gar in the animated series for Transformers, while Petter Cullen is famous for doing Optimus Prime in the movies as well as other famous characters such as Eeyore.  Weird Al started signing at 9am and was limited to 240 people, while Peter Cullen didn’t start until 10:30am and was limited to only 120 people.  I was insanely jealous that Andrew got to meet Weird Al and that I couldn’t go, but more on that later.  By about 9:15, Andrew had Weird Al’s autograph and came to take my 10th place in line for Peter Cullen’s autograph.  I quickly switched over to the autograph line for David Kaye (the voice of Optimus Prime and Megatron in the animated series).  I tried to get Andrew to get David’s signature while I held the spot in Peter Cullen’s line, but for some reason he wanted me to meet David Kaye so I did.  I was wearing a t-shirt that said “I love Bumblebee” and he told me how he was texting “Bumblebee” earlier (aka Mark Ryan) and he would be sure to tell him that I loved him.  LOL!

After getting David Kaye’s autograph, I left Andrew in line for Peter Cullen and I saved a seat for the upcoming panels.  At 10:40am I snuck out of the panel and took pictures of Andrew meeting Peter Cullen.  Then he came into the panel auditorium with me and saved our seats there while I went to grab lunch at Island’s.  I don’t know how on earth you could possibly do all the activities at a convention like this with fewer than two people working in tandem.  Four would be better, I’m sure.  After lunch, I brought some food back for Andrew to eat while sitting in the panel and I went to browse the dealer room again.  I bought a few things for Andrew and snuck them back to the room while he was in the Hasbro panel.  I got “The Fallen” which is a new character in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  I also picked up an autographed Sunstreaker print from Dan Khanna.  Sunstreaker is Andrew’s favorite Transformer.  It was his first ever.  After the panels were over, Andrew browsed the dealer’s room for a while picking up odds and ends of things.  He commissioned a custom sketch of Sunstreaker by Matt Moylan.

Party at Paramount Studios

It was Saturday at 3pm, and time to go to the hotel for a nap and shower before we went to get in line for the busses to take us to the Party and Paramount Studios.  We arrived in line at about 5:45pm and were very glad to did.  As it turns out, they took 600 people (which translates to 15 busses).  We were lucky to be on the third bus, and were able to arrive at Paramount and eat hot food and grab a table to sit at.  The people later in line were much less fortunate.  I heard stories of bus drivers getting lost and some people didn’t even get there until 8:30pm.  The party started at 7pm.

I noticed that Weird Al Yankovic had arrived at the party and was walking around mingling with folks.  He made is way over to the side and was hanging out.  I looked at Andrew and thought, I wonder if he’d mind if I went to say hi?  So, I walked up to him and waited a moment while he had his picture with a few girls, and then just walked up and shook his hand.  He was so nice!  He asked me if I was having a good time and was very cordial.  He even let me take a picture with him.  I thanked him for being there and went back to my dinner.  How cool is that?  I was jealous that Andrew got his autograph, but I ended up getting a picture with him!

The buffet dinner wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either.  They had burgers and veggie burgers, barbeque chicken, corn on the cob and some other random stuff.  Sodas were free but cocktails were $7.  Since Andrew refused to bring a jacket and he was freezing, I gave him the jacket I had and he got me a few Sprite w/ Sour Apple Pucker’s to warm me up.  I guess that’s one benefit of alcohol, it makes you think you are warm (even when your toes are freezing off).

The party had a few other cool guests, including Ironhide and Ratchet.  We got pictures with both of them and got to check them out up close and personal.  Tyrese Gibson arrived in Ratchet and took the stage to answer questions from the fans.  He then got a shock when they brought Peter Cullen out on stage who proceeded to impress everyone with his range of voice capabilities.  (In the panel earlier, Andrew said that Peter performed “Transform, and roll out” as the voice of Eeyore.  I wish I had heard that – I nearly pee from laughter just thinking about it!)

Stan Bush then took the stage to perform some of his famous songs, such as “The Touch” from the original Transformers movie in the 1980′s.  He had about 10 loyal fans, and the rest of us who just wanted to get on to whatever the next part would be.  We had no idea what was coming, but when I got off the bus I heard one of the staffers coordinating some VIPs and she said, “Take them right to the theater?  Ok, let’s go.”  So I knew we would be going to a “theater” of some sort.  We were all hoping we’d get a chance to actually see ROTF but we knew the movie was rumored not to be finished yet, so our hopes weren’t that high.

After Stan’s set, some officials got up to announce the winners of the contests that had been going on during the convention.  Near the middle of it, he got cut short and told everyone with a blue wristband (that was us) to head out the way we came in for a “short presentation.”  We darted towards the door and across the campus of Paramount Studios with 300 of our closest friends to get in another line.  Once outside the Paramount Theater, we were ordered to put anything and everything electronic inside a manilla envelope with a claim sticker attached before we could go inside.  We complied immediately like everyone else and went inside the theater.  This place was like no theater I had ever been in – state of the art, incredibly comfortable seats, massive screen, amazing sound…  Paramount definitely does it right.  We grabbed seats near the door and sat down to discover what would await us.

About ten minutes later, one of the convention guys got up on stage to give us “good news and bad news.”  Bad news of course, the film was not finished yet so we would be watching the latest trailer.  As the audience boo’d and hollared, a man snuck in the side door nearby our seats.  Andrew whispered to me, “That’s Michael Bay!”  Sure enough, as people caught wind of who just walked in, the theater exploded with applause and screams.  He took the stage and began talking about where they were with the film and what they were doing to try and complete it on time.  He then introduced two different sections of the film for us to see, each about 5 minutes in length.  The first section was when Devastator transforms, and the second was part of Bumblebee’s fight scene.  They were both incredible, even “without finished sound effects, finished color, or finished special effects” as Michael Bay explained.  What a treat for everyone in the crowd!  We didn’t get to see the whole second movie, but at least they showed us stuff nobody had yet to see.

We left the theater and got in line to pick up our electronics.  It was then when we realized that we were the first ones to see it, and the other 300 people with red/yellow wristbands were waiting outside the theater for us to finish.  I’m quite surprised they couldn’t hold all of us in a single theater, because it sure felt huge to me.  Maybe because the seats were so comfortable and the aisles were so large, the capacity is inherintly smaller.  We made our way past the line of people heading into the theater, and back to watch good ole’ Stan Bush perform a bunch of cover songs.  (“I’ll bet he breaks out into ‘Summer of 69′ – wait for it – HAHAHAHA!”)  Sorry, little inside joke there.

We took another look at Ironhide and Ratchet, and wandered around the Paramount lot a bit.  There wasn’t too much left to see.  Eventually we realized they had already started bussing people back to the hotel, so we went to grab a ride back around 11:45pm.  It had been a very long, very exciting day!

Sunday’s Drive Home

On Sunday morning I slept in while Andrew went over to see the last panels.  He spent the night before packing up all of his new Transformers and paraphanelia (totaling 53 new ones plus posters, comic books, and lots more stuff).  When I finally got up around 9am I started loading the car.  By 11:30 after 7 trips to the parking garage, I had everything ready to go.  I checked out of the hotel and drove over to the convention center just in time to pick up Andrew after the last panel.  We then began our trip back to Phoenix, stopping at all the Target, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart stores along the freeway to pick up additional exclusive toys on our way home.  We finally made it back into Phoenix at about 7:30pm and stopped at Andrew’s folks’ house to see them.  We hadn’t seen them since they left for Ireland on May 14th so it was nice to say hello even briefly.

So, there you have it.  That was our trip to California for Botcon, 2009.  It was an adventure – a good one – and I’m glad we went.  I just hope next year’s Botcon isn’t within driving distance because it was absolutely exhausting, and I think I need a few years to recover… =)

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Shifting Jerome
May 24th, 2009 by Jessica

Andrew and I took a day trip to Jerome, Arizona to shoot some images with the rented Canon TS-E 24mm tilt-shift lens.  Of course after we completed the 2.5 hour drive, I realized I had left all of my SD memory cards at home.  *groan*  Andrew was nice enough to let me borrow his.

Jerome is a crazy little town, famous for its mining operations and being the largest “ghost town” in Arizona.  It was hardly ghostly today, with thousands of tourists and absolutely no parking.  We managed to snag a spot outside of the town center and walked around the hills to take some shots.

Finally, I have discovered what the “shift” part of tilt-shift actually means.  It is demonstrated perfectly in this pair of images.  This little pink house on the side of a hill had some crazy angles to it, and I couldn’t get any further away.  With a set 24mm to shoot with, getting a pleasing composition would be difficult with most lenses.

However, being able to “shift” the lens to the left and right allowed me to straighten the walls of the house like magic.  Notice the house on the left appears to be falling backwards, and the house on the right looks pretty straight.  Pretty cool, huh?

Check out more pics on my Flickr page.

Jerome, Arizona

Little Pink House in Jerome, Arizona

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An Irish Robbery
May 21st, 2009 by Jessica

Robbery

Busted Door

Mom and Dad (aka Karen and Jerry) booked a tour of Ireland with Aunt Barbara and Heather’s mother Mrs. Barcon.  They left for Philadelphia and ended up stranded for 36 hours due to missing their connecting flight.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were not allowed to access their luggage the entire time.  The trip started out horribly and didn’t get much better after that.

Andrew, Amy and I were charged with watching the house while they were away on vacation.  We had done this many times before, and so didn’t think much of it.  A few days after leaving, Amy went over to check up on the house.  She called us frantically from the front yard, saying the house had been robbed!  She called the police and we booked it over there as fast as we could.

The police were checking the house when we arrived on the scene.  Sure enough, the front door was bashed in.  In some crazy exhibit of fate, we discovered very few things were taken.  Lucky for them, all of their doors still deadbolt lock with a key from the inside, so the burglars were unable to open any of the doors.  Even the patio doors had locks, so they couldn’t go that way either.  The only exit was through their entrance, and nothing would fit through it with them.  No computer, no TV, nothing.  We determined they must have been kids, because they didn’t take anything obvious (GPS, purse, blank checks – all in plain view).

They clearly tried to take a small metal safe, and would have been immensely disappointed had they succeeded.  It only contained old school memorabilia from the kids.  Report cards, awards, art projects…  We are so lucky it wouldn’t fit through the door, because we are sure they would have been pitched in the garbage somewhere.

We had to call Mom and Dad in Ireland and tell them about the house.  It was a nerve-wrecking next few days.  We immediately went out and purchased a metal security door and attached it (in the rain) to the front of their house.  I fixed the wooden door the best I could.  Andrew, Amy and I both stayed there for the next few days until they came back from Ireland.  The police had advised us that likely, the criminals would return to the scene if the house were vacant again.  We didn’t want that to happen.

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Airport Woes
May 16th, 2009 by Jessica

We have some more family drama happening.  Andrew’s Mom, Dad, Aunt Barbara and extended family member Debbie flew out on Thursday morning to go to Ireland for a few weeks on a motorcoach tour.  They still haven’t made it there, two days later.  Their flight got delayed out of Phoenix for 90 minutes because a passenger wanted off the aircraft after it was on the runway, and the incident escalated.  They arrived in Philadelphia just in time for their connecting flight to leave for Dublin without them.  After being stuck in Philly for about 36 hours, they finally got on a flight to London last night at 10:40pm EST.  We haven’t heard from them since then.

We assume they made it to London and are taking a connection to Dublin this morning.  We just hope they arrive in time to start their motorcoach tour tomorrow morning.  I encouraged them to go 3 days early to give them plenty of time to arrive and get adjusted to the time change.  Thank goodness they did or they would have completely missed their tour!

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So much to blog about…
Feb 7th, 2009 by Jessica

I did not realize that it’s been since December that I’ve put anything new up.  Sorry about that!  Let’s see what’s been happening…

I finished Portrait Photography in the middle of December and am pretty glad to be done with it.  The class was frustrating, and I just wasn’t feeling very creative.  I always felt like my equipment was holding me back – I really needed a lens that could shoot at f1.4 or f2.8 in the lighting conditions we practiced with.  My two lenses only got me as low as f4.0 in certain setups, and that was entirely too frustrating.  I had to sit out of many sessions because my shots were just too fuzzy.  For Christmas, Andrew got me a macro lens which is a set f2.8 at 100mm.  I LOVE the lens – I just really wish I had it sooner to use during the class.  At least I have it now, and I know exactly how to use it.

Christmas was somewhat uneventful this year.  We had dinner at Amy and Mason’s for Christmas eve, and stayed home on Christmas day.  The 2 1/2 week break from work that Andrew and I experienced together for the first time was not what we expected.  Since we both work for the colleges now, we had December 24 through January 5 off paid holiday.  We discovered that having that much time cooped up together in the house with no travel plans and nothing to do was NOT a good thing.  Not good at all.  Let’s just say that we will plan a trip next time, for sure.

January was much more eventful.  Watching the inaguration of President Obama was very exciting for me.  I am so glad nothing happened and that we seem to be moving forward as a country.  I do hope he has it in him to help our economy come out of this slump.

Andrew and I went to Flagstaff for our seventh anniversary.  We had dinner at Brix, which we both felt was awfully high priced for the food we got.  If you like fine wine and cheese, it definitely should be at the top of your list.  The cheese selection was fantastic.  Then we went to Lowell Observatory for the first time.  Lucky for us there was practically nobody there.  They had three telescopes viewing that night.  The smallest one was looking at the moon at 85x.  The middle one was looking at Venus and the Orion Nebula at about 140x.

The Clark telescope was showing the moon at 180x and 460x.  Talk about spectacular!  Seeing the moon at 460x was uneblievable.  We were studying approximately 2 miles of the moon’s surface in one view.  I really enjoyed it.  Since there was nobody there, we just kept moving from one telescope to another and talking with the guides.  It was really cool!  We finished off the trip by driving down through Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona during sunrise, which was quite pretty indeed.

And of course, then there were the Arizona Cardinals.  Superbowl bound – the state went nuts!  We are so proud of them for getting all the way to the Superbowl.  I watched the whole game live on February 1 after we arrived home from Sedona, and was on the edge of my seat the whole time.  I can’t believe we ALMOST won it!  We were SO close!  Ahh well – maybe next year eh?  We can dream, anyway.

Work is very hectic these days.  We have severe budget cuts due to the state cutbacks, and it’s making everyone a little edgy.  I’ve been trying to steer my department in the right direction and save costs wherever possible.  We’re slashing through some of the politics and moving forward on projects that have been waiting in the wings for years (such as moving pieces of old applications off the VAX systems).  It’s been very challenging, and I’m thankful to have such a wonderful team of people to work with.  They are the reason I get up in the morning and drive to work every day.

I served on a jury for the first time ever last week.  It was a DUI case, and we found the defendent guilty of driving under the influence, as well as driving above a .08 blood alcohol level.  His level was .13 and he was convinced that he was not drunk or impaired in any way.  Sorry man – no matter how well you hold your alcohol, the state still considers you impaired.  Don’t drink and drive.

I’ve been reading the Twilight series from Stephanie Meyer.  I’m really not into vampires at all, and I truly didn’t believe that I could like the book.  Now that I’ve finished the first one, I find that the writing is quite good.  Although I don’t necessarily like the vampire talk or the suspense of the main character being hunted… the humor in the book is excellent.  The details of how the characters react to each other are spot on.  It really brings me back to senior year of high school the way the writer talks about friends and innocent romance.  Gaaahh – what am I saying?  Well, whatever, I liked it.  So there.  I even started reading the second book, New Moon.  Hopefully it’s as good as the first one.

Let’s see, what else has been going on…?  Andrew and I decided to spruce up the back yard this morning.  We planted petunias, pansies, another hibiscus and a lilac vine.  All the weeds are gone and the leaves have been collected.  It almost looks like a nice yard now!  Maybe it will start to smell nice once the petunias bloom.  We have some calla lillies, daffodils and tulips coming up in the planter beds too.  It’s early February in Arizona – time for all the flowers to bloom!  That’s still a strange concept to me.  Where I grew up, flowers bloomed in May and June!

My sister is in Mexico right now with her husband on a trip for work.  They are flying back tomorrow and have a layover in Phoenix for about 4 hours, so we’re going to pick them up for lunch.  It will be nice to see them, even if it’s just for a little tiny bit.  I miss my sister a lot, and my neices and nephew.  I wish I could see them more often.  It feels like the kids are growing up without us.  I wonder if they will ever know how much I think about them?

Well, I think that just about sums it up.  I’ll try to post a little more often than I have been.  I know – empty promises.  I still have emails in my inbox from friends and family from Christmas 2007 that I haven’t responded to yet.  Guilty as charged.

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Knott’s Berry Farm
Jan 18th, 2009 by Jessica

On January 18, 2009 we visited Los Angeles once again. This time, we were determine to finally see Knotts Berry Farm. On the previous two trips that we planned to go, things just never worked out that way.

We finally made it. No Toys for Tots Drives or family/friends got in the way this time! What a massive disappointment. The park was run down, small, and boring. The lines were still exhausting – Andrew waited hours to go on one coaster while I was downstairs waiting. We won’t be going back!

We drove around a lot during this trip, and tried to see things we had not seen before. We visited some beaches, and finally drove all the way up the hill to see the Hollywood sign close up. I searched for the best path via my Blackberry and we followed it for a very up-close and personal view of this mega landmark.

Andrew and I enjoy getting out of town for the weekend whenever possible. Since Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas are all the same 6-hour drive, we have lots of choices for adventure!

A beach in Los Angeles

At a Beach in Los Angeles

Knotts Berry Farm

At Knotts Berry Farm

The Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign

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Labor Day in Las Vegas
Sep 3rd, 2008 by Jessica

Andrew and I took a very spontaneous trip to Las Vegas for Labor Day weekend.  We decided Thursday night to leave on Friday after work.  We wanted to see some of the stuff off the beaten path that we never bothered to see before.  We stayed at The Orleans (you can’t beat $40/night) and kept the whole trip rather cheap.

We visited outlying casinos like Tuscany, Sam’s Town, South Point, Green Valley Ranch, and the brand new Eastside Cannery.  We found this hilarious slot machine called Super Happy Fortune Cat. What made it amazing was the inset: Now with Lucky Hampster! We HAD to play it. HAD to.

We went through the Atomic Testing Museum, found our way through lots of neighborhoods and checked out several new freeways in the area.  We briefly considered going to the Erotic Heritage Museum but it looked too creepy even for me (so you know it must have been awfully creepy).

We saw Stomp Out Loud (incredible show!) at Planet Hollywood, and visited the Stratosphere late at night.  We also went to one of our favorite new places in Las Vegas: The Pinball Hall of Fame (www.pinballmuseum.org).

I posted lots of pictures up on Flick for you to see.

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Hydrogen Road Show 2008
Aug 23rd, 2008 by Jessica

I went to see the Hydrogen Road Show with Mom yesterday out at Gateway Community College. It was incredibly hot outside, and of course they held the show in the parking lot so we only stayed for about 20 minutes.  It was easy to tell that the automotive representatives were nearing the end of their roadshow because they really didn’t want to talk to us.  In fact, most of them were just downright rude.  Maybe they just weren’t used to the Arizona heat.

We saw the Toyota Full Cell Hybrid Vehicle (FCHV), BMW Hydrogen-7, Volkswagon Touran HY-MOTION, Nissan X-TRAIL Fuel Cell Vehicle and the Mercedes F-CELL.

Nissan X-TRAIL Fuel Cell VehicleThe cars were generally neat to see.  I got to sit inside the driver seat on all of them and push some buttons.  :)  In a lot of ways they are exactly like the cars of today, with some minor adjustments.  Most of them had less trunk space due to invasion of extra tanks.  Some of them have warning stickers on the steering wheel that say “OUTDOOR PARKING ONLY.”  The Nissan rep was telling us it’s because they are essentially bombs on wheels!

I was most impressed with the Nissan X-TRAIL SUV.  It had a lot of room, was incredibly quiet when it was turned on, and had a nice clean look.  The Mercedes F-CELL was pretty neat too, although I was certainly crunched in the driver seat.  It was really tiny inside.  My knees were smashed into the steering wheel and it wasn’t really evident how to adjust the seat or the wheel.  I guess that’s why they call them “concept cars!”

I’ve posted the rest of the pictures on Flickr.

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Skyventure Adventure
Aug 19th, 2008 by Jessica

A big group of us went indoor skydiving in Eloy, Arizona this past weekend for Amy’s birthday.  Everyone seemed to have a great time in the wind tunnel.  Even my mother-in-law got in!  Andrew said his back was killing him the next day because of how he was arching his body.  Doesn’t sound like fun to me, but hey, to each his own!

I took pictures and my father-in-law took video of the whole thing.  They turned out pretty well considering we were shooting through scratched up 1/2″ plexiglass!  Here is a photo slideshow of the event.  Out of the 1,111 photos I took in the 30-minutes we were there, about 100 of them turned out good.  1 in 11 isn’t bad considering the conditions I was shooting in!

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