Saturday, October 4, 2008

Smoked Meat - mmmMMM

One week later......

Last weekend, I invited a handful of people over for the first official cookout using the smoker Connie got me for Christmas. After trial runs and horrible (tasty) failures (heh), I had finally felt like I had the process figured out, and none-too-soon; Summer was almost over!! Checked the calendar, found a weekend that seemed to have no conflicts, and it was set!

Several days prior, I picked up a couple of Pork Butts totaling between 14lbs and 16lbs, got them soaking, rubbed down and all that, then, about 5:00am (Yikes!!) Saturday, crawled out of bed to get the smoker started. By about 5:30am, the roasts were on, and the smoker was up to temp by 5:40 or so, and I crawled back to bed. When it is first started, I can get the temperature stable and pretty much leave it for about 4 hours.

Most of the day was spent making final preparations for company, picking up last minute things at the store, icing down beer, sampling the beer to ensure proper coolness, etc.... Early in the afternoon, Connie asked if I was going to make baked beans again, and at that time, I was undecided. It kind of depended on timing, but, I had everything on hand in case I decided to (those boy scout years really paid off).

Backstory: During one of my "failed attempts", I decided to make baked beans, but, didn't want to heat up the house (it was in the heat of Summer) with the oven. So, I thought I'd try putting them on the smoker for a while. They turned out a bit runny, but, delicious!! There was some smoke flavor, and the pork was dripping into the pan of beans. It was over the top!! I had invited a couple of people over - last minute and Jeff U. was the only one that could make it.

Anyway, about 4:00 or so, I decided to go ahead and make the beans. The first thing Jeff asked when he arrived "did you make baked beans again?". Whew!! Good thing I did! haha! My target for having everything finished was 6:00pm, so, most people started showing up around that time. Well, you can't rush these things. The pork wasn't quite ready yet. So, I got out some chips and salsa to snack on. About 6:45, I pulled the pork off the smoker and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes, then, we started pulling it. At that time, it was still amazingly hot! With the help of Jeff and Connie, we got it all pulled in about half an hour, and by 7:30ish we were ready to eat!!

There was a huge mound of pork, the beans, slaw, several potato salads, herbed/roasted potatoes, spinach, chips, desert, and plenty of beer. Based on the amount of left-overs, I have to declare it a success! Everything was delicious!!

At one point, while re-filling my plate, Gordo was in the kitchen scooping the last bit of drippings from the beans on his pork. He declared that he was reuniting the drippings with the roast; it was like a party in his mouth!

After eating, we continued on drinking, telling stories, and just generally relaxing for the next several hours. Basically, we ate, drank, and fun was had by all!

So, I want to thank everyone who came, and to those that didn' missed out!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bell Smith Springs

Whew!! Time flies!! A few weeks ago, Connie and I went to Southern Illinois for my daughter's birthday. It was all fine and great and happy birthday and all that. Then, rather than come straight back, we took a little overnight detour.

First stop: food! We stopped by a little local 'pub and grub' place hoping to catch the end of the race (Sunday afternoon). The layout was very odd, but, we didn't have much time, so, stuck with it. Connie went to the restroom, and I went to the bar. I first confused the bartender by ordering two the bar..

bartender: your waitress will bring them out, where are you sitting?
me: ummm...right here.
bartender: don't you have a table?
me: no
bartender: Oh, well, you can seat yourself.
me: I'm sitting here..."she" (pointing at the empty stool next to me) went to the restroom.
bartender: (lightbulb goes off) Oh, ok.

After getting that squared away, I asked if he can change the TV behind the bar to the race...he'll have to get someone.... I ask this of 3 employees, no one knows how to change the channel!!! Finally, between myself, Connie, and another guy at the bar, we convince one to try. She screwed up the other TV's in the bar, but, gets the channel changed on ours just minutes after the race ended. The whole ordeal took about 20 minutes. Unreal!!!!

Anyway, after downing a couple of beers and some food, we headed further South to Bell Smith Springs in the Shawnee National Forrest. During the process of deciding where to go, I reviewed pictures and descriptions of several locations in the area, and decided that this would be a good place to visit with only a little time to invest. I printed a map of the trails and directions to get know, just in case. :-) First, I missed the turn I was supposed to take to be on the correct state highway. I didn't realize it was right as you exited the Interstate!! No big deal...we'll just take this highway that will intersect with the one we're supposed to be on about 10 miles up the road. Back on track, we follow the directions which has mileage included. The signs that you normally expect to see directing you to state/federal parks or local tourist info were sparse at best. We get about 2 miles from where the directions tell us to turn and I see a street named something that makes me think I should turn here. Sitting in the middle of the intersection (a 'T' in a gravel road) looking confused, a guy in a truck stops to ask if we're lost. I ask him how to get to Bell Smith Springs (straight or left) and he confirms that I *am* supposed to turn left here. So, the mileage is wrong on the map, and only sign we saw, and the road names are not the same. What an adventure, and we've not even got where we're going yet!!!

So, we turn left, and follow the road to our destination. It took a bit to get oriented and understand the map and the corresponding trail (it was a topographic map with only a general outline of the trail). But, we eventually got comfortable with where we were headed.

That evening yielded a few nice pictures.

This formation is called Devil's Backbone:
Devil's Backbone 1

Connie On Devil's Backbone

After some more exploration, it started to get fairly dark and we decide it's time to leave. We make our way out and start heading back to the highway to find a hotel. The nearest hotel is about 20 miles away in Harrisburg.

As we pull in to town, we find that the whole South end of town is without power. Traffic lights, businesses...everything. At one intersection, there's a cop with a flashlight directing traffic. We make our way to the other end of town (where there is power) and get checked in (at least this time, they didn't look at me like a psycho when I asked if they had Internet access). We get everything hauled up to the room and I decide to go pick up some beer (all that hiking you know)! I return about 15 minutes later with 2 bottles of water. It turns out that they only sell alcohol on Sundays from noon - 7:00pm, but, Shawneetown about 20 miles up the road sells until 8:00pm (it's about 8:30). That just doesn't make much sense to me. I can understand if you have an ordinance to not sell alcohol on Sunday at all, or even not before noon is fairly common (we're talking the bible belt, here, folks!). But, to cut off sales at 7:00pm???!!! I just don't get that one!! So, anyway, we enjoy the water and look at pictures / watch some football to pass the time.

Monday morning, we pack up, grab some breakfast, and get ready to head back to Bell Smith Springs. Except, when I saw the interstate, I knew something had gone wrong. How did I miss the first sign.....and the town that has a pass-through to the correct road???!!! I must really be out of it!! So, we stop at the Casey's just off the Interstate and turn back. I passed a sign that I thought said something about it, hit the brakes. and read the one from the other direction, and sure enough, it was pointing me to Bell Smith Springs!! I am a terribly slow reader, and can't read signs from a distance, and just didn't read fast enough the first time through. Then I figured out what happened.....I was supposed to turn at the edge of town (where the power was out the night before). So, we're back on track now, winding through roads - some of which are actually on the map, and see a sign pointing to a lookout tower called Trigg Tower.

Hmmm....I've heard of that...wanna go check it out? Sure! We head down yet another gravel road. Several miles later, we see a tower. It isn't marked in any way, other than a small parking lot that also serves as access to a horse trail (hitching posts and all). Honestly, I wasn't sure that was it. I really expected a sign or some sort of posting identifying it. But, after searching flickr later, it turns out that yes, it is in fact, Trigg Tower.

We took several pictures, both on top and from the ground.

Trigg Tower

Phooning on top of Trigg Tower:
Tim Phoon
Connie Phoon

After leaving there, we headed back towards Bell Smith Springs. As we headed back, we saw a sign pointing out some other local points of interest. We never found them. There were no further signs or directions. I guess you just gotta wander the gravel roads until you see a trail. Of course, some of the area isn't far from "Deliverance" territory, so, wondering around the woods in an unknown area may not end up being a good idea. heh! Everyone I've ever met down there seems pretty friendly, but, there's a lot of hillbilly potential. Anyway, since we didn't get distracted any more, we finally made it to Bell Smith Springs!! We walked the other direction from what we explored on Sunday night. But, first, you have to descend the stone stairs.

Connie and Tim at Bell Smith Springs

The one thing I had seen pictures of (some better than others) was called 'Natural Arch', so, that's what our destination is. As we headed to the trail, we stopped to look and take pictures several times. This is where we crossed the spring:

Bell Smith Springs Panorama

We finally made it to the Natural Arch. This is the largest natural bridge in the Shawnee National Forest.

This is the view from below:

Natural Arch - Bottom Side

After this, we decided it was time to head back. It was much easier finding my way out. I don't think I got lost once!!! There is still much of Bell Smith Springs that I didn't make it to. One of these days, I'll have to go back and see more of this small park.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Illinois River Flood In Peoria

As most everyone around here knows, the Illinois River is well above flood stage and still rising.

After work yesterday (Wednesday 9/17) I thought I'd check it out and see how high the water was. I was surprised that it was already over the banks on the Peoria side and had flooded the parking lot under Joe's Crab Shack and Old Chicago, and had partially flooded Water Street near the intersection at Main.

People were sandbagging around The Riverstation / Martini's, and Liberty Park was under water...well, the sidewalk and gazebo was anyway. They also have put up an elevated walkway from the tracks to the back entrance of Old Chicago. I'm not sure at this point, but, I'm guessing before it's all over, you won't be able to get to the walkway either. But, it was kind of cool to be able to walk around on the platform and get a better view.
Elevated Walkway

The water at that time was at 25.?? feet, and expected to crest on Saturday at 27.2 feet.

Here are a couple more pictures from Wednesday evening. I'm sure I'll get a few more between now and Saturday.

Old Chicago / Riverstation parking lot:
Soggy Parking Lot 2

..and my favorite...The Gazebo at Liberty Park:
Nice Looking Flood

More Flood Pictures

Here are a few more flood pictures from Thursday. The water had risen quite a bit since Wednesday evening. Benches and trash cans that were at least partially above water were completely submerged.

There were a couple of guys kayaking around which looked like a fun and unique opportunity. They put in at the corner of Main and Water streets, paddled through the parking lot under Old Chicago and up and down the "sidewalk".
Kayaking On The Sidewalk

The clock tower at the base of Main Street
Peoria Clock Tower

The Walkway to Old Chicago was still accessible. But, the water was notably higher than it was Wednesday evening.
Old Chicago Walkway

With the water still rising, I will likely be back tonight and/or tomorrow to see what changes there are.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reception at One World

As noted in my last post, the Peoria flickr group has several members' work displayed at One World. On Sunday August 24th, there was a reception for us and quite a few members, family, and friends came out to socialize and check out all the work on display. I think everyone had a good time.

Here is a picture of me and my entry:

Me and My Picture

There's still time to go check it out...the display will be up through Sept. 15th.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Photos Displayed at One World 8/19 - 9/15/2008

The Peoria flickr group will be having a showing at One World from 8/19/2008 - 9/15/2008.

The group's tyrannical administrator has showed there before and was approached for another show earlier this year. Rather than taking the money and run, he floated the idea of using it as a tool to promote the Peoria Illinois flickr group. Most of the members are amateur photographers from the Peoria area (or used to be from the Peoria area). So, for many, myself included, this will be among our first time having our creations publicly displayed (at least in physical form rather than electronic) and available for purchase.

The theme is "Peoria's Bridges". All the photos will be of one of the 4 main bridges crossing the river. You'd be surprised at the variety of different directions they have gone.

Anyway, I encourage you to stop by and grab a bite and check out all the artwork created by the members of the Peoria flickr group.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Murray Baker Bridge

The other night I had an idea for a picture of the Murray Baker bridge and the downtown cityscape. The thought was to use a wide angle, which can cause somewhat of a fishy distortion, and make a panoramic / stitched series of pictures. My thought was to create a fish-eye type of bendy picture of the bridge, with the city in the background.

So, earlier this week, I went down to the East Peoria side and tried to put my vision into action. I stood about 8 feet or so from the bridge right near the water's edge, cocked the camera off angle and made a sweeping arc for 7 shots. Then, spent the rest of the night messing with the software to stitch everything together and edit the final picture. It was a definite struggle for the software, I had to try lots of settings and adjustments, some of which failed miserably!!

In the end, it came out pretty much like I had envisioned, so, I'm happy about that.

Anyway, here's the result, I hope you like it!

Murray Baker Bridge Panorama

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Could This Just Be A Coincidence??

While making the rounds on the 'net the other day, I stumbled across a couple of pieces of information that just kind of make you wonder.

Earlier this week, Adobe announced the release of Lightroom 2.0 (Software for editing pictures), so, I was browsing some Lightroom / Photoshop related sites looking for reviews, videos, etc...

One site that I looked at was Photoshop User TV. It's a weekly video program put out by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and the guys that host it are Scott Kelby (President of NAPP) and Matt Kloskowski. Both of these guys are well known Photoshop / Lightroom guru's, authors, and workshop instructors. Anyway, one of the things mentioned in this week's show is a Worldwide Photo Walk that Scott Kelby is organizing. Basically, a photo walk is simply a group of photographers organizing a meetup and going on a walk to take pictures of the given area. The same kind of thing that the Peoria flickr group does on occasion. For the Worldwide Photo Walk, you can either join in on one in your city, or you can register to be a group leader and organize one in your own city if there isn't one already.

Completely unrelated to anything Adobe or photo walks, I was also browsing the forum at when I ran across a post that mentioned "National Go Topless Day". OK, you've got my interest. :-) :-) There is a website called GoTopless that is organizing major rallies in cities across the US. Their basic premise is that if men can walk around topless, then, women should have the same constitutional right. Yet, women are frequently arrested, fined, humiliated, and criminalized. So much for equal rights, huh??

So, what do these two seemingly unrelated items have in common? The date!!!! Both of these events are happening on 8/23/2008. Coincidence???? I prefer to think of it as genius!!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bummer of a Concert Lineup

What a bummer! I heard a few days back that Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift are coming to town. Now, I'm sure it will be a highly attended concert. Rascal Flatts is very popular and Taylor Swift, even though she's relatively new on the scene, is pretty popular herself.

The problem is, I really don't care for Rascal Flatts. I don't know why...just don't care for most of their songs. Sure, they have a song or two that I do like, but for the most part, I could easily pass on them. I like a lot of country music...but, generally the more upbeat stuff. Not the slower / sappy stuff, which seems to be what Rascal Flatts specializes in. But, Taylor Swift I really like. Even her slower songs aren't your typical slow ballad and most of her stuff is more upbeat / fun.

So, an opening act that I really like with a headliner I really don't...for $48.25 / $63.50 that's a tough one to drop the coin on.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Windfarm - Second Attempt

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I was going to try to hit the windfarm north of Peoria under a full moon and see how that worked out.

This past weekend, I went out there (missed the full moon by one day..but close enough). I was watching for the moon and it seemed to be a late rise. I didn't get out there until about 11:30pm. As luck would have it, there was a storm moving in to the North, and within about half an hour, enough cloud cover moved in that the moon was obscured the majority of the time. Of course, when I headed out, it was perfectly clear..figures!!

I did have enough time to get a whole 3 shots! Yes..3!! Ugh!!

With this shot, I was playing with an idea I had the previous outing, but, since there were several of us, I didn't want to mess anyone's up shots. But, this time, I was on my own and free to screw things up as much as I wanted! :-)

I set the tripod up at the end of the access road and tripped the shutter. Then, walked up the road near the windmill and manually triggered my flash on full power trying to light up the blades of the windmill. I did this several times, then headed back and stopped the exposure to see what I had gotten.

Windmill At Night

If you look closely, you can see ghosts of the blades. So, the idea was right, but, I didn't have enough power to really get the job done the way I wanted. I have another idea on making it work, but, will have to wait to try it out. The real solution is more light, but, I don't have any sort of flash head that will put out more light, and anything that does, probably would need portable power packs or a small generator!!

Oh well, it was fun to experiment. :-)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Camping and (not) Canoeing / Turkey Run

This past weekend was the annual Camping and Canoeing trip for the Peoria Jaycees. There were around 22 or so campers that went on the trip. Of these, exactly 0..that's right ZERO of us got any canoeing in.

We started off Friday afternoon. I saw the front moving in, and was hoping to get on the road before the rain hit. No such luck! I was in Heavy rain until about half way to Bloomington, then it let up a bit, but didn't get clear until past Bloomington. Fast forward an hour and a half or so and we get to the camp site.

It's freakin' steamy!! We weren't the first there, but, the 4th tent to go up..and we left before the big caravan. So, I didn't get my spot this year. Usually, I set up in the same location on the edge of our area. Jeff got his usual spot, and Tucker swiped mine! Bastard!! ;-) Honestly, I don't know if we would have fit this year as we used Connie's old-school tent which is much larger than my "3-man" tent that actually fits 1 comfortably.

So, we get the tent set up, and crack open a task - Fire! Fire! Fire!! heh heh!! Got the fire going so we could cook dinner, let the wood burn down a bit, throw some burgers on the grill and................. Rain!! Damnit!! Oh well, they still cooked, and weren't bad at all.

The rain let up for a bit, but, we got a nice storm during the night which finally put me to sleep. The next morning, the campsite was a virtual mud-pit! Breakfast was awesome, though!! Mary, Kate, Rick and Beth, Ritter, and David (and anyone else who pitched in) did an outstanding job cooking! Biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausage, bacon, was a feast!!

Calling the canoe livery to check on our reservation and the status of running the canoes turned out to be a bust. The water was too high. Most of the camp decided to go swimming at the pool at Turkey Run State Park. I hear they had a good time, but elected to stay back at camp myself.

That night, you guessed it...more rain! So, most of Saturday night was spent with everyone huddled under a couple of canopies...we made the best of it, but, the weather definitely put a damper on our usual camp-fire stories.

By Sunday morning, the weather had cleared out and it was beautiful blue skies and puffy clouds. The only problem was that's when we were leaving. :-(

Connie and I stayed back and were going to go hiking at Turkey Run State Park. First, after the final clean-up of camp, we went to the lodge at the state park and had breakfast. Barely! When we pulled up to the gate of the park, I asked about breakfast and the girl told us that they served breakfast until 10:00am and started lunch at 11:30. It was 9:51am....we had 9 minutes to park and get to the lodge and hope that we could still get in. Luckily, we made it! Since breakfast was almost over, we both elected to get the buffet. Normally, buffet food isn't my first choice. But, this was probably the best breakfast buffet I've ever had!

With our bellies full, we headed out to walk a few trails. Four of the trails were either completely closed, or had parts that were listed as "impassable" due to the water levels. When we got to the creek, I understood why the canoeing was shut down. What is normally a lazy little creek with nice clear water was moving quite fast very muddy, and about twice as wide as normal.

High Water

The stairs below the suspension bridge in the background were even partially under water! They usually stop renting canoes at 3ft (2ft is normal depth). This picture
was at about 4ft, and it had already dropped 1ft since that morning!

The hike was good, we saw several of the named features, but, missed a few due to time, water levels, and just plain being worn out!

Here is a picture of Connie and I in an area called Boulder Canyon.

Tim and Connie in Boulder Canyon

The bright mid-day light made it difficult to get any good shots of the landscape (where were all those clouds from the past two days), but, I did get a couple of nice close-in shots.

A fern growing on the sandstone:
Illuminated Fern

A mushroom (or toadstool..not sure) on a hillside:
Backlight Fungus

After that, we headed back home and another year of Jaycees camping and (not) canoeing is in the books.

I'm hoping to get back over there for pictures later this year, and maybe even a canoe trip. :-)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peoria Flickr Group Wind Farm Outing

There had been some recent conversation about going and visiting the wind farm North of Peoria.

For those of you that may not venture North on Rt 40, which would be understandable, there is a wind farm that begins around Tanner's Orchard and continues on almost to Bradford. This is a relatively new development. I drive that route to Sterling once in a while for work, and I recall this past Fall/Winter going up there and seeing all these new windmills that weren't there before!! I believe there are about 100 of these giant turbines churning out 1.5 Megawatts each...enough to power something along the lines of 200,000 homes, I believe.

Anyway, the plan was to meet around 7:00 for some nice warm evening light, turning into a glorious sunset, then, finally, night time shots. Well, Mother Nature had other ideas. The sun was obscured by a blanket of clouds most of the time so no warm light, and a less than spectacular sunset was what we were dealt.

Still, though, there was enough broken cloud cover where we were at to get some interesting shots. This one was while the sun was still up.

Standing Tall

Oh, and I liked how this one came out. It didn't receive much attention on flickr, but, I still like it!

Tall And Wide

Then, as time carried on, it got dark, and the clouds eased up even more where we were at, but, at the same time, a storm was moving in up to the
Northwest. When the half moon wasn't obscured by clouds, it did a nice job lighting the windmills. This is a 10 minute exposure. It's always cool to see what you come up with on long nighttime shots.

Windmill At Night 2

There are a few more from this trip on my flickr site if you are interested.

We are planning on another trip up there...this time under a full moon. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate this time!! :-)

Peoria After Dark

A couple weeks ago, Lola Takes Pictures and I walked around downtown one evening after work. Initially, the idea was that she wanted to take some sunset shots of some buildings "in the 'hood", and didn't want to venture to that area by herself. By the time we got started, it was a little late for what she wanted, so we just walked around down town along Water street, then up by the courthouse.

We started by walking through Martini's and took some pics in there. The bartender was a little apprehensive when we asked if it was ok to take pictures, but told us to go ahead. I wasn't all that comfortable, so we took some pictures and moved on fairly quickly. I did get one shot that I thought was ok.

Martini's Bar

Then as we were walking down Water St. I noticed a photography studio and walked up the covered walkway and peeked inside. As I was walking back, Lily told me to 'Sit'. So, I did, and she got out her flash and started playing. After her battery went dead, we swapped roles and I took a few with the flash off to the side. At least until *my* batteries went dead!! haha!

Lola's Picture Gets Taken

From there, we moved on and headed up by the courthouse, stopping for a shot here and there along the way. After that, we headed back to our cars and took off. But, I decided to head to this old building a few blocks down on Washington St.

Used But Nice

Initially, my idea was to use a flashlight and 'paint with light' on the 'used but nice' sign. The flashlight wasn't powerful enough from the distance I was at to really add much, but it did add a little. But, that didn't stop me! I had a play with lightroom / photoshop and came up with the image you see. A little on the digital art side, but I like it.

Next time, we're going to make sure to have fresh batteries in the flash units and make (bribe) Connie be our model!

Sunday, June 1, 2008


It's been nearly a month since I last posted. Where'd the time go?? It's not that I haven't had things to post...I just haven't gotten around to it for one reason or another.

This past week was the last week of photography class. It was a fun class. I like going on field trips better than strictly classroom time. We didn't have any class outings after my last post, but, I've been out a few times with the camera anyway.

Some mushrooms I found a few weeks ago:
From Below

Then, I had to go to Springfield for several days for work. It sounds like I have to go again this week for several days, and maybe again next week. Not sure yet... But I did take a couple of pictures one night:
Train Station Up Close

Other than that....let's see. I got the garden in a couple weeks ago. It isn't looking as good as I had hoped, but, it's coming along.

Oh! Ritter got engaged!! It was pretty cool! The Peoria Jaycees held a scavenger hunt, which was a lot of fun, and at the end, up in the heights tower he proposed. Everyone, including their parents / family were 'in the know', J.O. was the only one kept in the dark. Ritter was so focused on the proposal, that he nearly proposed to the wrong person!! The elevator doors opened, and he was expecting it to be J.O., but, it was someone else! Ritter was already in motion before he realized that it was NOT J.O. on the elevator that time (she was on the next run). Then, J.O. was so shocked, she had to confirm that it wasn't a joke, and that Ritter was, in fact, serious! LOL In the end, J.O. accepted and we all headed out to Ritter's parents place for a little celebration. Anyway, it was a great time! Congrats John and J.O.!!!

The pool of death has taken it's first victims in the past week. Little bastards!!

Oh, and I got in another practice round with the smoker!

Pulled Pork Sandwich

I threw a 5lb pork butt on the smoker Memorial Day weekend. That is what 12 hours on a smoker looks like! I've been doing some reading, and it seems that even though the rule of thumb is 1 hour to 1.5 hours per pound, it isn't uncommon to go quite a bit longer. I still was surprised by how long it took, but, feel better about the process. This pulled pork had great flavor and was nice and tender. Could have been a bit juicier, but, it wasn't bad. Without bread, it was awesome! But, with could use a bit more juice. I'm curious how much difference there would be with a 10lb roast since all I've done so far is 4-5lb roasts. I didn't want to chance screwing up a large one while I was trying to learn how to run the smoker.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bye-Bye Tree and Glen Oak Park

I have had a dead tree in my back yard for a couple of years now. Well, over the Winter, it fell. Luckily, it didn't take out the garage, fence, or neighbor's shed. It couldn't have fallen any better, actually. When it fell, Connie and I cleaned up what we could by hand and left the main branches and trunk. A couple weekends ago, Jeff U. brought his chainsaw over and we had it knocked out in no time! It was cut and stacked within about half an hour!! The yard looks so much more open now. You wouldn't think a dead tree laying in your yard would take up so much (perceived) space. But, it really does. So, a bit shout out to Jeff!! Thanks, man!!!

This past weekend, I had to work a "midnight" outage in Peoria. Actually, I had to meet a vendor that does the preventative maintenance on our battery backup system. And it wasn't exactly midnight.... we met at about 1:30am Saturday. That sucked!! Then, I had a class outing to Glen Oak park at 6:30am!! Short night! Oh, and the weather was kinda crappy again! It started off looking like it would be a nice sunny morning with a few scattered clouds (can make for interesting light/shadows). About the time the sun was creeping above the treeline, all of a sudden, there was a significant blanket of cloud cover. That would have been pretty great for portraits, but, fairly boring flat light for landscapes.

Anyway, here are a couple of shots from lower Glen Oak:



As you can see, everything is put back together. They had been doing some work on it last year (not sure how long they worked on it), but, it's nice and clean and put back together. Again, the radial beams on top can make some cool shadow patterns...just not that day. :-)

I have a couple more I might post to my flickr site if you check in over there (link to the right).

Class is almost over, there's only a couple more times we meet. So, there won't be a whole lot more of these class outing posts. But, still planning the occasional outing with flickr friends. :-)

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Starved Rock

In my last post I mentioned more Starved Rock pictures... I know you all are probably turning blue by now waiting for these to be posted. So, here they are. You can breathe easy now!! :-)

Here are some pink flowers. Not sure what they're called...
Pink Flower

...and a freshly popped Mayapple
New Mayapple

A Waterfall in Wildcat Canyon
Wildcat Canyon Secondary Waterfall

Finally, another shot from St. Louis Canyon
Forest Floor and Bluff

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Starved Rock

This past weekend our class had an outing to Starved Rock State Park.

Two weeks in a row we have a class outing, two weeks in a row, we have crappy weather! Truthfully, it wasn't all that bad. When we started out, it was raining. But, within the first hour, it had stopped. So, everything was wet, it was cloudy, and a bit on the cool side, but, it really wasn't bad. In this case, not having the bright sunlight was a good thing. It is much harder to work with the bright sun and heavy shadows than the soft filtered light from the cloud cover.

So, we met at 6:30am at Starved Rock, with a bit of delay from late-comers and worked on our specific game plan. After looking at a map of the park and some discussion, we decided on a starting point. By the time we got going, it was 7:30...great!! I could have slept another hour!!!

Anyway, we started off on St. Louis Canyon. This is an easy to get to location with an 80 foot waterfall being the highlight! After spending about an hour and a half or so here, we changed location and started on the trail to Wildcat Canyon. Wildcat Canyon also contains a main 80 foot waterfall, and a side fall that is probably about 50-60 foot. I didn't make it to the bottom (we walked the upper trail, not the river trail), but tried to get a couple of shots from the trail lookouts that have been built.

After spending some time there, everyone was pretty much done. Between the early start, dead batteries, and full memory cards (as well as other obligations), we headed back to the parking lot. By this time, it was somewhere around noon anyway.

I hope to make it back very the wildflowers and trees were just starting to wake up from the long Winter, and I'm sure there will be a huge transformation over the next several weeks.

In the mean time, here are a couple of pictures from the outing. These are from St Louis Canyon. I'll post up some other pictures later this week.

Panoramic shot consisting of 4 vertical frames stitched together:
St Louis Canyon 3

This is actually the bottom frame from the panoramic shot above:
St Louis Canyon 2

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Concert and PAG Class outing

For the first time in about 5-6 years, I completely missed beerfest!! :-( Normally, I am a good little worker bee for beerfest, helping load trucks, set up for Friday night, working Saturday, and even cleaning up on Sunday.

This year, however, I was pretty busy and missed it. Starting with Thursday night 4/11....Connie came over to do her taxes (since I had already purchased Tax Cut). Then Friday night, we went to see Dierks Bentley in Bloomington. There were two opening acts, Luke Bryan and Bucky Covington. Luke was very entertaining, engaged the crowd, and was much better than I expected for an opening act. Bucky, on the other hand, not so much. He did put up some effort and was very energetic, but just didn't connect with the crowd. I heard a few other people saying basically the same thing during intermission. Dierks was very good (as you would expect for the headliner). I thought that things started off a little slow..he played quite a few songs before even talking to the audience. But, as the set moved along, things got better. Once he started interacting with the audience, and even brought a girl from the front row up on stage and had her "help" with audience participation (singing along) and she tried to dance with him (which he admitted he can't dance). All in all, it was a good show.

Then comes Saturday morning.....*early* Saturday morning!! We had our first class outing from my current photography class through the Peoria Art Guild. We were to meet and be ready to shoot at 6:00am in Lacon. Top that off with the cold rainy weather that morning (and the late night Friday)...I was not looking forward to this!!

So, we show up and start walking around the riverfront there taking pictures of whatever caught our eye. As I was walking around, I ended up on the opposite side of the bridge (same side of the river) taking a few pictures. By the time I was done, there was only one other person left as the others had moved on towards town. I started that way and saw a couple of people down one block, but not I kept going taking pictures wherever the mood hit me.

As I was walking back to the river to see if I could find the rest of my class, I was stopped by a guy asking what I was doing, was I a realtor, etc... I had just taken a couple of pictures of the police station / city hall, and I figured that may have something to do with the questioning. The guy then revealed that he works for the sheriff's department and started talking about this building and that and asked if I had about 5 minutes, he would like to give me a tour of the town. Not wanting to piss off the local law, I of course said "sure". :-) We rode around town for about 15 minutes all the while him giving me a history lesson on a couple dozen houses...this one is the old house, he was the main engineer on the bridge, and this house was build by , he was sent from Chicago to tend to the Mob business in the area, this house was built by who was a little....eccentric....etc.. etc..

Anyway, he was a friendly old guy, and obviously knew damn near everything there is to know about Lacon.

After he dropped me off and I headed back to the riverfront, there was one guy left just pulling out. He said the others had already left and he stopped for some coffee and cinnamon roll.

Here are a couple of shots I got that day:
First, one of the docks:
Wet Pier

One from the "other side" of the bridge:
Bridge In Early Light

Friday, April 4, 2008

flickr gtg

Can you believe it?? Two posts in a week!!!! Woooo hoooo!!!!

Last weekend (3/29/2008), the Peoria flickr group got together at the riverfront for sunrise. It was early and it was cold. The initial thought was that since it was warming up, we should get together and take some pictures. Well, it *was* warmer....I believe it was actually above a degree or two.

We showed up about 6:30 and waited for others to show up. Took a few pictures right near our meeting location, then after sunrise, at about 7:30, we walked towards riverfront park and the marina.

I started off under the bridge looking East.
Riverfront Walkway

Then, kind of meandered around the park there and ended up at the Preston Jackson sculpture next to the Riverplex. As I eyed this piece of work, it was obvious that I needed to focus in on one particular aspect of it. I ended up with a couple different views, but this was my favorite (the other, as well as several other shots from the outing, is on my flickr site if you are interested).
Eagle Sunrise

Then, I started heading back and grabbed this shot of the fence silhouetted by the sunrise.
Riverfront Fence At Sunrise

After that, the rest of the group had shown up and we started walking towards the marina.

There were several odds and ends along the way. The railroad turntable in riverfront park was a popular subject. Though a few decent shots were captured, everyone was pretty much on the same page as I have been...what the hell do I do with this? I know there are some interesting shots to be had, but, I haven't been able to figure out how to capture the size, environment, and detail yet.

As we kept walking, there was an old office building that has these vines growing all over it. Several shots were taken of that, some pretty creative. None of mine really came out the way I wanted.

By this time, there were 3 of us left and we headed towards the marina. After walking around that area for about 30 minutes, we headed back and began talking about the next gtg and ideas for that.

All in all, it was a nice outing, just a little on the cold side.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Another Month Gone By

Well, here it is, nearly a month since my last post. Not a whole lot has been happening, and I just haven't felt like writing lately.

I have been spending some time playing with the camera / off-camera lighting and that has taken quite a few evenings. No great revelations yet, but, I think I'm getting a better understanding...hopefully, one of these days I'll at least be able to take a decently lit portrait (not even getting into directing / posing someone for a portrait yet)!! :-)

Played cards at Gordo's a few weeks ago....bubble boy..nothing new there!! LOL But, it was a good time. Then, I had to get up early the next day for a seminar I had signed up for. I totally forgot about it until Connie mentioned it as we headed off to bed. So, I had to double-check the date...yep! Tomorrow morning....damn!! It was a good seminar by a guy named Frans Lanting. He is a professional nature photographer that does a lot of work for National Geographic and several other magazines as well as having a few books of his own out.

A couple of weeks ago, Toby had a card game at his place. Nice crowd of 2 tables. That one I *didn't* bubble out of....I was out before we combined tables! I was getting somewhat short stacked, and picked up AA on the button. It had folded around to me and I (perhaps stupidly) minimum raised. SB folds, and Gordo in the BB called. Good! I was hoping to collect some chips rather than pick up just the blinds. The flop comes 2-4-X, and he checks, and I check behind him. I figured that with all small cards on the flop, me checking would tell Gordo I have big cards and missed, causing him to bet the turn, no matter what. Well, the turn comes...another blank, but now there is a flush draw possible. As expected, Gordo bets the turn, and looking at my stack, if I call, it will be a significant portion of my dwindling I push followed by an insta-call. Hut ohhhh..... Gordo flips over a 2-4 off-suit...two pair!!!! I got no help on the river, and Gordo felted me with a damn 24o..aaaarrrggghhhhh!!! :-)

Last week my dad came up for an overnight visit. He was going to be in Springfield and decided that if he was that close, he may as well come up and visit. That's the first time he had been up since I moved into my current house 5 years ago!!! They (my parents) have talked about coming up several times...but just never get around to it. So, that was nice. He got to see my house, meet Connie, and we all went to dinner at Gil's in Hanna City.

This week...tonight...I start another photography class at the Peoria Art Guild. This one is called Photographic Expedition. We will take several trips to locations around the area as well as classroom time. Should be a lot of fun!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

BBQ King????

It depends on the kingdom!! If the kingdom stops with my back yard, then, yes!! I'm the BBQ King!!!! However, if the kingdom reaches down the block, the city, or beyond, that's another story!

Yes, folks, I finally broke out the smoker! The forecast was calling for the first day above 50 degrees, so I planned to get in a practice run with the smoker. I Did a little research and got my game plan together. Went and picked up a 4lb pork roast and the spices I didn't already have and some hickory chunks. Alright! Ready!

The process started on Saturday when I made the spice mix and got the roast rubbed down soaking up all those flavors. So far, so good!

Sunday around noon I got out and fired up the charcoal and got the wood soaking. By about 12:30 or so, the roast was ceremoniously placed on one of the racks and smoke was rolling!!

Being my first time using a smoker, I wanted to keep a close eye on things so I spent some time cleaning up the garage and watching the temperature gauge on the front of the smoker. A few adjustments here and there trying to keep just the right temp but, nothing too crazy. Then, by about 1:45 the temperature had dropped...the charcoal was running low! Damn!! So, I added a bunch more, but, it took about 20-30 minutes to get back up to temp (actually, too far). Ok, adjusting the vents a bit and things were back on track. Another hour or so goes by and I decide it's time to turn the roast over, and while I'm in there, I add more charcoal. It took a hit with the temp again, but nothing too bad. Within about 10 minutes, I was back on track. A couple of hours later the temperature is dropping again, but, I figure it is getting close to time for it to be done. So, I check the temp of the roast....140 (it should be 170 - 180). Damn! Add more charcoal (and water to the water pan) and wait a bit longer. Another love! A few more pieces of charcoal get thrown in, and I move the roast to the lowest rack. Yet another hour goes by, still, the temp inside the roast isn't where it should be. Leave it go a while change!!!!

If you're keeping track, it's about 8:00pm by now!! I was figuring on 4-5 hours, and there hasn't been any progress in the last 2-3. It was at this point I started considering giving up. A half hour later, I caved....I got out the roasting pan and moved the operation to the oven.

An hour in the oven....almost up to temp. 30 more minutes go by, and we're golden!! I get the roast out and let it rest for 20 minutes. But, when checking it, I decided it needed to cook longer. So, back in the oven for another hour. This time, I'm calling it! I shred the meat, discarding the fat and finally have a pulled pork sandwich at midnight!!


It smelled wonderful, and it actually tasted pretty good!

So, for all the trouble, at least I knew the flavor was good, it's just the cooking technique/process that needs work.

Some people may consider it a failure, but, I really feel like I learned a lot. That is exactly why I wanted to do a trial run with no pressure to actually feed anyone. :-)

First: Start with a lot more charcoal!

Second: I think the temperature gauge on the front is not even close to the temperature where the meat sits. There is a water pan that blocks some of the heat and when I reached in, I could feel the difference between the edges (where the temperature probe is) and the middle. I plan to get an oven thermometer and set it right in the middle to see what the front gauge reads when the middle is the correct temperature.

So, now, I just have to wait for another warm day for trial run #2! Maybe by the time it really gets nice out, I'll have this all figured out!

Wish me luck!!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Leap Day Project and Poker

Several updates all rolled into one....

This past week we had Leap Day, February 29th. One of the guys in the Peoria Illinois flickr group who goes by lscan proposed a project where you take a picture each hour you are awake, and then post your best of that hour. Then, where multiple people post for a given hour, a vote is taken and the best of the best is determined. There was also consideration given to creating a photo book from the project and using it to raise money for a local charity. The details on that front haven't been worked out quite yet. Anyway, I participated in the project and got I think 11 or 12 pictures. But, haven't uploaded them yet. I missed the 12:00pm and 6:00pm hours, then ran out of ideas/motivation after 8:00pm. In other words, beer took over the number 1 spot in my priority list. :-) It was fun, but the time investment really adds up quickly. Hopefully, I'll get the pictures uploaded to flickr within the next day or so.

Saturday I did some running around...normal weekend stuff, then went and played cards at Zooks' homegame. It was a good time, and I finally cashed at one of her games!! I'm still down about $30 - $40 at her games, but, at least I made it to the money for a change! LOL

Sunday...watched some of the race, saw Stewart battle the outside wall (the wall won) and kind of let my attention wander away from the race at that point. But, caught up with things as it was nearing the end. That's when Jeff Gordon took on an inside wall. It was actually an opening to an infield area where he hit, and man was it brutal!!! Parts were flying all over and his radiator went shooting down the track. It was definitely one of the hardest hits I've seen in a long while!

It was a great day out, and I also got some cleaning up done in the garage and a little DIY photography project done. Thanks Jeff for the material, it worked out perfectly, and I have enough left over to make 2 more!!!! I did a couple test shots and with the bare flash, the entire wall (as much as fit in the frame) was well lit...with the modifier I made, about a 2ft circle was all that was lit!

There's more to report from the weekend....but I'll save that for a post of its own.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

V-day and Other Catching Up

Yeah, it's a week late, but, I guess better late than never!

Just after my last post, I started coming down with a cold / sinus thing. It's been almost two weeks, and I'm still fighting it! So, I've done my best to stay in and do as little as possible. Partially, just to stay out of the cold, and partially because I haven't felt like doing anything other than sit in front of the computer (in front of the space heater) or on the couch watching TV. I am feeling better than I did last week at this time. I didn't even consider going to the card game Toby was trying to put together. In fact, I took a sick day from work that day and didn't leave the house for 4 days except to get more cold meds and have dinner at Connie's on the evening of the 4th day (president's day).

Anyway, enough of the pity party, right???!!!

Valentine's day was fun and entertaining. Connie picked up a pizza and brought it over and we stayed in, which was perfect if you ask me!! :-) No crowds, no reservations, or waiting forever for a table. When I started thinking about celebrating V-day, gifts, and all that, the first thing that came to mind was chocolate (duh)! It may seem cliché, but, when someone loves chocolate as much as Connie, you can't go wrong!! Well, unless you end up with a chocolate O.D. on your hands!!
day 28 of 60
Photo by Connie

But, wait!!!!! There's more!! This requires a little background, so bear with me.

About a month ago, Lola Takes Pictures started a new group on flickr she called the 60-day project. Basically, it's a shortened version of a 365 project. The idea is to take a self portrait each day and post it to the group. You are the one that has to set up the shot (framing, zoom, light, etc...) and also press the button to take the picture (this is where long arms or the camera's self timer come in handy). Anyway, there was a post in the group about ideas for pictures and possibly even designating specific subjects/criteria for a given day. for example, sweatpants day, or red, or hat day. Just some sort of theme. Well, even though I am not participating in the project, I came up with a brilliant (in my opinion) suggestion of "topless day" :-) The initial reaction was the expected "you go first!". But, after that, they started do you define topless? Taking a picture while topless doesn't mean you have to actually show anything that would get higher than a 'G' rating (I could be topless and take a picture of my feet for example). So anyway, there were a couple pictures posted in the vein noted above followed by 'ok your turn!'.

Not to be outdone, I had to come up with an idea. So, I thought about it for a couple days and formulated a plan. After I had the plan worked out in my mind, it was time to execute and see if I could pull off what my mind envisioned. After many attempts, I finally was happy with the end results. By this time, it was a week before V-day...the timing was perfect!

For those of you still following along, a printed / framed copy of this was another V-day gift!
George Costanza Tribute
For those of you who may not be Seinfeld fans, this was my attempt at a tribute to George Costanza and his efforts to seduce a girl that worked at the film developing place he used.

Some of you may be wondering what I got for V-day (or maybe not). I got a remote control for the camera packaged with a nice 'bouquet' of heart-shaped suckers. :-) While that may seem a little untraditional, it was a great and thoughtful gift! Sure would have made the self portrait above easier!! As it was, I had to try to set focus (on nothing), press the button to start the timer, and run to the couch and get my pose before the timer ran out! A wireless remote rocks for those situations!!!

Moving along.....Sunday was the Daytona 500. I was supposed to go to Connie's brother's but, since I had been sick, I was left behind to watch the race by myself (which was fine by me...I was feeling pretty crappy still). With great anticipation, I waited for the start...and waited, and waited... Why can't they just tell you when it is really going to START rather than list it on the tv guide as starting at 2:00, but not really starting for another hour and a half or so???? They eventually got under way, and it was a rather uneventful race for the first 1/2 or so. Then as it got closer to the finish, there was more excitement and a few more cautions. It was during two of these back to back cautions that I dozed off. We're talking about 30 - 40 laps (out of 200) left. Yes, you guessed it....I slept through the last of the race, waking up for the very last corner. That sucked!!! haha! If I time things right, I usually can catch the beginning, nap through the middle of the race, and wake up for the last several laps when things start to heat up. Not this time, though.

Friday, February 8, 2008


So, how about this weather??? This weather sucks! This weather is crazy! Gotta love Illinois Weather! yeah yeah yeah..... Everyone's talking about the weather. I'm just as guilty as the next guy, I suppose.

But, how about that fog a couple of days ago???!!!!! heh :-)

No, really. That was some pretty damn stout fog! The forecast called for it to lift by noon, but, it seemed to pick up steam after noon and into the night. I went outside to "check the weather" (A.K.A. smoke break) about 2:00 or so, and from Adams St. could not see Old Chicago at all (two blocks away) and could just barely (after staring at it) make out an outline of the twin towers (1 block away). At that point I knew I had to play with the camera after work.

So, after work, I head down to the riverfront. Initially, I was thinking to go across to the other side of the river and shoot towards downtown. However, when I got to the riverfront, I knew that all I would get is a wall of fog. There's no way you would have seen the city...I couldn't even see the buildings / lights a block away. Ok, this side of the river it is!

I started walking around snapping pictures of this and that all the while being amazed that I couldn't even see the bridge from the docks near the Spirit of Peoria!!
Spirit In The Fog

I really like the way the fog obscures the never really see where the water ends and land (or sky for that matter) begins.

As I walked around, I really wanted to try to get a nice shot of the bridge disappearing into the fog. I tried several angles and decided that this was my favorite.
Bridge Into Fog

This was exactly what I envisioned! Relatively clear close in, and gradually fading into nothing! The fog was great for cleaning up messy backgrounds and other distractions. The isolation really allows you to focus on the subject.

As it got darker, I headed back towards The Tavern On Water (or Roxy's or Crooked Waters or whatever you know it by). I stopped off by the docks and grabbed this shot.
Docks In Fog

I was lazy and didn't carry around the tripod, as it really wasn't needed early on. But, as the light diminished, I had to bump the ISO for this one (which means more digital noise, especially in the shadows). So, this took a little extra work to clean up, but, I thought the end result was fairly nice.

As I walked on and it got darker, at one point I stopped and just looked out across the river. It was really pretty creepy. First off, you couldn't see anything across the hints of street / business lights, no buildings, nothing! All you got was a wall of fog. The water was like glass, and every now and then, a couple of chunks / sheets of ice would float by. Without any other anchor, it had somewhat of a disorienting affect. As I said, kind of eerie.

Anyway, it was well worth the hour or so I spent there! Though, driving home was a challenge! ;-)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Matthiessen State Park

With the deep freeze we've been in lately, I have been trying my best to stay inside. Seriously! To the point of grabbing extra smokes from my truck so I don't have to walk outside "tomorrow"! LOL But, in looking for a silver lining, the below freezing temps and snow we've had in the past week or two was sure to have the waterfalls frozen up at Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park. So, when the forecast for this past weekend called for temps actually above freezing, I thought it would be a good time to head up that way (before everything melted away).

We took a trip to Matthiessen State Park on Saturday. It was a nice little trip, and for Winter shooting, it really couldn't have been much better! Good thing we went on Saturday, because, by Sunday afternoon, nearly all the snow was melted away, and the ice was already iffy in some spots on Saturday (though we did see a couple of guys ice fishing).

Here are a couple of pictures I got from the trip:

First, this is of the main falls in the upper dells area. On top of these falls is the pond where the guys were ice fishing. I used a pretty small aperture to try to lengthen the time the shutter was opened to get a nice soft/silky feel to the actual falling water down the middle.
Frozen Falls 2

Next, this shot is of 3 or 4 smaller cascading falls that feeds what is known as Giant's Bathtub. There really wasn't much color anyway, so I scrapped what little there was and went with a black and white processing. I really like the way it turned out (and am looking forward to a Spring/Summer shot from the same place).
Upper Dells Cascade

There are a couple more shots on my flickr site if you're interested.