Weekend in Indy - The Start of a New Normal

Back in January, we planned a weekend in Indianapolis to take in the revelry of the Big 10 Men's Basketball Tournament. Scott only likes to go when it is hosted in Indianapolis, as the city and its numerous hotels, restaurants, shops and other attractions make it super convenient and fun for the visiting fans. The Bankers Life Fieldhouse sits in the heart of the city, accessible to all the amenities Indy has to offer.

We never imagined the tournament would eventually be scuttled all together due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wednesday evening, as the first games were being played, I was stunned to learn the remaining games would be played without fans. Even with this turn of events, we decided not to cancel our hotel reservations and headed out of town for a weekend getaway.

I'm glad we went, as now we're all under a stay at home directive with only essential businesses open. Instead of watching basketball, we walked around the city, ate a lot of really good food, visited a museum, did some shopping and reconnected with old friends who were also in town. Overall, a very nice weekend away.

Friday afternoon - sunny walk along the Canal Walk.
Pops of Color #indy #canalwalkindy
This walk took us around the Indiana Statehouse and the USS Indianapolis National Memorial Monument.

Indy Mix

Indy Statehouse

We ate at St Elmo's Steakhouse, Nada (cool taco place), The Oceanaire Seafood Room and I decided to take photos of all the cool bars at these restaurants. I called it my Indy Mini Bar Series.






We visited the Eiteljorg Museum, a gorgeous showcase of Native American and Western Art.
Fluidity in Motion #snowinmarch #indy #sculpture #blackandwhite
And yes, it was snowing!

I was particularly drawn to a special photography exhibit, the work of Horace Poolaw
The Gallery #photography #blackandwhite

So even though there was no basketball, we enjoyed our weekend away. We hope the businesses impacted by current closures make it through.


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April 2020 Free Calendar Download - Onion Bloom

An onion bloom doesn't really conjure up thoughts of spring right?
While not a quintessential, sought after garden plant, onion varieties like Allium provide interest with their long stems and spherical blossom heads.

I photographed this bloom in progress out of my neighbor's vegetable garden. Its delicate, snow white florets against the deep green caught my eye. The partial burst of open and tightly wound buds felt like Spring's potential about to bust wide open.



To download April's calendar, click on this link from Box.com
Link --> April Calendar 2020 - Onion Bloom

I hope everyone is doing well, hunkered down in their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic. We're all fine here on the prairie. Will share more soon.

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Life's Curveballs

Hindsight is 20/20 and can help put into perspective these crazy days with all of its doomsday pandemic reports. Chaos reigns, mass media allows it to infiltrate our core being. Is it any wonder we’ve become anxiety ridden society? I put it all into perspective....

Rewind 12 months - my daughter, like most seniors in college trying to figure out what direction to take, chose to build upon her study abroad program in Africa and decided to pursue an opportunity in the Peace Corps. She applied in January to an available position in Mongolia and while she had hoped to serve in Africa, she took the assignment in Asia. She was scheduled to leave in late May, two weeks after graduation.
Most of March and April were spent preparing for graduation and her planned future in Mongolia. Life, though filled with daily stresses, seemed to progress “on plan”. I enjoyed the anticipation of commencement and attended several campus event with Erica and her friends.
Erica was also training for her first half marathon with my run club so I saw her frequently.

Then what felt like a life altering event occurred - while running the half marathon Erica sustained a stress fracture in her fibula. Upon seeing the xrays days after the race (she did finish; we thought the injury was a muscle strain), we realized the Peace Corps would pull her medical clearance. She would not go to Mongolia in May.

first half marathon
We didn't know she had broken her fibula!

Life’s once clear path flipped and curved into a murky abyss.

I admit I was stressed about the situation because I do not like sudden change that I cannot control. In addition to these changes, Erica’s personal mobility took a hit - she was put into a medical boot, given crutches with instructions for no weight bearing movement. I then realized how unfriendly campus could be, with its sprawling grounds and barebones handicap access. While I’m sure the university is fully compliant with the ADA laws, this sudden change was not easy to adjust to on the fly. (And I now fully appreciate such ADA laws and requirements). She essentially moved back home and I drove her to the last few weeks of classes and Final exams. She graduated gracefully sporting those crutches across the stage. She certainly stood out! The day after graduation, she and several friends flew to St. Thomas - crutches be damned!
ACES Convocation - Crutching Across the Stage
Crutching Across the Stage to Receive her Diploma

Amidst all these events, Erica made alternate plans for the summer. She got a summer job teaching science to under privileged girls in Chicago. After 6 weeks the fracture healed and she applied for another opening in the Peace Corps - an assignment in Africa. She was offered a position to work in Guinea as an AgroForestry volunteer, a position better aligned with her interests and degree. This job would start in December.

The initiator - the broken fibula that felt like a huge disruption at the time, really served as a course adjustment and allowed all of us room to accept the oncoming change.

Erica spent her summer in the Big City, clearly enjoyed teaching science and making an impact on her students. She was able to join our extended family’s grand vacation in Hilton Head. She worked at the horse barn until departing in December.
Cousins
How Often Do All the Cousins Get together? Not Often Enough

Cousins

I was able to accompany her to her departure city of Washington DC and give her a big hug before setting her off on her great adventure. Had she gone to Mongolia, I would have missed that departure.

As of mid February, she has been officially installed in her village where she will serve over the next two years. While life there exhibits hardships and challenges, she has made friends and strives to make a difference.

Featured by Peace Corps Guinea on International women day
Featured on the Peace Corps Guinea IG Feed for International Women's Day!

Had she gone to Mongolia, she would be coming back to the US, a mere 6 months into her official assignment. Last week, Peace Corps evacuated all their workers in Mongolia due to the coronavirus. These events cemented in my mind - she was never meant to go to Mongolia. She is exactly where she’s supposed to be. And if she gets sent home from Africa, then it will be OK.

The lesson to be learned here? To be content with the change and challenges presented to us in this crazy thing called life. Perhaps what you planned for and worked towards didn’t pan out and carves out into another direction. Do the best you can with a positive attitude. Ask for help. Build a community of friends to support you in the good and the bad. Don’t be afraid of change. Take it in faith that things will work out.

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March 2020 Calendar Download - Mongolian Khatags

It's not quite March since today is Leap Day! But it is time for a new photo calendar. This should look familiar as I've used a portion of this photo for my blog banner. I guess it is time for a new banner!



I took this photo while traveling in China last year for work. These ceremonial Mongolian scarves or Khatags are often draped as a symbol of respect.
If you want to read a little more of my travels to Inner Mongolia and Shanghai, click here: China 2019

To download March's calendar, click on this link from Box.com
Link --> March Calendar 2020 - Mongolian Khatags

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20 Recipes in 2020 - Stuffed Jalapeños

My Second Recipe post for 2020 - Stuffed jalapeños, aka jalapeño poppers, perfect as an appetizer or snack.
No need to buy the ones in the frozen food section - these are easy and don't have the coated breading on the outside.

Jalapeno Poppers
Ingredients:
6 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 green onion minced
1/2 C shredded cheese. I use Mexican blend
8 oz bag of whole jalapeños
8 slices bacon cut in half

Oven at 350 degF

Mix cream cheese, green onion and shredded cheese together

Halve each jalapeños lengthwise and remove the seeds and membranes. Be careful when handling jalapeños. Wear gloves and even consider safety glasses. Don’t touch you face after being in contact with the jalapeños. Wash hands in cold water. Learn from my experiences of burning lips and eyes! The last time I made these, some juice squirted into my eyes (hence the recommendation for safety glasses).

Stuff the halved peppers with the cream cheese mixture then wrap with the bacon.

Line a metal baking sheet with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350 then increase the oven temperature to 425 degF to crisp bacon. Bake another 8-10 minutes. Filling should be golden brown.

Notes - I buy many of the ingredients for these from Aldi. A bag of jalapeños costs $0.55 and the cream cheese costs $0.79.
Enjoy!

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Sticking Around

Another week, another snowfall! This time, instead of melting away quickly, the snow stuck around for four days, and more impressively, adorned the tree branches for three full days. That is an anomaly for this area - normally we receive a snowfall, the wind picks up and the snow is blown off every branch and horizontal surface. This time, the snow started off wet, stuck to everything and then the temperatures fell precipitously to the single digits, flash-freezing the snow to everything.

The icy snow - Defying gravity on day one (Thursday)
Shower Down

From the pine trees in the back yard:
Ornaments

Flocked

Friday morning greeted us with brilliant sunshine but sub-zero temperatures without the windchill. I took this from the kitchen, looking at those same pines.
#chambana #nofilter #wintersbeauty

Saturday morning I headed to the forest preserve with friends, hopeful for a winter wonderland. I wasn't disappointed.

Doesn’t Get Much Better #outinthewoods #snowglobe #champaignforests #shirleyhikes #winterwonderland

We hiked through the powdery snow, caught some wildlife and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings.
Couples Who Hike

Well Camouflaged

It's all so fleeting - on Sunday, warmer air coupled with the sun melted the snow off the trees. Today the rain is washing away the remnants. My philosophy - get out and enjoy it while you still can.



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Unexpected Snow

Past performance drives future expectations and this year's mild winter has lulled us into forgetting that snow normally falls in February. Too often, the media plays up snow's impending arrival with panicked fervor, creating undue hype. Why must every inch of snow require a winter storm warning? It's only snow and not much snow. So when big flakes started falling Friday evening, unannounced, it was met with delight that often accompanies a surprise.
That sense of delight spilled over into Saturday morning, when awaking to the white and bright landscape. Fluffy, flocked branches flanked the roads.
February Snow #shirleylemay

I had to be in town to set up Saturday's scheduled club run and since I'm not running, I walked while the runners ran. I headed to the trails that follow the water ways, nestled away from the main streets. Here, pristine paths begged to be explored.

February Snow #shirleylemay



The only disappointment of the weekend - thick cloud cover precluded the viewing of the full Snow moon Saturday night. Had clear skies prevailed, I planned to venture to the forest preserve for a night hike lit by moonlight. Hopefully next month...

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February 2020 Calendar Download - Yellow Rose

It's time for a photo calendar download for the month of February.
Last winter, to brighten up the gloom of the cold, my group of friends created these lovely floral arrangements. I love fresh flowers in winter - they signal possibility of the coming spring. They are a simple luxury that we can enjoy all month long.



To download February's calendar, click on this link from Box.com
Link --> February Calendar 2020 - Yellow Rose

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20 Recipes in 2020 - Zucchini Puffs

My close friends and I recently made a list of goals for 2020. Not resolutions, but items we would like to accomplish in 2020. The list is supposed to be 20 items long, and while not a requirement, an element of "20" is encouraged. For example, one might set a goal to read 20 books in 2020. One of my 2020 goals is to compile 20 Recipes with photos into the start of a Recipe book. I plan to use the Blurb publishing platform and their Cookbook template.

To get organized, I've gone through my Lightroom catalog and keyworded all my food / recipe-centric photos and exported them to a single folder. I've been recording the recipes on my iPhone's Notes app. Now to marry up the photos and recipes in Bookwright.

I've used the blog in the past to record recipes and photos, so I plan to do the same with the 20 Recipes in 2020.
First up, Zucchini Puffs

These are based on a recipe from Tasty - their Zucchini Tots, meant to be a healthier version of potato based Tater Tots. I adjusted the recipe since I don't eat bread and the original recipe calls for breadcrumbs.

Here is my version of Zucchini Puffs:
1 large zucchini, grated
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 T olive oil
1 T coconut flour
1/4 C almond flour
3/4 C shredded cheese. I use a Mexican cheese blend
1 egg

Mix onion, garlic and oil in a large glass bowl. Micro cook for 30-40 seconds to soften the onion and garlic.

Shred zucchini onto a thin towel. I use a "flour sack kitchen towel" that I bought from the grocery store. Wring out the excess water from the shredded zucchini. The towel is very thin and allows the water to pass through easily. Could also use a cheese cloth. It is important to get the zucchini as dry as possible.

Add the zucchini and remaining ingredients to the bowl with onion garlic and mix.

Form bite sized logs, like tater tot size onto a metal baking sheet. I line my sheet with a silicone Silpat Mat which is non stick. Could also use parchment.
Zucchini Puffs

Bake at 425 degF for 15 minutes, then flip the puffs over and bake another 5-10 minutes. They should be golden brown.

Baked Zucchini Puffs

Notes: I use almond flour / coconut flour as a sub for breadcrumbs in the original Tasty recipe. The coconut flour absorbs moisture and helps the puffs stay firm.

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The Performance - Exposing for The Stage

The house lights dim and the audience stifles in anticipation with whispered and hushed murmurs. Maybe the stage is hidden by a thick, velvet curtain waiting to open. Maybe the stage is open, revealing a darkened outline of instruments and props. This stage waits, expectant of the life and energy of music; the percussive sounds and artistry about to fill the space, straight to the hearts of the audience.

Such is the atmosphere of the live performance. The performer outputs a rendition of their song, dance. Sometimes better than the last time, sometimes not, but each performance is perfect and imperfect, each unique. Sometimes the performer wonders how he or she could create such beautiful sound even as the music is being created. That’s when you as the performer get back all that you give.

One of my "goals" is to take the time and effort (because I'm old and would rather spend my evenings curled up on the couch with my cat) to get out and enjoy more live music, theatre and dance performances. Back in November, we attended a concert by the a cappella group, Straight No Chaser and their policy on photography allowed me to use my DSLR freely.

Showcase

From a photographer’s perspective, getting the correct exposure is challenging with the often dark edges of the stage and bright spotlights. These extremes confuse the automatic matrix metering so I always flip to spot metering or manual exposure, erring on the side of under exposing. I look for the silhouettes, the light gradients that create depth on the stage. And try to capture the artist in their element - the essence where the purity of sound fills their soul.

And when the lighting falls flat, convert to black and white!

Lights and Song

The best part of the night? When they reverted back to "Old School" a cappella - no mics, no beat boxing, just lush harmonies.
Closing Time

What was the last live performance you enjoyed? Any events on the horizon? We now have tickets to catch violinist Rachel Barton Pine, performing the Barber Violin Concerto (a fave of mine) with the local CU Symphony Orchestra

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