Wildflowers of the Forest

Alternately, the photos I took during our failed hunt for morel mushrooms.

Apparently, morels have been spotted at the local forest preserve I frequent. Last weekend, I took a hike out there and spotted a heron, ducks, deer and an owl. Friend Janice called me Friday afternoon for a spur of the moment visit to hunt mushrooms. I thought, heck, why not.

While we didn't find any of the elusive fungi, the wildflowers continue to impress.

First up - delicate white wildflowers called "Spring Beauty".
Delicate

Additional Photography note: I focus stacked three photos for the composite below:
Snow White

The blue sea of Bluebells provided a distraction from the empty hunt.
Janice

The occasional Bluebell "rebel" in white:
White Bluebells

Finally - we spotted some young deer in the thicket.


Being out in nature provides a salve for the soul - I hope you can get out where you are to enjoy.

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Spring Emerging - Earth Day 2020

Blossom by blossom Spring begins, unthwarted by troubles of this world....

And so Spring's transition, which starts imperceptibly with longer days, slightly warmer temperatures, faint touches of chartreuse on dormant wood and the stirring of frogs and birds, finally emerges with an explosion of blooms and fluttering leaves.

Daylight comes earlier now as evidenced on my morning activities which only a few weeks ago were shrouded in darkness, now reveal the start of the day.
Most Splendid Start #sunrise #morningcalm #shirleywalks #shirleyruns #chambana #waterreflection

The forest floor comes to life, awakened by wildflowers:
Dutchman's Breeches
Snowy Flowers Carpet the Forest Floor #seenonmywalk #forestpreserve #covidspring

A Sea of Bluebells
Sea of Bluebells

The sea of Bluebells welcomed us as royalty #shirleyhikes #seenonmyhike #forestspring #springwildflowers #bluebells #champaignforests #forestpreserve #covidspring

The bluebirds settle into their summer homes.
Like an Old Married Couple

Even with Shelter in Place restrictions, we are able (even encouraged) to spend time outside. The Illinois State parks are closed, but the local county forest preserves remain open. I normally hike the forest trails on the weekend and enjoy the lovely gardens.
Spring at the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden

Seen from the Banks

Covered Bridge

Happy Earth Day and Welcome Spring!


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20 Recipes in 2020 - Chipotle Chicken

My family loves Chipotle Mexican Grill, and I adapted some copy-cat recipes to prepare my own version of Chipotle Chicken at home.
It all starts with the pepper based marinade:

Ingredients for Chipotle Marinade

3-4 dried guajillo peppers (find in the authentic Mexican section), soaked in water for at least an hour
Juice of Two limes
Half an onion
Three cloves of garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 T honey
1-2 Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
2 T of the adobe sauce from the chipotle peppers
2T chipotle salsa (optional)
1/3 C oil
Water (use the water from soaking the peppers)

Combine into a high speed blender.
Blend until smooth and homogeneous.
Add water if too thick
Adjust lime juice / honey / salt to taste

Chipotle Marinade

Use to marinate chicken thighs, chicken breast - I normally go half and half. The marinade above is enough for 4 pounds of meat.
Can also use the marinate on cubed, extra firm tofu
Marinate for 12-36 hours - the longer the better!

Grill chicken - an outside grill is best.
Chipotle Chicken Grill

Chop the grilled chicken into dice sized pieces (like in the restaurant). Enjoy with Lime-Cilantro rice, beans, guacamole and sauted peppers.
Triple Treat

For Tofu, heat up a large skillet, add 2T oil then the cubes of tofu. Let the tofu sit and pan fry on one side before flipping the cubes over. This allows for crispy edges. Most of the marinade will cook away, leaving residue behind. With the tofu version, save the residual marinade.

Take the cubes of cooked tofu and place in a food processor with a flat blade. Pulse the blade to roughly chop the cubes into smaller pieces, like the sofritas at the restaurant. Add the reserved marinade (Marinated with tofu only!) for extra moistness (this is how my son likes it).


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Focus Stacked Macro Tulips

With the current Stay at Home directive, I've been working from home, my kids are back from being overseas and I have a tiny bit more time on my hands. It's a great time to learn something new and I decided to try my hand at Focus Stacking. With Focus Stacking, multiple photos taken with different focus points are merged together. The composite image renders more of the subject in focus when compared with any individual image.

I own a wonderful macro lens, but due to the shallow depth of field (small slivers of the subject in focus) I find it challenging to output what my eye envisions. Focus stacking gives me the output I desire.

Case in point - the photo below has the lovely stamens in focus, but that's about it. The petals are blurry, and I while I like the overall photo, wouldn't it be great to have all of it focus?
Hidden

So, to create a focus stack, select your subject and take multiple photos with different portions of the subject in focus. The most effective way is to use a tripod. The camera should be as stable as possible. A focus tip - use the Live view option on your camera (most newer cameras have this feature) and move the focus rectangle around your subject. For higher control, zoom in with live view to refine the focus area.

I'm looking down the wee opening of a white tulip - I've captured the yellow stamens here and the rest of the bloom is fuzzy, much like the first photo.
WhiteTulip-Stamens

I shifted my focus point to the edge of the bloom opening. The stamens are but a yellow blur.
WhiteTulip-Inner Petals

In the third photo, the middle section of the petals are in focus.
WhiteTulip-Outer Petals

I used four photos in the focus stack, it was very similar to the third photo.

Here is the composite photo:
All the Details
I see the stamens and the petals in focus! Success!

Here is another focus stacked composite of another tulip, taken from the side. I used 5 photos to create this composite.
Purple Tulip

Of course, the composites were created with the help of photo imaging software. Yes, you can do this in Photoshop, but I found an alternative - Affinity Photo, which automates the focus stacking process just like Photoshop without the price tag and subscription requirements. I've downloaded a 90 day trial and so far have been extremely impressed by this photo editor's capabilities. I will most likely purchase the software (currently a steal at $25!).

I have more tulip photos to run through so look for more in the coming weeks.


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The Pink Full Moon

I love me a full moon. Something about its light casting shadows in the middle of night and dimly lighting up the darkest shadow just enough for the eye can see shrouds the full moon event with mystery and beauty. I have several full moon memories etched in my brain - of course they all embody adventure, amazement with a sprinkle of romanticism. So when a special full moon event lines up with clear skies, I get out to watch it unfold.

Last night - the full Pink Moon rose right at dusk, almost directly to the east. In my geekiness, I looked up the moonrise time and direction. I used the website, timeanddate.com to get all the details to be prepared. Armed with the data - moonrise at 19:03 CDT, rising at 93degrees (that's just a smidge south of directly east). I even used the compass on my watch to make sure I had a decent line of sight.

I drove to an area of town that is fairly undeveloped and waited. The weather couldn't be nicer with a gentle, warm breeze blowing from the west.

The moon emerged shyly from the treeline, softly hued:
Pink Full Moon

It indeed turned pinker as it rose
Pink on Pink
Note - I was originally annoyed when this walker came into the path of my photo. Then I realized she was pink like the moon, so I took the photo instead of waiting.


Pink Full Moon

Even high above the trees, it retained its pink hue.
Pink Full Moon

It was a beautiful event, something to take one's mind off the current events, the physical distancing from our friends and family; for that I am grateful our weather conditions allowed me to take in and create another moon memory.

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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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