September 2021 Free Desktop Calendar - Sunset off Fish Creek WI

I hope this month's desktop calendar photo of the sun setting across Fish Creek Bay fills you with a sense of calm. Fish Creek is a small town along the peninsula of Door County, between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. I took the photo last September during an extended weekend getaway, while enjoying a sunset boat tour with Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tours. This lovely boat ride featured live music, history of the area and gave us a water’s view of Peninsula State park's Eagle Bluffs lighthouse and other mini islands in Green Bay.

 
Door County is a great place to visit and only a few hours from Milwaukee. These quaint towns offer shopping, water activities, biking and hiking trails; all sorts of restaurants, pubs, microbreweries and wineries. A highly recommended respite from any big city. 

 

 

 
To download September's calendar, click on this link from Box.com
Link --> September Calendar 2021 - Fish Creek Sunset

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Fine Lake Friends at The Wedding

13 months, three dates and two venues later, the Cox-Norman wedding finally went down on the most perfect day one could serve up in mid August. Awarded for their patience and tenacity, Katie and Jadan exuded love, respect and happiness and reminded us of the journey to the altar.

 

 
Set at the picturesque Stonegate Manor in Benton Harbor Michigan, we enjoyed the outdoor wedding ceremony then settled in for an evening of games, fellowship, dancing and out right fun.

 

 
Our contingent arrived Friday evening which allowed us to explore St Joseph beaches Saturday morning. The lighthouse along Lake Michigan gave us a landmark for this pre-wedding group selfie:

 
Lake Michigan Vibes

 
After the wedding ceremony, we milled about the lovely grounds and took advantage of the furniture vignettes set up on the expansive lawn. The vintage seating was the perfect setting to capture our Fine Lake Ladies group, all dressed up. I set up the scene and had Caroline take the photos with my camera. I was going for a more serious, strong, don’t mess with us vibe.

 

 
Fine Lake Ladies Mean Business

 
Of course there needs to be a relaxed and happy photo too.

 
The Normal Look

 
Since all the couples were dressed up, I took portraits. (And not even with my normal portrait lens! I’m still happy with the way these turned out - taken with the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 on the Z6II camera).

 

 
Janice and Mike:

 
Janice and Mike

 

 
Nancy and Philippe:

 
Nancy and Philippe

 
Mary and Bob:

 
Mary and Bob

 
Jill and Buck:

 
Buck and Jill

 
I really need to have Janice take a couples photo of me and Scott! Next time I will position Scott, hand the camera to her, then get into the picture.

 
The official wedding photographer, Heather Kanillopoolos, did a fantastic job. So much hard work goes into capturing this once in a lifetime event. It is prudent to hired a seasoned professional. Heather’s work can be previewed at her website: https://www.heatherkan.com .

 

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Biltmore Estate Visit

In July, my youngest sister, (Michele), from the UK visited the US - she flew to Charlotte NC since that’s where our parents and other sister live. Of course, I flew from Illinois to NC to join in all the fun. It’s been 2 years since the nuclear Chang family last gathered and to make the visit extra special, the Chang women took a short overnight trip to Asheville NC.

 

 
Asheville is a short 2 hour drive from my sister’s house, nestled on the western edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along with proximity to the mountains, another major attraction is the Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt in the 1890’s. Situated in a secluded parcel of land, one can explore the vast 8000 acres by hiking, horseback riding and guided tour. The main attraction is the estate house, its grounds and gardens, which is where we focused our day.

 

 
Note - We decided to visit Biltmore last minute while we were driving towards Asheville, so I secured tickets online but could only purchase tickets to access the grounds and garden since access to the 250-Room Estate was sold out. But after we arrived, Teresa checked at the on-site ticket office and we got a timed entry around noon. Travel tip - it always pays to double check availability onsite!

 

 
After you park, the trail leads you to the estate via this observation area where you get your first glimpse of all the grandeur that awaits….

 

 

 
Which requires a group selfie!

 
Visit to Asheville and Biltmore Scenes from around the grounds:

 
Biltmore Estate Visit Biltmore Estate Visit

 
En route to the Conservatory, we took time under the grape arbor to cool off.

 
Sisters Teresa and Michele:

 
Sisters Mom taking in all the beautiful vines and flowers:

 
Looking Up

 
The approach to the Conservatory:

 
Scenes from our visit to the Biltmore estate, starting with the Conservatory, finishing with the Estate tour. We had a great time. #family #changgirls #stmchang

 

 
Inside the Conservatory we saw trains winding through the plantings along with miniature replicas of Biltmore buildings. Closer inspection of these models revealed they were built using plant based materials - for example, the filigree detail of an iron fence was fashioned out of the cross section of walnut shells. Roof shingles were made out of pine cone scales. The railroad trestles were formed by twigs, leaves and acorns!

 
Visit to Asheville and Biltmore

 

 
Visit to Asheville and Biltmore

 

 
The house tour included an audio accompaniment that provided much insight to the history, culture and details of living in such a house at the turn of the century and beyond. The tour also brought us “downstairs” to the kitchen / service quarters and described the inner workings of such an operation, ala Downton Abbey. Teresa had visited the house prior and remarked the tour had been expanded to include the “Back stairs Elements” of the estate.

 

 
The view from the Estate’s balcony. Yes, this is a real photo! Such a beautiful day.

 
Visit to Asheville and Biltmore

 
Grand stair case:

 
The Way Down #staircase #chandelier #family #biltmoreestate

 

 
After our tour, we enjoyed wine tasting at onsite Antelope Village. A wonderful way to finish off our day.

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The Class of 2021 - Nephew Matty Graduates

Graduation season is upon us and while most ceremonies still deviate from past traditions, group gatherings to celebrate this important milestone are no longer taboo. With lower virus positivity rates, high vaccination percentages, many states continue to move towards normal, pre-virus practices.

 

 
We traveled to North Carolina and attended my nephew’s high school graduation. Our local airport flies directly to Charlotte, making it very convenient and easy to visit. I flew there last November to spend time with my sister and ended up taking Senior photos of nephew Matty.

 

 
Matthew - Class of 2021

 
Along the Greenway

 

 
This photo was a test shot “outtake” but I really like it due to Matty’s attitude. Matty’s older brother Zach moonlights as a model and I found Matty’s expression Zach-like!

 

 
Channeling Zach

 
Matty’s graduation ceremony was held at the new Atrium Health Ballpark north of Charlotte. The outdoor graduation ceremony harkens back to our own past experiences - my high school graduation was held on the high school football field. With an outdoor venue, student cheering sections don’t feel disruptive (the shouts don’t reverberate like they do in a formal concert hall). Matty’s graduation was met with perfect weather and topped off with surprise fireworks. After a year and a half of remote learning, a normal graduation was a welcome and fitting way to cap off the Class of 2021’s high school experience.

 
Matty Graduates

 
Matty will attend NC State and study computer science engineering. We are so proud of him! The little ones grow up so quickly - this last photo is Matty on the left with his brother, Zach, taken in 2012.

 

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The Transition to Mirrorless - Nikon Z6 II

After nearly nine years, I bought a new camera body and ventured into the world of mirrorless photography. Oh, wait, the second part of that statement is not accurate. I do own an old mirrorless Olympus OMD camera - also purchased nine year ago, but it didn't "take", ie, it sits, very un-used in a camera bag and serves as a stinging reminder for me to be more mindful of my purchases. [So maybe that misguided purchase resulted in this nine year wait and reluctance to switch over to mirrorless.]

 

 
My Nikon D600 still performs beautifully, shows no apparent issues with its mechanical elements with over 28,000 shutter actuations. The D600 gives me all the results I want - great action shots, great low light capability, great portrait photos and the list goes on. I resisted the pull of the new mirrorless cameras due to the EVF (Electronic View Finder) and slow performance based on my experience with the Oly.

 

 
So why convert now? Technology has caught up, especially on the EVF - [a baseline requirement]. I learned that my current lenses could be used on Nikon's latest mirrorless cameras - [important as I have invested in good glass]. The final deciding factor for me is the smaller, lighter camera form factor. I've grown weary of lugging around a heavy, bulky camera bag when my pocketable iPhone can render 70-80% similar images to my D600. But I still need performance of an interchangeable lens camera and the mirrorless fits that need.

 

 
So I purchased a Nikon Z6 II along with the FTZ lens converter which allows me to utilize my existing F-mount lenses on the camera with full functionality.

 
New Nikon Z6 II

 
With my 24-70mm lens mounted via the FTZ converter:

 
New Nikon Z6 II

 
Plusses: 

  • The EVF performance is amazing - I don't miss my view finder at all 
  • Focus points - I can now set focus point anywhere in the photo area. The D600's focus points are clustered in 30% of the center of the photo area and I always felt that handicapped the composition or slowed me down with focus / recomposing action. 
  • The form factor and controls - the smaller body is suited for my small hands. Which makes me think it might feel cramped for someone with normal / large hands. 
  • The controls feel intuitive and I'm well versed in Nikon camera settings so there hasn't been too steep of a learning curve. 
  • Auto focus - it is amazing and includes tech upgrades like subject eye detect for people and animals.

 
Here's a photo of a droopy Louie the Siamese cat as an example.

 
Barely Awake 

  • In camera image stabilization coupled with auto focus 
  • What you see is what you get with respect to the EVF and exposure control. Want to underexpose? The EVF renders that under exposure. I moved to Manual control and immediately saw the exposure settings were way off in the EVF. 
Cons: 

  • The only substantial con I've run into is battery life. Of course the EVF will drain the battery faster than a standard DSLR. 
  •  The live view screen on the back is hard for me to use due to ambient light conditions, but honestly, I'm going to use the EVF 95% of the time anyways.

 

 
Yes, I still plan to use the D600, so maybe I will turn into one of those photographers who tote around two cameras at a time to avoid the hassle of switching lenses. Of course that counters my desire to lighten up my camera kit. Maybe just for those portrait sessions!

 

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Here Come the Sunflowers

Repeating the success of last summer, a local realty group has teamed with a local farm and planted a field of dreams - with sunflowers.

 

 
Last year’s sunflowers brought much joy to the local community, worn down and weary of the pandemic’s impact on summer - in the sunflower field, we could all enjoy being outside with plenty of space in the midst of these happy blooms. It was the end of August, a time of transition and potential hope that the Fall would usher in better days. The sunflowers buoyed those hopes.

 
Happy

 
This year’s field, while larger, is located to the north of town and was planted earlier so the sunflowers are peaking in July vs at the end of August. Or, maybe last year’s field was planted late; I found it more enjoyable to visit in the cooler August weather than mid July’s heat and humidity.

 
Some Blue Sky Too

 
My visit this year happened on a morning right after a torrential overnight rain. Can you say streams of mud and standing water everywhere? Still, the massive field provided that same magical sense being enveloped and safe in something bigger than our own sphere of life. The flowers teemed with bees and pollinators, all doing nature’s great work.

 
Sea of Faces

 
Since my visit in mid July, the weather has turned downright delightful, giving us cooler and drier conditions to enjoy, which means more people will visit the sunflower field.

 

 
Bonus - I caught this engagement photo session during my visit. What troopers - it was early Sunday morning in the heat and humidity. I shot this behind the scenes photo.

 
Engagement Session

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Wedding Season Again - Backyard Bridal Shower

After a long hiatus, weddings and other similar celebrations are back again! Two good friends’ children kick off the next phase in our mid-life journey - by being the first offspring to get married! We kicked things off with Katie’s bridal shower a couple weekends ago.

 

 
The Bride, Katie and her family moved away several years ago, but this friendship endures the miles apart. Originally dubbed “The Book Club Group”, we morphed into the “Fine Lake Ladies” after years of gathering at friend Heather’s lake house on (you guessed it) Fine Lake in Michigan. Heather and her family still retain ties to our area so the shower was held locally and allowed the family to re-visit familiar haunts over the weekend. Hostesses Nancy and Jill pulled together a lovely Bridal Brunch and even ordered perfect weather!

 

 
Table settings:

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 
Brunch goodies:

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 
The Bride to Be:

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 

 
With sister Isabel:

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 

 
And sister Charlotte (plus friend Kelly):

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 
The weather was perfect - not too hot and no rain, which allowed us to enjoy time outside in Nancy’s backyard.

 

 
Heather, Mary and Isabel

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 
Seated at the table with the Bride at the head:

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 
The young at heart side of the table!

 
Katie's Bridal Shower

 
Next up will be the wedding ceremony and reception - in Michigan. We are looking forward to a grand party and celebration!

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MIT 30 Reunion Weekend Retrospective from 2019

I'm notorious for starting blog posts and letting them wither into the past. I came upon this one, started over two years ago and it seems appropriate to reflect upon it now with all that has changed.

 

 
In June, 2019, I attended my MIT 30 year class reunion. Here are my thoughts coming off that visit:

 
Always appreciate the view given to you at this moment in time. This Boston Skyline always brings back great memories of my 4 years here. I was lucky to have experienced it with lifelong friends. I’m lucky again to be able to come back and enjoy it with t

 
June 10, 2019

 
I'm back from a weekend in Boston reconnecting with old friends at my 30th college reunion. In addition to my graduating class, the dorm I lived in all four years held a special reunion spanning all years of alumni. Although I keep in touch with many friends via FB, connecting with friends IRL results in a richer experience (well, duh!). I hadn't seen many of my classmates and (sadly) my really good friends in many years. These lifelong friends helped me navigate those 4 years of college, those 4 years of incredible growth and change. In an era devoid of electronic communication (I remember email being a cool new thing my senior year in college), smart phones and social media, we connected with one another by opening up our dorm room doors, working on problem sets together, and (gasp) talking to one another. We supported one another through the good and the bad, discovered love and heartbreak together and in the process had a really good time.

 

 

 
College ties that bind #friendshipgoals #30yearsgoneby

 
Good friends re-unite

 

 
Sadly, it seems as if that era, one full of freedom and personal discernment has long passed, replaced with regulated barriers, rules and restrictions for the "safety of the student" (and maybe to offset the potential for litigation towards the university). On one hand, I understand the use of such controls, being a parent with college aged students. Conversely, I expect my adult children to act responsibly, and to take into account their own safety and consequences for their actions.

 

 
For example - "back in the day" (gosh, I sound like an old geezer), our dorm was left unlocked during the general hours. People entered without having to check in, sign in, swipe in, or whatever. Now the building is locked at all times, and access only given to those who live there. While I understand the need for security, we were lucky to not need those measures due to a community who recognized if a stranger was in the house. I realize the threat of opportunistic characters has increased over the years to where such protocols are required; I'm simply sad they limit access for those without the intent of malice.

 

 
The open doors have been replaced with self-closing, spring loaded fire doors, which require a ten pound doorstop to prop open. The open access roof deck is now locked unless there is a University sanctioned and monitored event, to prevent unwanted and unsafe behaviors from occurring. Gone are the epic weekend parties in the basement dining hall, the Friday evening happy hours. Those social events, along with the annual musical, talent shows and ski trips softened the "geek" out of many of us. Maybe hindsight only recalls the fun times and forgets the hardship, but I fondly remember those four years.

 
Post Graduation

 
And now, as a fifty something adult, I acknowledge the challenge in making new friends. I also realize that real (not via electronic means) social interaction is key to happiness and longevity.

 

 
June 25, 2021

 
Update Two (!) years later and wow, much has changed in these mere two years - a world now exists that we couldn't have imagined even 18 months ago. In the last 18 months we endured Covid Lockdowns, rabid news outlets serving up grim realities, sensationalized messages of fear, then hope in the form of groundbreaking medicine and a new normal. My sphere of loved ones weathered the storm well - we continue to be healthy, financially stable and connected - both physically and virtually.

 

 
My observations from two years ago still ring true - that real social interaction is key to happiness and longevity. But I realize that humans possess the innate ability to adapt - we pivoted to amped up virtual interactions (hello Zoom meetings - we didn't know you existed two years ago) and utilizing technology to remain connected to each other.

 

 
Spawned by the Pandemic, one of my MIT friends, Amy, re-connected several of us via weekly Zoom meetings. This has been such a great blessing. A few weeks ago, Amy was in Chicago visiting her mother and family so I drove north to visit her. Another MIT friend, Debbie, will travel here in August with her son, who decided to enroll at the U of I across town. The Pandemic cancelled everyone's plans and as a result, I've had more opportunities to interact with local friends.

 
Untitled

 
Amy and I explore the Chicago Botanical Gardens

 
Spring Flower Hunting

 
Rainy day outing with Photog friends

 
Spring at the Japan House

 
In the midst of Sakura Blossoms

 
Blue bell hunting with friends Spring Hike with friends and Blue Bells

 

 
As the "new normal" emerges, one thing remains the same - constant change. May we continue to foster meaningful relationships with one another and cherish the friendships / community it brings.

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Big Blue Heron Visits

We live near a watershed system consisting of various waterways and retention ponds. The systems foster healthy aquatic ecosystems, attracting fish, turtles, frogs and water fowl. One resident is a stately great blue heron who wades in the creeks and can be seen flying gracefully across the sky.

 

 
I was enjoying the perfect weather outside on Sunday afternoon when I saw the Blue heron flying barely above the roof lines of our house and alight atop my neighbor’s roof. Then he took to the sky again passing overhead. I felt lucky to have observed such a close encounter.

 

 
Imagine my surprise when, later that afternoon, my husband announced the blue heron had landed in our backyard. Our backyard fish pond certainly attracts birds and mallard ducks but never a great blue heron! He didn’t stay long, but that prompted me to stage my camera nearby “just in case”. Big Blue (named by my husband) did return to check out the fish pond and that visit allowed me to take these photos:

 
Big Blue Checking out the Pond

 
About to Fly

 
Such a magnificent creature! Now we can't help but spot him flying overhead. Maybe he will continue to visit. Note that our fish pond contains basic goldfish and we're not attached to them like we might be with koi. So if Big Blue wants a snack, he is welcome to one!

 

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Lilac and Peony Season

I like all things lilacs - the color, the flowers, especially the heady fragrance. I did a quick search on the blog for the word “lilac” and it turns out I’ve churned out many images and words over the years with similar sentiment. I always find time to capture their spring blooms and this year is no different.

 

 
After an overnight frost warning, tiny dew drops formed on our lilac bush as the morning sun melted away the thin film of rime. The cold didn’t damage the flower buds, instead leaving glittering spectacle that caught my eye (while I was washing some dishes!).

 
Morning Glitters

 
Growing up, I associated the lilac with my birthday at the end of May, their blooms coinciding with each passing year. In Illinois, they bloom earlier so my birthday flower has been supplanted by the equally beautiful peony. The early varieties started blooming in the last week or so. Locally, Allerton Park showcases peonies in a massive garden so I headed there last weekend, hopeful to catch a beautiful sea of blooms.

 

 
Chiffon Cake

 
Early to Rise”></a>

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  <a href=Just The Start of An Amazing Show #peonies #peonygarden #allerton

 
The cooler weather slowed the emergence of blooms so the garden has not peaked yet. This merely means I will visit again in the coming weeks - I’ll probably visit at least two more times!

 

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