Saturday, March 28, 2009

Texas Wildflowers

Spring is definitely here in TX... and you can tell by the abundance on the sides of the roads in Houston and its outlying areas. You'll be driving along, used to seeing the green grass on both sides of the road, and there will be a TON of purple or orange or yellow or red. Those are wildflowers. But its not just the fact that the color is vivid and beautiful but its in huge patches all over the place.

As I drove up I-45 N, it was hard to resist the temptation to pull over on the shoulder and get out the camera. Somewhere before the huge white Sam Houston statue, I saw a father and son who had pulled over, camera in hand.

That was the last straw, but I was too chicken to do what they had. I opted for the safer pull-off in the next "picnic area" and hiked back to the closest patch.

Bluebonnets & Indian Paintbrush

Bluebonnets & Indian Paintbrush


This may begin a series on road trips... as I will be driving to my next jobs through several states, both in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food, Food and more Food

I've spent a lot of time away from Houston. (Duh, you think.) But one of my good friends, PS, has graciously volunteered to be the shuttler back and forth from various airport trips. But also, every time I return to town, he and I try to go to a Houston-based restaurant. He's lived here his entire life and I'm fond of patronizing local restaurants whenever possible. Sometimes they're old favorites. Sometimes they're new experiences. I'm a fan of all.

One of the first places... was Ninfa's.

This is perhaps the best queso in town. It can't possibly be healthy but it's SOOOOOO good. You come to Houston, we'll go there. You'll understand.

Today, I had another unique Houston experience... Freebird's. I'm not a huge fan of beans, and therefore most Mexican food. This burrito place is now my favorite place to go. They have 4 sizes and they let you customize your burrito any way you want. Including leaving beans out. I love this place.

Also found at Freebird's was this:

No kidding, it says exactly what you think. But it's not a special brownie in the way you think. It is however sinfully delicious chocolate-y goodness.

Oh, and in case you ever wanted to see what green-dyed lemonade looks like?

Don't let my mom near your lemonade on St. Patrick's Day... and she wouldn't let me dye her water in retaliation!

More soon... internet access TBD for the next three weeks...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From A Different Perspective

I've had the privilege of working in opera for many years, but my work is done behind the scenes. Truth be told, I rarely go see opera in my free time because it's still work for me, in some ways. It sounds terrible, and it seems like I don't support my art... but if I'm tired of it, I'm tired of it.

Monday night, I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the stage: in the audience. There's a flickr group that I'm a part of called Assignment: Houston. This wasn't our monthly shooting assignment, but one of our members has an affiliation with a group called Opera in the Heights, who does just that: perform opera in the Heights, a local Houston neighborhood.

This group welcomes photographers into their dress rehearsals and gives them virtually free reign (no flash restrictions, can wander during the rehearsal almost anywhere but onstage). I'd missed the last three shows by virtue of participating in my opera gigs outside of Houston, but this one happened to coincide with my time in town.

I had a lot of fun watching an opera with my only worry being "did I get that shot?". I took 2100 photos. No kidding. I got a little excited, and well, the singers were quite active, and since I was playing around with lenses and shutter speed constantly: better safe than sorry, right? And besides, that's the great thing about digital. Low cost once you're past the initial investment and all you need is storage space and sometimes a good editing software.

At any rate, I've narrowed it down to 60 shots. Check them out. A few of my favorites are below:

Confused Falstaff


Nanetta the Queen

Early Defeat


I'm In So Much Trouble

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hawaii, Day 6 & 7

Tree Sky Land

Day 6 dawned cloudy but we held out hope for an afternoon on the beach. But before we could be lazy, we had to get our workout. Diamond Head is a nearby State Monument which was also part o the Coastal Artillery defense system. It's a short (0.8 mile) but arduous (560 ft elev) hike. There are two very steep stairwells, of 74 and 99 stairs respectively. K, my companion, is in much better shape than I am, if anything by virtue of where she lives. Houston is not very hilly and my parking lot is flatter than flat. NYC gifted her with a steep hill near her apartment and steep stairways to and from the subway. Therefore, I was not surprised to find myself lagging behind. What I was surprised about was my great inability to get a lungful of air, (what I'd later learn was the very early signs of the bronchitis).

As much as it was a harder-than-necessary hike, the views were well-worth it. I could have done without the crowds and the gnats that awaited us. And as a popular visitor's destination, they could maintain their trails a bit better considering the foot traffic it recieves.

View from Atop

Blue Blue Blue Ocean

Both of us, in shape and not, were looking forward to our lazy afternoon on the beach. We started out in our original spot, but it was windier that day and we decided to move further down the beach behind the seawall. We played frisbee in the water for ages and later, I used to frisbee to look for shells. The shells I found were miniscule but gorgeous. It was all fun and games until I found a larger shell, complete with current resident. Needless to say, there was a startled squeal and dropping of frisbee. I retrieved it moments later, critter-free and was very much done with shell-hunting.

Tiny Tiny Shells

Ocean Waves

Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of our island adventures as my traveling companion became ill that night, and we stayed in the next day, sleeping and storing energy for our long trip to the airport that evening, via bus.

Despite the very last part of our trip, it really was a blast. Would we have wanted more sunshine and more beach time? Sure. Would we have wanted to see more of Hawaii, like other islands? Sure. Did we have fun? Absolutely.

In an effort to save funds, we created our own cocktail in our room, supplied by the ABC stores. Equal parts rum (bacardi gold), pineapple juice, orange juice and grapefruit juice. The grapefruit juice's tartness helped balance out the super-sweetness of the pineapple juice. As far as we can tell, no one else has combined these particular ingredients and named it - so we named it after our lodging: the Royal Grove Cocktail

All in all, visiting the Land of Blue Stop Signs was fun and I look forward to my next trip.

Blue Stop Sign

Happy List, Week 17

Perfect Rose

1. Prescription drugs/doctor visit. I finally gave in and found out that I had a lingering sinus infection and bronchitis. When it rains, it pours. Thankfully because I decided to not be stubborn and in denial, I am on the road to good health.

2. Rest. Blessed rest. All of this travel, both by air and by car, has gotten to me. I thought it was a little insane when I planned it but didn't think it would actually be in reality. Had I not caught whatever I did (probably during the Hawaii trip), I might've been okay. Having no schedule is helping me catch up on sleep lost and help restore my immune system.

3. AT&T U-Verse for faithfully recording my favorite shows that I can watch while resting, recuperating and otherwise being a homebody.

4. Apple 3.0. The new software update that sadly doesn't come until the summer, bring lots of promise. I watched the Apple presentation afterwards and am looking forward to the update. I also appreciate them highlighting software developers who were showcasing new and upcoming products. Due to this showcase, I was introduced to a new app.

5. Ocarina by Smule. This app is genius. It's only $0.99 and it mimics a real instrument, the Ocarina. Whatever it is, it uses the microphone to measure breath and the touchscreen to mimic covering/uncovering airholes. Its amazing and lots of fun.

I'm a simple creature this week, I think. Only 5.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hawaii, Day 5

We awoke very early this day, at 5:30am to go to Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona memorial is free, popular and historical. We had been warned about long (2.5 hour) waits, so we decided to get up earlier than usual and not risk the long wait. It was usually a battle to stay in bed asleep past 7am anyway - since we still hadn't quite adjusted to the time zone. An hour bus ride later, we arrived to the memorial.

Because of strict regulations, we had to leave almost everything behind in a bag check. Armed with only our wallets and cameras (and silly us, we'd both worn skirts with no pockets), we headed back to the memorial. After a small wait and a quick snack (we'd skipped breakfast), we watched a very informative, slightly depressing film about Pearl Harbor and that day. After the movie/history refresher, we boarded a boat, crewed by actually Naval officers in crisp white uniforms boated us over to the memorial.

Pearl Harbor

The memorial bridge, for lack of a better term, straddles the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona, who went down and created an underwater tomb for its residents. It's an open air viewport which allows viewing on both sides, as well as a memorial wall that lists every name of the fallen USS Arizona. Nearby are markers for the USS Oklahoma and USS Vestal; and the USS Missouri is anchored nearby, still afloat.

Oil leaks slowly from below, creating rainbow patterns on the water. It's released at a rate of about 1-2 quarts per day (so that's 5,000-10.000 gallons since WWII). When it sank, it had about 1.4 million gallons, some of which burned after the attack. Apparently the ship and Pearl Harbor itself burned for several days post-attack.

As I've found in almost all adventures of visiting historical places, I find that there are always new details that I don't recall from when I originally learned about the event. In the on-site museum that we visited after our term, I learned about the Navy yard tug Hoga. It performed many duties at Pearl Harbor, including assisting the USS Arizona for 76 hours without break. She remained in service for 7 more years before being loaned to the City of Oakland, CA as a fireboat. It is now back in the possession of Pearl Harbor and out of 180 yard and service craft active at Pearl Harbor that particular day, the Hoga is one of three still in existence.

In addition, when the USS Arizona sank, it entombed 900 people, so it is a war grave. This prohibits any recreational diving around the ship, and research divers are not allowed to enter the ship. Any research about the effect of the leaking oil on the environment cannot violate this status either. Any sailor or Marine who was aboard the ship at the time of the attack has the right to be interred (cremated) in the ship. There have been more than twenty interments in so many years.

Wall of Dead

Speaking of that, amongst the other visitors on our particular ship, I could swear that a gentleman who served on the USS California was among us. He looked to be the right age, and other people seemed to treat him with a little extra kid glove treatment.

This trip was well worth the early rising and lack of breakfast. It was beautiful in its tragedy and made me think more about the past as well as the future. I was particularly captivated with the leaking oil from a photographic point of view. It may be harmful environmentally but its beautiful. I'm always a sucker for something rainbow-y and especially when its subject to the randomness and chaos of nature. See for yourself.

Oil & Water

Oil & Water


Oil & Water

Oil & Water

More pictures can be found at my flickr photostream.

After our morning of remembrance, we finally had our afternoon on a sunny beach in Waikiki, Hawaii. Hooray!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hawaii, Day 4

Faced with yet another dreary day, we decided to not let it get the best of us. We headed to the Honolulu Zoo with umbrellas in hand - and definitely got rained on. We did not let it deter us one bit. We had a priceless time at the zoo, including seeing gibbons who make the most crazy noises that at times mimic air raid sirens. They were so enthusiastic. And we also encountered a rhinoceros pair that were at first just hanging out closely and quickly got, er, personal. Talk about needing a room. I've seen things that I really didn't need to see yet we couldn't look away right away.


Looking to the Sky

White Handed Gibbon

Tiger Cub


Crocodile Teeth


Talk About Brown Nosing...

There's also a weekly art show on the zoo fence where local artists gather and display their work. The rain had driven away all but two - and K and I each purchased a piece of local Hawaiian art.

With animals in the theme, we headed to the Waikiki Aquarium. After a near miss with an accidentally dropped lens, we explored the aquarium, looking at native fishes. We walked back to our hotel along the rainy beach and walked out on a rocky pier. Along the way, I saw two kinds of fishes in the crystal clear water. One was Hawaii's native fish, whose name I cannot pronounce. The other was this rainbow colored fish that I don't know the name of - and the picture isn't clear enough for someone to tell. It was stunning to see them so close to the shore and to see them so well in the crystal clear waters.

State Fish & Rainbow Fish - in Ocean

State Fish & Rainbow Fish - in Ocean

Disgruntled by the weather, we stayed in for the remainder of the day/afternoon and caught up on tv. And hoped/wished for sunny days.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hawaii, Day 3

Day 3 dawned with the forecasted cloudy skies. We were beginning to think that we were destined for the first no-beach/no sun Hawaii vacation. So we decided that a trip to the Dole Plantation (yes, that Dole) was in order. Honolulu has a great bus system called "TheBus" and for $2, you can go virtually anywhere on the island. We hopped on for an hour's ride to where pineapple is king. We rode the Pineapple Express, which is a tour of the plantation and walked around the garden before feasting on delicious food, accompanied on K's part by a pineapple float. It was deliciously sweet and the bonus was a take-home cup which actually turned out to be a take-home bank!

Having gone at least part of the way around the island, we decided to make the best of the rainy day and ride the rest of the way around the island - something that would take up a majority of the rest of the afternoon. At times, the bus got extremely crowded with locals - but it was nice to see the real Oahu (not the sanitized tourist version). Plus we got to see some amazing waves on the beaches during the drive.

And hey, we got to tour the island for $2. No kidding.


Tree & Lake on Plantation

Bromeliads & Ti Leaves

Tons and Tons of Pineapples

Purple Hibiscus


Friday, March 20, 2009

Hawaii, Day 1 and 2.


Hawaii Day 1 technically consisted of flying all day, for both me and my companion, KS. She from Newark, me from Houston. Both non-stop flights which sounded good when we booked them, but not so great in practice. We arrived to lovely humid weather, for me it was similar to what I had left, for K, it was a huge difference as it was definitely winter in NY.

We took a bus to our hotel which took a very long time, but we were still pretty happy to be there. Our hotel was everything we expected for what we paid, but it did make us incredibly happy. Some lovely old lady gifted us with Hawaiian leis on our way to our room, causing us to giggle ridiculously at a facebook status update of "getting le'd by a little old lady in an elevator".

We ate dinner and pretty much tried to stay up as late as we could but despite our very long flights we were pretty tired. The next morning, it was a battle not to get up at the crack of dawn since our bodies were four and five hours ahead of local time.

We started the day off with a hearty breakfast and stopped by the International Marketplace on the way back to the hotel. When I was younger and in Florida, my mom and I did this "Pick a Pearl" thing and I had fond memories as well as a fun keepsake. Not knowing that it all started in Hawaii, I wanted to do it here as well. K and I spent too much time, and maybe a little too much money, but we had a blast and we have absolutely stunning keepsakes from our trip to Hawaii. If you're going to do it, and I highly suggest you should, go with Pearl Factory, instead of any of the others. They're the original.

We spent our afternoon walking our feet off as we hiked in inner Honolulu to Manoa Falls. The hike wasn't too hard, except for short-legs here because some of the steps up were pretty damn high. My thighs definitely got a workout but it was well worth it. Stunning views, a bit of the rainforest and a lovely waterfall view at the end.

Hawaiian Rainforest

Manoa Falls

Seriously Old/Large Tree

After a dinner of sushi, we watched the sunset on Waikiki beach and crashed a little early. Our adventure had begun!

Sunset and Surfer

Waikiki Sunset

Waikiki Sunset

Sunset with Palm Trees

More to come...