April 1, 2012

Bye Bye Blogger!

I am so excited to be saying goodbye to Blogger. I don't get along well with Google, and Blogger itself has given me some trouble too. More importantly, I've found a much better hosting company where my blog can be structured more like a website. I'm super excited for this because of the dichotomy of my desires to both have a blog that I want others to be interested in AND have a personal journal that I know doesn't appeal to everyone I want to target for other posts I make. With the new blog hopefully I'll appeal to more readers by being able to highlight certain topics, and have the personal side be less integrated.

I'll be keeping this blog for personal reference, but all new posts will appear at my new site. I'm working on transferring particular posts that will be helpful to have in certain categories on my new site. Bear with me as I transfer old posts and try to write new posts as well. I haven't quite figured out how to become a follower, or if that's possible through Google, so if you figure that out let me know, and for now just bookmark it!

I'm also happy to announce a new blog that I am hoping can be a very helpful resource! Fresh and Delicious - a healthy recipe site designed for non-expert chefs. Check it out and recommend it to others!

Thanks for all of your support, reading, following, and comments! I greatly appreciate it. Now, come join me at the new and improved One Love!

March 29, 2012

Prime Lenses: 50mm vs. 35

Back in December, I bought a new lens for my camera. I have a Sony NEX-3, which is pretty much a DSLR, but is about half the size and weight of a normal DSLR camera. One main draw of having a DSLR or similar camera over a point-and-shoot is that you can change the lenses. Read on for some technical insight as to why you would buy a different lens, and what the difference is. If you feel well-informed already, skip down to the fifth paragraph to learn whether you should buy the 50mm or 35mm lens if you are looking for a prime portrait lens.

Most people buy their first manual camera with a kit lens, which is normally a zoom lens with a focal length of something like 18-55m (mid-range) or 18-135mm (telephoto).  These lenses are great because they are very versatile, and give you a similar zoom range to what you are used to having on a point-and-shoot camera. You can shoot a wide angle of view, like a building with a yard in front of it, or a portrait of someone from the shoulders-up, or you can get a close-up of something that's kind of far away. The problem with these lenses is that because they cover such a wide range of focal lengths (aka distances you can shoot), they aren't super great at shooting at any one distance. Basically, you're sacrificing quality for convenience. (You can upgrade to better quality zoom lenses, but they are much more expensive than the kit lens.)

One obvious thing that you are sacrificing is aperture. Aperture is the setting that affects both how much light you can let in when taking a picture as well as depth of field, which is basically how much of your subject is in focus. With a wider aperture, you can 1. take pictures in lower light (because you can let more light in. In the human eye, this is measured by our pupils. Go in a dark room and look in the mirror - your pupils get really large! They are widening to let in more light.), and 2. make less of your picture in focus, making the background blurrier (this is how the human eye focuses. Try holding a pen in front of your face - notice how when you're looking at it, everything else goes out of focus. When you switch to looking at your surroundings, the pen goes out of focus.) Aperture is actually measured as a fraction, so a wider aperture is actually noted as a lower number. The widest aperture I'm aware of in existence is 1.2, whereas on the high end you could have an aperture of 22 or 32.
An example of being able to take pictures in not-very-bright situations. You can tell how dark this room was, yet you can clearly see each band member. This was taken with the aperture at f/1.8 and no flash was used.
This photo and the next are an example of the pen in front of your face illustration. This first picture is focused on the pen -you can barely tell what's in the background!

And now the focus switched to the moss. You can easily see the moss, but hardly notice the Christmas lights.

Eventually people wanting to grow in their photography feel limited by only having the kit lens. They want to be able to achieve creamy, blurry backgrounds that make the subject of their photos stand out more, like real life, and thus look more professional. The solution is buying a prime lens. A prime lens is just one that has a fixed focal length (like 16mm, 50mm, 85mm, etc.). These lens don't zoom, but they excel at the focal length they do offer. They have a wider aperture than a kit lens can give. For example, my kit lens has an aperture that ranges from f/3.5-5. Those numbers represent the widest aperture I can get when I am at different focal lengths. For example, I can shoot at f/3.5 when I'm at the closest focal length (18mm), but when I zoom in, to say 55mm, the widest aperture I can get is  f/5. With a prime lens, like my 16mm, I can only shoot wide angles, but the aperture opens as wide as f/2.8. With prime lenses, not only do you get blurrier backgrounds, but since the lens is higher quality, you normally achieve a crisper focus as well. Why are prime lenses higher quality? Because they are specializing in one thing. A zoom lens has to cover a wide variety of focal distances, so it's harder to get as good quality in each focal length for the price you're paying.

That was all introductory, so now for the point of this article: which prime lens should you buy to get that great crisp focus and blurry background? There are actually a lot of options out there depending on what you want to take pictures of. A lot of people are looking for a portrait lens, which gives you a little bit of zoom so that you can take great, crisp picture of people without having to stand really close to them. Lately, I have seen a lot of people choose to buy a 50mm lens to suit this purpose. I, on the other hand, bought a 35mm lens, which is what I would recommend to others who are looking to buy a prime portrait lens. Why?

I am not really sure the reason for people buying a 50mm portrait lens, but I think it may be because they have heard professional photographers rave about their 50mm. I follow several wedding photographers' blogs and for most of them, their 50mm is their favorite for portraits and all-around shooting. So then if you have a DSLR, why shouldn't you also buy a 50mm? The reason is that the photographers you follow are using professional cameras that have a full-frame sensor, while you probably have an amateur DSLR that has a cropped sensor. What the heck does that mean?

This might sound complicated, but it is actually simple - the sensor on your camera is cropped. If you draw a circle, and then draw a square inside of that circle, you come out with four ovals of space that are a part of the circle, but not a part of the square. Think of a full-frame sensor as being that circle - if you take a picture, you capture everything within that circle. Now compare the cropped sensor to the square - if you try to take a picture of everything within that circle, you come out short. You don't have the ability to take a picture of the whole circle, because your sensor, the square, is too small.
This may sound discouraging, but it's completely fine! That's the way your camera was made. However, it does affect the lenses you choose. Remember how we said that focal length was the distance you can shoot? That was fairly true, but also kind of misleading. Focal length is actually just a literal measure of how long your lens is. So an 18mm lens is 18mm long. Thus, focal length. Now, for someone with a full-frame sensor camera, the focal length WILL also be the measure of the distance they can shoot, which we will call the angle of view. So where's the discrepancy? For people with cropped sensor cameras, the angle of view is different from the focal length. This goes back to the circle/square dilemma. Even though you might possess a 50mm lens (the circle), when you take a picture you will only capture the information within the square, which in this case, turns out to be the same distance you would get if you used an 75mm lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. This is because if you were using the circle, you would have to move closer or zoom in more to capture only the amount of information contained within the square. Does that make sense?

So, again, why would you choose the 35mm lens? If you want to buy that all-around versatile lens that almost every photographer has fallen in love with, if you have a cropped sensor camera (and you probably do, unless you spent thousands of dollars on your camera) you should buy a 35mm lens, because its angle of view equivalent IS about 50mm. On the other hand, if you buy a 50mm, you may be disappointed when you learn that to take portrait of people, you have to stand kind of far away from them to get their whole or part of their body instead of just their face. Now that may be what you're looking for, but just be warned that it is a fairly zoomy lens. A test you can do to see what focal length lens to get is to just zoom in your kit lens to the distances you're trying to choose between. When I did that, I discovered that I couldn't get very much in the frame when I had it set to 50mm, but when I put it on 35, I loved the amount of subject I could get in the picture. And yes, now that I have my 35, I feel as in love with it as most photographers do about their 50 - it is almost always my lens of choice!
For example, at Adam & Liz's wedding, I was only sitting a few rows back, but I was still able to capture the whole window in this picture by using my 35mm lens.

I hope that was helpful! Let me know if you have any questions. :)

March 27, 2012

Atlantic City, Baby!

Do you know what this is? 

If you couldn't read cause the print was tiny then you wouldn't know that this is an email notifying me that we got tickets to all three nights of the Atlantic City mini-festival*!! Woohoo!!

Let me tell you why I'm excited about it:
-It's only two hours away
-It's over a weekend, meaning less time off work
-I've always wanted to go to Las Vegas, and this is a runner-up (Okay if you think I'm crazy, maybe I am but I used to LOOOVE poker. My friends and I played Texas Holdem at EVERY get-together we had in high school. We also went crazy over the casino after-proms at our schools. So I've wanted to go to Vegas since then.)
-It's a three-night run, which means that we will assuredly hear all different songs every night - no repeats. We usually go to shows in different cities and while you'll never hear the same songs at any given Phish concert, we would definitely hear repeats of a few (literally a few) which isn't as much fun as getting to hear all different ones.
-It's in summer at the beach!!! If you didn't know, that's my calling.
-It's all general admission, so we can get as close to the stage as the crowd makes possible. Normally at GA shows we get within 5-10 rows of people, which is very close and a lot more fun than sitting in the way back of an arena or on the lawn. This also means that we can actually request songs!! (We wanted to do this last summer but were on the lawn for every show.) If you write your song request on a poster or beach ball and Trey (the band leader and guitarist) sees it, he might decide to play your song! They played requests at almost every show we were at last summer.
-I just started learning the bass so by the time these shows come around I'll appreciate Mike's nastiness SO much more!!

*If you are wondering what I mean by mini-festival, I will explain. There is an abandoned airfield a couple blocks from the main area in Atlantic City. They will set up a stage in the middle of it and let everyone crowd around it. If you're picturing a Woodstock-type event you've got the right thing in mind (with less people obviously). This is different from a normal Phish festival where they set up tents with music, games, and other craziness, where they might set up a ferris wheel or other carnival rides, and where most everyone is camping out. We have always wanted to go to a festival so we're excited that this will be kind of like one!! (We would love the experience of camping at a festival, but it will be nice to stay in a hotel and be able to get in the ocean too.)

March 25, 2012

Cooking Again + Strong Lemons

Since getting our new place I've had free reign of the kitchen once again. In our previous place, I didn't always make dinner. I LOVE that I have a husband who doesn't expect me to cook him a fancy dinner every night...or ever. He could eat macaroni or frozen chicken pot pies every day and be completely fine. Our favorite meal is actually Digiorno's (specifically, deep dish crust with meat and breadsticks on the side!). But since my cooking hiatus I've been excited to jump back in. And in the meantime, I've had more problems with my digestive system (due to stress...ugh) and learned more about eating healthy, so I have more motivation to try to cook our food so that we are eating natural, nutritious meals.

I've only tried two things so far but we have loved both of them! I realized like a day after going to the grocery store that the three meals I picked out were all pasta-based, but hey none of them required too many ingredients, and you should know how much I love pasta. 

Every time I post a recipe I feel like I have to say that I'm not trying to be a food blog, but I actually found something that is worthy of sharing! I also like sharing recipes that I've made that really need some alterations or more detailed instructions; since I am not a gourmet cook, I assume you aren't either. The simpler the better. The recipe I'm sharing today made me SO happy because it felt like a Noodles & Co. dish!! This family loves Noods and I hope to find more Noodle-esque dishes to make in the future. We particularly liked this dish because it had so much flavor*, and neither of us had ever had such a lemony flavored dinner before, but it tasted delicious.

Without further ado, Creamy Grilled Chicken Piccata
If you are like me and save recipes without reading them first, let me stop you real quick and just note that you have to marinate the chicken OVERNIGHT before serving. So prepare it in advance! Okay, skip away.
By the way, does anyone else's husband think they're strange for taking pictures of meals before serving them? I also don't like it because you have to rush and take a quick picture before the food gets cold...

Juice of 1 lemon (3Tbsp)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp basil or oregano
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups dried penne pasta
2 Tbsp butter
Juice of 2 lemons (6 Tbsp) about 1 1/2 (or less...or more...)*
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup half and half (or heavy cream)
2 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Combine first 6 ingredients and mix well.  Place chicken in a ziplock bag and pour marinade over chicken.  Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.  When ready, grill until done.  Allow chicken to rest for a few minutes and then slice into strips to serve over pasta.

While chicken is grilling.  Cook pasta according to directions (10-12 minutes).  Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and drain.  In same sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Whisk in garlic and lemon juice.  Pour in half and half and whisk until hot.  Add some salt and pepper to taste.  Add the parmesan cheese and basil and heat until cheese is melted.  Check the consistency of the sauce and add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary.  Toss in pasta.

Serve in pasta bowls with grilled chicken on top.  Sprinkle with more parmesan if desired (we desired).

*Whit found 3 gigantic lemons, which were all pretty strong, so our dish turned out overly lemon. It tasted good but next time I will definitely use less lemon juice. I suggest you do the same.

I would like to take this bottom-of-the-page time to say that when I turned on the garbage disposal tonight it churned greatly, so greatly that Whit described it as sounding like it was churning cannonballs. I was actually psyched about having a disposal because it's kind of a lame feature, but one we were lacking in Blacksburg, and then it sounds like all kinds of metal inside so I thought we ruined it. Whit saved the day....guess what he pulled out of the disposal? A big ol' rock. It must have fallen in when we were preparing Fishman's home. Whoops.

March 23, 2012

Meet Fishman

Meet Fishman. He's a calm beta fish.

He is Whit's birthday present from me for turning 25. 

We named him after Phish's drummer, Jon Fishman. 

Phish named their band after Jon. Sometimes we talk to Fishman like we're one of the other band members, Mike, the bassist, who often speaks in nonsense. We're weird.

March 22, 2012

The Tour

If you love pictures as much as I do, then you will enjoy this little "beforehand" walkthrough. The apartment, pre-boxes:
let's take a tour!

entry from the front door (notice the adorable window into the kitchen :))

looking back at the front door

living room from inside the entryway (dining room in the back, hallway leads to bedrooms)

another view of the living room (no that is not our tv haha - it is a wood-burning fireplace :))

living room from the dining area (yeah, we have a great patio!)

living room and kitchen from dining/hallway

galley kitchen - it's so pretty but i was obsessed with our kitchen in blacksburg so i still haven't decided how this one measures up. oh yes and we have a pantry! yay!

window to living room & countertop with space underneath
washer & dryer (looking into dining area)

hallway (it looks pretty in this picture haha)

pretty bathrooms


not that interesting but i figured i would still give you another angle

standing at our bedroom door (we have a master bathroom and those other doors are closets)

HUGE windows!! <3 <3

and huge closets! (we each have one :))

looking towards the hallway from our room

our patio (whit is calculating)

our view! so lovely
bottom floor (yeah, all of that is ours - it looks so big!)
they gave us this welcome mat! so cute

yay for having our own place again - finally!!

March 21, 2012

A Few Words About Our Move

It feels like weeks have gone by, but it's only been six days since we were in Mechanicsville. Whit and I drove up to sign our lease on Friday, got to get our keys early and unloaded our two cars. The next day we drove down to Baltimore to meet Whit's parents with a full truck and trailer of our stuff, and unpacked our storage unit with the help of Joe and his friend. We drove the stretch from Baltimore to our town one more time and four of our new co-workers helped us to unpack everything in a couple of hours. I absolutely love our new place and having all of our stuff again! Honestly I just feel happier and more comfortable with all of our things because well, we picked them out so we like them! It's hard to live in an environment when you're surrounded by a ton of things you didn't choose and aren't your favorite. I feel much better now. :) 

So you're probably wondering what all has been going on since the move. Here are a few details:
-Our apartment is a lot nicer than our Blacksburg duplex, but I still miss the kitchen space and the built-in bookcase. Character.
-On the flipside, there are several things that really annoy me in our apartment. Like the way the fan is attached to the light in the bathroom so it's always on - I hate that! 
-We live .25 miles from a Dunkin Donuts. Heaven??
-The blockbuster next to us is going out of business, and Whit and I found 10 movies for $2 each. We lost the bag during the move-in and for a couple days I was agonizing over the potential loss of not $14, but the ability to find so many great movies for such a good price. (We found it!)
-The town west of ours is real ghetto. It's just shady. I promise to not go over the bridge alone at night.
-Our town is less ghetto but still kinda...less suburban than I'm used to. I shopped at K-Mart and Kohls for Whit's birthday present. Not that those are bad stores, I would just always go to Target instead if given the opportunity (which I have always had).
-On the other hand, the town we work in, which is about 15 minutes away, has everything you could ever dream of. Including a Cosi that I was unaware of until yesterday! Yummmm. Ooh and the Target there looks like an old barn! It's really cool.
-We have a gajillion and one local pizza joints nearby. Like, really Italian and really local. Italian guys, thick accents, and "regulars." Knowing my love for Italian, you know I'm set.
-We got to go to Ikea! Great in itself, but add that Whit loved going too, and we found great new furniture for our office! Score!
-Our clubhouse has free sodas & water bottles all the time. You can get one whenever you want.
-I used the gym today! It's a really nice walk to the clubhouse & fitness center. I skipped my water bottle and grabbed one of the aforementioned free ones from the lounge. Sweet.
-Yesterday was Whit's birthday! We had the day off but were still unpacking so it wasn't as special of a day as I would like for him to have, but I think he still had a great day. :) His present? A delicious dinner at a nice place downtown...and a fish! We named him Fishman, after Phish's drummer (named Jon Fishman).
-Most importantly, we have felt SO blessed during this whole move-in process! The neighbor who lives above us works nights (and we are on the corner) so we don't have to worry about our sound system being too loud. He also brought us an aloe plant. We met the people who live two doors down from us; they were friends with the people who just moved out and they seem really cool so I am hoping we can be good friends with them! Two of our future co-workers have brought us meals! And lots of other great things :)