Where’s Soo?

 

The Question

Did you wonder what happened to me this year? Did you think I dropped off the face of the earth??? I admit it. There wasn’t much reaching out this year, but I’m still here. Really. I am.

 

The Explanation

For one thing, I became more active on Twitter. Quickly posting 140 character tweets, including images, is so freeing. And I learn lots by following amazing people in various fields of interest. I even won an ASUS tablet on Twitter! (Tell you about it in another post.)

The second reason is because we have been traveling quite a bit. Often, in my posts, I try to research places or subjects I mention to give you interesting tidbits and facts. That requires a little more thought and planning, which can be difficult to do when we’re on the go.

 

The Gratitude

But, let me tell you …

This has been a wonderful year! A blessed year! A year of thanksgiving!

A little one has come into our family and enriched our lives immensely. And to add to that, my husband and I have taken more time to travel our beloved United States and beyond.

 

January

DSC06416We visited Ice Land at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. It was 9° inside! They brought in a team of experienced ice sculptors from Harbin, China. Also known as ‘Ice City’, Harbin is the acknowledged cradle of ice and snow art in China and is famous for its spectacular ice and snow sculptures.  

The Moody Gardens theme was a SpongeBob SquarePants Christmas and went into the first week of 2015. 

 

Before heading home, we had dinner at Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, the largest fresh fish house along the Gulf coast. With over 100 years of seafood service in Galveston, this is the place we go when we want a view of the water and to be pampered in a lovely setting.DSC06488

 

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States and has a large number of Asian residents. Understanding the need to educate Americans about Asia, a group led by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington established Asia Society Texas Center in 1979.

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I visited the Asia Society Texas Center when there was an exhibit of The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi. His 2005 mask of Johannes Vemeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was so unexpected! Can you imagine being behind the mask, trying to feel what she was thinking?

 

 

 

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Oni Sadobo, 2011, was made of the treacherous monk from a famous Kabuki play. Very meticulous. Even the brown specks on his face replicated the foxing seen on the original woodblock print!

 

 

 

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I couldn’t resist trying on a mask! Like it?

 

 

 

 

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers free general admission every Thursday. Lots of wonderful things to see. One of my favorite pieces is by Mary Cassatt. Mary was one of only two women and the lone American to join the Impressionists. Her close friend, Edgar Degas, encouraged her to join and what a gift she has given us! “Susan Comforting the Baby” is such a lovely snapshot of a typical moment in everyday life.IMG_0561

 

Really like this sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg, born just down the highway from Houston, in Port Arthur, Texas. Only then, he was called Milton. The chairs are really metal, assembled to appear wooden!

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Interesting man. In the mid-1940s, Robert had planned to go into medicine, but after serving in the Navy, he enrolled in art school in Kansas. The following year, he went to Paris to study at one of the art Academies.

In the 1950s, Rauschenberg recyled found things like tissue paper and dirt into his art. Throughout the years, he designed costumes, sets and lighting for dance companies. He also founded or co-founded several organizations to help artists.

 

February

The Chinese Lunar New Year brought out some beautiful clothes. This shy young boy was kind enough to stop a moment and let me take a picture. (As with any recognizable close-ups of children, I ask their parents or guardians for permission first.)

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We head north to spend time with relatives. It snowed, which doesn’t happen often in the Houston area. It was lovely!

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This is also the month trail riders and wagons start the trek to Houston’s Livestock Show & Rodeo! It can take weeks for some teams. This particular team, Los Vaqueros Rio Grande, drove their five wagons the farthest: 386 miles!  It starts in Reynosa, Mexico, crosses into Hidalgo, Texas and comes right by our community on the three week ride into Houston. They have been riding into the HLSR for 42 years! I have only seen them go by our community THREE times in the 20 years we’ve lived here, so it was a real treat to take a quick shot as they rode by!

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March

I went to Arizona to visit my old roommate. We celebrated Palm Sunday at an inspiring, bonding outdoor mass. (I’m Baptist, but she didn’t know of a Baptist church, and well, we worship the same God.)

 

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Afterward, we walked the Labyrinth at the Franciscan Renewal Center. The labyrinth is a physical representation of the journey of one’s life, including experiences, changes, discoveries and challenges. As you walk the path, you are invited to remember the story of your life. For medieval Christians who couldn’t take the long, hard pilgrimage, labyrinths were the alternative form for prayer. The seven circles are shaped like the Cross and you can walk it any way you like.

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This particular labyrinth was designed by Taffy Lanser, a founding member of the international Labyrinth Society.

 

We also went to a festival in Scottsdale.The theme might have been Spain. They had gorgeous Andalusians (Pure Spanish Horses) walking about, singers and (I think) flamenco dancing. Gorgeous desert blooms!

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The only down side of the trip was when I was catching a flight back. I had just found out I had to change my flight and leave a day earlier, which was that day! The flight was moved to two hours before take-off and I rushed to find a taxi to take me to the airport. Compared rates and went with Discount Cabs. BIG mistake! Wished I’d taken the time to research it. I gave location and destination and was given an approximation, give or take a few dollars. The cab was late, it didn’t look like a cab, and the driver was new. I had to get in or miss my flight. When I asked the driver why he was so late, he said he didn’t take his phone in when he had to stop at a store. NOT very professional. The final bill was $17 more than the quote. I lost a few minutes trying to speak with a supervisor about the outrageous overage. Three people later, no refund. So, the moral of the story is to use Yelp or check the Better Business Bureau or Google search (or ALL of them!) when comparing prices. The least expensive may not be such a bargain in the long run. Beware Discount Cabs!!!

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Volcan Masaya, Nicaragua

February 14, 2014

We had planned earlier to head to Granada. Gerda’s bike tour starts in Granada, so we all decide to travel there by taxi. But … Masaya is on the way. We book rooms and are off to see Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya! It has the distinction of being Nicaragua’s first National park and its largest. The area contains active and inactive craters and calderas. The last eruption was in 2008. It’s part of the Central American Volcanic Belt, running from Volcan Tacana in Guatemala to Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica.

"Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!"

“Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!”

We’re warned that we shouldn’t inhale the strong sulphur dioxide fumes for more than 15 minutes. It is amazing to be so close to an active volcano!

Cricket couldn't see through the thick smoke screen

Cricket couldn’t see through the thick smoke screen

The stairs up to the cross are closed, but we’re able to go around and take another path up. I should say, “they” are able to, as I can feel great apprehension beginning to build up in my chest as we begin the climb up. So, I decide to stop, turn around and take shots of the smoky landscape. With shifting wind and heavy plumes of toxic sulphur vapors, I finally head down to catch a clear breath.

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

I DO love horse rides!

I DO love horse rides!

We take a too short horse ride to the path up an inactive volcano to see the grand vistas. Cricket and I stay behind as Lonnie and Gerda hike up along the rim with our taxi driver. On the way here, our driver, Wilmer Jose, was practicing his English and playing his English learning tape for us. Instead of dropping us off at the Centro de Visitantes and leaving, he waited for us to purchase the tickets and took us up to the volcano and craters. So, we asked if he wanted to hang with us and drop us off at our hotel in Masaya, and tomorrow, take us on to Granada. He did! I think it’s his first time at the volcan and to ride a horse. Tip: If going by taxi, confirm with your driver that he will wait for you to purchase a ticket at the visitors center and take you all the way to the volcan’s parking lot. Don’t be left to walk that really long walk like I read someone did on tripadvisor.com.

Many people walk all the way around the rim

Many people walk all the way around the rim

On the way out, we visit the Centro de Visitantes to see colorful exhibits and balcony views of surrounding craters and lakes. A cool way to wind down from a tiring walk.

Idyllic scene

Idyllic scene

An overview of Masaya

An overview of Masaya

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Laguna de Masaya in the distance

Laguna de Masaya in the distance

We finish with a delicious meal and dessert.

End of  a happy Valentine's Day!

End of a happy Valentine’s Day!

Vine vs. Takes vs. Qwiki

When Vine came out, I read reviews and watched a musical rant by the talented Toby Turner and decided I was too long-winded to use it effectively. Takes came out in March and I fell in love! Qwiki jumped in and I’m s-o-o-o happy!

I just downloaded Vine so I could try it out for this story. It’s quite limiting and I haven’t been pleased with my efforts. There are about a dozen song clips already loaded, plus you can use the original audio or music from your library. Some of the Vines are nice, like when @erskin and his daughter, Emma, Buy a Rainbow. I’m a sucker for cute kids and puppy dogs. One Vine, Nordstrom’s tie tying, is so abrupt that after a few loops, it gave me motion sickness. Too, I was warned that Vine allows offensive and possibly inappropriate postings. Takes and Qwiki, so far, have been wonderful family friendly experiences with no unpleasant surprises.

Takes is a string of 3 second clips that you can link (up to 15) into a video. After picking clips to use, you can easily change the order by dragging and dropping them in the bottom sequence strip. It starts taking video before you even take the shot. You can get about 3 seconds of action before pressing the shutter for the still shot. The still shot is automatically saved to your camera roll. Those photos are usually snapped at the end of a movement and are often not as clear as a true still shot. When possible, I’ve quickly switched to the regular camera to take a still shot. There are 18 different song snippets already loaded, in addition to using original audio or music from your library. It uses facebook and I don’t, but my private Takes can be tweeted or emailed. The Takes below is from my YouTube channel, SooSooSees.

Qwiki pulls photos and videos from your phone’s camera roll to create a fun collage with lots of personality! It can create a random collage or you can take over creative control. It will only pull a snippet from videos longer than a few seconds, but you can actually edit it down to the part you want to show! It has 9 free music choices, plus library options. Click the little timer icon on the right of the video and you can set it to play in one of three speeds – slow, normal or fast. Another cool feature: six different exposures you can play your Qwiki in, such as Sepia and X-Process! It’s not as easy (as Takes) to move photos and videos around. I found that loading each photo/video in its own slot and loading from the last to first shot you want to see, makes it easier to move things around. I can combine some to create group collages within the Qwiki and add titles to different sections of footage. It allows a nice amount of photos and videos to construct a wider, fuller view of the event.

What I LOVE about Qwiki is the option of pulling photos and video from my camera roll. I shot lots of Takes of a colorful Asian celebration and didn’t immediately create videos to save to my camera roll. BIG mistake! Takes caught a bug and locked me out. I contacted them and got a quick reply. They sent out an update with a bug fix the next day, but I had to uninstall, then reinstall. Everything was GONE, save for the photos that are auto-saved in the camera roll. That’s when Qwiki came to the rescue! I was able to create a nice collage. If not for that, I would have been really sad. The only negative is that I can’t get original audio.  Come on, Qwiki, you can do it!

Below, I shot the same scene with Vine, Takes and Qwiki. It gives you an idea of which works best for you in any given situation:

Vine of Fish Gotta Swim

Takes of  Swimming by a Sea of Titles

Qwiki of  Swimming by The Little Mermaid

So, it doesn’t hurt to have several photo apps that offer different options. Do you have an app you LOVE that others should have too???

 

Kids and iPad Security

I have known Charles Swihart for many years. He owns Sugar Land PC, an onsite computer repair service. The company also removes viruses and spyware! Charles was nice enough to agree to let me re-post the article below from his column, The Computer Corner :

I see lots of parents handing off their iPads to the kids to play on, but if they are connected to a Wi-Fi connection, they have just as much access to inappropriate material from the iPad as they do on the home computer.

Here is a built-in method to lock down their iPad activities. Go to Settings, then General, then Restrictions. Tap “Enable Restrictions” and set a 4 digit Passcode. Within the Restrictions, you can disable the ability to install or delete apps. You can set the age rating for apps so that your 9 year old cannot run apps rated for an adult and disable in-app purchases and iTunes so a child cannot make purchases.

You can also set rating restrictions for music, movies and TV shows. You can turn off the camera, face time, safari, Facebook and multiplayer games.

There are also many other things you can restrict. Look it over. Be careful with the app ratings. When you disable an app, it disappears from the screen. When you bring it back, it will no longer be in its group. So if you disable and enable a lot of apps based on rating, you may find yourself reorganizing icons.

iPads are all standard. This means that they all have this Restrictions feature. iPhones and other iOS devices also have the Restrictions feature. Android devices are each customized by their manufacturer so some may come with parental controls and others without, but you can search the Google Play Store for “Parental Controls” to find several different apps for restricting access on an Android device.

For the home computer, Windows 7 has a built-in Parental Controls feature. Just click on the start button and type “Parental Controls” to set it up. On a Mac you can enable Parental Controls under System Preferences and Accounts.

It is very easy for a child to stumble upon things online that they should not be exposed to so take the time to protect them on the devices they use. If you have questions about parental controls or tracking online history, give us a call. Feel free to pass this along to your friends.

Charles Swihart, Sugar Land PC;

swihart@sugarlandpc.com

Simple Marketing

Bucko & Mac wait for trick-or-treaters

Bucko & Mac wait for trick-or-treaters

Years ago, I fostered two adorable puppies for the Houston SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). The energetic, furry bundles of joy each had to weigh five pounds before they could be available for adoption. I, along with our children, took care of brothers, “Bucko” and “Mac” (so named by my son), for six weeks. When I brought them in to be weighed and they hit the magic number, the shelter took them. My son cried when he came home from school and they weren’t there to jump for joy and lick his face. He said he didn’t even get to say goodbye. The next day, Saturday, we went by the SPCA around noon. They were gone … both of them. He was very sad. We were both teary eyed. There were plenty of puppies and kittens at the shelter. I think that my information about the pups helped find them new families. I had brought a photo of them obediently sitting by the doorway, wearing capes at Halloween, along with a brief description of their personalities. Both pieces were attached to their cage. (“Bucko is like the Energizer Bunny and his brother, Mac, is a little lazy.”) Unfortunately for my son, sometimes a bit of marketing can bring about a speedier response.

When my husband and I owned a retail shop, I made a point of getting to know the neighbors along the strip shopping center. Small business owners are not known to have large advertising budgets. I went to all the merchants and asked if they would like to meet and see if we could all work together on combined promotions. We met before retail hours in one of the shops and brainstormed. A successful promotion was the sidewalk sale. Stores displayed merchandise outside the door, sale signs plastered the storefronts and cross promotion offers were handed out. If I remember correctly, the photo processing store (I rare sight nowadays) gave out a discount coupon with purchases, for picture framing at the frame shop next door. When we wanted support from the landlord for events or a shop owner had an issue, I was nominated to represent the merchants. When we moved the shop a decade later, I repeated the process. It’s a good way to get to know others who may come back into your life. Years later, when I was organizing Women in Action luncheons, I was able to get my old landlord to be one of the sponsors!

I also joined a couple of networking groups. One was of merchants in my shop’s area that focused on projects to help the community. We sponsored events for kids, volunteered with children’s activites at the community center, supported the police bike patrol and looked for ways to build up the area. The other was comprised of professionals that met in the Galleria, an upscale area of town.  There could only be one of each type of business and members (attorney, courier service, etc.) gave each other business. I learned that marketing in numbers is a good thing. Working with both groups, any projects that we promoted together was stronger. 

Ed Shaerf is the chef patron of One Blenheim Terrace in St. John’s Wood, Westminster, in the United Kingdom. He re-tweets followers’ photos/comments on his wonderfully creative dishes! One of the amazing things that social media allows is real time interaction. Chef Shaerf knows how to connect. He entices walk-ins with tweeted “tonight only” freebies:

    Ed Shaerf ‏@EdShaerf  6 Apr

    We have a few tables left at @oneblenheim tonight! Come and try our new menu and have a glass of champagne on me!

    Call 0207 3721722 to book!

I have to add this as I just viewed the fun video: Talented songbird,  Jeanie Barton, will be performing at the restaurant’s jazz brunch. And because this restaurant has posted offers on Groupon and received 4.5/5 stars from TripAdvisor, I must remember to join Groupon when over there and to check out other great travel offers for hotels, events, etc.!

Lynne Smelser, @LynneSmelser, was a literary aide at a Michigan elementary school when she made up imaginative stories of an inquisitive young sheepdog and his friend. She hoped to spark a love of reading through the adventures of “Noodles & Goo.” She began with copies of word documents and worked up to self-published copies. Now, she is on Kickstarter, seeking a relatively small amount to take her stories to the next level. That includes a more polished version of the series utilizing industry professionals and marketing to a wider audience. I am considering donating $25 so that I can get an autographed copy of the book when it comes out in a few months. It will help an educator encourage young readers and make a wonderful gift for a  little one!

These are just a few simple, affordable ways to market your business or projects. I hope these ideas get your creative juices flowing to find ways to easily promote anything!

iPhoneography is Growing Up!

Recently, a professional photographer was scolded for mis-titling his article. Maybe “CONNECT”, the photography site he guest blogged on punched it up a bit, not taking into consideration that it might seem misleading. After that, commenters found fault with his using an iPhone instead of his wonderful DSLR to capture wedding shots at a secluded island’s mass wedding. As the islanders had possibly never seen a professional photographer with big-lensed cameras and blinding light accessories, Kevin Kuster used his iPhone so as to not intimidate them. (His DSLR was used in a smaller capacity.) He also showed two images he had taken at another time of a reenactment soldier. I personally preferred the one taken close up. The other, taken with an iPhone, didn’t have the sharp, polished look of the first, but it seemed to me that he captured more personality. Judging by the blistering comments, you would have thought Mr. Kuster had committed a sacrilege by not using his big camera for the wedding couples! Now, before the DSLR League starts getting riled up, I L-O-V-E the wonderfully crisp, detailed shots from DSLRs. I REALLY do!!! I greatly admire those who take the time and effort to share just gorgeous, phenomenal images with the world. I defer to their dedication to the craft and step aside to go another direction. I can’t afford hundreds of dollars in lenses and I’m too lazy to do more than compose the image, check the lighting, hold steady and click. Anything more is done through my blessed apps, Camera+, Snapseed, etc. ( App designers, has anyone told you lately how wonderful you are?!!? )

Many of the scathing comments to Mr. Kuster were quite mean spirited. Never mind that he was not charging the non-profit group that organized the event and went at his own expense. Or that the couples were quite happy with owning their first ever photographs, holding precious images that would last longer than their lifetimes. An old adage came to mind: “No good deed goes unpunished.” I will say that Mr. Kuster replied with good humor and took the high road. There’s another saying: “Virtue is its own reward.”

I can understand Kuster’s reasoning. I have also photographed people for interviews, albeit for a much, much smaller circulation. They would face my modest Canon PowerShot SX and start fidgeting, becoming a portrait of restless discomfort. Maybe they were just plain shy. Maybe they realized that friends and neighbors numbering into the thousands would see them in a publication that also has an online presence. Having a decent sized camera aimed at you, and only you, can be unsettling.

Well-known sports photographer, Nick Laham, recently used his iPhone to get the perfect shot of the New York Yankees’ third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, http://mashable.com/2013/04/02/instagram-vine-news-industry/. That appeared on the New York Times’ front page … yes, the NEW YORK TIMES.

VII Photo Agency Mentor, Peter DiCampo, has stated that his smartphone allows him “to return to photography’s original and vital purposes: self-exploration and remembrance.”

Photojournalist Ben Lowy covered the Libyan riots last summer, using his iPhone. An iPhone was used instead of a DSLR to allow easier access to the real people. Regarding the Libya assignment, this is what Ben Lowy put on his site: “I was also tasked with using social media platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook to immediately post images of Libya, bypassing traditional print venues and perhaps paving the way for a new type of interactive and immediate visual storytelling.”

That last thought perfectly echoes my sentiments!

An Intervention – Mine!

The year began with an unexpected scene. At least to me, it was…

Our car is just leaving a relative’s house after a satisfying New Year’s Day lunch. The conversation begins immediately. One child clasps my hand for support (or to keep it from doing harm?). The other launches into a long list of family and friends’ reactions to my “addiction.”

“Mom, you gotta stop taking so many pictures with your iPhone! The cousins and my friends are telling me that’s all they see you do. Adam was telling me about all your photo apps.”

Well, Adam didn’t know what Aviary was until I showed him! My response? “Almost all of them were free.” I was brought up to be fairly frugal.

The other child chimes in with, “My friends told me you were taking pictures at a Red Egg party and you’re not even family! And you were taking pictures all during a baby shower.”

I had no defense for the first party. Then, an indignant, “I was assigned to take photos for the shower!”

“You’re always checking your phone, even during dinner.”

“Oh, do I?”

“You spend too much time playing with your pictures.”

I DO have to edit them.

“You always were taking too many pictures, but since you got that phone, you’ve gone crazy!” That comes with a silent “I told you so” thrown over my husband’s shoulder as he continues driving. Now, mind you, I struggled that first week of learning how to use such an unfamiliar phone. So much so that one child said, “Mom, you’re not ready for this.”

Finally, I conceded. I agreed that the past year of enjoying a new toy with awesome apps and learning to tweet just sucked me in. They didn’t buy the “I’m doing it for research” bit, though it IS partly true. Who can resist exploring when the world is at one’s fingertips?!? Any question or subject can be googled! Tweeting with new friends across the globe is sweet!

Even so, I stated that I would try to do better this year. Went home and within two days deleted not all, but close to 2,000 images from my camera roll. Of course, those were copied over first!

I make a conscious effort to not take my phone with me everywhere around the house. There have been a couple of days I forgot my phone when leaving home… and I’m still alive!

If you have a similar addiction, don’t wait for an intervention. It’s quite unpleasant. Take baby steps, like mine. Come on, we can do it together!

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24