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Here Kitty Kitty

Yesterday while I was making fun of my friend's cat (she's very cool with that, and I'm not overly mean about it) I got to thinking about an extremely weird and ironic thing.

But first, a little background. I grew up in the country with lots of acreage and horses. Naturally, we had dogs - German shepherds - who were indoor pets but also went along on the trail with us when we were horseback riding. To keep mice and other rodents out of the horse's grain, we had a barn cat.

So, in essence, at the Bernier Ranch -
  • dog's job = be a companion for humans
  • cat's job = keep mice/rodents out of horse feed

Since I grew up that way, I'm a firm believer in the same now (i.e., cats were never made to be indoor pets; dogs have evolved to be man's companion). Since I exist in the 'dog-lover' faction, I find it fascinating some people insist on keeping cats as pets. One familiar argument against cats is they can't be trained*, so what's the point of having one?

Here's the ironic/weird occurrence, though:

Have you ever noticed that, while many dog owners struggle to train a dog to come (their own lovable companions, no less), you can pretty much get ANY cat in the entire world to come to you merely by using a high-pitched voice and saying "here, kitty kitty kitty kitty!"

Think about it. What cat DOESN'T come to you when you call like that??? I've done it in México, Spain, Italy and possibly some other European country. Still works. Inherent training which transcends all languages. Now THAT'S fascinating. I betcha there's at least 90% of the dog-owning population out there wishes it were THAT easy to train recall in their dog :)

*Keep in mind, I certainly don't feel that way; I've just heard other fellow dog-lovers say that. I actually believe ANY animal can be trained. I actually trained my goldfish. Yup. Pretty simple. He used to freak out whenever I'd turn on his tank light. Just zip all over, then skulk in the back corner and not come out. Now, when I turn on the light, he rises to the top of the tank to greet me. Who knew?

Wanna know how I did it????

Too bad. That's my business.

Matthew Howd: Graphic Designer

An erstwhile co-worker and also a creative director (and all-around good guy), Matt Howd offers high-level freelance graphic design services. Just from looking at a few of the client samples on his website, you get an instant feel for his style of designing logos, collateral and identities which artistically describe each client.

While not historically a web designer, he did create his own site! Not bad for a beginner, Matt, not bad at all. Who knows, maybe he can design your next site...or, if you need:
  • to brand or re-brand your company,
  • a new logo (or a re-design of the old one),
  • trade show collateral,
  • direct mailers,
  • catalog design (and photographic direction),
  • sell sheets,
  • product packaging designs,
  • or any other type of graphic design work -

contact Howd Creative.

Chilly November Morning

Hoar Frost on Leaves (Black & White)Last weekend when I got up to take the dog for our morning constitutional I decided to bring my SLR. The hoar frost was still out - the sun had only started to peek over the edges of the trees, melting away the eastern-most edges.

Frost on GrassThe turkeys had already woken up and left their roosts for the day's foraging, so I focused on the frosty leaves, trees, some grass and - as always - Zada.

Early Morning Sun on Sumac BranchesI'm also still learning PhotoShop - and when I say still learning, I mean the basics - so decided to edit a few of the images from that frosty morning.

German Shepherd Lying in Grass on Frosty MorningIt was a beautiful walk and I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the crisp, cool November morning air. Zada loved it, too, though she was a bit confused as to why I was taking such long looks at frost on the leaves.

Guess Who Finally Got PhotoShop?

Modern Art Carousel HorseLet us give thanks on this day - oh, this day! - in which I not only have PhotoShop (CS3) but have even learned how to use it! Sort of. I'm a quick study but let me tell you, it's no easy thing for me.

I 'went digital' in 2006. Pretty much the only reason was because I was shooting a wedding that summer and I knew it'd be loads easier than film. I got another Canon, so just went ahead and used the editing software that came with my new DSLR - Digital Photo Professional. I thought it was the cat's meow.

Palm Tree Silhouettes with Blue GradientA couple years ago, I was introduced to my beloved Picasa, the free Google software which allows you quite a bit of options for image edits. While I watched all my other photo buddies producing amazing results with various versions of PhotoShop, I continued to think of it as the snobby way to do it - plus I abhorred those photographers who digitally enhanced, altered and completely changed their images into something other than photography but continued to pawn them off as such. I would never, EVER be one of THOSE.

Puerto Vallarta Lifeguard Stand: Silhouette & Sunset GradientOr so I thought. While I still strongly believe that a photograph is worlds apart from a digitally enhanced image (i.e., they shouldn't ever compete in the same category because they're completely separate entities) I can at least appreciate the fact one can do some very cool stuff in PhotoShop.

I have yet to learn any of that, of course. But I've seen examples.

Wine Bottle Macro ImageI'll get there eventually. Crazy thing is, a co-worker gave me this handy little '50 Great PhotoShop Tutorials for Clever Beginners' article the other day to 'get me started.' I appreciate he thinks I'm so clever, but honestly, I learned how to create silhouettes and 'modern art' type images before I even figured out how to lighten, sharpen or change the color of an image.

Okay. So I don't totally "get" PhotoShop yet, but I got it. As in, I have it. And that's a start!

Attention! German Government Not Web Savvy

Google Analytics CookiesWhile catching up on tweets this morning I ran across an interesting article regarding Germany's declaration that Google Analytics is illegal. Was?

Evidently, according to the German government, the use of Google Analytics to track website users' information is a violation of people's rights, since they're not giving their consent to be tracked.

Okay, stop right there, regierungsbeamte, just because you happen to be government officials doesn't mean you know best. Thing is, you don't even have the technical savvy to know that people who use the Internet DO have a choice of whether or not to be tracked.

It's called disabling cookies, FYI. Now, does the average Joe even know a) he's being tracked via cookies or b) that there's an option not to allow cookies in the first place? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I'll venture a guess he doesn't really pay attention, plus there's no danger of sensitive information getting out from the placement of cookies.

Cookies don't work that way - they're placed on a computer for a specific purpose (to track the user as she visits sites on the Web). Specifically, Google Analytics only places 1st-party cookies, so only Google Analytics can 'tap into' the information for that cookie, so to speak. There's a lot more to Google Analytics cookies than meets the eye, but the general lesson here, Germany, is don't "impose fines on companies who use the service to gather detailed stats based on their website visitors’ usage patterns," because they're not doing this "without the explicit consent of those visitors" ... those visitors have the option of not being tracked.

*Image used came from

Recovering Cafeteria Catholic

Last weekend when I was back home, I learned my family has become Lutheran for the winter - partially because of the new mass times, but also due to a dislike for a new priest. Raised with a (strict) Catholic upbringing, this declaration was nothing short of shocking to hear. Of course, it was less shocking than if I were a devout, mass-going Catholic, versus a recovering "cafeteria Catholic."

Let me explain. It's not that I regret having grown up Catholic - I think spiritualism is extremely important - but let's just say over the years I've come to despise the Church's strict, rigid rules more and more.

Take for instance the case of first communion for Haley Waldman in 2004: diagnosed with celiac disease when she was young, she had to consume a gluten-free wafer at her first communion, which the Church declared as 'unofficial' because the Eucharist contained no wheat. Okay, Catholic church - just because Christ might've had bread with wheat in it at the Last Supper, tell me WHY, if this bread (and wine) gets changed into His body (and the wine into His blood) does it matter AT ALL what the damn stuff is made of? I'm not making it up:
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Transubstantiation means the change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his blood."
So that one made me mad. Then there's the issue with the wine - which cannot be non-alcoholic in order to "count" during communion. What about medical issues? Alcoholism? While it's a purely pagan tradition - eating the flesh and blood of a sacrifice - receiving Holy Communion is a very vital part of Catholic parishioners, one in which, if it's denied them, makes a big difference in their faith.

Oh, and don't forget all those Catholic priests who decided - since they're not allowed to get married and thus fulfill normal, healthy sexual urges - that it's okay to molest altar boys. Ish, Catholic church, ISH. FAIL.

Okay, I'm slightly digressing. Anyway, so I don't attend mass regularly anymore (in fact, it's mainly when I'm back home and Christmas Eve) but I grew up with The Guilt so I do feel bad for not attending masses on Sunday. That being said, I'm much more spiritual now than I've ever been.

So I was excited to head to my first Lutheran service since I was in junior high (I slept over at a friend's house and we went to her service a couple times; I was so naive I headed up for communion not knowing I was committing a SIN in the eyes of the Catholic church) and I remember liking it.

Last Sunday was more of an eye-opening experience than I expected. We arrived ~10 minutes before the service started, only to find there was extremely limited seating left. our Catholic church, people pretty much don't come until 10 minutes before, and many of them slink up the aisle after the priest, staying low and trying to remain low profile.

As we sat at the very back of the church, perusing the hymnal, my mother and I noticed an odd thing...these parishioners - they were talking and laughing. OUT LOUD. And it was okay. Other church-goers weren't "shushing" them, no one was giving passive-aggressive, dirty looks; it was perfectly acceptable to kick back and chat with your fellow Christians.

When the priest - sorry, pastor - stepped to the front, the talk died down immediately and he started speaking. He said 'good morning,' told a couple jokes, and started into the service - which was very heartfelt. The singing was exceptional, the readings were quick and related, and the sermon was not only well-organized, it had a message. I actually had a take-away. I was hooked.

Feeling much more comfortable with "being Lutheran," my anxiety rose slightly when it came time for communion. Ever the gracious host (no pun intended), the pastor told the congregation "everyone was welcome" to come and receive Holy Communion - even visitors. Wow. No judgment, no restrictions, just "come and receive the Holy Spirit." Thanks, I will.

As Mom and I walked slowly down towards the front of the church to receive our host and wine, I could almost feel the scarlet "C" burning on my forehead. Acting like I'd 'been there, done that,' I took my host from the Eucharistic minister (which she handed me delicately, only having touched a small portion of it), and - per custom at this church - dipped it into the wine, ate it and continued back to my seat, none the worse for having accepted this mighty gift while in a sacrilegious ceremony.

Sacrilegious because, according to the Catholic church, the bread and wine are actually transformed (transubstantiated) into the body and blood of Christ. For Lutherans, they believe these are symbols, not actual flesh and blood. PS: if you're Catholic and do NOT believe you're eating true flesh and drinking real blood, then you're a sinner. Can you say human sacrifice and cannibalism?

So, while I'm not a devout church-goer, I do think I'm going to like this new winter church schedule...the parents seem to like it, too. Which begs the question: will we continue on with Lutheranism come springtime, when the Catholic mass schedule changes again? I have to say my sentiment - I sure hope so.

Tweetdeck & Twitter Lists & Transmuted Google News, Oh My!

When I first began using Twitter, I'd read tweets and answer "what are you doing?" right from the site. I soon realized that wasn't the "cool" way to go about it, so I got set up with Tweetdeck (the simple and fast way to experience Twitter). I soon had my favorites set up (for both Twitter and Facebook, a nice touch) and while I still head to Twitter to scroll through the 'general' tweets coming in, I now update both sites' status from Tweetdeck.

Tweetdeck Dashboard
From the dashboard, I can see at a glance what my favorite people are talking about, as well as get direct messages and see any mentions I've received. Pretty neat.

Now enter Twitter Lists. A couple weeks ago, Twitter rolled out their new function which allows users to create their own lists, add people to it, and other people can even follow your lists (and vice versa). So now not only can you choose who you follow, you can lump them into specific groups so you don't have to scroll through all your "Twitter favorites" on Tweetdeck or - gasp, live on the site - you can just click on a list and voilà, you can read what you want to read.

Create Twitter Lists
It's even easy to find any lists you've been added to - and you can choose whether or not to follow those lists.

Bernier's Twitter ListsThis is just one of the many ways it's getting easier and easier to pick and choose the content you want to see online. Yesterday, Google stepped up to the plate and offered the creation of custom news. While not a true function of social media, it is a way to customize content - similar to Tweetdeck's favorites and the relatively new Twitter lists.

I played around with this function this morning and created a couple 'newsreels' - reel-time news, perhaps? - even though I don't think I've ever visited Google News.

Creating Custom Google News: SEOSo why am I trying it? Well...I do subscribe to multiple RSS feeds, and the first thing I do in the morning - coffee in hand - is check out Google Reader. Thing is, I get a lot of articles in there that I don't want to read. Even though I've decided to pull articles from TechCrunch, Mashable, All in One SEO Pipe, etc., the articles contained within those sites aren't always something I want to read.

Google Reader Home
Now, maybe with a customized Google News section, I can get more relevant articles because I've "made" the news topics relevant to me. So, the big question is: are functions like Twitter Lists and customized Google News going to make RSS feeds obsolete?

Social Search is a FAIL

In high school, I got grounded. A LOT. Every Friday my friends would say, "hey, grounded this weekend?" To which my reply was, more often than not, yes. So I was used to getting punished by my mom - God love her - but now that I'm a (mostly) grown-up woman, I find it hard to believe I'm being grounded yet again. By Google, evidently.

Four days ago I learned about, opted into and wrote a review of the new Google Social Search ability. Since I'm a typical egotist, I was chagrined to see I wasn't showing up in my own social circle. While most things "Internet" get better with age - as software, search engines and social media roll out, refine and listen to their audiences - I'm more than a bit disappointed that things are even worse for my social searches now than they were earlier in the week.

Google, did Matt Cutts tattle on me, say I was dissatisfied with your shiny new service and now you're punishing me? No...that's not the way the universe works. Still, I find maybe I should've kept my pie-hole corked and not mentioned my disappointment, since now my social circle is eerily absent from my SERPs in social searches. As far as I know and can see, I'm still opted into the experiment, because it does work a little bit. Sometimes.

But let's take a look at how things have changed since Monday.

Monday's search for "SEO" revealed my social circle as my husband and Portland friend in the main SERP; when I delved into the 'Social' tab of my 'Options' I got a few more results from my fellow Twitterers, blog buddies, etc.

Yesterday and today? The results are MUCH different:

Obviously this result is right from my Google Reader subscription. Odd, because that result was absent on Monday. Let's look a bit further - utilizing the 'More Options' screen, I choose 'Social'...the results are scarce, to say the least.

Ok. So maybe "SEO" is too...I don't know, competitive. (Competitive between my social buddies?) So I'll try something I KNOW multiple friends on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are mentioning: Halloween. After all, we're only 1 day shy of All Hallows' Eve.

It seems none of my online acquaintances are talking about Halloween. Or costumes. But wait, they ARE - I've read several Tweets about those very topics today. So where's my circle, Google? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Now, not only am I not showing up, my friends aren't, either. Boooooooooooooooo. And not in the Halloween, fun, scared-you type of way.

Since this has all changed so drastically for me, I decided to read more on social search - ended up at the Matt Cutts video explaining it within the Googleblog post. In it, he (Matt) states there are a few ways Google taps into a person's social circle: Google profile, Friendfeed and Google Reader.

Well, I do have a Reader account - browse through that every morning. I also have a Google profile. While I don't use Friendfeed, two out of three should garner me SOME results I can live with in regards to social search. But, alas, no. Get thee to thy room, O naughty negative reviewer of Google services.

Why Don't I Show Up in Social Search?

Today Google officially rolled out its social search function, a way to customize your SERPs to include results from people within your very own network. Pretty neat, considering the vast amount of people we can be linked to and the amount of content to wade through out there in search engine land.

Danny Sullivan has a great post about this, in which I was surprised to learn that a person can show up in their own searches (with the 'social' option). It struck me as odd until I read his explanation of it,
" own blog is listed. That makes sense, in a way. I know myself, and I write about Newport Beach a lot."

Intrigued, I instantly opted into the Google Experiment and started searching. I tried an easy test first - "SEO" - since a good number of my friends on Twitter are SEOs. Bingo:

At the bottom of the SERP, my very own results. The dude in the 'stache is a friend...and the second result is my very own husband. Now, why wouldn't Clint's 'result' show up before Chris's, since we share the same last name (therefore, Clint would be more relevant to my search)? Well, that's not the way this social search works - even within "my" social results, they're still ranked based on the traditional Google algorithm, meaning in Google's mind is more important than For now anyway :)

Ever the narcissist, I tried another search, something for which I figured I'd show up for. Something I blog/talk about a lot: my dog. So I chose "german shepherd" and scrolled to the bottom of the page - nada. What? Where am I? Shouldn't I show up in my own social network for something I blog, micro-blog, and talk about often? Hmf. Evidently not.

Okay, different search - "music" - SOMEONE I know must be mentioning something about music. Lo and behold, when I click on my 'Show Options' view and then narrow it down to 'Social,' here's what I see:

Wait, Cities 97? I don't follow Cities 97 on Twitter...oh, wait, but one of my co-workers does. While I certainly respect her choice to support easy listening, I'm personally not interested in that station. Even though it's very relevant to music, I personally have no connection to it so don't think it's a relevant result here.

So, for my last search (in this 'test') I tried something else. I'm connected to several of my co-workers via Facebook and Twitter, so I performed a search for my company's name, expecting to find at least a few co-workers who've mentioned where they work. The only result came from a co-worker who follows ME on Twitter, but I do not follow this person.

Thus far, Google, I don't vote it a total FAIL, but I do have some grievances with how this works. Why am I not showing up for my own "relevant social searches" but people/entities I don't even follow do show up?

Looks like there could be a couple bugs yet to work out with this.

*PS: Yes, I have a Google Profile and had it long before this post.

Find Your Anagram

Thanks to my buddy, @wtongen, for finding this fun anagram service and passing it along. I've just spent the last 15 minutes scanning through hundreds of anagrams for my name (Sarah B Danks) are a few samples:

Ad Shrank Abs
Bad Ash Ranks
Bad Sash Rank
Bard Hank Ass
Bads Has Rank
Dabs Has Rank
Bah Drank Ass
Bah Dark Sans
Bah Ads Ranks
Bahs Ad Ranks
Bah Sad Ranks
Bash Ad Ranks
Bash Sad Rank
Bank Hard Ass
Barks And Ash
Ban Ad Sharks
Ban Sad Shark
Bra Ads Shank
Bass Had Rank
Bhad Ass Rank

An SEO Writer Picks a Fight

In my Twitterfeed this afternoon, I stumbled upon (yes, pun intended) a Search Engline Land article by Jill Whalen: Is Choosing Search Engines Over Users A Fatal Flaw In SEO? I love the 'question' article title, it's like waving a red cape in front of a Spanish-bred bull: you have to at least click to open and scan.

Immediately I see she's written this article in rebuttal of a @randfish blog post titled Terrible SEO Advice: Focus on Users, Not Engines. Again, a catchy headline since he does touch on that angle, but it's not really what he's actually saying in the post.

In Jill's little back-at-ya attempt at setting the record straight, she spouts off about how Rand's article "could potentially set SEO back at least at decade," in her opinion. Really? Well, Jilly-girl, you might want to actually READ what Rand wrote, instead of just scanning (as so many website users are wont to do), 'cause you didn't even grasp what he said. (Also, might wanna run the ol' document through at least a cursory proofreading ARE a writer, after all.)

Here's what Jill has to say about Mr. Fishkin's advice:

In the article, he apologized to his audience of budding SEOs for having ever told them to do what’s right for their users. In fact, he called putting your users first, “utterly false and tragically misleading.”

If you listen to this advice, your SEO will be fatally flawed from the get-go.

You go, girl. Except...wait...this is what Rand ACTUALLY wrote:

If you've been around the SEO world a while, you've undoubtedly heard the old adage:

"Do what's right for users and engines will reward you with higher rankings"

Along with its peer:

"SEO tactics that focus on engines, rather than users, are manipulative (black/gray hat) and will eventually be discounted or penalized"

In my opinion, both of these statements are utterly false and tragically misleading. In my view, SEO starts with the user (of course), but cannot ignore the incredible importance of search-engine targeted (and specific) tactics.

So let me sum it up for you, Jill: Rand was merely stating that new SEOs deciding to totally adhere to only one of those adages (and therefore utterly ignoring the other) are making a mistake. Your mistake, my dear, was criticizing a much bigger name in the SEO world than you are, without even the proper information.

4-H Dog Show

Tasha & Kiah (a Mini Aussie) in ObedienceSeptember 26th and 27th was the Minnesota State 4-H Dog Show at the Fairgrounds. I went for a portion of both days and watched some agility and obedience classes. Tasha is the daughter of a dear family friend, and while just shy of 17 years old, she's quite the little trainer. Her Aussie, Kiah, is 27 months old and this year they worked together to win a bunch of awards:

  • blue (award of excellence) in elementary agility
  • blue in obedience - graduate beginner
  • blue in obedience - four-dog team
  • blue in showmanship - open
Now, keep in mind these four classes occurred over a span of 2 days, in the heat of the September sun (well, agility anyway!) and both handler and dog were surrounded by a plethora of people and dogs all weekend.

Mini Aussie Jumps in Agility CompetitionUntil this show, I'd never seen a live agility competition, and it's pretty cool to watch. The dogs have to perform a pattern containing all the requisite obstacles and it's the handler's job to direct them throughout their timed course. They have to leap over jumps, climb an A-frame, scoot through a couple of shoots, and lie still for 5 seconds atop a small table in the middle of the course. Try stopping a running dog in the middle of their excitement, make them lie motionless and tell me how it goes!

Tasha & Kiah (a Mini Australian Shepherd) Executing Obedience Pattern In obedience classes, the trainers take their dogs through a series of on- and off-leash steps such as heeling, recall, stand-for-exam and sit- and down-stays. While on leash, the dogs must pace their owners, stop when they stop (and sit down), not pull on the leash and always remain attentive to their handler.

Miniature Aussie: Recall in Obedience For the off-leash portion, the dog waits in one corner of the arena while the handler moves to the other, and upon recall (the "come" cue) the dog must proceed directly to the handler and sit - straight! - in front of them. They then must also stand for the judge's exam - not sit, not lie down - while their handler moves ~15 feet away.

The final part of the class is the hardest...with 7 other handlers and dogs in the arena, the handler must put his/her dog in a sit- or down-stay and walk ~20 feet away for a timed judging. I was amazed that these 8 dogs didn't MOVE from their positions amongst strange people, sights, sounds and most of all, other dogs in close proximity.

I was super-proud of my family friend - and her dog - and was only a TAD nostalgic and jealous that when I was in 4-H, we didn't have much of a dog program. I've helped Tasha with Kiah's training - just some simple operant conditioning training tips here and there - but the amount of work she's put in is testament to her dedication to dog training. These kids are so lucky - at 16 years of age, they're so much farther than I am in my own training and they'll only get better!

Congrats, Tasha!!! Tasha & Kiah

Great Minnesota Get-Together

Lighted Ride at Minnesota State FairWhen I was a little girl, there were a couple of times Mom & Dad loaded us kids into the car and we headed down to the Big Cities for a day at the Minnesota State Fair. Since the parental units weren't very familiar with the city streets (not having lived down here for years) we'd always get stuck in the "fair traffic" on Snelling. Somewhat of a damper to our spirits when the big fair tower was in sight but we couldn't get there any other way than stop-and-go.

Ferris Wheel at Minnesota State Fair Now that the hubby and I live approximately 4 miles from the Great Minnesota Get-Together fairgrounds, we've made it our duty to go every year we've been together. While I certainly enjoyed perusing every single square foot of the DNR buildings & Machinery Hill way back in the day 'cause Dad HAD to, and maybe going on a couple rides, I much prefer stopping at the beer booths for crisp, cool Summits, partaking in random food intake and watching all the weirdos come out of the woodwork.

Fairgoing Crowds at Minnesota State Fair The only footsteps we place on the midway are the ones leading us into and out of the grounds, since we've found a free parking area which is easy for us to access, and is only about a 10-minute walk to get in the gates (behind the parking for the horse trailers). From that entrance, we can easily get to the main booth that sells Summit, so we grab one of those and then proceed to make our wandering way amidst the crowds of French-fry-eaters, food-on-a-stick-enjoyers and all the other random, lovely sightseeing opportunities.

Scotch Eggs Stand at Minnesota State Fair This year while we were waiting for a friend to join up with us, we made our second stop the Scotch Eggs booth (near the green pepper on the side of the horse barn). Though they're not as good as those at the Renaissance Festival, they were mighty tasty - especially with the horse radish sauce!

After joining up with said friend, we proceeded to the back of the grandstand in search of OAR ticket-seekers. There he gave away 2 OAR tickets and interviewed the lucky winner about Brett Favre for his latest endeavor, Brettrodome, while I videotaped (and the hubby went for more beer). When all that was said and done, we realized we had to get back on schedule.

Skyride at Minnesota State Fair We always have to stop at the Leinies Lodge to give a high-five to the Laurienzos, who work hard all 10 days of the fair to ensure Leinenkuegel lovers have enough brew to quench their fair thirst. That's kitty-corner from the Axel's booth - we love their bull bites - and then we were on our way back towards the Coliseum. We watched the High School Rodeo for a bit, used the lavs and headed back to the Scotch Eggs so our buddy could partake.

Lighted Ride on Midway of the Great Minnesota Get Together Since we've gone numerous times, it must not be "that big of a deal," since this year all we had were Scotch Eggs, cheese curds, beer and cream puffs. Also, other than the Coliseum we didn't go into any of the buildings. Actually, it was kind of nice - we were in and out of there in a little over 2 hours. Until next year...

Como Conservatory

Yellow Flower Close-upThe end of summer makes me look back on what's happened and which images I've captured along the yet again I'm playing catch-up. This past March I headed to Como Conservatory in St. Paul, MN, 2 hours early for 'artist day.' A few times a year, the Conservatory opens up its doors - for a small fee/donation - to photographers and other artists who wish to use tripods within the gardens.

White Bleeding Hearts in Sunken Garden: Como Conservatory Normally when I go my hand-held shots are just fine since there's an abundance of light...but it's nice to get in there and use a tripod sometimes for uber-macro shots (I have a converter for my 50mm f/1.8 lens which necessitates the use of a tripod) or to play with long exposures, etc.

Red Tulips at Como Conservatory While I did use the tripod for a portion of that 2-hour window, mostly I focused on macro shots and using the lighting. It was the busiest I'd ever seen it in there - I think more and more photographers are either a) figuring out they can bring in tripods to these sessions and/or b) eager to get into the gardens before the normal, bustling day-crowds arrive.

Purple Flowers at Como Conservatory Many of my photographer buddies headed to brunch after the 2 hours was up, but a friend of mine met me at 10am and we went through all the gardens (me for a 2nd time, her for the first time ever). The Sunken Garden tends to get the most foot-traffic (at least it seems to be the busiest/hardest to walk around in that garden) but there other beautiful gardens and even little 'nooks' which provide excellent shots.

Fern Fiddlehead at Como Conservatory My favorite image from that day - and one which garnered me a 'Champion' at the Crow Wing County Fair this year (Floral category) - is my fern fiddlehead macro shot. I love the perception of this image...normally when I see fiddlehead pictures, they're focused solely on the fiddlehead or show it/them coming out of the ground, etc. I was walking along a path from one garden to the next and happened to glance down and see this little guy trying to climb out of the parent fern and thought it was a neat perspective. (This shot was taken using my Canon 50mm f/1.8.)

Frond at Como Conservatory Something I have to constantly remind other people - and sometimes, myself! - is that even though I've already been to a place once or numerous times, there's ALWAYS something new to see through the lens of my camera. It's a matter of taking the time to slowly take in the surroundings and focus on different perspectives.

Small Purple Flowers at Como Conservatory Every photographer knows that two photographers standing side by side taking a shot of the very same subject will get two very different results. The same is also true for the one photographer revisiting the same subject.

Yellow Bird on Fronds at Como Conservatory I'm no expert but it took me a long time to grasp the concept of perspective. We can all get into the rut of taking the same 'type' of image, but it's important in photography to look at everything multiple ways and be sure to move your feet when shooting. Look at your subject from a different angle, wait for different lighting, switch lenses, focus on the details, back up and 'get the big picture,' etc.

I did miss the June '09 "artist day" at Como, but will be hopefully heading back for the next time we're allowed to get in and shoot the gardens without (as many!) crowds.

Downtown Minneapolis

Downtown Minneapolis BuildingsThis summer has gone much quicker than any other I've previously lived in my short 30 years. Okay, so that's my excuse for neglecting my blog when there have been so many photo opps the past few months.

Clouds Reflected in BuildingIn July a friend and I ventured to downtown Minneapolis for a free comedy skit at Brit's, lunch on The Local's patio, and some wandering about looking like tourists during downtime. I've never really acted like a tourist in Minneapolis (or St. Paul, for that matter) so it was fun to have an excuse to be down there with my SLR snapping shots.

While I have no clue of the names of the different buildings (other than the IDS tower), I like shiny, reflective surfaces on big buildings and the lighting was good for it that day. We had great food at The Local - along with good chats - and the show at Brit's was funny and free. Well, what we could hear of it was funny...we were trying to stay cool in the shade so ended up at the back of the audience but a good time was had nonetheless.

Old ManI'm especially proud of my shot of The Man. While strolling through a plaza near Brit's, I glanced over and happened to see an old man sitting on a concrete step looking at a waterfall. There were some girls nearby and I had to take 3 or 4 images before I finally got the winner. I did crop the image to look like this, but think it works very well. The judges at the Crow Wing County Fair thought so, too - this shot took 1st in the Black & White Adult (1) category and 'Champion' for the overall category (B&W and color together).

SparrowAt first glance a sparrow we saw on the ground seemed to be injured, as it turns out I think he was begging for food because he ended up flying off after we didn't deliver. I'm not a huge fan of birds, but that's probably the closest I've ever been to a non-injured wild bird before.

The afternoon's activities were coming to a close and as we were heading back to the car we ran into a 16-year-old girl who was lost. After guiding her to Hard Rock to meet her friends, loath to end the day we decided to head to happy hour.

Seville Strip Club SignWe chose O'Donovan's and as we were waiting to cross the street, we ran into a couple VERY drunk guys who were looking for a strip club. While we didn't know where the establishment was, we had fun BSing with them and a nice police officer ended up walking them to some other strib club. After sitting down on O'Donovan's patio, we discovered The Seville - the club the guys were looking for - was right next door.

It was a great day - beautiful weather, lots of talking, good food. Hopefully I'll find the time to venture to Minneapolis again this summer to play tourist!

Zada Goes to Work & Happy Hour

Zada at the OfficeThis past Thursday Zada - my German shepherd - had a typical 'working day': she came into the office to hang out with me and afterwards we went to happy hour. Hey, if you're going to work like a dog, there's nothing quite like a cold beer (or in her case, dish of water) to wrap up the day.

When I first got her as a puppy, I knew that living in the cities with a high-energy dog would be a challenge but I also wanted to have a dog that I could take literally anywhere. Since she was young, I've made her tag along with me to numerous places: kickball games, parks, houses of friends and family, dog parks, camping, 5K races, work and even bars.

Zada Chewing on a Bone at the OfficeBelieve me, when I first became a dog owner down here I had no idea I'd be bringing my dog to patios to drink beer and eat appetizers - but let me tell you, the idea is not only brilliant, it's become a favorite of mine. But it was always a dream of mine to be able to bring my dog into work with me, and thankfully in my current position as Search Marketing Consultant at Linnihan Foy Advertising, I sometimes get that opportunity.

While some of my other co-workers do bring in their dogs from time to time (one of the bosses regularly brings in our "mascot") I do have to admit none of them get as many compliments or praise as my Zada. Everyone is amazed that she stays in my office with me - the door's always open - and is content to lie in her corner by the window to watch everyone at work or chew on her bone.

When it's time to play, she's got a beat-up small basketball that the colleagues throw down the hall for her. She always obliges in a perfect game of fetch, and has gotten to the point where she'll perform simple cues ("sit" or "down") for my co-workers. She's also starting to OFFER some behaviors in order to get someone to throw the ball for her. I'll be honest and say it's much harder to train people than it is to train dogs! But my co-workers are pretty cool with me telling them what to do where Zada's involved :)

Clint & Zada at Nomad Pub, MinneapolisAnyway, one of my lovely colleagues told me earlier this week about a bar she went to that was dog-friendly. Excitedly I asked her which one, where, etc. It's the Nomad Pub near 7 Corners in Minneapolis, and she said not only is their patio dog-friendly, so is the bar itself! Obviously intrigued, I decided it was my next must-go-to destination so Clint, Paul and I headed there for a couple of cold beverages. True to their word, the bar allowed us to march right in, up to the bar, and even offered her a big dish full of ice-cold water.

They don't serve food - obviously there'd be a code violation with the presence of canines in the establishment - but they allow you to bring your own. With a couple deli-type restaurants nearby, I don't see the problem of having a MYRIAD of good beers on tap and your dog at your side.

It wasn't busy but I actually prefer that for the insides of bars at happy hour. Think about it: you get attentive service from your bartender, there aren't a lot of other patrons being loud, and you can actually hear the music playing. While Zada's been to dog-friendly patios several times throughout her 3 years of life, this was her first venture into an actual bar and she was great. Of course, it didn't hurt that some other patrons came up and wanted to pet her and chit-chat about her - she loves people and I call her the "Golden Retriever of Shepherds."

All in all, we had a good day together and we will definitely be heading back to the Nomad Pub for more doggy happy hours!

Floral Images from Mission Narrows

Hosta LeavesI didn't make it up to Mom & Dad's at all this summer 'til June, which is odd since normally I try to get up there at least once a month in the summer (starting in May). I'm making up time now, but thought I'd post some pictures I took of the flora around the property and lake.

Bleeding Hearts & Egret Garden StatueIn the biological sense, according to "floral" means pertaining to or consisting of flowers: floral decoration; of or pertaining to floras or a flora. "Flora" means plants, as distinguished from fauna; the plants of a particular region or period, listed by species and considered as a whole. Interesting.

Lily Pistil & StamenThe reason I'm mentioning this is because I was recently involved in an email debate with a woman from the Crow Wing County Fair board who insisted the "Floral" photography category should only contain images of FLOWERS. According to her, my fern fiddlehead photo shouldn't have been included...guess she wasn't the judge since I ended up taking 'Champion' in that category with the image :)

Daisies: Focal Black & WhiteAnyway. The parents' property is an excellent source of flora-type pictures and even though Mom's not an avid gardener, she still produces some great flowers. The in-ground water sprinkler system - pumped directly from the lake - keeps the majority of the flower beds and plants along the house well watered and healthy.

While the hostas, bleeding hearts and lily close-up are self-explanatory, I'd like to note that the daisies are more special: they are growing wild upon my horse's grave in the pasture. My old boy, Kamell, was put down in the fall of 2006 at 27½ years of age.

Black & White Hosta LeavesMy mom purchased him as an untrained 5-year-old, he's my first memory of horseback riding (I must've been 6 or 7, since he was only 6 months younger than I), and I also ended up using him as my 4-H horse for several years. He was a good boy and will be very hard to replace :)