Sunday, August 17, 2014

Little Boxes

This blog tends to be dedicated to sharing the things I do in life.  It’s easy to talk about the facts; it’s easy for me to share the how-to, and I love helping others enjoy life as I do.  Lately though, my head has been stuck on a concept that I’ve let affect too much of my daily life. 

One of my greatest weaknesses is that my personality type wants very, very much to fit into a situation in a way that is best for a group.  Maybe it comes from the unstable family I grew up in – maybe it’s just an innate need I have to find cohesion.  What it means though is that I’m often reading a situation without realizing it while trying to mash my strong personality into the little box that others have created for me.

You are (just) an artist.
You are (just) an engineer.
You are (just) a hippie.
You are (just) rational.
You are (just) logical.
You are (just) Type A.
You are (just) irrational.
You are (just) selfish.
You are (just) too emotionally invested.
You are (just) quiet.
You are (just) direct.
You are (just) an athlete.
You are (just) not hardcore enough.

Every time you label someone or categorize him or her into a neat little box in your head, you’re limiting their potential.  To my art school friends, I’m too rigid.  To my logical friends, I’m too free-spirited.  To my conservative friends, I’m a hippie.  To my liberal friends, I follow too many rules. 

To me, I am (just) tired right now.  I’m tired of trying to be everything everyone else needs because it often conflicts with what I need.  What I actually need is the freedom to live without all the damn labels (and drama).

Every day, I try to remember how fortunate I am to be exactly where I am in this life.  I’m thankful for the people who have been in my life and I look forward to sharing experiences that are yet to come with others.

As always,
This Little Engineer 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Advanced Lighting, Spring 2014

Lighting has easily become one of my favorite classes this term.  Both in the studio (where you have complete control) and on location (where there is more chaos), knowing how to shape light is what takes a shot from neat to ah-mazing!

This class started with capped lessons that forced us to discover how to work in challenging situations.  These shots had to be captured perfectly IN CAMERA - without photoshop editing!  The final versions could then have minor changes made before print.  Forcing me to be cognizant of shots that bored the heck out of me really helped me grow as a photographer - it is not a task I would've set my mind to if I was a 100% self-taught photographer.

When we were finally given a little bit of freedom in this class to create our own design layouts for a product, I chose to use my newly acquired Deuce of Spades, which I supported on kickstarter.  Many of my classmates seemed to miss the mark on this assignment, meaning my shot rose to the top on that given day.  The bonus for me was that I had a really fun time creating the image of a poop shovel :-P

After what felt like an eternity of shooting products, our class was finally allowed to move on to people.  As much as I have had some fun shooting product (and enjoy it SO much more when given free reign), I have always felt more gratification when I'm able to work with people.  

Enter, Michaela, my taxidermy'ing triathlon teammate.  She graciously agreed to be my model for a classic chiaroscuro style portrait shoot.  The day we worked on this project, I was struggling with another migraine (yes, they've returned in abandon, but I'll get to that in another blog post).  Migraines for me mean that I turn into a space case - I just cannot keep my focus up to my normal level.  Thankfully, Michaela, was able to roll with the flow and we were able to have a bit of fun...

In fact, we had a LOT of fun as we decided to shoot her taxidermy animals as well!  This triptych of our result was so bizarre that it is still making me chuckle each time I see it!

Around the same time we were working on super controlled studio portrait lighting, we were somewhat thrown to the wolves in regards to learning to shoot location lighting.  We were shown what our school has available for location lighting... and then told to just go play around.  Most people took the kits just outside school and shot against the colorful Seattle streets...  

I decided to have some triathlon style fun and knew I needed motion in my shots!  That said, I didn't know much about what I was doing other than how to ratio ambient vs. strobe light.  

Still, I had a lot of fun playing around - I can honestly tell you that wouldn't have been the case if I didn't have friends willing to play model in some freezing early season Lake Washington water!  Thanks again, to Amy & Guido for your time!!
As I prepared myself to create a final set of projects to wrap up the quarter, I knew I wanted to get outside to push at the bubble of my location lighting knowledge again.  While I packed 40 pounds of photography gear along a local mountain biking trail, my friend, Vicki, warmed up on her mountain bike.  

She then worked with me, riding down trails again and again, so I could grow my location lighting style.  It was a beautiful day and one of those experiences where I realized how fortunate I am to have made connections with strong and caring people in my local triathlon and cycling communities.  This day would not have been possible if Vicki hadn’t been able and willing to share her morning with me.  Though I realize I still have room for improvement with my lighting skills, I am happy with the advancements I’ve made thus far!
Vicki, killing it!

Till next time!
 -This Little Engineer

Choose Your Own (Photography) Adventure

My third quarter in Art School is finally wrapping up.  All of my classes are at the point where the final projects are in the works.  This quarter was rough in that I'm past the point where I'm TIRED of doing capped exercises.
Learning to light a black item so it is not lost on a black background.
Learning to lay product out to a template - no rearranging in photoshop post-shoot.
Though I learned from all of these tasks, they are extremely stifling in regards to creativity.  The good news begin that we were FINALLY given the reigns near the end of this quarter to plan our own projects for Lighting, Photojournalism, and Digital Illustration.  This has definitely caused some of my classmates to stumble in that there is a very vague bar of what is or isn't enough effort poured into a project.  On top of that, the 100% openness is so new that many of us weren't sure where to find inspiration.  I'm extremely fortunate that my coping mechanism for frustrated is to "make stuff happen!" and that my frustration peaked just when we were able to our choose your own photography adventures.

Check back soon for a bit of a recap on my classes this quarter!
Till then,
This Little Engineer

Sunday, June 1, 2014

5 Favorite Things, Thru Hiking Toiletries

This is the story of how I have created my 7oz toiletry set for long-distance hiking.  Since I do wear contacts and I am a touch particular about my skin, there are a few extras in this kit that you could cut out to save ounces.  Also, this is by no way a perfect list.  There are a few practices I use that are advised against while backpacking, so make sure you read around a develop a system that works for you!
5 Favorite Things, May 2014
Let me start with my quick philosophy on clothing/cleanliness while backpacking.  Basically, I carry two sets of cloths - one for hiking (the smelly set) and one for each night at camp (the clean set).  Most of the time this means I'm hiking in hiking pants, a wool short sleeve shirt, toe sock liners, thin boot socks, and my underthings.  I change into my wool thermal pants, a long sleeve wool shirt, and fresh underthings after I've washed up for the night.  In most situations, I will wash up using biodegradable soaps a ways away from camp (no smelly things in camp).  After I've washed and changed, I will wash up my hiking cloths as long as I know they will have the time/climate to dry overnight.  If I don't think my smelly cloths will have time to dry, I will still probably wash my underwear, pat it dry, and put it in my sleeping bag where my body heat should dry it over night.

1.  Dr. Bronner's Biodegradable Soap.  Let me start by saying that you 'should' use the scent free soap - it's less likely to attract bugs or animals.  This is where I'm going to admit that I still use the lavender soap...  smelling clean makes me feel cleaner than I actually am while backpacking.  Remember that even biodegradable soaps change an ecosystem - the general rule is staying 200' away from water sources.

This soap is good for pretty much everything - body, face, cloths, etc.  In combination with a light, quick-drying washcloth, this is the #1 item you need while backpacking.  You could sacrifice a lot of what I have listed above with just this item if you don't have my grumpy skin.

The #1 use for this item is to wash you hands are after using the restroom and before touching food. Remember that someone touching a common trail item (like a ladder or bridge) before you could have had poo-hands.  I've been sick enough while backpacking to tell you that occasionally washing your hands is totally worth the extra time to keep you from suffering through 'issues'.

As I mentioned earlier, I will use this bar to wash my body (sponge bath style) before switching into my camp cloths at night.  I will then use this same soap to wash cloths.  Remember to do this away from water sources and your camp.  A great time to fit this into your evening is after you've eaten for the night.  I wash both my food items and self, change into my camp cloths, then hike to where I hope to pitch my tent for the night.  If I'm on a more public trail (Grand Canyon, West Coast Trail, etc), I ad-lib a bit since most people will be cooking/cleaning in camp.

Storage Tip:  I cut this bar into 8ths (or less) and keep it in a 1fl oz container that has a few holes drilled into the bottom.  Use it in the shower a few times when it is still a whole bar - that moist environment should minimize the shattering when you cut it.

2.  Hand Sanitizer.  I keep this in a key chain type bottle in one of my hip belt pockets.  Since I eat constantly on the trail, I keep this bottle reachable to periodically make sure my hands are germ free.  I will also use this after I pee (since I don't do a full hand wash then).

3.  Bonnie's Balm.  This is an all-purpose healing salve.  Just after washing my face each night, I use a little of this on my damp skin.  It is also perfect to help heal any chaffed areas or other skin that needs soothing.  As long as your skin is damp upon application, I find a little goes a long way.  I bring a 0.25fl oz tub with me and find that it has lasted longer than each of my week+ trips thus far.  Admittedly, this is an item you might not need on the trail.

4.  Biodegradable Lush Bar Shampoo/Conditioner.  I know, I know, most people raised their eyebrows when they saw this.  My container of a itty, bitty bit of shampoo and conditioner bars weighs 0.5oz, which should last me over a month on the trail.  If I didn't have such a feisty scalp, I might not even bring these items.... but I do.  When water is plentiful and the weather is warm, I will lightly wash my hair ever 3-5 days on the trail.  If I go any longer than that, my psoriasis starts to act up.  0.5oz and the effort it takes to wash my scalp is WORTH keeping psoriasis at bay, trust me.

On that note, the Squeaky Green Lush bar soap contains tea tree powder to help keep my scalp happy. Saying that though, it does strip your hair of oils.  This is why I do still bring a tiny bit of conditioning bar.  Aaaand I should remind you again that going scent-free is in your better interest while backpacking...

Finally, the shampoo bar soaps don't cut well - they fall apart.  I still haven't found the secret for getting a small piece of this without wasting part of the bar.

5.  Saje Zap Face Bar.  Along with psoriasis, this is where I mention that I suffer from cystic acne due to a hormone imbalance in my body.  I'm not going to go into that issue but I will tell you that it's fairly important for me to keep my face clean on a regular basis using a tea tree oil based product.  That is where Saje's Zap bar comes along.  I have around 1/10th of this bar in a 0.25fl oz container and, again, this is one of those unneeded items that is worth it's weight in gold to me.  If you don't have acne issues like me, you can just wash your face w/your normal bar soap and cut out this little bit of extra weight.

5 (+1).  Child sized tooth brush and toothpaste.  The smaller toothbrush is just what I prefer - I haven't cut the handle off like many thru hikers do.  I know some people transfer toothpaste into smaller, lighter containers but I haven't worried about that at this point in my backpacking life.  I also keep pre-cut segments of floss with me.

5 (+2).  My final item is contact solution and my contacts case.  I also carry my glasses in a soft case for night use and backup use if something were to happen to my contacts.  There isn't a lot to say about this item other than I SCRUB my hands thoroughly before touching my contacts/eyes.

Note:  7oz includes the items shown above, excluding my washcloth (0.8 oz).  The other small items I bring but didn't list are my glasses in a soft case (2.1 oz), pre-cut dental floss, half of a small comb (0.1), a diva cup (0.5 oz), a pee rag (0.1), and toilet paper.

The total of 7oz + 3.6oz is more accurate as my max toiletry weight.

Additionally, any ladies wondering about personal feminine-specific hygiene should read this guest post on Andrew Skurka's blog.  It lists everything I could want to touch on.

As for shaving, it's really not in your best interest to have at yourself with a razor when you're out backpacking.  I do plan on shaving when I'm in a clean shower at car-camping type places near towns on the PCT but it's just going to be a hairy 4+ months for me.  There are tweezers on my small multi-tool if I get desperate to be a girl and pluck things... but I really do plan on just becoming a hairy beast no the trail.  Along those lines, my compass is a heavier model that I'm choosing to keep - it has a mirror that I could use for hygiene if it comes to that (doubtful that I'll care).

What else?   My multitool also has a nail file...  Is that it?  Basically, I'm v.v.happy to have cut down on my toiletries from the last time I actually went through the trouble of weighing it all.

Till next time,
This Little Engineer

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Inca Trail, Revised Gear List

One year late, I decided to update my Peru gear list with what I learned on my trip as well as what I've learned while preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Keep in mind that we planned to carry our packs - no personal Sherpa though we did have group Sherpas for food/tents/water.  We did have a bag drop in Cuzco, so the items we needed for our extended Peru trip were safely stored.  Also, this list is for gear - I have separate lists for clothing and toiletries.

Oz        Item        
(39)      Osprey Exos, Small, 46L
(2)        Trash Compactor Bag as a Bag Liner
(22.7)   Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 Down Bag
(6.5)     Neoair, Small
(1.5)     Small REI Pillow

(6)        First Aid kit
(2.7)     Headlamp
(6)        Small journal & pencil

(3)        Sawyer Mini Squeeze Filter
(3.7)     Steripen Freedom
(5.6)     1L Nalgene
(1.2)     1L Platypus
(5.4)     1L Platypus Big Zip

(33.9)    5D MIII
(27)       24-70mm Lens
(7)         1.4 Extender
(3)         Polarized Filter
(1)         Remote Trigger
(17)       Gorilla Pod (rather than full tripod)
(5)         Mindshift Gear minimal case for camera with one lens attached
(1)         Ziploc bags for lens/camera at night (keeps moisture out of your gear)
(6)         Spare Battery, Extra memory cards in card case

(8)         Small day pack to be used on our two days in Machu Picchu/Huayna Picchu
(3)         My Scrubba Washbag to wash cloths the first night in Aguas Calientes
(7.2)      Kindle Paperwhite - I didn't want to leave this kin Cuzco in case it walked off

Total: 224.3 oz = 14 lbs

When you add in 2L of water (4#) and my extra clothing (3#) as well as toiletries (1#), my final pack would've weighed around 22# at the start of the day.  By the time we reached camp each night, it would've weighed closer to 18#.  That's a light pack, friends!

As for a few notes as to why I made certain decisions:
-Trash compactor bags are the best pack liners you will ever find for weight, cost, and reliability.
- I am short, so using a small neoair is fine for me - I realize taller people might  be uncomfortable with the shorter sleeping pad.  Also, I slip the trash compactor bag over the foot of my sleeping bag if my feet get too cold.
- A 32-deg bag is borderline too cold for when we were on the Inca Trail.  I sleep warm, so that's a consideration for others (I would recommend a 20-deg bag to most of my friends).
- I don't bring enough clothing to spare anything fora  pillow, so I do use a tiny inflatable one.
- We chose to filter/purify our water rather than purchase water in a society that doesn't have the means to recycle plastic bottles.
- Keep in mind that the steripens can be finicky - they also struggle with cold water.  Ours worked fine but this can be a challenge in this environment.
- The sawyer mini can crack and become unreliable if it freezes.  For this reason, put it inside your sleeping bag on freezing nights!
- I do choose to keep my heavier nalgene for water storage.  It's easy to use with the steripen and I use it as a foam roller (sans the foam) if I end up with any muscle soreness.
- I do have enough water storage for 3L because I drink one throughout the evening/night.  I do not carry my Platypus soft bag filled up while hiking.
- Originally, I brought more lenses on this trip.  I did use them all, but I would've been fine w/just the 24-70mm.  It would've saved me several lbs over the course of the trip.  I would've missed my prime lenses... but it would've kept me focused on the photography rather than my gear.
- I am always reluctant to leave behind my full tripod... but I'm coming around to just bringing my gorilla pod when backpacking.

Did I leave anything else out?  I plan to update my other gear-lists in the next few days as well!

Till then,
This Little Engineer

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mount Rainier Duathlon, Short Course 2014

In 2010, I completed my first-ever multisport event, the Mount Rainier Duathlon, Short Course.  Though I'd been running recreationally since 2007 (when I completed my first half marathon), I had just brought my road bike home two weeks before this event.  Heck, this event was the first time I'd ridden it out on roads rather than paths.  I was in good running shape...but didn't know a damn thing about biking.  Needless to say, the steepest grade drop at the end of the bike leg scared the daylight out of me.

Fast forward to 2014.  I now have countless sprint triathlons, six half-ironmans, two full Ironmans, numerous century rides, three stand-alone marathons, and a handful of swim-specific races all under my belt.  Basically, I have spent 4 years pouring myself into the endurance racing culture.  As I have mentioned, putting my current photography degree obligations above all else right now means that my fitness has suffered.  It is what it is and I'm doing my best on any given day.  As soon as I came to that realization, I decided, "What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks, I'm going to sign up to repeat my first ever multisport event!"

This brings us up to April 27th, 2014 :)  The Mount Rainier Duathlon is always a COLD race.  Knowing that, I bundled up and set up my transition station before heading back to my car to regain some heat.

Snagged a quick image before heading to my car for a lil warmth.
Run 1
20 minutes before race start, I went out on a short 15 min warm-up run.  I made it to race start 5 mins early to say a quick hello so some of my favorite TNM athletes.  The race started as it always does, with peeps taking off super hard!  I was nervous about my fitness so just moseyed along at my comfortable pace.  It turns out I ran a super comfortable 9:04 pace for the 1.64 miles...

My head was so clear from my mosey that I had the fastest transition time in my AG (+1 for the art student).

Onto the bike, my fav!  I got out of the start line area quickly and easily started picking people off - one and then the next and then the next...  The unfortunate issue being that something was rubbing on my bike (story of my tri life).  Eventually I stopped to try to figure out what the issue was - both tires were spinning freely, both tires were trued, chain/crank made no noise when I pumped it...  I got back on and sure enough, same issue.  Eventually, I popped off again to widen my brake calipers, just in case...  No help.  Three years ago, I wouldn't have stopped to check out my bike because I wouldn't have know exactly what to check.  Even though I wasn't able to solve the issue, I was happy to have taken responsibility for my horrible machine and gave her a once-over.  I would guess I lost 2-4 minutes checking her out... not to mention however much speed something rubbing cost me over the course of my 54min ride.

I had to laugh a few times on the ride.  There was a bit of wind at the top of the 3-mile long hill.  Even though I had on my zipps, the gusts didn't phase me - they would've made me pretty darn nervous even just a year ago.  While bombing the biiiig hill at the end (there's a 700' drop over 4-miles with a section of that losing ~300' over 1/2 a mile), it actually started to sleet.  I had to laugh at the adversity we just learn to live with in WA.  I also noticed I pulled a typical early season Bri and forgot to blink till the bottom - helloooo dry contacts.

In the end, I had the second-fastest bike split in my AG.  I technically cut 3-minutes off my time from 2010 - I would guess that number to be closer to 5-6 minutes if I hadn't had my mechanical (even though "would've-should've's" don't count in tri ;).

My T2 was a touch more of a cluster (it always is for me).  Another girl had put her bike in my getting my machine on the rack was a struggle.

Finally, onto the last run.  I set out on my safe mosey pace.  Running hurt a lil bit, like it always does in the first mile.  My leg turn over was not as great as it typically is just off the bike, so I kept everything in check.  I was extremely focused on my leg placement to keep my foot/knee/hip alignment solid.  I get sloppy when I get tired, which I've learned over the years is the fastest way for me to get injured.  Within the first mile, 3-4 people blazed by me.  I stayed focused on my own game and gave them all words of encouragement as they passed.  Overall, I held a pace just a touch faster than my first run of the day and I managed to negative split this final run.

Complimentary Race Photo from Image Arts Photography
Final Thoughts
In the end, I was v.v.pleased with so much of my day.  I raced smart, I stayed injury-free, I thanked as many race volunteers as I could, I encouraged other racers, and I was able to be a part of our amazing race community.  My fitness could be in a much, much better place... but it could also be a thousand times worse.  At the end of that day, I still had that nagging feeling like I was cheating my body out of the only year it gets to race as a 32-yo...  yet my heart knows that leaving Boeing to head back to Art School was the right decision.  There is compromise in everything we do in life and I'm happy to have found a balance that will carry me through my final 3-quarters at Art School.

Till next time,
This Little Engineer

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Five Favorites, February, 4-Legged Edition

In order not to leave you with my woe-is-me type post for too long, I’m finally pulling the trigger on my Five Favorite Things for February (whoa-late).  Those who know me on a more personal-level know that I take a helluv a lot of pride in caring for my pups.  This post is dedicated to the system we’ve developed over the past 6-years.

Five Fav Feb, 2014
Vet Solutions Aloe & Oatmeal Shampoo – This is an oatmeal based shampoo that is extremely gentle on dog skin.  We adopted it’s use when our border collie proved to have wicked-bad allergies that flared up in the spring and summer months.  It was so bad that our vet recommended bathing her as often as once every three days using this v.v.gentle solution.  The great thing about this specific shampoo is that it soothes irritated skin w/out over-drying skin/coat.  We bounced around w/a few different types of oatmeal shampoo over the years but this product also seems to condition their coats in a way no other solution can.  Our dogs are unimaginably soft and it’s always one of the first comments we get when the dogs meet new people.

Pet Nail Cordless Dremel – As a kid, I broke into the dog world by getting a pure bread, show-quality whippet, my Prince Echo.  Handlers for show dogs introduced me to the dremel as a tool for filing down dog nails and I’ve never gone back to using a clipper.  Using this tool means taking the time upfront to train your pups to accept the electronic thing applying pressure as you handle their paws, but it also means you will NEVER cut a quick.  This is what sealed the deal for me when I was 11yo with my first dog and it is what kept me using it when I got my second round of dogs at 26 years of age.  It’s especially clutch for my border collie's black nails.  The two things I’ll caution you about is that, the spinning head can get caught in long dog hair – I keep my pups paws’ hair trimmed for other reasons but it means I’ve never had to worry about it tangling in the dremel.  You also need to learn how to use short bursts of application so that heat does not build on the nail bed (i.e. burn the dogs).

Salmon Oil!!!  We use salmon oil on our pups’ morning meals.  Salmon oil is wicked-awesome for your dogs on the inside (hello omega-3’s) and it really shows on the outside.  For one, it’s another great tool to keep your dog’s skin in great condition – our dogs never have dander or dry/itchy patches.  It also shows in a well conditioned, soft, and flowing coat.  As a side benefit, it softens the dogs stool, making it easier for them to make business.  If your dog suffers from loose poops, you might not want to add this to your line-up… or at least be prepared for any consequences if it’s a bad idea (only you & your vet know what is right for your pup).

Furminator – We use a combination of 5-brushes amongst our two pups depending on the season and which dog (each breed has a littly different coat).  We use a standard brush to do general detangling, a double-brush to rake out the aussie's under coat, a comb behind the border collies tangle-prone ears, the nubby brush here and there…  But it’s really the furminator that changed our lives.  This thing removes MASS quantities of hair in a single sitting.  We use it once every other week or so and it removed handfuls upon handfuls of hair making it absolutely essential as our pups start to blow their coats in the spring.  I realize you’re looking at the ridiculous list of brushes we own and thinking we’re crazy.  The truth is that we brush our dogs ~3 times a week - twice for de-tangling (which takes about 5 minutes for both pups) and once for removing hair (this takes 20-30 mins for both pups).  Since I easily spend that amount of time loving on my dogs during the week, it’s not a problem to use a brush as part of our regular bonding ritual. 

Easy-Walk Dog Harness -  Both of our pups were abused and or attacked in their first homes.  It means we faced a lot of challenges and learning curves when we brought them into our lives.  We worked with a private trainer and a few rescue groups to understand how to worth through the behavior modification we needed and I’m pretty damn happy with the dogs we have today.  The only quirk I haven’t made an extensive effort to fix is how they tend to pull a bit when we’re in over-stimulating situations.  If we go on a trail run with our tri team or go to an event with a gazillion other dogs, both of our beasts seem to turn off parts of their brains and forget some of their training.  Anywho, this is where the halti comes in to place for us.  This harness doesn’t restrict air ways, so it’s safe when we’re out running.  If the dogs pull, it aplys pressure behind the front legs and starts to spin them back around to face us.  The harness doesn’t chafe our pups, but its something you’d want to watch for if you have less hairy beasts.

Bonus Item: Our life would be completely different if we didn’t have stimulating toys for our smart beasts.  Though we have a LOT of options, the kong and the clam are still our most-used toys at home.  We stuff them with peanut butter, carrots, apples and some other concoctions and throw them in the freezer.  Our pups get one of these goodies everytime we leave them in the house.  It means they don’t notice our departure and they’re rewarded for our leaving (i.e. “Yaya, mom & dad are leaving – best part of the day!!” rather than a potential freakout of separation anxiety).

Till next time,
This Little Engineer