Back to Shooting


A few days ago I wrote about how my muse seemed to be stuck somewhere on the 110 near Staples Center, a metaphor implying that my creative side is just waiting for her to show up so that I can carry on with whatever I was meant to do on this cruel material sphere.

By the end of the post I decided that I can’t wait for her to show up; I had to be the one to make the move. And on Saturday, I did just that.

I was perusing the website of the Evil Empire for some reason or another, perhaps because I had been approved for one of their credit cards and was looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts. That’s right – last minute in October. We are DONE with our shopping before November as is always the case. We are by no means a Black Friday shoppers regardless of the bargain. Even better, we are not Thanksgiving shoppers because that shit’s just not right.

At any rate, I was looking at cameras because, above all else, I really miss taking great pictures with an DSLR. I had bought an Olympus EVOLT E-500 back in 2007 and I used it for the longest time until a little baby Monte decided to get all rubby against my wide angle zoom a few years ago, knocking it to the ground and pretty much destroying the insides. Digital cameras and lenses are nowhere near as durable as old film cameras. I’ve learned.

From that point on, although I still had a zoom lens, I gave up on DSLRs. It’s hard to shoot with only a zoom lens and most were out of my price range. The 8MP Olympus – the company has since trimmed down their camera line to only a few models – cost me well over $600 at Circuit City, a kit that came with the body and two lenses. Granted, you can now buy cameras of greater caliber for less than that but, as always, money was the issue.

But this time I had my Wally World credit card and was hoping to find one on the cheap. HA! How silly to think I could.

Or was it?

I came across one, the Nikon D3100, on clearance for $319: body, wide angle, and zoom lenses included. Even so, I debated about buying it because, you know, credit cards and all. I debated so long that by the time I threw it into my cart, I got this message.

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Aw man. I was crushed. I was this close to having the thing and missed out. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant for me to have another DSLR right now.

But I didn’t give up. I shopped the Walmart app which had several different models marked down for even cheaper, despite them only having one lens. I screencapped them the few I wanted and drove over to my local store to see if they had them in stock.

They did and I was happy. But when the associate was flipping boxes around in the storage cabinet, I noticed something: the Nikon D3100 set I had been looking for, the one that was supposed to be sold out online and in-store. No. Way.

I asked the associate if he could look up the price of the set and he told me that it was over $500 the last time he checked. If so, I would have to settle for the Canon Rebel T3i that he had in his other hand.

He scanned the Nikon D3100 bundle and *BOOM* it was $312, $7 less than the sold-out online price.

I’ll deal with the ramifications of credit card payments later. We normally pay them off each year once we get our tax refunds anyway. I whipped out my card and happily signed the cardholder agreement. I was officially back to shooting with a DSLR.

Of course, shooting it wasn’t immediate. I was going from one brand to another and naturally there is a learning curve with all the new bells and whistles that go along with it. Not only that, button placement varies from model to model. What was once the bracketing meter button is now an Info button and so on. I opened the box and gingerly unwrapped each piece of my new toy. I found the battery and charger and immediately plugged it in so that it could get a decent charge and I could test the camera.

About an hour later I put the battery in and went outside to see what it could do. Shooting in Auto mode, here’s one of my first decent shots.

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Why yes, it is an image of fall colors in the gutter after a small rain storm.

I continued to shoot in Auto until I could get a feel for button placement and functions. I tried a handful of lighting situations and most of the shots I took were mediocre at best because, well, Auto. But I have to admit that this takes pretty good shots in low light. This was with the candlelight and a small red bulb to the left off-camera.

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I was already feeling the creative juices coming back and I was so happy to get back to shooting with something other than a crappy smartphone camera because, let’s face it, they are all crap when compared to a device dedicated to doing only one thing: taking pictures.

Sunday came around we had some errands to run, namely buy groceries. You gotta eat. On the way back from the store, we passed Forest Lawn cemetery where Ann’s grandparents were laid to rest. I noticed that there was banner outside for a Dia de lost Muertos celebration happening at 4:30 that night. I thought it would be a great event to shoot and also experience something we’d never seen in person before. Ann, who hadn’t been there since her grandfather’s funeral, was reluctant but I made her go and see them. She needed to.

Before the event I could see her already tearing up with memories of the time she’d rather forget. I saw myself rolling her up the ramp in a wheelchair – she was on doctor-recommended bed rest while pregnant with Anthony – like 2003 was yesterday. It was getting harder for her as we got closer to the mausoleum where her grandparents rested.

But we made it and shed some tears and memories – and a few laughs knowing how mad Grandpa would be for her waiting 11 years to come see him. I can see him sternly standing there like a rock, at ease, shaking his head in disappointment. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

With our visit over, we headed outside and found seats for the event. It was, for all intents and purposes, a bilingual Catholic ceremony as I expected it to be. That meant it would be extremely long as Catholic ceremonies usually are. Plenty of time to take pictures, right?

One of the beautiful things about Dia de los Muertos is that it is a colorful event even with its somber tone. It’s a day when the wall between the spirit world and the real world are torn down and the living spend time with their loved ones who have gone before them. Food, music, and the deceased’s favorite items are shared and displayed on an altar built by their relatives. I couldn’t think of a better place to take pictures, and nowhere I would have rather been regardless.

Before the ceremony began, the audience could leave the name of their loved one on a tree for them to be included in a prayer service. And although I’m no longer Catholic, the feeling I got knowing that this was part of my heritage was overwhelming so I added Dad’s name to it and shed a few more tears.

(Note: In my haste, I seem to have forgotten that Dad was born in 1933. I’ll chalk it up to emotions. Sorry, Dad.)

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Once the event began, Anthony and I left our seats to stand near the altar and take pictures of the Aztec dancers and with the sun setting, the lighting was darn-near perfect.

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The dancers were amazing in the celebrating life/death cycle. Again, I’m proud to call this part of my heritage. Once they were finished, a priest took over the microphone and pontificated, in English and Spanish, about the usual Catholic theme: “Are you ready to die?”

I’m ready to live, thankyouvermuch. We made a hasty retreat to walk around and take more pictures.

By now, I was feeling comfortable with operating my camera and decided to take it off of Auto and go full Manual. Not only that, but full Manual with an external flash. Here’s how that went.

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In my eyes, few things are more beautiful than religious imagery and symbols. Although my beliefs have changes, I still find a bit of comfort looking at these objects. These were on a table under a canopy and I aimed my flash to 90 degrees to have it bounce off of the canopy, gently lighting up everything. Any other flash setting would have been too harsh for the subject matter.

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The priest speaks from the altar. I was at the last row of seating for this shot and the external flash did a nice job illuminating things just right.

And finally, this last shot of the night seems to be my favorite.

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The seated men are Forest Lawn officials and something about their chairs’ shadows struck me as I was wrapping things up. I couldn’t leave without this shot which was taken with no flash, using only the available lighting. They are listening intently to the priest, the sun is still setting, the colorful altar paying tribute to souls lost. This one pretty much captures the spirit of the entire event.

Oh and Anthony? His old man is teaching him to shoot with his old camera so he gets used to a DSLR which I gave him. He’s only 10 now but by high school, he’ll have more experience than I did at his age. He’ll be a pro.

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Here’s one of his shots from that night.

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I give him credit: moving objects aren’t always easy to capture but he did a fine job because like me, he will learn.

So with all that said, I made the decision to forget about my muse ever showing up at my door for tea and going right for the throat by making things happen on my own. I can’t recall the last time I felt this creative or artistic, plus showing Anthony the ropes of digital photography is something I’m really looking forward to.

And for what I’m already getting out of it, this may be the best $312 I’ve ever spent.

You can see the complete set of photos at this Flickr set.

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Just What I Needed


I suck terribly at karaoke. It’s a fact.

But despite that, I have absolutely no shame and therefore I truly enjoy doing it. This would explain why I try to make it a point to get together with current and former coworkers once a month (schedules permitting) and head out to a local bar to sing ourselves silly.

The problem is that because we are regulars and the music catalog is rarely updated, we’ve pretty much done every song we’ve wanted to sing. Now it’s gotten to a point where a few of us bring in our own CDs with karaoke versions of songs we want to sing.

All of this leads to my recent acquisition of a mixer that my neighbor gave to me. He had purchased it for a radio project that never quite worked out so, knowing I like making a fool of myself, he let me have it.

Now you’ll probably wonder how this little box is going to work as a karaoke machine. Well, I’m going to explain it to you.

YouTube as tons of karaoke videos including pretty current ones. If you have Chromecast, you can stream said music videos to your TV which in my case is a 42” Sony HDTV. Once you set up the stream, it takes a little wiring to get things right: audio out from TV into mixer; mixer into equalizer; equalizer into surround sound.

Done and done. Now the only thing I needed was a microphone, the cheapest ones with XLR connections going for around $25 which isn’t that bad. I was willing to spend that much and be perfectly happy with everything.

tempSo that was my goal for today: find a microphone. We decided to head out to a pawn shop in my hometown since we’ve found some pretty amazing deals there on just about everything you can think of: jewelry, musical instruments, even camera lenses back when I used film.

We looked around and didn’t find much of anything. I even asked the guy at the counter if they had any and he referred me to someone else who was busy helping another customer. Ann wasn’t feeling too good so I didn’t want to hang around much longer and we left. I felt kind of dejected knowing I was leaving without what I had come for.

I persuaded Ann into eating at a local burger joint that I used to frequent as a kid. She agreed and ate the bag of fries on the drive back, feeling better as we got closer to home. Never underestimate the power of a greasy spoon, especially one that has been around for so long.

One thing we noticed on the way out there was a ton of garage sales. I mean, tons of them. There had to be one at almost every other street but we didn’t think to stop at any of them being that I was on a mission. But on the way home, we drove by one and decided to stop by. There were a few bikes for sale that Ann thought would be perfect for Anthony (but they wanted too much for them).

We stopped and looked around at their wares, most of which was quality stuff and selling cheap. After Ann got a price for the bike, we walked over to the driveway to see what else they had.

And there they were, among the piles of sparkly sequinned dance outfits and shoes: two Panasonic microphones sitting in an old shoebox. I asked how much they were and braced myself. The adult daughter, who we later found out was the last child living at the home and was selling most of her stuff to move, looked at them and smirked.

“Ummm…$4 for both,” she said.

I quickly reached for my wallet as if I felt someone trying to lift it from my back pocket.

“Here’s $5. I’m good with that. Keep it.” She tried to give me the extra dollar back but I refused. We looked around a little more and ended up taking this haul home.

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Two candle holders, a Brookstone lighted lap desk, fountain vase, a set 3 of decorative bowls and of course, two microphones. All of this for $20. Ann and I both scored and could have gotten more if we wanted to do a little demolition and rewiring to accommodate the $250 lighting set they were selling for $20. We decided to pass – too much work regardless of the bargain. An electrician I am not.

We got home and tried everything. Although the battery holder inside the desk is broken, it’s nothing a little piece of duct tape couldn’t hold together and it works perfectly. (This would be great if my laptop still worked.) The fountain has a small crack but it does not affect the performance of the flowing water nor does it leak.

And the microphones?

Although they are not XLR connections, they both work and don’t sound too bad.

My homemade karaoke system is now complete and I was meant to find them today at such a bargain price.

Now it’s time to annoy the neighbors.

A Day in the Life


So yeah, here’s how the last day has gone.

I worked a shift at my regular job on Saturday night, a shift that went from 8 pm to 12 am. The thing about these closing shifts is that much needs to be done before you leave the store for the night and doing such things – usually in a hurry – can wear you down pretty quickly. It’s not like working a regular shift where you clock out and walk out, no. They didn’t take too much of a toll on me but I’m still grateful to be working so close to home because of said tasks.

With my tasks done I then clocked out and drove my grueling 2 minutes home. (It’s been raining so I drove that day.) By then it was around 12:10 am on Sunday. I got home and Ann and I chatted a bit then decided to go to bed, around 12:30 am.

By the time I fell asleep (or remember doing so) it was about 1:30 am. I had already set my alarm for 5 am so that I could make it to the Coaster Run 5k in plenty of time since parking can be a hassle at the event.

I ate my usual runner’s breakfast of peanut butter toast and scampered down to Knott’s Berry Farm, the site of the venue. and while still cloudy, there was a glimmer of hope when the sun started to peek through as I sat at the corner of Beach and La Palma.

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I parked the car then headed over to the event corrals where I was slated to start in Corral 7. I did some stretching, took a few photos, then waited for the waves to start.

The sun was still shining somewhat at this point but it didn’t last long because just as the run was starting to get underway, the skies just opened up and started to drop some rain on everybody.

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It wasn’t coming down in buckets but it was definitely significant as you can tell by the number of ponchos in the crowd. Bah, really? But as was stated over and over in both emails and the event’s Facebook page, the event would continue rain or shine.

And so it did. I finished the 5k, drenched in rain, in 32:22 which was around 1 second slower than my PR in Hollywood. Overall, I finished 566th out of 2726 and finished 18th in my Old Man Division (45-49 males). Ran in rain from start to finish. The course is flat I love running through Knott’s, my stomping grounds from 1989-1991. It was a lot of fun.

Oh, did I mention that this race gives you a big, fat slice of boysenberry pie once you cross the finish line? Because they do and unlike last year, I devoured the whole thing in a matter of seconds. I must have really wanted it this year, almost as much as I wanted to devour a bag of hot, fresh kettle corn at 7 am.

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If not for the beloved boysenberry and Walter Knott’s genius, the Farm or Buena Park may not have ever be what they are today. Well, Cordelia did make some wicked chicken.

Okay, 5k is done. I then stood in line to get my official finisher’s photo (taken by an event photographer and much like the image in the upper left of this collage). While in line, I spoke to a woman named Vickie who was running her first official 5k. She had decided to start running after she gave up smoking not too long ago and for that I commended her. She also told me she was in a car accident last night but it wasn’t going to stop her from participating in the run. Again, commendable. I’m sure she will be just fine in her fight against smoking. We all have stories and I love hearing them. It’s what makes runners understand other runners, why they do it, and why non-runners generally don’t “get it.”

By the time I got home it was around 9:30 and Ann already had plans for me, namely to go to Ulta and get her free birthday gift. (Did I mention her birthday was March 1st and we celebrated with friends at karaoke on February 28th after I worked a 4-8 pm shift?) Anyway, I ate a little bit, took a shower, and we were on our way.

She got her free makeup and by then the family was getting hungry. We then went to lunch at Chipotle  followed by desert at Yogurtland. I’m still running on 3.5 hours sleep.

While at lunch, I get a text from my buddy with whom I’ve been working for at his restaurant. He asked me if I wanted to work a few hours that night and me, never one to turn down a few bucks, agreed. I was to start at 4, meaning I’d have to leave around 3 pm.

We got home and I took it easy for a little bit. I think I may have closed my eyes for around 10 minutes before almost falling out of my chair after losing my balance. Still feeling relatively fine, I drove out to deliver some pizzas from 4-7pm.

With that shift done, I stayed around and did some catching up. He also told me I could make Ann a nice antipasto salad for her birthday if I wanted to, so I did. I left around 8 and got home around 8:45, just enough time for Anthony to see me and send him off to bed at 9 pm.

Finally, after being up since 5 am and getting less than 4 hours of sleep, my day had mercifully come to an end. I kicked up my feet on the recliner and grabbed the laptop in the hopes of chronicling the day’s events which didn’t work out that well. I ended up falling asleep while blogging yet again but at least I had an excuse this time. I finished the post just now, Monday morning.

So that was my day. Uh…how was yours?

Dead., Part Deux


(Note: I started this post last night, February 25, 2014. You will see references to “today” throughout the post and at a certain point, I will explain why. Trust me, you will enjoy it.)

In a post on February 3, I mentioned that my iPod touch had suddenly and unexpectedly died and there was nothing I could do to revive it outside of visiting an Apple Store and speaking to a…Genius.

Fortunately for me, that won’t be happening. I have something to show you.

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See the date? That’s today. Okay, maybe that’s not enough proof. Here’s a shot with the year.

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As you can see, it does indeed show February 25, 2014 or today’s date.

Ladies and gentlemen, my iPod has risen from the dead like a messiah. It’s back to 100% functionality and I’ve been slowly filling it up with the music it once held, a task I really, really despise since I have so many songs in my library.

So what did I do to get this thing working again?

Dunno. I suppose if I knew exactly what I did, I would gladly tell you so that you could perform this same operation on your iPod/iPhone should it ever be terminally stuck on the “Connect to iTunes” screen no matter what you do to it:

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I tried so many different ways of resetting it that I ran out of ideas. I mean , honestly, how many can you think of with only a volume rocker, power button, and Home button? Which ones do you hold down and for how long? It’s things like this that drive me nuts about Apple and their not-so-forthcoming instructions on resetting your iPod. Makes me mad.

At any rate, I’m not entirely sure of which buttons I pressed in order to get it working but if I had to guess, I’d say it was the Power button and the Volume Down bottom.

I had read somewhere that doing so and holding them down simultaneously for around 40 second, gdio


(Flash-forward to February 26, 2014 – the REAL today)

Alright folks, here’s the story.

I worked my first eight-hour shift last night at my new job. It was from 12pm – 9pm. It was fun but tiring and the first time I worked such a shift, or eight hours in general, in a long time. I walked to and from work, a brisk 10-minutes from home, and being the job requires me to be on my feet all the time, I was pretty tired by the time I got home.

Then I thought it would be a good idea to try and write a blog post and you can see by the sentence that ends in “gdio” I didn’t quite finish. In fact, here’s a screencap of what happened while I was writing the draft:

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I fell asleep a few times and managed to wake up in time to grab this, a screencap in which my hand apparently came to rest on the V key.

So there’s my explanation. Back to the post.


Anyway, yes. Holding down the Volume Down key and Power button apparently did the trick because after holding it down for so long then connecting it to the PC, iTunes happily told me that my iPod was now in Recovery Mode and had to be reset. Victory, finally! Being it was useless at this point I figured I might as well blast the drive clean and start over.

So it was done. The iPod was restored back to like-new condition (internally, at least) and complete with the “most advanced iOS ever,” aka iOS 5.1.1!

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Hey, it’s old. It can’t be upgraded past this version.

I’ve since started to slowly fill it back up with music which as I stated before, is a pain with my collection. Obviously, I also lost all of my apps and am slowly going through my account to see which ones I had on there when it decided to implode. I’m looking at it this way: if I can’t remember them then chances are I don’t need to download them. I’m using more apps on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 and my phone anyhow so it looks like my newly revived iPod will now be dedicated 100% to music.

That’s fine with me, because looking at my downloaded app history, I have no idea why I had a Poo Tracker app on it anyhow.

2013: My Year In Review


Since this is a personal blog, I figured that instead of writing a year-end review about other things, it would be better suited for me to give a year-end review of things that actually happened in my life. It’s much easier to do something like this now since chances are I captured those moments with my phone, giving me photographic proof of the events.

With all of that out of the way, here’s a month-by-month photo essay of how things went with me and the family in 2013, some of which was never mentioned here on the blog. Take a virtual trip of the things we did, places we saw, events that brought us happiness, triumph, and even sadness.

Got your scrollin’ finger ready? Good! Here we go!

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