Photographing (and competing in) a synchronized skating competition

A synchro team doing a wheel element with one skater in the middle
This team is doing a “wheel” element — note the three “spokes” — with one skater doing a really cool spin in the middle. Pretty!

Hi team, sorry it’s been forever and a year (pretty much, right?) since I wrote in here. I’ve really missed it, and you. Lots going on with me as usual, so I’m not making any promises that I’m going to be a regular poster again (though I have lots of cool photos to share). Today I want to write about synchronized ice skating. This is my second year on a synchronized ice skating team (and my second year as a figure skater in general). This year we skated to a Star Trek medley, which was super fun.

A GIF of Potassium's team doing an intersection
My coach made this GIF of our “intersection” element from a recent performance

Last weekend, we had our first competition as a team near Vancouver, Canada. It was a lot of firsts for me too. My first synchro competition, my first time skating on international ice, my first competition on international ice and (for you nerdy figure-skating people out there) my first competition getting GOE scores. Wow, tons of firsts.

In other news, I’ve been wanting to try to take pictures of figure skaters for a while. It seems challenging, right? The skaters are moving fast, so you need a high shutter speed to capture them. But also it’s not exactly bright in the rink, so you need to balance that fast shutter speed with some other camera settings to make it bright enough to see what’s going on. I was already dragging around my skating bag and a bag with makeup, clothes, skating stuffies (obviously) and other accessories, so I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to add my fat DSLR to the mix. Instead I rented a Fujifilm X100F from our local camera shop. Cobalt and I have been obsessed with this camera since we discovered its predecessor, the X100S, back in 2014. It’s a compact point and shoot that looks like a film camera, but it produces really nice high quality digital images. It also seems to be really good at taking pictures of people. So I put it (and my ability to learn how to use a completely new camera while also competing in a competition) to the test while we were in Canada.

A synchro team doing a block element
This team is doing a “pivoting block” element.

I have mixed feelings about the results. I wish I had had more time to learn how to use the camera. I got the basic settings (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc.) down, but I wish I had known a little more about what I was doing. Oh yeah, also it was my first time photographing figure skating, so I had to learn that on the fly too. What did I want? Shots of teams doing cool things? Individual skaters’ fun facial expressions? What could I realistically get with this fixed-lens point and shoot when I am used to my giant telephoto lens on my DSLR? So many new things.

Team LMSSC Junior does a block element in their short program
The Lower Mainland “Junior” team showing off some fun footwork in their short program

So I thought I’d spend the rest of this post doing two things at once — sharing my takeaways from the competition interspersed with some of my favorite pictures of the other teams. Maybe it’s too much… I apologize in advance. :p

Let’s start with a brief intro to our overall organization, The Washington Ice Emeralds, which hosts multiple teams of all different skill and age levels. My team and one of our youth teams competed at the West Coast Challenge. Here are two pictures from their Pixar-themed program.

Washington Ice Emeralds Youth Team 2 doing an artistic line element
This element is called an “artistic line.” The team is skating backwards right now.
Washington Ice Emeralds Youth Team 2 doing a circle element
Getting into a circle element

Some neat photos from other youth teams below:

A youth synchro team doing an intersection
This team is about to do an intersection. I love their faces.
A synchro team doing an artistic line element
Nice lines from this team!

For our competition, we had to perform the program twice, and then our final score was a combination of our scores from both performances. It was definitely a good learning experience. Canada does levels by age instead of by skill, and my teammates are 19 to 50+ years old, so we had to skate at a higher skill level than we actually are. Since we had a harder program than many of the teams skating at our actual skill level, it put us in a weird place between the two levels. We got fourth place out of the four teams in our level, but we likely would have gotten second place (based on scores) if we had skated at our skill level. Anyway, it was still super inspiring to see all of the adult teams skate and see where we fit in.

Team Sakura skating
Team Sakura (we didn’t compete against them)

Some of my favorite things:

  • During lunch after our first skate, someone came up to us and told us how much they loved watching synchronized skating on television. I actually don’t remember what else they said because I was stuck on the fact that Canadians get to watch synchronized skating on TV!
  • After our second skate, we were walking back to the locker room and we ran into the next team (I think they took first place). Everyone started cheering really loudly for everyone else. I had my stuffed whale shark and my teammate had her stuffed bear — someone on their team had a stuffed chicken. It was a really awesome feeling.
  • Before we went out on the ice, volunteers went around and collected our skate guards in these boxes with convenient skate-guard shaped holes. That way no one accidentally went on the ice with their skate guards on (=a fall, but also embarrassment). The guards were laid out for us when we returned from the ice.
  • Being in awe of some of the amazing skating and talent! I have so many skating (and photo) goals now!
Team LMSSC Junior skating
The Lower Mainland “Junior” team had an “Us” themed long program that my whole team loved.
Team LMSSC Junior skating
So dramatic!
Team LMSSC Open skating
This is the Open team from the Lower Mainland Skating club. They had these crazy dresses…
A larch in front of other larches

Looking for larches

Move over, aspens. There’s a new fall tree in town.

This weekend, Cobalt and I went on an epic hike in search of larches, trees I had never heard about until a few weeks ago. These needley trees look like your typical evergreens during the summer, but then in the fall the needles turn yellow and fall off, like your typical deciduous trees. So cool!

In addition, it’s been two years since Cobalt and I have lived in Colorado, and we missed our fall tradition of seeing the glorious aspens turn yellow against the bright blue Colorado sky.

So when we found out that the Pacific Northwest has larches, we knew we had to go find them.

It’s not exactly easy. Larches in the state of Washington live at high elevation (~5,000 ft) in the northern part of the Cascade mountain range. So we had about a three-hour drive to wiggle northeast to the Cascades and then up.

But it turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive. To get to the Cascades, we drove through tunnels of orange and yellow trees that were shrouded in fog. Perfect for people who love fall and Halloween. Then as we climbed into the mountains, the sun came out and we were surrounded by outstanding views of the craggy mountains in this mountain range. Seriously, it was jaw-dropping.

My co-worker had recommended that we do the Cutthroat Pass trail, because it would definitely get us high enough to see larches (the trailhead is about 4,000 feet), and it would possibly be less crowded than other popular hikes in the area. The weather was too perfect though, so I think half of the state of Washington had the same idea we did.

Anyway, the trail was great! It was coated in snow, which ranged from a little dusting at the beginning to more prominent snow as we climbed. But the sun was out, so we weren’t too cold. We had INCREDIBLE views of the surrounding mountains, and we started to see larches nestled on them as the trail went on. Then suddenly, at about 6,000 feet, we found ourselves surrounded by these beautiful turning-yellow trees…. and all the other humans who had come out to find them.

We found them!!!
Cobalt admiring the view

Cobalt and I wandered around the larches for a while, taking pictures and getting to know them.

Getting up close and personal with a larch….

Their needles are thinner than those of other needled trees I’ve encountered, so they felt feathery and soft. Their softness and the way they were organized on the branches made the branches look like yellow pipe cleaners jutting out of the trunks. For some reason, the twisty nature of the larch branches made me think of skeletons. Not sure why.

Similar to other deciduous trees, each larch needle turns yellow in its own time. It makes for a gorgeous mix of yellow and green on any given tree.
Looks spiky but soooo soft…

After meandering through larches and humans, we found a large rock in the sun and decided to stop for lunch. We enjoyed our excellent views of the larches and the light breeze that swept across the area while we munched on carrots and cheese.

Also part of the lunch view: This neat mushroom!

Then it was time to head back down. :(

These little puffs caught my eye as we headed back down. I like that you can see the larches in the background.

These trees are magical. I can’t wait to go back and visit them again next year — or maybe next week. I miss them already.

Leaving you with some mushrooms and a baby tree!

We’re watching you

I seeeeeee youuuuuuuuuu, Potassium….

Hi everyone! It’s been forever and a day since I last posted on here, and I really miss it. I think I was stressing myself out about having the most amazing prose accompanying the prettiest pictures from the coolest places on each post. And I’d put all this work in and wonder if it was even worth it. Who was I doing all that work for? So I stopped posting.

But I really missed having a place to record what I’m up to every week, even if it’s nothing glamorous. Chances are I’ve taken at least one photo that I’m particularly proud of or that I think sums up my week. And after all, this blog is supposed to be “a day in the life of an active metal,” so shouldn’t it be showing snapshots of my life? Really, this should be a place for me — a sort of online photo album, if you will. If y’all think my photos are cool, well that’s neat too.

So today you’re getting this bird on top of my bus stop. I posted it because I think it sums up the running story I’ve been writing in my head while I walk around Seattle lately: The birds are out to get me. I know, very “The Birds” of me. But seriously, let’s discuss:

  1. A few weeks ago, I was walking to the bus stop and a bunch of crows were cawing at each other on the power lines above my head. Then one of them swooped down so close to my head, I could feel the air moving. It was seriously like a scene out of The Birds. Crows continued cawing at me for the rest of the walk….
  2. Then, last week, I was walking to a meeting and I was suddenly swarmed by a huge flock of pigeons taking off.
  3. Later that same day, a crow tried to drop a shell on my head. It fell and broke near my feet. I looked up, and the crow was eyeing me from the top of a building.
  4. And then this photo: a crow on top of my bus stop. Its feet made really neat/ominous noises above my head… Yikes

See what I mean?

Anyway, that’s all for today. More posts to come soon (though no promises on any normal posting time. Life’s too crazy for that), as long as I don’t get attacked by birds….

Nature vs. nurture: a ghost story

Helllooooo friends! I hope you have been enjoying spring (or autumn if I have any southern hemisphere friends). Cobalt and I have been having a good time getting to know our new city. There’s always something fun going on on the weekends. We participated in Independent Bookstore Day one weekend and Free Comic Book Day the next! But while we’ve been having tons of fun with all of that, we really wanted to get out and explore the wilderness too.

So last weekend we went on an adventure to a ghost town with our friend Titanium! This particular ghost town only existed in Washington for ~20 years! It sprung up with a coal mine in 1900 and then it slowly started dying 15 years later when the nearby trains switched away from coal. Then a fire wiped out most of what was left of the town. Yikes. Bad news. So don’t get too excited, the only town-y parts left are a few walls and a foundation here and there. But it was still cool to wander around and wonder what it would have been like to live there.

Also, it was really incredible to see how nature has slowly reclaimed all of the remaining human-made objects in the area. Moss is not deterred, folks. It will grow on anything it seems.

Enough chit chat! Let’s get to the pictures!

This was labeled as a Retaining Wall on the map from the hiking guide I borrowed from my coworker. It was about a mile from the townsite though…

 

The sun was highlighting these leaves in such a way that I saw this as an opportunity for a black and white photo. So here you go.

 

Pretty sure this abandoned car is not from the time of the ghost town. It looks like it’s been there a while though. It’s fun to look at people’s pictures of this car through the ages. It’s definitely becoming part of the forest as time progresses.

 

See what I mean about that moss? Slowly claiming the backseat as its own.

 

Even the railroad pieces are being twisted by nature…

 

Human-made or natural? It’s all starting to blend together!

 

Apparently someone still lives in this town… PS: Look how green this concrete foundation is. I didn’t do anything to the color in Lightroom. Further proof that nature is relentless.

 

Cobalt in what’s left of the schoolhouse. Look at the size of the trees in there!

So green

Hi everyone! Guess what? Cobalt and I moved to the western side of Washington! I got a new job (more on that later), so we packed up all our stuff and drove it + a sad kitty over the Cascades.

We’re finally settling into our place here, so this weekend we decided it was time to go on an adventure. We ended up spending Earth Day at Wallace Falls State Park with our friends Titanium and Iron. It was a gorgeous day and we had ourselves a nice 4.5 mile hike to see some falls.

You guys. It was so beautiful. Everything was green and alive. And it smelled so. good. I also enjoyed feeling my hiking boots squish through the wet dirt as we climbed up and up and up to see the falls and then turned around and went back home.

I brought two cameras so that Titanium and I could play with cameras together. She had my zoom/macro lens and I had my trusty prime (no zoom) 50 mm lens. So even if we took similar shots, they probably look quite different. I can’t wait to see what Titanium captured on her camera!

It was great having another photographer to hike with because Cobalt and Iron went ahead and then Titanium and I took pictures of everything all the way up and all the way down. I was in the moment hunting for things that could be cool to photograph. Usually it’s just me being awkward wanting to photograph stuff but not wanting to slow Cobalt down.

Anyway, that’s enough chatter. Let’s look at some pictures. Oh yeah… one note: I’m still in my tiny-things phase.

So we’ll start with some big things.

This was at the beginning of the trail. Such poky mountains in the distance… I like the way the powerlines draw your eyes to the mountain.
We hiked all the way up to this fall. There was another one even farther up but we were tiiiiiiiired.
Titantium had my wide angle lens on my other camera, so here’s the bottom of the fall from the previous picture. It’s more fun this way anyway. :) I like the mist!

Now we’ll work our way toward smaller and smaller things…

I like that this root looks like a hand. This baby tree is quite literally holding on for dear life. It was cool because it was growing out of an old redwood stump.
Same tree as above. Just different angle. I think this looks like a hand too, but reaching up to the sky!
So many baby trees sprouting out of dead trees. It was kind of magical. Plus I was obsessed with all those little fern-y guys along the bottom.
Ahhhh! So cute!

…until there is only a leaf left.

Even toys like spring

It’s starting to feel a lot like spring here! The birds are singing in the mornings, the sun is looking less winter-y and the trees are getting buds on them. Yesterday, Cobalt and I went for a walk and I didn’t have to wear a jacket! To show off the lovely spring weather we’re getting, I thought I would post some silly pictures of inanimate objects enjoying the sun. The picture up there shows off a horse I found on our walk. PS – If anyone is missing their plastic purple horse, I found it.

This past weekend, Cobalt and I were visiting our friends in Boulder. The weather was pretty much the same as in eastern Washington except slightly more dry. We celebrated the spring weather there by playing on slides with our 19-month-old friend, going on walks with our older friends, eating lots of tasty food, going to see an amazing play and taking my stuffed taco on a trip to Chautauqua. :D

Do you have spring weather yet?

Zoom zoom

Hey everyone! This past weekend, I had the challenge of taking pictures of dogs in motion! Cobalt and I went on a hike with some friends and their three dogs. I brought my camera along because I wanted to try to capture the pups doing dog-like activities as we went along the trail.

It was a beautiful day for a hike — not too windy or cold — and we took off up the trail. Everyone was chatting and having a good time while the dogs zoomed all over the place. Josie particularly looooved frolicking through the tall grass on either side of the trail.

Bear thought it was pretty good too.

Every once in a while, the dogs would have a pow-wow over some particularly interesting smell.

It looks like Bear only has one leg on the ground in this pic.

And then they were off again.

I loved seeing the dogs’ personalities on display through my viewfinder. For example, here Josie is SO EXCITED about everything, and she needs to share the news with her good friend Bear.

And here’s Sandor showing off how well he can sit so that I will maybe give him a treat? Maybe?

As I write this post, Tarantula is winding her way through my legs. She wants you to know that she’s cute too. But if you normally read my blog, you probably already knew that.

I found this picture on my memory card when I put it in my computer after photographing dogs all afternoon. It reminded me of film photography when I forgot what the first few pictures on a particular roll of film looked like. Ahhh good memories. Anyway, this is Tarantula sporting my scarf and a pilgrim hat Cobalt brought back from a business trip. She’s moderately annoyed with us.

To the snow!

Athletes aren’t the only ones into winter sports. Cobalt and I are pretty excited about them too. And as much as we’ve enjoyed watching curling and figure skating, we really wanted to get outside.

But there’s a problem. We haven’t had much winter here. So this weekend, we and some of our friends went on a mission to 1) find snow and 2) go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through it.

1) Check

SO MUCH SNOW! And it was such a beautiful day to be outside. Also we loved the moss in the trees. That’s how you can tell you’re in Washington. ;)

2) Check

Our friends Q and J went skiing with me while everyone else went snowshoeing.

Cobalt and I, plus six of our friends and their three dogs, headed to White Pass, Washington where we skied/snowshoed on and around the Pacific Crest Trail. Cobalt went snowshoeing with four of the friends and all three dogs, and I skied with Q and J.

The Pacific Crest Trail was pretty narrow and it went straight uphill, so we were worried that we were going to have a rough time going down on skis. But that turned out to be the best part of the whole day! We cruised (and fell a lot) down the trail and came out the other side smiling. And then we went up and did it again.

Q and J! And my ski poles.
Thanks J for this sweet pic of Q and me looking like rockin’ skiers next to this frozen lake. SO BEAUTIFUL!

And then we all went out for beer and pizza afterwards. Yum. Good day. :)

Short post today because there’s lots of other stuff going on. But I’ll see you guys next week! Same time, same place! Meanwhile, anyone else have some winter sporting activities they want to share?

The great croissant challenge

I was craving croissants.

I really wanted to eat something buttery, crunchy, and flaky. And yet, most croissants that I have found, while delicious, fall short of that description. So I decided to try to make my own!

Now croissants are crazy flaky because they’re made out of puff pastry, which is basically flour and a LOT of butter folded over and over and over onto itself to make those layers we so appreciate. You can buy puff pastry at the store but I wanted to make my own. It takes a while because you have to keep the butter cold. So a typical recipe has you do a fold, then put the dough in the fridge for 30 min to an hour to chill the butter before you fold it again. It’s a lot of waiting. I decided the weekend would be the best time to try it.

Cobalt and I have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything book so I decided to start there. I spent Saturday evening rolling and folding the dough, as per Bittman’s suggestions. Then I put it in the fridge overnight so I could make toasty croissants for Sunday morning brunch.

On Sunday, I rolled out and shaped the croissants. They looked good. Check it out.

Then I popped them in the oven. After about 25 minutes, they looked golden brown and pretty.


Though they looked pretty, they felt kind of weird. They were heavier than I thought a croissant should be. Could be okay still though. It came down to a taste test.

The inside was a disaster. They were still raw in there! I wonder if I made them too big. But also, they didn’t really taste great.

I went on a mission for a new croissant recipe. And I found this one by The Great British Bake Off’s judge Paul Hollywood.

So I went to the store and gathered some more supplies (these things need a lot of butter). And then I started on the recipe.

Hollywood’s recipe has yeast in it, which I took to be a good sign. Croissants that have risen maybe wouldn’t be as dense as the Bittman ones were.

This recipe was a little more complicated than the Bittman one. First of all, the ingredients were listed in grams instead of our American cups and teaspoons. But that’s okay! I have a kitchen scale. I pretended I was back in the lab: I tared the scale and then weighed out the exact amounts of my ingredients.

The recipe also called for “caster sugar,” which is apparently superfine sugar. Our store had sugar and powdered sugar (which is superfine sugar with cornstarch in it), so I had to make my own caster sugar. I took regular sugar and put it in the food processor. Voila. Superfine!

Then all of Hollywood’s measurements were in centimeters instead of inches. I’m not great at guestimating centimeters, so I borrowed my measuring tape from my sewing kit.

Finally, I had some drama getting the butter the way Hollywood described it. But at last I got the dough to its stopping point and let it rest overnight in the fridge.

On Monday morning, I rolled out the dough and shaped the croissants. Not bad!

You can already see the layers!

These ones were smaller than the Bittman ones but they also had a two-hour rise before I baked them. They puffed up!

And then they puffed up even more even more in the oven. Oh man. They looked and smelled so good. Plus they were light and super flaky!

Okay so they probably won’t win any beauty contest awards (Sorry Paul Hollywood!) but they’re still AMAZING.

Time for a taste test. Looks like Cobalt likes them! Yummmmm….

I really like making puff pastry dough (minus adding the butter to the Hollywood recipe, which made me infuriated). There’s something so relaxing about rolling out and folding this dough. Especially with the Hollywood recipe because it smelled so good. :D

I’m definitely going to have to try this one again. I have to figure out how to perfect that butter part! Also maybe I should mix up the recipe a little. Maybe make some pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants)? Yes please!

I hope you all are enjoying the new lunar year! Year of the Dog! Did anyone make/eat dumplings? :)