Friday, January 30, 2009

Weekly Event Planner - Red Edition (GO CARDS!)

Since I got so much interest in the Weekly Event Planner that I put out, thought I'd throw it up on my blog and see if it sticks!

I hope a few of you signed up for London's Run this weekend. Ryan and I are busy training (ha!) for our big 2 mile run. Please at least consider coming down to donate blood. You can sign up for an appointment on the website, or just come down! And bring the kids! There's all kinds of fun stuff for them to do.

London, the little girl who the run is named for, had the same kind of Leukemia my mom did.

'Tis the season for watching sports and overindulging on junk food. Let's see what we've got going on this weekend....

London's Run - benefiting children with cancer, Saturday, Queen Creek
FBR Open - always fun to watch Scottsdale girls teetering around on the grass in tall heels! (NOTE: law enforcement, fire, forest service, and military personnel get in with a guest for free! Bring your work ID or badge)
Walk 'n Roll Dog Walk - Benefits Power Paws Assistance Dogs. I've been, it's fun!
• Katy Perry - Marquee Theatre, next Tuesday
Godspell - Mesa Arts Center starting Friday
Star Trek Exhibit - AZ Science Center
Craft Festival - AZ State Fairgrounds

Wear red to support the Cards on Saturday, and get a free burrito at Chipotle! 2-4pm, any Chipotle.
ALSO: free churros at Del Taco until Sunday (with the purchase of any food item) if you're wearing Cardinals gear, or your vehicle has Cards stuff on it.

Restaurant of the Week:
PIZZA FUSION. McKellips and Recker. I noticed it a few weeks ago and they just had their grand opening last weekend. It's been getting rave reviews, with the exception of their vegan desserts. Sounds disgusting! I'll stick with their delicious sounding all-organic pizzas.

Hike of the Week:
Usery Park (Ellsworth North of McDowell) is holding a Hiking 101 class. Could be fun if you're not a big hiker but always wanted to be! Easy 2.5 mile hike is plenty enough justification to have an extra chicken wing or two on Sunday...

***As always, if you have an event or a new restaurant to try, let me know!***

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mr. Cabinet and Friends

Holy home remodel batfolk.  We in the atpanda house are in fill-tilt remodel mode.  In the next month we are doing the following:  refacing kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, refacing and granite in guest bathroom, paint bathroom, paint living room and kitchen, new tile in house, new carpet in living room...  am I forgetting anything?  

It is so easy for a remodel to spin out of control.  You can't do the cabinets without the countertops.  And since you're doing the kitchen, why not just do that same stuff in the bathroom.  And since we're redoing cabinets, might as well replace kitchen tile since cabinets will go to the floor.  And since we're doing floors, might as well paint...  You see how it goes.

Ryan and I are so different when it comes to stuff like this.  Call it laziness, but I tend to be content with what I have.  Ryan is always striving for more.  I think we balance each other out that way.  Good thing too because if it were left to me, our house would have no decorations and only the necessary furniture.  And if it were up to Ryan, we'd be doing 'projects' constantly.  So yeah, this time we're a little out of control, but I'm consoling myself with the fact that we're gonna throw a huge party when it's done.  Wanna come?

So prepare yourself for many "in progress" pictures of the remodel.  And for much venting and ripping out of hair over contractors.  Like our cabinet guy who is from Romania, speaks little English, and always (in person and on the phone), introduces himself thus:  "It is I, Andri, Mr. Cabinet".  He's a treat.

Let the fun begin...

Monday, January 26, 2009


Well, we did have a good time in Monument Valley.  It was cold as anything and windy as heck, but gorgeous.  I've never, for all the vacationing we do, had a true photography vacation.  Photography always comes second to traveling, and I know in part it's because I just don't want Ryan to be miserable about it.  But it was such a sweet relief to know I could take my time and be a photographer and little else.  

We woke up before dawn, stalked sights in the park during the day, we stopped the vehicle when I wanted to stop, and we stood breathlessly, quietly, waiting to see if the sun would create the perfect magic at sunset.  And Ryan was such a good sport.  He even walked up and down the rim of the canyon hunting out interesting views for me.  

Monument Valley is gorgeous and magic.  And silent.  There are very few cars, and I didn't hear a plane all weekend.  There was something spiritual about being awake before the dawn and waiting for nature to create something.  Even the incredibly thick fog that hid the valley on Saturday morning was amazing.  We couldn't even see the outline of the sun, and then about 10am everything started clearing up with fog swimming over all the amazing rocks.  

And while I'm terrified to show these images which feel very personal to the perfectionist photographers I was on the trip with, I'm proud of them.  But more then that, they're more then just pictures of a valley, they're memories of another great trip with my husband.  So of course we had to have one picture of more then just the rocks.  :-)  I blame the skewed angle on the wind.  Mother Nature didn't feel like this picture had to be perfect.  

(oh, and look at yesterday's post.  turns out Photoshop does make things better...)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Monument Valley

Just a little taste of my weekend.  I have much unpacking and processing to do.  This one's straight out of the camera, so forgive the roughness (hey! let's face it!  everyone photoshops these days!).  

Guess I can make it a bit prettier with Photoshop after all...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Always learning

OK, look.  I'm a 'photographer'.  I like taking pictures, and I fit a certain niche for some brides (not overworked, inexpensive, not TOO artsy fartsy), but I don't feel like an expert by any stretch.  I hope the fact that I feel that way makes me a good photographer in that I'm always learning.  

This weekend I'm tagging along with a brilliant landscape photographer on one of his photo 'workshops'.  He and a select group of photographers he respects go on these painstakingly researched photo trips a few times a year, and I've always been amazed at his absolutely incredible talent.  Honestly, you have to check out his stuff.  This trip I got invited.  Little ole insignificant photo-taking me.  

I'm totally stressed about it.  Other then going out into nature and pointing my camera at stuff, I have no landscape photography experience.  It's a whole different set of skills from portrait photography.  I know I'll learn a lot, I'm just terrified that I'm going to come off as an idiot with these guys.  Oh please, please, please don't make me look like an idiot!  I don't even have the right equipment!  

My hope for the weekend is I at least learn what in the hell a graduated neutral density filter does and how to use it.  Or at least how to make clouds look pretty.  

Or maybe I'll just settle for enjoying the scenery in a part of Arizona I've never been to before... 

(this one I took in Alaska last year.  Pepped up with my new Photoshop Actions)

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Very Happy Half Birthday!

Today is my half birthday!  Weee!  Happy half birthday to me!

When I was in junior high school I would get sad when all the other kids got their special day.  The big thing was balloons.  Those jerks all happily floated down the halls between classes with their many-colored balloons.  I was born in July.  Not only did I never get to carry stupid balloons at school, lots of kids were on vacation when my parents threw me birthday parties.  

One year on January 19th I got a call to go to the front office.  I was a good kid (too good, too boringly good) so I freaked out.  What in the world could I have done wrong??  I get to the office and there is my very own bunch of balloons.  The parents of one of my brother's friends did it!  I couldn't believe it and I had the best day ever.  I had balloons!  

Another one of my girlfriends turns 30 this week.  Good gravy we're getting old fast.  But you know what?  It still feels good to celebrate each year.  And you know what else?  I think I'm still not too old to celebrate my half birthday!  So atpanda, cheers to you!  

Thankfully I'm also old enough to celebrate my half birthday with vino instead of balloons.  That'd look pretty stupid at work...  

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Arizona Pride

When I was living in Seattle for a short time I found myself constantly talking about Arizona.  Moving away made me realize how much I truly belong here.  There is just so much to love about this state, and we try to take advantage of all of it.  We love camping in the forest, hiking in the desert, amazing spring flowers, indescribably beautiful sunsets, the close proximity to snow and ocean... 

Every week I put out this thing called the 'Weekly Planner'.  The distribution list is mostly friends and coworkers, and I originally started it because I was already searching out fun things to do every weekend and I felt like I might be able to convince a few other people to get out there and try something.  Anything!  I live for the weekend and it kills me when I ask someone what they're doing for the weekend and they say, "Uh, I dunno, probably nothing".  NOTHING?!  I include special events, a hike every week (or in the summer I include a cooler road trip option), and a new restaurant for people to try.  I also add special deals (I love free food!) when I find them.

Sometimes I wonder if people think it's silly, but I haven't ever had anyone ask to be taken off my list and occasionally I get an email from someone: "I tried that restaurant and it was so much fun!" or "I went to the sidewalk chalk art thing and it sucked", but in general people seem to enjoy it.  

There's so much to love about Arizona, and so many things to do, I can't imagine living anywhere else.  Just today Ryan and I went to an amazing bagel place for b-fast, then off to the Barrett-Jackson car auction (SO awesome!  I'd never been before), then back into the Jeep (top off because our weather is awesome of course!) to listen to the last 15 minutes of our Cardinals winning the game that will take them to the Super Bowl!

Arizona has come a long way from when my parents moved here thinking it was going to look like the Sahara Desert.  I can't imagine living anywhere else.  If you ever need ideas of something fun to do over the weekend, or if you're visiting our state and are looking for great places, let me know.  I *heart* AZ!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Appreciation

I firmly believe that a happy person is happy because they choose to be so.  I may start the day crabby (hey, I'm not a morning person!), but I try my best to make a conscience decision to concentrate on the good stuff in my life.  And I have so many good things in my life!

One of the things I'm most grateful for in my life is my brother.  We've always had a great relationship (probably because we did a lot of camping and making real forts in the forest together when we were kids...), but since my mom died I've noticed that our relationship has changed.  I've seen my brother a ton since October and I couldn't be more thrilled.  He's a lot of fun, and it's nice to spend time with someone who knows what you're going through.  And we've been through a lot together.

I was so happy this week when my bro took the initiative to come up with a fun day for just the two of us.  I met him for coffee and the crossword puzzle this morning (well, him and his two crossword friends), then we went to downtown Tempe for kayaking on Tempe Town Lake (boo for stupid kayak people who don't open on time!  this portion of our day got scrubbed), shopping at Borders (40% closing sale!!  WOOT!), then beer and junk food at Hooters.  Yeah, that last part of the day was for him.

My brother is such an adult all of a sudden.  He's so independent and has a great group of friends who are his other family.  I'm so glad that he's decided I'm cool enough to be one of his friends too, and he's one of my best friends....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crepes, it's what's for dinner

My mom had some recipes that she came back to again and again.  Don't we all?  Blintzes were one of her favorites.  A sweet ricotta mixture wrapped in delicious crepes, then made golden brown in butter in a frying pan.  All served with apple sauce on top.  We never ate them for breakfast like you're supposed to, only for dinner, and she almost always made them with peas on the side.  

When my brother and I were going through my mom's things (we did it while my dad took himself on vacation so he wouldn't have to do it), I discovered blintzes thoughtfully frozen in the fridge.  I'm guessing they were lovingly made for a husband with not too much skill in the kitchen, or for a day when she was just coming out of the hospital and didn't feel like cooking.  Going out to eat was not an option, and you can hardly blame her because all her food was better then restaurant food anyway.  

Anyway, so I found these blintzes in the freezer, and I just couldn't help myself.  I fried them up for the two of us, with peas on the side of course, and we toasted Coronas in honor of my mom (her favorite, from many camping trips on the beach in Mexico when we were growing up), and ate blintzes until we couldn't possibly eat any more.  It was a gift, that dinner that she made and we found.  

I have a crepe maker for the express purpose of making blintzes, but yesterday I got the brilliant idea to make my Cannelloni recipe with savory crepes instead of cheating and using manicotti shells like I usually do.  I tell you, they were delicious, and there is nothing like a crepe fresh off the crepe maker.  And it was just what the doctor ordered for my poor hubby who had a root canal yesterday.  He declared it the best meal I've made lately.

I think there will never be a day when I enter my kitchen to try a fun, new recipe and I don't think of my mom.

Savory Crepes:
2 large eggs
1 C. milk
1/3 C. water
1 C. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tb. butter, melted

Mix all in blender.  Chill for one hour.  Heat  nonstick crepe maker.  Carefully (to make sure all surfaces are covered) dip maker in the mix.  When the edges are crispy, flip the crepe over for another 15 seconds or so to cook the other side.

Cannelloni shells or crepes (8-12)
3 (8oz) cans tomato sauce
2 Tb. grated Parm
1 lb meat (beef or ground turkey)
1/4 C. chopped onion
1 clove garlic - minced
1 (10 oz) pkg frozen chopped spinach - thawed and well drained
1/3 C. Parm cheese
2 Tb. milk
2 eggs - slightly beaten
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 C. Butter
1/4 C. plus 2 Tb flour
2 C. half-and-half
1/8 tsp white pepper

Cook cannelloni or crepes.  Set aside.  Combine tomato sauce and 2 Tb. parm cheese; spread 1 C. tomato mixture on lightly greased 13-9-2 inch baking dish; set aside dish and remaining sauce.  Cook meat, onion and garlic in skillet until browned.  Drain well.  Add spinach, saute 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 C. Parm, milk, eggs, and oregano; stir well.  Stuff cannelloni or crepes with beef mixture.  Place filled cannelloni/crepes on tomato mixture in baking dish; set aside.  Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; add flour, stirring until smooth.  Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Gradually add half-and-half; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbly.  Stir in pepper.  Pour over cannelloni; spoon remaining tomato mixture over cream sauce.  Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Before and After

Yesterday I dragged my poor husband to Imaging USA.  Possibly the largest photo expo ever, and it happens to be here in Phoenix right now.  And I found a discount code online for complimentary entrance to the thing!  That saved me $70 for the two of us.  

It was like a photographer's dream world with every toy imaginable.  It was painful!  I wish I had won the lottery this week so I could have gone crazy. The most fun booth was the Totally Rad Action guys.  I'd been thinking about buying their actions for a while, and this clinched it for me.  

I read a lot of other wedding photographers so I can keep up on the style that's hip right now, and right now brides are looking for artsy stuff, and these actions are the answer.  I wasn't thrilled about it because I personally prefer regular old, not over-worked pictures.  I like my pictures to look real, not surreal.  But I do see why some people like these fun effects, so I figure I'll give it a shot.  

And holy heck am I having a good time!  Check out some of the pictures I've re-worked.  What do you think, better or too much?





And one more that I'm pretty darn pleased with.  I think I'm an Action convert...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


The really weird thing about losing someone close to you is that it hits you at the strangest times.  Some days I surprise myself by not thinking about it too much, and other days it's really hard for no real reason.

I have a picture of my mom and me on my work computer desktop right now, which admittedly might not be the best idea.  When I close down all my windows, sometimes it's a shock that it's there.  Then I get lost in thought instead of work.  And yesterday it sent me into a 10 minute search for this one picture of her and my brother that I know was SOMEWHERE in my Flickr account.  I had to have it.  Then.  Right then.  Or I couldn't function.

Yesterday I went back to yoga for the first time since my mom got sick again in June.   For the better part of two years I gave up a lot of the things I need to do to take care of myself because I wanted to be with my mom through that time.  I don't know why it took me so long to go back to yoga after she died.  Yoga does a lot for my soul (and my sore back!).  But it also gives me a lot of time to think.  Which when you're sad you have to be careful about. Mostly, I left there feeling pretty peaceful last night.

Next month we're flying to Florida to spread my mom's ashes in the ocean.  I know she wanted to be in any ocean, but I also know that going to Florida may help the healing of some of those who she left behind.  But is it ok if I don't really want to do it?  I feel like I'm doing pretty good working through my feelings on my own, and I'm afraid this is going to feel like another memorial.  And unlike when we had the two memorials the week after she died, I'm a little less numb now and I know it's going to feel more real.  Is it ok if I wish that the good-byes I've done already are enough and I don't have to do more?    

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    Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

    I'm Amanda. I'm an engineer in an industry full of men, a professional wedding and family portrait photographer, a firefighter's wife, a traveler, and a dogMa.

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