Thursday, January 23, 2014

Biking in Tahlequah: the Tahlequah History Trail

Tahlequah's really been doing a lot recently to beautify the town, and I'd just like to take a moment to give a shout out to everybody responsible - your efforts are freaking appreciated!

The Tahlequah History Trail is a really pleasant little trail extending from somewhat past Northeastern State University, through Norris Park (with its statue of Billy Coleman, Old Dan, and Little Anne, since everybody knows Billy went to Tahlequah to pick up his dogs at the train station in Where the Red Fern Grows) and down along the Town Branch creek. On foot, it's an easy walk but long enough to be invigorating, with displays along the way explaining the history of the town and pointing out notable buildings such as the Cherokee Nation Courthouse. On a bike, it is equally enjoyable, though it does pass over two busy streets (busy for Tahlequah, that is - they're really perfectly easy to cross). One crossing is at a stop light on Downing, and the other is where the NSU campus meets downtown.

The Tahlequah History Trail is absolutely one of our favorite rides, both for its beauty and because it passes by our awesome bike shop, Paceline Cyclery,
Tahlequah, Northeastern State University, NSU
where David the bike guru will fix you up

and where you can take selfies in the window and pretend you're being all artistic

 and my favorite local coffee shop, Iguana Cafee.
Heidi loves Iguana coffee as much as I do. A girl after my own heart.

I'm often to be found at Iguana typing away at my laptop while Ryan cycles around in the minivan bike
Burley Bee
Exhibit A: minivan bike: Topeak BabySeat II, Burley Bee

and it's always good for a caffeine boost before a ride and/or a pick-me-up afterwards. The Norris Park playground is also awesome as a carrot to dangle in front of the kids for good behavior during the bike ride, though to be fair there are playgrounds, swing sets, pavilions and picnic tables, and a very tempting stream for splashing in the whole way down the history trail.

Burley Bee

Burley Bee

Burley Bee
Yeah, actually none of these pictures show playgrounds or the stream. Oops. Photographer fail.

It's a great little ride and I really hope that the city has plans to extend the Tahlequah History Trail farther down our beautiful Town Branch creek.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lens review: Nikkor 35mm f/1.8

I got my Nikon D3200 almost a year ago, and have spent the better part of a year learning my camera body and playing around with my kit lens (18-55mm). After several months of shooting, I started finding the limits of my lens and doing research into what kind of lens would give me the results I wanted. The ability to open up to an absolutely enormous f-stop was important, as I do a lot of indoor photos of people. I wanted a camera that would perform well in low light and that would give me better bokeh than I could get with my kit lens at f/3.5 - the largest that lens can open to. Since most zoom lenses have a smaller f-stop than I wanted, and since I wasn't planning on spending a thousand dollars on my second lens, I realized that I'd be looking for a prime lens.

A quick search on the best prime lenses led me to the classic 50mm f/1.4, also known as the "Nifty Fifty." I really almost bought this lens, but in retrospect I'm glad I didn't. As I looked at lens specs, I saw mentions of something called a "crop factor," which causes your lens to act like it's more zoomed in than the technical focal length suggests. My D3200 has a crop factor of 1.5, so a 50mm is going to act more like a 70mm, more or less, and a 35mm is going to act like a 50mm. I decided to put off buying my lens until I could do some experimentation. So over Christmas I took a bunch of pictures and just paid attention to where I had my kit lens zoomed to. And guess what? It was set to right around 35mm, every single time.

This experiment convinced me that on my crop factor camera body, the 50mm would be too tight and I'd be backing up from every shot. The reviews I'd seen on the 35mm weren't quite as great as the 50mm, and people said that the bokeh wasn't as creamy and perfect. Also, the 35mm has a max f-stop of 1.8, as opposed to 1.4 on the 50mm. I was a little nervous, therefore, buying the lens, but I was still convinced that it was the best option for my camera body.

And wow, has this lens exceeded my expectations!

This baby is FAST! This is a picture I took out the window of the car going 50mph. ISO 100.

And this picture was taken from a moving bicycle.

Tahlequah History Trail
And to give you an idea of the foreground clarity and quality of the bokeh...

Iguana Cafee Tahlequah

Meh, the bokeh could be creamier. I'm noticing some double lines and outlines instead of the gorgeous blurriness that is the ideal. I'm sure this could be fixed in post-processing, if I had gotten into post-processing yet, which I haven't. I'm sure a real professional photographer would notice the quality of the bokeh, but I know that for what I use my camera for, this lens is going to be able to get me the shots I want.

In fact, if it's not crazy to say so, this lens makes the colors look better than they do in real life. I have to stop myself from gaping at the view screen ever time I take a photo.

Of course, I don't have the 50mm to compare it with, to give a full analysis of this lens versus its main competitor. All I can say is that I am thrilled with my 35mm and can see it being my go-to lens that basically never gets taken off my camera. And of course, since I'm using a body that has a 1.5 crop factor, this 35mm has the same frame of view that a 50mm has on a body without a crop factor, so you could say I'm in the Nifty Fifty fan club!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Bike Ride at Sequoyah State Park

We went for a bike ride at Sequoyah State Park, which is incidentally one of the Tahlequah area's best-kept secrets. It has miles of gorgeous bike and hiking trails, a horse stable and equestrian trails, boating on Fort Gibson Lake, a nature center, a restaurant, and loads of fun for kiddos.

We made a Very Important Decision to get fit, and after a bit of research realized that biking is the best way to go about getting fit with kids in tow. We therefore got 2 mountain bikes, a Topeak baby seat, and a Burley Bee 2-seat bike trailer, and have what you might call the bicycle minivan. In fact, one person can take all 3 kids, though it's easier if they can be split between 2 adults.

This is what a bicycle minivan looks like.

But I digress. Today we had an outing to Sequoyah State Park, which has everything you might want for a bike outing with kids: hills, trees, gorgeous views of the lake, paved paths, a playground, and ice cream.

I don't know if you can see, but at the north part of the park is an entrance with a visitor's center. We parked there, and then jogged across onto the little dotted line bike path that heads off to the east. The first portion of this bike path is unpaved, and I'm sure it's lovely in the summer when the weather is a little drier, but in January when the ground is soggy this bit is not. fun. It wound around swampy areas and over little wet-weather creeks, and my tires got so bogged down in the mud that I had to get out and walk several times. Fortunately all the creeks were narrow enough to step or jump over without sinking up to my ankles in mud and water, since riding through them wasn't going to happen. Granted, I might have had a better time if I hadn't been pulling the Burley Bee trailer, which is probably not meant for off-roading. (It performed admirably, though, besides the expected backwards drag. It never made me worry that it would fall apart or break on the dirt trail.)

After a while the bike trail hits an old road that doesn't seem to ever be used anymore, and from there it becomes much easier. It's hilly, and since I'm seriously out of shape I had to get off and walk my bike up quite of the few of the hills, but they will definitely be manageable once I'm in a bit better shape.

Presently the old disused road hits a new, paved path that seems to be popular among bikers, hikers, skateboarders and roller bladers. The views are beautiful, the pavement is well maintained, and it makes for a really enjoyable little trip.

Ryan and Ion outpacing me

The trail continues down the peninsula, passes the nature center (where there is a bald eagle that was rescued from some accident, had to have a wing amputated, and is living out its days in comfort and luxury because dogs aren't the only animals that sometimes need to be rescued), and ends at the resort at the bottom of the map. We were crossing our fingers that the resort restaurant would be open so we could have some ice cream ...

...and it was! 

After that ride, I was famished and had a burger, which confirmed me in my belief that the deliciousness of a hamburger is inversely proportional to the dignity with which you can eat it. For the record, the hamburgers at Sequoyah State Park resort have a eating-dignity rating of zero. Ryan said his taco salad was delicious as well, so really it was kind of the kids who missed out since all they got was ice cream and my french fries. 

I was worried about the ride back because c.f. the point about me being really out of shape, and I even joked with Ryan about how he should ride back and bring the car to pick me up, but I didn't really mean it and we missed some of the biggest hills by sticking to the road for the most part. The ride back actually took a lot less time than the ride down.

Which doesn't mean it was particularly easy. And all those toxins being released from my body burning fat caused my brain to go crazy with negative emotions, as it does every single time I exercise (and now you no longer need to wonder why I'm out of shape), which did periodically lead to crying and/or yelling until I downed a bottle of water to dilute the toxins and flush them out. And magically, every time I drank a bottle of water, it was like a light switched the sanity back on. So I may have inadvertently stumbled upon the solution to my fitness woes this trip: brain craziness = dehydration.

Anyway, after all those hills, many of which I ended up walking my bike up again because I'm flabby, I saw the most beautiful sight in the world.

I was pedaling when I took this picture though, so victory for me!

Yeah, that car nose you may or may not be able to see peeking out between two trees on the left of the photo. Most beautiful sight ever at the end of a long ride.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Free Survival Tools for Life with Toddlers: Spotify

Specifically, Spotify's "Top Workout Tracks" playlist. It's not just good for working out; it's also great for toddlers who need to dance around and get some energy out. Protip: if the music's fun enough, they'll even leave you alone long enough for you to sweep the kitchen without them swooping in and trying to eat the bits of food your broom finds. Not that that ever happens in my house or anything.
I've had a brief sojourn over to Wordpress (go see what you've missed at but I think I'm back to Blogger for the time being. Not only is the interface much easier to use, but I don't have to worry about running up on my data limits soon and starting to have to pay for my blog. So hi again, it's good to be back, and I hope we can have a closer relationship in the future, my dear, patient, neglected blog. *smooches*