Our “50 States” Project

Cable Car in San Francisco, California

Kathy & I have set a goal to visit all 50 of the US states by the end of 2020.  Well, all except one.  If everything goes according to plan we’ll cap the project off with a trip to Hawaii in 2021 to capture that elusive #50.  We have a long way to go, but do have a plan to get there.

The Queen and her Throne. Key West, Florida

The first challenge was to define a “visit.” Do we need to sleep there, have a meal there, drink a beer there, or what? For us it is easy…we need to take photographs!  There are a number of states that we have actually been to through the years, but we have not counted them as visited yet because we don’t have photographs.  I know I’ve been to Arizona, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois & Indiana and others but I don’t have photos from those states, at least none I’m willing to use for this project.  We’ve been to airports in Dallas and Newark, but those don’t count as Texas or New Jersey!

County Road 90 North of Fort Collins, Colorado

Every state has it’s “Best Of” locations, but we aren’t necessarily looking to do that.  We’d eventually like to visit the famous places like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite or Mount Rushmore, but those are places that justify longer stays than just a “drive-by” long enough to take a picture or three.  For now we’ll be happy to get photos from more off-the-beaten-path kinds of places.  It’s our project so we get to decide.  I love being able to make the rules!

Foggy scene in Hensley Settlement, Cumberland Gap National Historic Area, Kentucky

I’ve recently added a new section to my website titled – amazingly enough – “50 States” with a separate gallery for each state that we have visited so far.  This gallery is a collection of representative photographs from each of the states that we are counting as “visited” according to our definition of having a collection of photographs. These are not intended to be the “top” anything or most famous locations from these states, simply photographs that show that we were there.

Booker Noe Statue, Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY

We’re planning a trip up the DelMarVa peninsula in August to catch Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.  Then later this fall we’re hoping to make a road trip out west to catch a dozen or so states in the middle part of the country.  I’ll update the photo gallery and the accompanying map as we go, and of course I’ll post about it here on the blog.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC

If anyone has suggestions about “must see” locations, feel free to pass them along in the comments or via email!

Kidd’s Mill Covered Bridge, Reynolds, PA. Built in 1868, spanning the Shenango River. The only remaining bridge in Pennsylvania with an all-wooden truss design patented by Robert Smith of Tippecanoe City, Ohio. The last historic covered bridge in Mercer County, extending 120 feet in length and restored in 1990.

Final Thoughts on the Leica D-Lux 7

Kathy’s New Home (not really) – Belhaven, North Carolina

I wanted to wrap up my thoughts on this camera for anyone who might be interested.  Nothing earth-shaking here.  Bottom line: I didn’t buy one and won’t be buying one.  Below are a few pros and cons, some of which may repeat my earlier post, and all of them are my opinion only:

Pros:

Excellent image quality – RAW files processed efficiently in Lightroom using the Adobe camera profiles.  The “Auto” function in the Develop Module worked amazingly well.  I could be comfortable with the results and seldom feel like I am compromising quality if this were my only camera.

Belhaven, North Carolina

Lightweight and Compact – The camera was very well-constructed and has a certain “heft” to it that speaks of quality, but is very light.  I use a thin strap on my Fuji cameras, and it would easily accommodate the Leica.  Although the Leica probably deserves a fancy custom leather job…. 😉

Belhaven, North Carolina

Good battery life – this is not fully tested since I made a point of recharging it daily.  I only had one battery with the rental so I didn’t want to chance running out.

Belhaven, North Carolina

Cons:

Size – I don’t have large hands, but it is a small camera and seemed to be a little small for me.  I never felt like I was going to drop it, but some of the controls were a little touchy.

Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Manual zoom & focus – The primary zoom mechanism is a toggle switch that surrounds the shutter button.  Many camera have that but I just never feel like it is very precise.  In addition, there is a lens ring that can be set up to function as a zoom control.  I actually prefer that, except that the zoom ring is right next to the aperture ring and I kept inadvertently changing the aperture!

Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Other:

Menus – people complain about menus on all cameras.  This one was fine – I was able to figure out just about anything I needed easily.  I think I went to the manual a few times but it was mostly out of curiosity.

Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

The “Only Camera” Question – I could see myself having a camera like this as my travel camera.  The photos are good enough that I don’t think I would worry about having the “wrong” camera with me if I left the Fuji at home.  The zoom range is a little limiting for me, mostly on the long end as I like to get close to my subjects and frame tightly.  That isn’t a big deal and there are plenty of pixels for a little cropping if necessary.

Stumpy Point, North Carolina

Lens Choice – I’ve gotten used to the ability to put together a kit of lenses for a particular trip.  Going out the door with a Fuji body and a single prime lens is a great way for me to simplify and narrow my seeing.  Traveling with a lens or two or the whole bag gives me endless choices.  That can work both ways, but I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of making a choice and living with it.

Stumpy Point, North Carolina

What’s Next? – I have a rental Fuji XT3 coming today for an upcoming trip.  I can’t wait to try it out and compare it to my aging XT1.  I’m not in the market for a new camera, but with a price point very similar to the Leica, it feels to me like the better option when and if the time comes to upgrade.

Downtown Aurora, North Carolina
Downtown Aurora, North Carolina

More words and photos to follow – stay tuned!

Stumpy Point, North Carolina

At Long Last – Italy Photo Gallery On My Website!

Kathy & I were talking to friends recently who asked me about our travels to Italy, when I remembered that I had never published a gallery of Italy photos on my website.  It’s only taken a year, but I finally got around to it.  It’s a lot of photos – admittedly way more than I would ordinarily put in one gallery.  But it was a huge trip with lots of photos!  I ended up with about 3,000 processed photos, so a gallery with “only” 180 or so images is really editing it down!

Here’s the link!

Revisiting Favorite Places

Historic Pump Station at Lake Mattamuskeet, NC

As much as Kathy & I like to explore new places, there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of places we return to often.  Such is the case with our recent visit to Belhaven, in eastern North Carolina.  Whenever we visit that area, we return to places like Swan Quarter, perhaps best known as the location of the ferry to Ocracoke Island, but also the location of a number of fishing companies and their boats.  Englehard is also the location of an inlet that houses a number of fishing boats.  Lake Mattamuskeet is the location of a number of interesting places and the photographs that can be made there.

Boats on Far Creek in Englehard, NC
Fishing Boats at Swan Quarter, NC

While I rarely return with anything truly new, it is a good place to go and look for things I haven’t seen previously.  Storms wash away old piles of debris and sometimes bring in new subject matter.  Businesses come and go and sometimes the change in decor can mean new material.  Sometimes returning to a place with fresh eyes can mean new opportunities.

Belhaven, North Carolina
Belhaven, North Carolina
Porch Swing
Belhaven, North Carolina

This is another collection of photos from the Leica D-Lux 7 that I took on our recent visit there.  I’ve got a few more batches that I’ll post once I’ve worked out the words to go along with them!

Swan Quarter, North Carolina

More Messin’

Historic Pump Station at Lake Mattamuskeet, NC

Kathy & I are visiting friends in Eastern NC this week, and I am trying out this Leica D-Lux 7 that I rented.  The more time I spend with the camera the more used to it I get, and it is overall pretty comfortable to use.  A few observations so far:

– Just because it is a non-interchangeable lens does not make it impervious to sensor dust.  Dust is quite evident in solid skies at f-stops smaller than f11.

– I’ve been very happy with the files, and pleasantly surprised to find that Lightroom handles the processing of RAW files very well.  In fact, this is the first time that I have consistently imported a bunch of files, added the Adobe Camera Natural Profile, hit the Auto Exposure button and didn’t need to touch them further, other than straightening horizons or cropping slightly.

– While the camera is very light to tote around, it is well built and feels like a “serious” camera in my hands.

– I like having all of the manual controls this camera has – exposure compensation, aperture, shutter speed and auto/manual focus are all mechanical.

– The menus are no worse than any other unfamiliar digital camera, and seem like something that would be easy to navigate with a bit more time.

Fishing Boats at Swan Quarter, NC

I’ve got a few more days to mess around with this camera before I box it up and send it back.  I’ve come to no conclusions or purchase decisions yet.  Frankly I’m seriously considering renting the latest Fuji body, which coincidentally is about the same price as this Leica, to see if upgrading my body that uses all of my existing lenses would make a better choice.  We’ll see!

Boats on Far Creek in Englehard, NC
Given Up
Stylin’
Wright Brothers Memorial (with lens flair!)
Promises
Bird Skeleton
M R Ducks
Posts
Tied Up
Porch Swing

Messin’ Around

Mayfly Meetup

Once in a while I get an itch to try out a new camera, just for fun.  Fortunately it is easy to rent cameras and lenses to satisfy that urge.

Held Captive
Construction Project

I’ve always owned some kind of compact, point & shoot camera as a supplement to my main camera gear, and although I’ve taken a lot of good pictures with them, I’ve never been completely happy with the compromises required of the smaller sensors and compact lenses.  My first-ever digital camera was a Canon Powershot G5, which I still have.  I’ve also owned the G9 and G12 plus a Fuji X10.  I currently have an Olympus TG5, which I bought because it is shock resistant and supposedly waterproof, although I have yet to actually that feature!

Gated

As camera technology advances, I’ve had it in my mind that, at some point, the quality of compact cameras might possibly advance to where the results from a small point & shoot camera could – in theory at least – be good enough to be a realistic “only camera.”  We’re not there yet, but we keep edging closer.  I just hope the camera manufacturers don’t give up on the idea before cell phone cameras take over completely!

Empty Lot

My definition of the ideal “only camera” would be one with a compact and lightweight body, a large (4/3 or larger) sensor and a high quality 24-70 equivalent lens.  There are a handful of cameras that meet the size and sensor requirements, but most of them have fixed lenses.  The B&H website shows 21 “advanced compact” point & shoot cameras with 4/3 or larger sensors, but when the box for “zoom lens” is checked, there are only 5, although realistically there are only 3, since two of them are older versions of current cameras.  The choices are: Leica D-Lux 7,  Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II and Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III.  The Leica and Panasonic are essentially the same camera, with the red Leica badge costing a mere $300 (after a $100 rebate on the Panasonic).

Sprinkler Beams

Since it was just for fun, I opted to rent the Leica, because what the heck and why not?  The box came via FedEx on Thursday and I took it out for a little spin on this morning’s walk.  I shot all of these photos in RAW, imported them to Lightroom with the Adobe “Camera Natural v2” profile, hit the “Auto” button and tweaked the white balance.  That’s it.  Pretty impressive so far.

Circles

We’re off on a little road trip to the NC coast this coming week (boy it’s nice to be able to travel during the week!) and plan to use the Leica as my only camera, so I’ll have a chance to put it through the paces.  Hopefully I’ll be able to post a few more shots from the road, and will have more photos and a summary of my impressions once we return home. TGIF!

Trash Day

One Thing Leads to Another

Pan-American Bridge over the Panama Canal

People in our neighborhood have gotten used to the fact that we’re gone a lot.  When we first moved here it was because we worked all day and often traveled on the weekends.  Recently we’ve been off on one adventure or another.  A couple of our neighbors say they can tell when we’re home because our window shades are open.  I guess that’s a reliable indicator, although I’ve thought about leaving them open just to fool ’em!  It is nice to have someone keeping an eye on things, although that has its limits.

Ready for Shuffleboard
Ship’s Lines in Aruba

One of the most asked questions when we talk to our neighbors is “where are you off to next?” When we got back from our recent trip to Ohio and Virginia we didn’t have anything on the books.  But within a few weeks of our return we got to planning, and we now have (I think) 5 trips in various stages of planning.  Kathy says she has finally found her calling – planning vacations!  For us!

Hazy sunshine in Puerto Vallarta
Hats for sale in Puerto Vallarta

One day we were sitting on our porch talking about our upcoming plans and I said, ” you know, when we were younger, one thing would lead to another and we’d end up with a baby.  Now, one thing leads to another and we end up with a vacation!  Life is good!

Huatulco Mexico

Retirement – One Year Later

Lunch at Johnny Rocket’s aboard Symphony of the Seas

May 25 marked the first anniversary of our retirement.  And boy, what a year it’s been!  What we most wanted to do in retirement was to travel, and I’d say we did a pretty good job of it.  Looking back over my Lightroom catalog provides a visual history of our adventures, starting with an amazing trip to Italy, shorter trips to the NC mountains and NC coast, a road trip to Ohio and Virginia and a month at the beach in Hilton Head.  And that was just in 2018!  So far in 2019 we have been away 61 days out of 151.  We’ve taken two cruises (29 days at sea, including two back-to-back 7 day cruises and a 15 day cruise through the Panama Canal), made a road trip to Florida, another to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and we just finished another Ohio-Virginia road trip.  But we’re home for a while, I think.  Frankly, we’re a little tired!  The next scheduled trip is a trip to the beach in August, although there is a pretty good chance that something will come along in the interim!

Our visit to the Colosseum in Rome
Altesino winery near Montalcino, Italy
Aboard the train from Florence to Rome at the end of our Tuscany photo tour

One of our neighbors asked us the other day if we were trying to spend all of our retirement money in the first year!  We’re not, of course, but we obviously have done more than our financial advisor might prefer (sorry, Steve!).  But travel is what we do – we don’t have other expensive hobbies, our kids are self-supporting, and we have very reasonable monthly expenses.  We are very aware of how fortunate we are to have started the savings habit early and to live (mostly) within our means for the last 39 years (our 39th wedding anniversary is in October).

Sunset Beach Bar at Maho Bay, St Martin
In Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas
First Cocktails Aboard! Symphony of the Seas

Here are some of the things we have learned and experienced in our first year of retirement:

Expected (good & bad)

  • LOTS of time to do whatever we want.
  • We really like being able to come and go as we please, without having to check vacation schedules and “request” time off from a boss.
  • We especially like not having to stick to a week-to-week or weekend routine.
  • We love to cook, and having time to shop for good ingredients and be creative in the kitchen has been fun.  As a result, we rarely go out to eat any more.
  • Less going out to eat has meant that we’ve both lost weight and saved money (to spend on travel!)
  • We manage to get in a good walk just about every day, continuing a habit we had established at work.

Unexpected (good & bad)

  • Lots of time means it is easy to get lazy.
  • We didn’t expect to miss work, and we really don’t.  At first, we missed the people and were really good about checking in.  We still miss the people, but the farther away we get the less often we seem to make contact.
  • It’s hard to keep track of what day it is!
  • We’re even more laid back and relaxed than we thought we would be!
  • We’ve gotten a lot more reading done, although we read more at home and less on the road.  It used to be that we needed to go on vacation to read!  Now our vacations are busier and we’re more relaxed at home with more time to read.
  • We can go for days without getting in the car.  Other than going to the grocery store or visiting the kids we rarely leave the neighborhood.  We need to make a point of getting Kathy behind the wheel periodically so she won’t forget how!
  • Our monthly expenses have gone down, due mostly to not eating out as much and not using as much gas, but also due to just not buying stuff.
  • Without an alarm every morning, our sleep schedules have diverged.  I like getting up early in the morning and don’t mind going to bed early.  Kathy is just the opposite and our schedules can some days be a couple of hours different.
‘Tween Waters Resort at Captiva Island, Florida
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Sunset on the beach, Palmetto Dunes Oceanside Resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina

So what’s in store for the next year?  We’re telling ourselves that we need to do a better job spacing things out.  The first 5 months of this year have seen a lot of travel, partly because of the last-minute addition of the Panama Canal cruise but also because of the January road trip immediately followed by the two cruises.  We’re anxious to continue checking off states as we try to get to all 50, so there will undoubtedly be a few more road trips.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find us on another cruise or two, and there will most certainly be visits to the mountains and the beach.

US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Jungle Gardens in Avery Island, Louisiana
Lunch at Johnny Rocket’s aboard Symphony of the Seas
Outdoor display area at Homestead Furniture Company near Mount Hope, Ohio

So watch this space!  I’ll do my best to keep posting articles and photos – when I have time!

US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Photographs and stuff!