Photo Gallery

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Adventure: Seeking Banana Slugs In These Neck-of-the-Woods

For our very first adventure of the new year and non-food centric outing we chased banana slugs.
This month we ventured as close to my home as you can possibly get to satisfy Stacie's quest for photographing these fascincating little yellow creatures. Rain was imminent so we grabbed our wet weather gear and some cleaver handmade raincoats for our cameras. Here Stacie and I posed while her husband, John, snapped this shot of us ready to weather the weather with our new camera protectors. To read Stacie's tutorial on how to make a DIY rain cover click here and for her whole story about our day in the redwoods click here.

Can Banana Slugs say "Cheese?"

I say close to home because we chose Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park because it is known to be a favorite hangout for banana slugs and is a short walk from my house right off of Graham Hill Road. This park full of trails is a favorite year round attraction for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and nature lovers of all kinds.

Props are in order to Stacie's husband, John, who was quick to find the very first banana slug of the day just a few steps into the forest. Both Stacie and John poured over this little guy like paparazzi at the Academy Awards. Note that they were very careful to neither disrupt his habitat nor disturb him at all.

Zooming in on a very slow moving subject

When I got close enough to the slug I was on the side of his Pheumostome. This one opening actually serves several purposes including breathing, reproduction and excretion.

His tail end looked a bit strange and we suspect it was an injury of some sorts

The redwoods at Henry Cowell are old, huge and create a spectacular forest that is extremely dense. It is full of shadows and light as the sun tries to pierce the dense overgrowth.

Many fallen trees make for obstacles and interesting structures along the paths

Speaking of obstacles we had not just one but two hiking boot failures at the same time! I guess it had been too long since either Stacie or I had been out hiking and the rubber material in our boots had rotted. Almost simultaneously we noticed our boots had cracks including the significant failure of my sole completely separating from the rest of the boot. We each had to put our worst foot forward for a photo. :-)

This once standing giant redwood tree makes for a cool bridge to cross over the creek below.  However, with my boot in jeopardy I opted not to cross the rather slippery tree bridge on this trip.

In the very damp climate of January wild mushrooms and other fungi grow rampant. As much as I love to eat them I won't pick wild ones because my knowledge of their safety is limited and poisonous versions can look harmless to the uneducated eye.

A lone mushroom on a decomposed log is a common scene in these woods

My parting shot is just straight up at the sky at all of the towering redwood tree tops. This forest is enchanting and worth at least a hike or picnic anytime of year. After living here for six years I can't believe this trip was my first venture into these beautiful woods. You get both the essence of a high mountain forest but also the strong coastal sensation of being close to the Pacific Ocean.

Mother Nature's Light Show in the trees

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Carl Cooks: Antipasto Appetizer Is Always A Crowd Pleaser

Sometimes the simplest recipes turn out to be the biggest crowd pleasers and this cornucopia of meats, cheeses and veggies is no exception because it has something for everyone.  This fun-to-eat appetizer is interactive with the guests using fancy party toothpicks to stab at the mix creating their own personal mini kebabs.  The mix and matching makes for a nearly endless variety of combinations that never gets tiring throughout the entire party.

For the complete list of ingredients and easy-to-follow photo tutorial just click on this link to my cooking column called Carl Cooks on The Flirty Guide.

Easy Antipasto Appetizer Is Colorful and Fun To Eat

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wedding Tips: Is Your DJ Prepared To Handle Unforeseen Emergencies?

Everyone knows the age old motto of the Boy Scouts of America: Be Prepared. Buy how many of us really are? More importantly on your wedding day is your DJ prepared? I have long carried an emergency kit in my DJ console. Redundancy and back up equipment is great for any of your own emergencies but what about the other vendors? If you are truly part of the team, then you should be able to come to the team's rescue if necessary. Many items that can solve big problems are really just small things. This photo is an example of backup audio connectors I bring to every event just in case your videographer needs a connection to record audio from my system or you discover the need for an adapter/cable for a surprise A/V presentation you've planned for your guests.

My "Just In Case" case has a wide variety of connectors and adapters.

Do I ever need my backup kit? Yes. For example, I once came to the rescue of a wedding photographer. We were working at a wedding reception at Ralston Hall Mansion and she was having problems with her slave flash. The slave is a remote flash that fires simultaneously with the on camera flash to fill and bounce extra light. Her slave was not firing regularly so she figured it was low on battery power. When she discovered that she had no more 9 volt batteries in her case she became concerned. She asked me if there was any chance I had a 9 volt and I said no problem. I carry plenty of extra 9 volt and AA batteries with me because I use them in my wireless mic systems. She was thrilled to have a fresh replacement but soon realized that the new battery was not solving the problem. Some quick troubleshooting on my part revealed that one of the two contacts that lead from the electronics to the snap on connector had weakened.

Standard 9 volt battery snap connector

The photo above is a replacement connector which is a common fix on any device powered by 9 volts because the wires are so tiny that they can fail with even the normal pressure exerted during battery replacement.

I also carry a small soldering iron and solder for just these kinds of problems. It took me no time to repair the solder connection on the contact and have her slave back working like new. The photographer was blown away by this unexpected on-site repair service. I was happy to be able to help. The client was never aware that there had been a problem and her photos came out great.

My soldering iron, solder and a smiliar connector that crippled her slave unit.

Sometimes you just never know what kind of connectors will be required to tap into a house sound system or feed an audio signal to the videographer. Sometimes you might get lucky if an open Radio Shack store is just around the corner from your event but why count on it? Other times you are on a bay cruise ship with no other options other than what you've brought on board yourself.

Here's a list of just a few things I bring along and never leave home without them.
1. Tape (Gaffers, Adhesive, Masking, Electrical)

2. Safety Pins of all sizes (saving many a dancing bridesmaids' dresses in distress)

3. Zip ties in a multitude of sizes

4. Batteries (9V, AA, AAA)

5. iPhone Charging Cable

6. Advil, Tylenol, Aspirin

7. Tool Kit (From tiny tweezers to lug wrenches)

8. First Aid Kit

9. Assorted Audio Video Connecting Cables and Adapters for many possible configurations.

10. Extension cords, Flashlights, Jumper Cables

Are you planning a slide shows or video presentations at your wedding reception? The absolute best sound you are going to get is through your DJ or band's system.  Discuss this presentation with them in advance of your reception. You should get their approval to plug into their system and make sure they have a spare line level input to make this audio playback possible in addition to all of the right connectors and cables. Another a good idea to assign one of your guests who you can trust to be in charge of the entire audio visual presentation. This person working with your DJ should have knowledge of the computer, application, projector and screen to insure your presentation is the best that it can be.

Even in this high tech world sometimes plain old hustle and low tech solutions do the trick like having the right tools to perform a simple soldering repair. Such was also the case in another recent one of my posts called Above and Beyond: Wedding DJ Customer Service. That story told of my diligence in finding an obscure song on a vinyl record for a special client request.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My #1 Tip For Wedding Couples – Don't Leave Your Reception

When you have been the DJ and MC at as many weddings as I have prospective clients are quick to ask questions and eager for advice. For the sake of time they often ask me what is the single most important advice I can give newlyweds-to-be for their big day.  I never hesitate or have to think about the answer. I say it is simply to not leave your reception.  My advice often generates looks of bewilderment. Why would any bride and groom leave their reception? I see it all the time and when it happens your party can stall. After all, you are the one common denominator to every guest there. You are the reason for the event and often the catalyst that precipitates the energy.

So let's take a look at a few of the reasons why brides and grooms would leave their own party.

1. Photography. You notice I did not say "photographer" because my intention is not to blame any one vendor. If you give your photographer an unreasonably long list of shots to get, you really can't blame the shooter for the excessive amount of time it takes. Sometimes a venue's interior is not that conducive to great pictures so you head to a patio, garden or other area away from the guests. At coastal weddings the temptation is for sunset shots on the beach. The value of these photo opportunities are obvious when accomplished quickly but if too much time passes, you will be missed and your party can suffer. The key to leaving your reception for photos is good communication between you, your photographer and the other on-site vendors.

2. Hair and Make-up. Slipping into the ladies room is common for all of the obvious reasons and not normally an issue if done quickly. However, when you go to freshen up it can create an impromptu "Meeting in the Ladies Room" as the classic 80's party song goes. Without someone paying attention to the time it can mean you vanish for a half hour or more. I always suggest you take one of your bridesmaids or maid of honor along who can watch the clock to avoid getting sidetracked or distracted.

3. Cigar Party. A popular ritual is the cigar party on the porch where the groom and his buddies congregate to light up for some male bonding. Although I completely understand this gathering from a social standpoint it can have the same impact on the event as the girls in the powder room. You are one-half of the most important couple at the wedding and it subtracts you from the party.

4. Facility Floor Plans. So often it is just the lack of proximity to the majority of the guests that means you have become disconnected from the event. One of my clients sat all of their college friends at a few tables in a section of a garden court separated from the others by hedges. Greeting their friends turned into almost another side party and I had to go find them. Large mansions with multiple rooms can also create the same affect which means your efforts to keep circulating become more important. Just the simple logistics of inside and outside seating can give the impression you are gone by creating isolation between you and some of your guests.

5. Changing Clothes. One tradition I rarely see today is the going away outfit or at least the couple changing out of their bridal attire before the reception ends. If changing is necessary because you are heading directly to the honeymoon after the party, I suggest you take turns so both of you are not away at the same time.  Many Asian brides have both a contemporary gown and a traditional one. Having at least one bridesmaid or attendant helping her really helps expedite these changes.

My concern about your absence during the reception is also because of spontaneous events. As much as you plan there are still moments that happen on their own. For instance it is very common for a guest to approach me who wants to do an impromptu toast that is not in my notes or on the schedule. I need your presence and perhaps approval to facilitate this request. Group photos that include you or a surprise presentation are also very popular. If I'm aware that you have stepped away, I can much better react to these events and handle them accordingly. It is most important to alert your DJ/MC, on-site coordinator or wedding planner whenever you leave so we the ones in the best position to keep momentum going, the party flowing and make your absence less apparent.

Remember that you are the reason why everyone is gathering to celebrate your wedding. Both your presence and absence are strongly felt. For the sake of a great party make your presence the rule and any absence the exception for as short of time as possible.