Friday, August 26, 2011

Playing with GIMP

Yup, I've been doing some post processing. It's funny how much you realize is wrong with your photos once you start to be able to fix them.

Original:
Color corrected:

What's wrong with the first one? It looked blue. 

And original:
Decay

New version, not as warm:
Color-edited version of "Decay"


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Not missing it at all

So, second day of classes, and let me tell you.
There is NOTHING I miss about the music major.
I guess that means I made the right decision.

I'm almost done feeling weird that I don't want to spend my life devoted to my saxophone anymore. At first, like I said, I felt like I wouldn't be the same person anymore. But I was talking to my dad on the phone today, and he said that aside from band being a social thing, maybe it was because I'm competitive and needed a challenge.

Not to brag, but I guess I'm pretty smart. I was placed in the gifted class...in first grade. I took multiple AP classes in high school. I'm not much of a math person, or a math-based science person (you want me to take chem? Physics? COUNT ME OUT.) but other than that I don't think enough of my grade school classes challenged me. Especially not in elementary or middle school, when there weren't different levels of classes. Then, one day in fifth grade, we all had to watch a presentation on musical instruments. I thought, hey, clarinet could be fun! So I picked it up. Then another day in seventh grade, I decided I wanted to be in jazz band. No clarinets in jazz band. Mr. Band Teacher, can I play saxophone in jazz band? Sure, if you play tenor sax, you can play it in concert band too. We need more. I really loved saxophone even from the beginning. It was fun, and then came the challenges. As a competitive, smart girl who didn't like playing team sports and had some natural musical ability, this was my activity, and how good did it make me feel when, after weeks of practicing hard, I made first saxophone in middle school jazz band? Or got into the top concert band in high school? It made me feel like I was WORTH something, and to a girl who had had self-esteem issues due to acne in the past, that was a godsend. Even maybe my college audition and being accepted into the School of Music was a way of one-upping the two male saxophone players who my band director in high school placed in front of me, even though everyone knew I was a better musician. He played favorites.

But then I got to college.
Let me tell you, I was being challenged PLENTY.
Playing saxophone became work, my job, a chore.
It lost its fun, and I burnt myself out on it.
Now I haven't touched my saxophone in about 2-3 months, and not missing it.

Of course I can't just stop being a musician. But now I fancy myself a vocalist. I'm going to try out for one of our pop a cappella groups here in college to satisfy the part of me that still enjoys practicing and performing music. But I've been bitten by the musical theater bug, and it's the new way I do music. Times change, and so do I, but that's a good thing.

Bottom line: I'm happy. I can't tell if I like my classes yet, because all we've been doing is discussing the syllabi, but I'm excited to dive into learning completely new things (not just building on music I already knew). Journalism, advertising, and tourism are new avenues for me. Also, not that it's related, but I'm happy to be going to the gym again. Ran on the treadmill for 20 minutes today at an embarrassingly low 3.2 while other college kids plugged away like they were running a marathon. But whatever. I haven't worked out much this summer, and I'm building myself back up. And I have a job. Busy already, but in a good way.

Friday, August 19, 2011

South Central PA food

This week I went to one new place to eat and returned to one old place.

I went to a local cupcake shop called the Lemon Tree on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg to give a local place some business. Here's a photo of the "Double Trouble" cupcake I got. It's a chocolate cupcake with cream cheese drizzle, caramel and chocolate sauce, and a Hershey's kiss.

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Since I couldn't find this place on urbanspoon.com, here's what I thought of it. The actual cake part was just mediocre, not much better than what you'd find in Giant. But the cream cheese icing was fantastic, and of course, anything with a Hershey's kiss on top is good. The price was not bad - about $1.50, which is not much more than the price of your average candy bar. Wasn't warm but looked as though it was pretty fresh. 

Then I returned to El Sol, a Harrisburg Mexican restaurant. I got the molcajete mixto, some grilled chicken, shrimp, and steak in a volcanic rock bowl in red sauce and cheese. With some fantastic green onions:


Click here for my Urbanspoon review of El Sol. It's under Shannon S.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back on campus!

I feel so much better
Now that you're gone forever
Tell myself that I don't miss you at all
Not lying, denying 
That I feel so much better
Now that you're gone forever


These are lyrics from the song "Gone Forever" by a band called Three Days Grace. And they pretty much describe how I feel right now...about the music major. I kept wondering if I would miss it. I kept wondering if I'd end up regretting my decision. And there have been tiny little pangs, as I have returned to campus today and seen things or people that reminded me of the music major. But they were more like, "Oh yeah, I remember when..." or "Hey, there's good old ____ from ____ music class last year." I can't be more happy with, or proud of, my decision.

First time you screamed at me
I should have made you leave
I should have known it could be so much better
I hope you're missing me
I hope I've made you see that I'm gone forever


I used to think that to stay the course in the music program, to labor on even though it was painful and tiresome, was a sign of strength. That if I changed majors, it was "giving up." But now I think that it's more strong and brave to give up the safety of an activity or lifestyle you've gotten used to in favor of something new, where you don't know how it will turn out. I stayed in music because I thought there was nothing else for me. I was afraid of change. The first time I felt depressed and stuck last semester, I should have known...that there was something wrong with this major. But now I've faced my fears and am much happier for it.

But anyway, I'm all moved back into my dorm. It seems like I have twice the amount of stuff as last year. Here's a photo of my living room when I was what I consider to be 80% packed:

And here's a photo of my dorm, all set up and looking neat. I think I got it looking cooler than last year. Still have to add some stick-on, removable, wall decals:


I think it's going to be a great year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A quick update on riding...

Today I offered to pay $340 of the semester lesson fee of $480 to be on the equestrian team if my dad would pay the remaining $140 and let me be on the team. He said yes. So it looks like I'm on my way. Saw some tall boots at the tack shop the other day on sale for $50, don't think they come much cheaper! I think I'll pick them up, since the shorter paddock boots seem a bit kiddish. Mostly for kids under 13. It was exciting to put my riding helmet in the pile of things to take to college!

Also, got a pair of Saucony running sneakers a few days ago - had a 50% off coupon for employees from my work. Like walking on air so far! I've never actually had real running sneakers - I've had Nike Shox and cross-trainers, because they were recommended for marching band. I plan on taking these to the gym for on the treadmill and elliptical, and then outside once I build some endurance.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back in the saddle again

Today I went to the new location of where I used to take horseback riding lessons, in middle school. Mom and I had 50% off coupons for a 2-hour trail ride. I had hoped that my old horse I used to ride in lessons, Impy, was still around. After a 40-minute drive, we arrived. The new stables were twice the size of the old ones, and subsequently they had twice the horses. I didn't recognize any of them, but it had been a long time. Who knows? A woman greeted us who looked familiar. Then I realized - the old owner! She didn't remember me, but like I said, that was 4 or 5 years ago. My old lesson teacher, they said, didn't work here anymore, but she did have 2 kids and still teaches riding elsewhere. Then I asked, "By any chance, is Impy still around?" Impy, the sometimes-reliable chestnut Quarter Horse mare who was just my size, had been a challenge for a brand-new rider back then, but she taught me a lot, and I ended up liking her. Yes, they said, you can ride her! She's probably 20 years old now, not quite an old lady by horse standards, but starting to get up there. She's still in good shape, if not a little bit heavier now.

Then we headed out on the trail. Just like old times, Impy's ears would flick back toward me, letting me know she was listening to me. We went through fields, past other fenced-in parts of the farm where other horses would stare at us as we passed, and over hills. We had views of the Appalachian Mountains when we reached the top. The last trail ride I went on, which was at Shenandoah National Park, was virtually "viewless," taking us through average-looking forests to a barely-visible and small waterfall. So the views here were definitely better. I reminded myself throughout the ride to keep my heels down and toes up. That's what I learned when I took lessons - it's pretty much the first thing I learned. Our guide, Alice, was from Australia and was super-nice. Plus, since she knew that my mom and I both knew how to ride, she let us trot when we went up hills. I figured when we trotted, it would be a good chance to practice my posting. For those of you who don't know English riding, this is where you move your body up and down out of the saddle in rhythm with the horse's trot. You go up out of the saddle when the horse's outside leg goes forward. I think I was on the right beat of the trot about 50-65% of the time, which is respectable considering I'm rusty. But I like to think I had improved in that aspect during my almost 2 years of lessons. We even cantered once or twice. I remember I used to have a hard time getting Impy to canter when my teacher asked me to. She'd go into a canter for a few seconds, then get lazy and fall back into a trot. When following 2 other cantering horses, though, she had no problem.

The ride was, in the end, enjoyable, except from the second I entered the stables, my allergies flared up. All that dust, hay, and pollen. I sneezed nonstop for about 3 hours, which included the car ride home and while I was eating my snack at the family dinner table. If I'm ever going to be on the equestrian team, I'm going to have to get some allergy meds that actually work. My doctor doesn't like to prescribe me new medicine - she just tells me to take a new brand of over-the-counter remedy, which never works. I think I might be looking at an allergy shot, since nothing else does the job yet. But oh well. Can't complain. If I have to be sneezing, I might as well sneeze from the back of a horse. And I was glad I got to see old Impy. And to make it even better, riding for 2 hours burns about 700 calories, and maybe more considering I was attempting to post. Now we're going out to dinner to a local Italian restaurant. I wish we could have gone to a Sonoran Mexican restaurant I haven't been to in a year, but it's my mom's birthday, so she gets to pick. You can get Italian food anywhere, in my opinion...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Every goal needs a plan

So I'm going to need to cut costs to save money for the equestrian team. Here are some ways I'm going to do it:

- Make a list of specific items of clothing I want/need, and stick to that list every time I go shopping, unless there is an item $20 or less I really have to have that's not on the list.
- Before buying anything on the list of specific clothing items, go to all the stores' websites that you think could have a similar item to search for the best price.
- If the item you want/need is potentially expensive, check first to see if you can buy it used on Ebay or Amazon, or look at a thrift store. Make a list of all area thrift stores and consignment stores, and make a day once a month to visit them.
- If the item you want/need is a specialty item, like ballet slippers or a dance leotard, look up typical prices on Amazon and save them in a note on your iPod touch. Go to a specialty store to try on the item to ensure a proper fit, then if it is available cheaper online, get it online.
- Make a list of items, clothes and otherwise, that I already have enough of, save it in an iPod touch note, and take it with you whenever you go out. That way, you don't buy anything you don't need.
- Try not to buy groceries at the dining-hall mini markets or the downtown mini grocery stores, because EVERYTHING is more expensive there. Instead, grab a bus token and go to Giant, Wal-Mart, or Wegmans on a weekend.
- Search the Internet for State College coupons, and visit the websites of favorite SC stores. Sign up for rewards and coupon programs.

Anyone have any additional ideas to save cash? I'll also add to this later.

The old itch is back again

Yes, as the title suggests, the old itch is back again. It's one I've had since maybe fourth or fifth grade and has been dormant - but not gone - since sophomore year of high school. I'm going to be a college sophomore now. It's the need to ride...a horse. Yes, I was one of those horse-crazy little girls, but unlike most girls, I never grew out of it. I took riding lessons in 7th and 8th grade (2 years) then quit because with high school marching band, I wouldn't have had enough time. Also, I was afraid I'd never be an advanced rider.

But now I don't have that commitment to be super-involved in music anymore, and I'm sure as heck not going to do college marching band. I'm not much into the traditional (high-stepping) marching style. When I was searching for college clubs to join, I saw that there's an equestrian team. But it's expensive - $480 per semester, and my parents won't pay for it all, so I gave that up pretty quickly. No way I can swing a cost like that! Not on my minimum-wage part-time summer job budget. But today I went to a local tack shop just for fun, and was surrounded by all the things I chose to give up once, almost 6 years ago. And now I have the opportunity again. How can I pass it up? No, I'm never going to be an Olympic rider. But now I've realized that I don't have to be the best at anything to enjoy it. If I'd have realized that sooner, maybe I'd still have the desire to play saxophone. And I'd have to make sacrifices to save up the money for my parents to let me be on the team. But what would I rather have, a couple Starbucks Frappuccinos and some new shirts, or a semester of horseback riding? I don't even have to think to answer that. I want to ride again. What am I waiting for?

Lighter mocha frappuccino

I love Frappuccinos. Not the ones that you get in those little bottles from the grocery store - the real Starbucks ones, with ice and whipped cream. I could drink them every day if I had the money - and the calorie allowance. Their light versions are not too high in calories, but I wondered if I couldn't make something even lighter (and cheaper for that matter). Why not eat the foods you want to? I take it as a kind of personal challenge to make light, yummy versions of my favorite restaurant recipes. All it takes is a little creativity. So I tried it this morning. Here is the recipe:

1 cup double-strong coffee, chilled (put in twice the amount of coffee grounds you normally would when brewing)
1/4 cup light vanilla soymilk
1 single serving of Jell-O sugar-free chocolate pudding
2 packets TruVia or Splenda
The contents of one whole ice tray

Place all ingredients into the blender. Blend, using an ice-crush setting, if available. Blend until ice is smooth and few to no large chunks remain, about 30 seconds-1 minute. Optional: top with 2 tbsp light whipped cream and enjoy!

Calories, without whipped cream: 77.5. Fat: 1.5g
vs. Starbucks 16oz. light mocha frappuccino, calories: 140. Fat: 1g

Calories, with whipped cream: 110.5. Fat: 1.5g
vs. Starbucks 16oz. light mocha frappuccino with whip, calories: 250. Fat: 5g.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Senior year 8th period study hall

Sounds pretty unremarkable: senior year, 8th period study hall. And at first glance, for me, it was. I came in, didn't see any close friends, so I sat down, popped in the earbuds, and did homework. A few tables away, a group of four laughed and played cards. "I wish my friends were in this study hall so that could be us," I thought. Then one day, the group of four invited me to join them. They were playing hearts. I'd never played before. They said they'd teach me.

Almost 2 years later, three of these four are some of my best friends.

By December of that school year, one of them was giving me dating advice. By January, they'd invited me to hang out with them outside of school, along with two more of their friends, one of whom was a German exchange student. By May, I had an after-prom party to go to, something I never thought I'd have. I'm the type of person who tends to be friends with individual people, not groups, so I'd seemed doomed to spend the best night of my high school career at a run-of-the-mill sleepover at one of my 2 best friends' houses. We went our separate ways last August, and it added a tiny bit of sadness to my departure for college. Most of them were going to school close by, and I was the only one who'd be nearly 2 hours away. But this summer, we got even closer. Not a week has gone by when we haven't hung out.

Why does this matter? Because I've become more myself around them. My early high school years turned me into a person who was reserved, cautious, and...after almost 6 years of hating to admit it...maybe even shy. I don't know how I became that person. As a child, I'd been talkative. As a middle-schooler, I'd been wacky and random. But this group of new friends finally helped to pull me out of it. They were always inviting me to go bowling, or swimming in a creek, or to a carnival, and they made tons of jokes and had tons of fun while we were at it. I felt like I had to act more outgoing and fun-loving when I was around them. Then I found that the more I acted this way, the more I WAS this way. They all believed I was fun, cool, pretty, and funny, so I began to realize maybe I really am worth being friends with. When college gets tough, you need to know that you can take a few risks and act like a kid for a little while - like the time we decided to go get into a splash fight in a creek at 9 PM when it was dark. I think it takes a more grown-up person to let loose every once in a while than it takes to stay uptight all the time. And it took a study hall in senior year to teach me that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Microwave baked tortilla chips

Here's the recipe I was talking about in my previous post. This can also be done with a potato instead of corn tortillas.

2 small corn tortillas - I used Pepito brand
1 tsp olive oil
Sea salt, cracked pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Using a knife, cut the tortillas into triangles. Grab a small Ziploc bag, hold it open, and shake in the dry seasoning. Add the olive oil. Place the corn tortilla pieces into the bag and close the bag well. Shake until the tortilla pieces are coated with olive oil and seasoning. Line a microwave-safe plate or dish with wax or parchment paper. Place the tortilla pieces on the lined dish so that they don't touch each other. Put in the microwave on a normal setting for 2 minutes. Using an oven mitt, rotate the plate and microwave for an additional 1-2 minutes or until the chips are lightly browned. Let cool for 1 minute and enjoy!

130 calories - 5.5g fat

I made these for the first time today. They turned out decently except I put them in the microwave for a tad too long and some of them browned a bit too much for my taste. The cooking times given have been adjusted for what I learned in the trial. Also, I didn't put enough seasoning in for my taste - this is because I put the olive oil in the bag first and the sides of the bag stuck to each other. I will try these without the olive oil for an even lighter snack and update on the result. I could use water or lemon juice t get the seasoning to stick to the chips.

Here are some suggestions for additional seasoning combos. Haven't tried them yet so I'm not officially endorsing:
BBQ: Salt, garlic powder, paprika, mild chili powder
India-inspired: Salt, garlic powder, Allspice, cumin
Dessert: Calorie-free sweetener like Splenda or TruVia, cinnamon
Herb: Salt, garlic powder, thyme, basil
Asian-inspired: Garlic powder, soy sauce, Sesame seeds

Saving it for the carnival

A trip to Costco can yield either great snacking/meal options...or terrible ones. Here's an example of what I mean. My dad, a member, and I went last Wednesday night to pick up some food for my dorm. We ended up with a box of 50 individual 100-calorie-pack cookies (a variety that included Lorna Doone shortbread cookies, Chips Ahoy, and another kind I can't remember), a box of 50 individual 100-calorie Chewy bars, huge containers of fresh strawberries and blueberries, peanuts, and, my favorite, dark chocolate-covered acai berries. Holy antioxidants, Batman. But we also ended up with 3 large DiGiorno frozen pepperoni pizzas, a huge wheel of brie, and Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars.

Today I once again faced the task of choosing what to eat for lunch. I thought of the pizzas. Pop one in the oven and pizza's ready in 18 minutes. But I'm going to a carnival this evening with some friends, and I'll be eating dinner there. The food there will NOT be healthy; even if they do have a salad, I probably won't like it, and it will be loaded with crispy chicken, croutons, and ranch dressing. So I had to save my calories. Not to mention I'm not feeling that great - my pollen allergies gave me a stuffed-up nose, not enough sleep, and a headache. So heavy, greasy food was out of the question. I grabbed a Velveeta single-serving mac and cheese with reduced fat and calories, about 6 large fresh strawberries and...I made my own tortilla chips from corn tortillas we had in the fridge, a tiny bit of olive oil, and some salt, cracked pepper, and garlic powder. I'll post the recipe and details once I upload a photo. I finished it off with a very small handful of those chocolate-covered acai berries - for some reason, I like to have something sweet after meals - and of course, some ice-cold water. (I read online that vocalists shouldn't drink their water cold, but that's the only way I like it. Plus, I think my plant allergies are hurting my voice a lot more than ice water will.) The whole lunch was about 350 calories and 9g fat, leaving me plenty of room for the carnival after a breakfast of banana nut cheerios. Funny, I feel more awake and energetic after that lunch than I did after my morning coffee. Those allergies will take it out of you.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Packing up

Yup, it's that time of year...time to pack up everything and go back to college. This year is different, though. This year will be the first time since about 8th or 9th grade that my whole life doesn't revolve around music. I'm gradually starting to feel better about starting a new chapter in my life. Saxophone is seeming more and more like something I did to challenge myself, become social, and fill my time rather than something that would have actually been a good career fit for me. Why did I overestimate my love of playing, then? I don't know, and I don't really think I care. I made a choice that turned out to be the wrong choice but now I fixed it and made the right one. I went through EVERY MAJOR available at the main campus website until I concluded that the College of Communications would be the best for me. And why not? I'm a strong writer and speaker, and paired with a tourism minor, this career will give me that opportunity to travel the world that I've craved for so long.

So along with all my clothes, alarm clock, textbooks, and dorm accessories, this year I'm packing up my massive piles of sheet music - really there are so many booklets and solos to fill an entire box! - and putting them in the basement for storage. I can't ever think of selling them. First, because I pretty much obliterated them by writing all over every page. Breathe here, get louder here, slow down here. To someone who doesn't read music, it probably looks like the Rosetta Stone. Second, because that was a huge time period in my life that has affected me, and will continue to affect me. While cleaning out my closet, I also found a bunch of items from high school marching band, including a booklet of memories that the underclassman mellophone section made me when I graduated. I almost started to miss it. I wondered if I was making the right choice. For how miserable I was during the second semester of freshman year, I DID have an amazing time in high school marching band, and I wouldn't have traded that for anything. But give up almost 18 hours of my week in college for marching band? No thanks.

Now I'm going to try some new things and come back to some old things I've missed. I want to sing in an a cappella group. I'm going to join the ballet club, which will hopefully improve my dancing for musical theater. And once I save up enough money, maybe I can join the equestrian team. I miss riding horses a lot...and I gave it up for marching band. All my life, I was like a slave to the saxophone and to my schoolwork, trading socializing and other hobbies for practicing and studying. Well, now I don't have to practice anymore...I do it when I feel like it. That's freedom.

My alto saxophone is going in the pile of things to take to college, still, minus the hundred pounds of music and accessories I used to need to take with me. Will I play much? That remains to be seen. I might be in the non-audition concert band. But so far I don't feel like playing much. I'm changing and moving on. Change is good. Stagnation is bad. Here I come, world.