Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places


The 12 Odd Facts of Christmas

Cardinal Eating

Location: USA
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/800 sec

Ok, folks, I give up! I was trying to work on our 2nd annual Christmas video for your viewing pleasure, but it’s taking longer than expected this year. Instead of keeping you waiting, here’s some fun Christmas trivia! Maybe if you act smart at your family Christmas party this year, your aunt Betty won’t be so tempted to pinch your cheeks and tell you she can’t believe how much you’ve grown… or something like that. 😉

  • According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are 2,106 million children under age 18 in the world. If there are on average 2.5 children per household, Santa would have to make 842 million stops on Christmas Eve, traveling 221 million miles. To get there in 24 hours, Santa would need to travel between houses in 2/10,000 second (for the “not-so-nerdy”, that’s about 4 million mph, or 3000 times the speed of sound). At that speed, Santa and his reindeer would burst into flames instantaneously. (Reindeer steaks, anyone?)
  • Of the presents received by kids worldwide, one in 10 will be broken by the New Year, only 40% will make it to March and just a quarter will be intact by next Christmas.
  • From the UK: Three people die each year testing if a 9v battery works on their tongue. (WHY???)
  • Mistletoe (Viscum album) is from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings. (And that’s EXACTLY what I’d like to be kissing under! ‘~’ )
  • UK: Since 1997, 101 people have had to have broken parts of plastic toys pulled out of the soles of their feet. (I wonder how many were Legos? Ow!)
  • In Poland, spiders or spider webs are common Christmas tree decorations because according to legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus. (I don’t care if they made him a yert! Spiders are still evil, in my opinion.)
  • According to Facebook data, most breakups occur two weeks before Christmas. Yet Christmas Day is the least popular day for breakups.
  • UK: 19 people have died in the last 3 years believing that Christmas decorations were chocolate. (Wait… what?)
  • The traditional three colors of Christmas are green, red, and gold. Green has long been a symbol of life and rebirth; red symbolizes the blood of Christ, and gold represents light as well as wealth and royalty.
  • “Jingle Bells” was originally written in 1857 for a Thanksgiving celebration. (Seems legit.)
  • Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system. (I don’t even want to imagine how that one works!)
  • In Canada, Santa Claus has his own personal zip code, H0H 0H0. Each letter that includes a return address receives a reply from Santa in the language the letter was written in, including Braille (with help from some 11,000 “Postal Elves”)!

Rather than link every fact on the list, I’ll just give you my sources here: Random History, Venere, Chicago Now, We Interrupt, Nice Fun, Guy Sports (Christmas Safety Warnings).

Bring on the knowledge junkies! What other fun Christmas trivia do you know? Let’s hear it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving & see you next week!

What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?

Getting Your Lion to Purr

Location: Thailand
Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 7.1 • 1/640 sec

“Nice kitty… good kitty… just don’t take my arm off, kitty.”

It amazes me to see full-grown lions and tigers acting like housecats, but they are related, after all! When they have spent their whole life around kind people, they also can learn “humans are friends, not food.” It still is wise to treat them with respect, as they will still play like cats and don’t realize their own strength.

So it was pretty funny in my mind to see this young lion (probably less than a year old, since his mane hadn’t grown in yet). He was just chillin’ on a rock in his pen, when one of the trainers walked by who obviously knew him well. When called, the lion jumped up, ran up to the fence, and started purring and rubbing his face on it just like an overaffectionate kitty. In return, he got his desired scritch behind the ears.

It kind of reminds me of an old video I saw once, of a guy with a lionness & cubs. A little kindness can go a long way!

Did you ever see a wild animal not acting like you expected?

Fuzzy Little Beasts

Location: Thailand
Camera Info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 7.1 • 1/1600 sec

“Let’s go pet the babies! They’re so cute & sweet!” we thought. Even though we were intimidated by the thought of petting the adult tigers at the Tiger Kingdom, our group was excited to see the cubs. What we didn’t think about, however, was that the adults were trained – cubs aren’t!

When we walked into the enclosure, three cubs were sleeping. Cute. Two others were awake and wrestling, with little squeaks and roars (sort-of) as they tried to pounce and pin each other. Epi-cute. Suddenly, one of them noticed us and decided he wanted a better challenge. With a tiny growl, he started stalking towards us. The trainer shooed him off and distracted him easily, but it was a little unnerving. They are still wild, after all.

We went to hold one of the cubs that was sleeping, and he didn’t seem to mind too much, besides a few big yawns. He had huge paws for such a tiny critter, and I was surprised to feel how coarse his fur was. I expected tiger cubs to be soft! The little guy was pretty well-behaved, except for when he decided to get a taste of my friend’s shirt and started licking him. That’s a big no-no here, as the trainers don’t want the tigers to develop a taste for people. So we had to distract the cub and get him to stop licking. Pretty soon, he joined the other cubs in the wrestling match, and our group moved on to see the bigger cats. That was a different experience than I expected, but still fun!

When were you surprised by an experience that wasn’t exactly what you expected?

Strange & Crazy Animals!

Location: Indonesia
Camera Info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/680 sec

“Is that a purple crab?” my friend asked, looking over our balcony. Sure enough, a solid purple crab was clinging to the side of the building near the water. Indonesia is one of several countries that sports these colorful critters. The babies (pictured above) start with some orange on them as well before they turn all purple. So it made me wonder, what other fun animal species can I find around the world that would deserve a second glance?

We’ve probably all heard of the platypus, sloth, alpaca, angora rabbit, komondor dog, and red panda, creatures that have ended up on pretty much every list of odd animals. But here’s some more:

  • More crabs! The white & hairy yeti crab (South Pacific) & ginormous giant coconut crab (Guam) are good examples.
  • The Mexican axoloxl salamander (Wooper Rooper) is so weird it’s kind of cute, so many people keep them as pets.
  • The aye-aye is a type of lemur from Madagascar.
  • If I ever met a star-nosed mole, I don’t know if I’d laugh of be creeped out. They live in Canada and the NE United States.
  • The leafy sea dragon lives up to its name by looking just like seaweed. Good luck telling it apart!
  • What can I say about the tapir? It’s just weird-looking, and inhabits jungles on three continents.
  • The hagfish is pretty much disgusting. It escapes predators by oozing goo (which can even kill itself sometimes).
  • The dumbo octopus got its name due to the “ears” (fins) hanging off what looks like its head. Unlike Dumbo, however, it’s very tiny.
  • The frill-necked lizard looks like it came straight out of Jurassic Park, but it’s actually from Australia.
  • Here’s a blobfish. They pretty much look like their name, and they hang out in very deep water around Australia & Tasmania, so you probably won’t see one while taking a dip in the lake.
  • I can’t think of the African shoebill without thinking about this video. You’re welcome.
  • And last but not least, NARWHALS!!!!! Yes, they’re real.

What’s the strangest animal you’ve ever seen?

Making Subjects Stand Out: Composition 2

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 7.1 • 1/160 sec

Hey all you photo enthusiasts! It’s a bonus photo lesson this month! Aren’t you excited?!?!? Previously, I shared about the Rule of Thirds and Framing. This week I would like to extend the lesson to Leading Lines, Active Space, and Simplicity.

Leading Lines are simply the way you use elements in the picture to draw people’s eyes to your subject. In my featured photo this week, notice how the tiger’s paw draws your eyes up to his face, then across to mine and my friend’s. Many people use roads, rivers, streams, bridges, branches, or fences as their lines. Anything can work! Straight, curved, or parallel lines are all good at promoting interest, and you can work them in horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

Active Space is used when your subject is moving or looking off to one side of the frame. Most people’s minds automatically wonder what they are running toward or looking at. Therefore, the most effective photography often will leave extra space off that side of the photo, even if it’s just open field.

Simplicity is probably the easiest concept to understand, but can be difficult to photograph. The premise is: don’t put a bunch of stuff in your background that can distract you from the main subject. Sometimes this is done by the angle you take your shot, sometimes it is accomplished through creative use of aperture. A camera will flatten a 3D image down into a 2D photo, so things far behind your subject can instead look like they’re growing out of their heads, if you don’t pay attention. Remember: nothing should be in your photo that isn’t there on purpose.

Is there any photo topic or question you want me to cover in the future? Comment and let me know!

Traveling Lion Dogs!

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/125 sec

The incidences of cultural drift have long fascinated me. I think I get to the point of understanding a phenomenon particular to one culture, and then discover the same thing traveling somewhere else! This little statue was no exception.

Years earlier, I was traveling in Okinawa & Japan, and I saw lots and lots of Shishi (also Shisa or “lion dog”), small statues that were placed on either side of building entrances, gates, homes, etc. Traditionally, the left one would have an open mouth, and the right would be closed. There are several theories as to why they are designed that way, the most prevalent being to let good spirits in and keep bad spirits out. They are mainly found in Buddhist or Confucian areas.

The Shishi were introduced to Japan through Korea from China back in the 14th century, and the Chinese likely got it from somewhere else, since lions are not native to that area. Each country has some mythological stories as to how the creatures arrived in their area, and each designs them a little bit differently. For example, in China, they look like lions. In Japan, more like a cross between a lion and a dog. This pair (only one pictured) I found at a retreat center in Thailand, and to me it looks more dog-like.

 No matter what the design, they seem to be easily recognizable whenever I travel around Asia. I just don’t think they’re as cute as the Japanese money cat. 🙂

What cultural icon are you familiar with that did not originate in your own country?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! We’re taking a break this week to celebrate the holiday, so do the same and tell someone why you care!

What are you most thankful for this week?

Must Love Elephants

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 400 • f 5.6 • 1/80 sec

“But… all Americans LOVE elephants!” the merchant said, shoving a carved stone sculpture into my hand. He was sure that if I bought the souvenier to take home, it would be an instant hit. I’ve run across the same thing in India and Thailand now. What is it with Asians thinking Westerners love elephants?? Well, at least these guys didn’t expect us to be running around in bikinis.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen many generalizations and stereotypes on my travels, in all ethnic directions. Some of them are pretty funny, actually. Many have heard the old joke: “In heaven, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the bosses are Swiss, the cops are British, and the lovers are Italian. In hell, the cooks are British, the mechanics are French, the cops are Italian, the bosses are German, and the lovers are Swiss.” A graphic designer has even created maps of common stereotypes (Note: semi-NSFW due to language) and another blogger made a top 10 list.

When traveling, I am often confronted by the stereotypical American mindset that thinks I’m rich, ignorant, liberal and like to eat lots & lots & lots of food. As frustrating as that can be, I’m not the only one that gets it. My boyfriend is Tawianese by birth, but raised by Americans. Recently he was at a Chinese restaurant, and someone asked him to find them a seat. Also, a disgruntled cashier at a grocery store expected him to try to haggle the price, just like the Burmese guys that were in line in front of him. When he travels abroad, people don’t believe he’s American because he doesn’t “look like one,” whatever that means. At least we both get a good laugh out of it.

What stereotypes have you faced when traveling? What ones do you hold about other ethnicities/countries?

Pictures That Pop

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 4 • 1/1000 sec

It’s been a while since I’m gotten all techy-minded on here, so this week’s post is for my photography friends. If that’s not you, feel free to sit back and read a comic today. I tried to find the details on this interesting Thai insect, but from all my research, the most technical name I’ve seen is “Oh look, a pink dragonfly!” So there you go!

Pictures like this one are the reason I love my 2.8 aperture lens! There’s just something so fun about making a picture where the background does a sudden fade-out and all you see is your subject in sharp focus. The use of light in out-of-focus areas of a photo is called a bokeh, and is a photography technique that really makes your pictures stand out. The aperture (f-stop) of your lens is one of the keys to getting a good depth of field (DOF). Setting it to a low number (1.8 up to 5.6, usually) will give a shallow DOF, while the higher numbers (11 and up) make the whole image sharp. Notice that I took this picture at f/4.0. Usually, the closer the subject is to the background, the lower the aperture you will need. I took my pic from several feet away using the telephoto zoom lens, so I could get away with using the higher end of the range.

This critter didn’t have much in the background I could play with, but if your subject has any sort of light coming from behind it, there’s another opportunity for playing with the effects. A wide open aperture (the lowest value possible for the lens) will give round light spots, while a higher aperture value will take the shape of whatever the lens blades look like (most are hexagons). Then some people get really creative and make up their own shapes.

There. Now don’t you feel smarter? 😉

What is the coolest photo effect you’ve seen or one you would like to learn?


Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 200 • f 4.5 • 1/500 sec

Ever had a moment that just left you thinking, “AWKWARD!”? We all have. One of mine came during a building trip to Mexico. There were a few young boys that hung around the area we were working, and they had fun playing with our tools or showing us things they discovered. Lorenzo in particular was very good at this. One day after wandering the dry grassy area around our site, he announced that he found something cool. I went over to look, and he shoved a dead horny-toad in my face! Ummm…. thanks. At least I had the camera ready for this shot! 😉

Lorenzo was also a fan of the bracelets our team made. He wore his proudly, though they were only simple beaded strings we gave out to the kids and families we met. We did not make enough for everyone, however, so our team didn’t keep any for ourselves. After showing off his toad, Lorenzo noticed that I wasn’t wearing one, so he took the bracelet off his arm and handed it to me. Awwwww! How sweet! I pulled a translator over to tell him I was very thankful, but he should share it with his family. He just looked at her and boldly declared in Spanish, “Don’t worry, I have four!” He then emptied his pockets to prove it. Haha, oh well. It’s the thought that counts.

Kids say the craziest things! What’s your favorite kid story?

Animal Pranksters

Location: India
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
(No EXIF data available)

Have you ever had a prank pulled on you – by an animal? A friend of mine did!

On a trip to India several years ago, our group was touring a suburban area and stumbled across a large group of monkeys. Now, we were warned ahead of time that Indian monkeys are mean. However, we saw several “monkey trainers” around that day, who seemed to get along well with the somewhat cute Rhesus macaques. They would dress them up and have them perform tricks for handouts from willing tourists. Some cities in India have had trouble with monkey gangs, but they seemed pretty friendly where we were.

We continued walking and found some steps to sit on for a rest, and my friend set her favorite water bottle at her feet. We were in mid-sentence when a teenage monkey suddenly ran up to us and snatched the water bottle! Before either of us could react, it scaled the side of the building and climbed on the roof. As it turned around to look over the ledge, it held the bottle up and waved it back and forth as if mocking us. 😕 I could almost imaging it chuckling as it wrestled the cap off and took a drink. Touché, monkey dude. Touché.

Do you have any fun animal stories to tell? Have you ever been “had” by a furry critter? Let’s hear the tale of embarrassment!

World Record-Setting Elephants!

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 400 • f 5.6 • 1/1000 sec

Have you ever seen an elephant play a harmonica? How about paint? The elephants at Maesa Elephant Camp are known the world over for their artistic talent. In 2005, a team of eight elephants spent six hours painting a 2.4 x 12 meter (8 x 39 feet) mural that landed them in the Guinness Book of World Records – twice! The painting, “Cold Wind, Swirling Mist, Charming Lanna I” was sold for 1.5 million baht ($39K). When I visited the camp, I got to see them paint smaller pictures. Each elephant had its own style. Some painted flowers or landscapes, some did abstract art, and one painted a self-portrait! Several seemed more talented that some human artists! 😉

During the show, the elephants also played soccer, buzzed on harmonicas, and twirled hula hoops. They demonstrated trust with their mahouts (trainers) by carefully stepping over them as they lay on the ground. There was a dart-throwing competition, relay races, and a group that showed off their strength by building a wall with logs. It was a great experience! Then it was time for rides. Each elephant could carry up to three people including the mahout, who rode on the elephant’s head. A bench-like seat was tied on the elephant’s back for the rest of us to ride in. This made the ride very bumpy, as the bench shifted a lot. The elephants also move very slowly though, so there was time for us to react to each bump. Our elephant was very well-behaved, and it let our mahout climb on and off to take pictures and buy treats to feed it.

If I was an elephant, I would love a cushy job like this! 😀

Have you ever seen an animal do something almost human like painting?

Would You Pet a Tiger?

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 7.1 • 1/50 sec
(Note: I don’t recommend using ISO 1600 outdoors – I just forgot to change settings before this opportunity came up)

By far the scariest experience I tried in Thailand was going to the Tiger Kingdom, where you can pay to pet Bengal tigers. Before we left our hotel, the owners took the liberty of telling us all about a friend who had been bitten in the tiger cages.  Um, thanks! 😕 We told her we were only going to visit the cubs. By the time we arrived at the zoo, we had challenged each other to “go big or go home!” We spent some time with the cubs and then headed toward the adult tiger cages.

On the way, we stopped to take pictures of some other tigers. Some acted like big house cats, purring and rubbing on the fences. Another one lunged at a girl in our group, drenching her with water from its pool. So much for our nerves! But we continued on. The trainers allowed us to come into the tiger cage in pairs. On my turn, another girl and I went in while giving each other looks saying, “Are we really doing this?”

There were three tigers and five trainers in the cage with us. These tigers seemed pretty lazy and barely noticed our presence (though the employees swore they were not drugged). The trainers instructed us to approach the tigers from behind to avoid challenging them and to pet them firmly (so we wouldn’t be mistaken for flies). For the most part the tigers ignored us, but one got up to roll over while I was sitting next to him. I was on my feet in a split second! He just rolled over on his back for a belly rub. Typical cat. 😉

When our time was up, we left the cage feeling very proud of ourselves for taking on a new challenge and making it out safely. I came away with vivid memories of Thailand. After all, what’s travel without experiencing something you would never do elsewhere?

What is was your most extreme travel experience? When have you faced fear and tried something new?