Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Scenes from a blizzard

The northeast got hit with a bit of snow over the weekend (#understatement), but because we are the few, the proud, the thespians, I was lucky enough to experience a blast of it on my way in to a Saturday morning rehearsal (#soblessed). The whole day was cut mercifully short around 1pm when they started to shut down the city, so I hightailed it back home for a cozy afternoon of movies, bourbon, and an almost criminal amount of lazy couch-sitting - but not before I grabbed a few pictures of snowy Central Park and a nearly invisible Columbus Circle. How did you spend your snow day?

All images taken by me on my iPhone 6s and processed using A Beautiful Mess actions for Lightroom

Thursday, January 14, 2016

status update

I'm back in black and rehearsing a new full-length play for the first time since last summer. Things that are on my mind: do I remember how to be a stage manager? (answer: probably) am I a sell-out for going back to stage management because I need the health insurance even though I said I was going to investigate other routes of employment? (answer: not at all) will I loose my mind trying to move and organize 55 different pieces of furniture because this play is natural realism and we have to put an entire house on stage? (answer: hopefully no, but probably yes). In other news: we got a new coffee maker and I finally bought a humidifier, so we're pretty much single-handedly keeping the small appliance industry in business. Also, I can't stop watching the Planet Earth series on Netflix. Two words: earth porn. Finally, some other interestings and oddities:

* One of the most honest and fascinating #longreads I've read in a while
* This is Home
* Who wants to start a cookbook club with me?
* I will take one of each, please
* My thoughts exactly
* Speaking of Netflix, this site exists and now I'm not going to get any work done. Ever.
* How to write better headlines (spoiler alert: apparently mine suck)
* And I thought the 6 train was crowded
* Tough questions generate much better results
* Priority passenger

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wedding 101: Hiring a photographer

Even though the holidays were threatening to take over our lives for a little while, we knew that the next big thing on our Wedding To-Do List was to find a photographer. We'd secured a date and a venue, found officiants, and I'd even bought a dress - but with the wedding a less than a year away, it was time to start talking about any vendors that the hotel wasn't directly supplying (i.e., everyone but the caterer and baker).

So, first things first - budget. Here's what I'm quickly learning - you can get anything for any price, it just matters what you're willing to pay. And here's what I mean by that seemingly obvious statement: in this day and age, nearly every single item and service that you can think of can be made available to you in a variety of prices that range from what you consider "cheap", to "affordable," and to what you consider "overpriced." There is no right or wrong answer to the price you set for something, it just depends on your needs, wallet, and desire. I've spoken to brides who paid thousands for their dress and shoes and then had a friend press play on a laptop playlist during the reception, and then I've seen brides walk down the aisle of a free public park while wearing a handmaid dress but then pay thousands for their reception music and lighting services. None of those brides were wrong - it was simply a matter of what was important to them.

That being said, hiring a professional photographer was important to us. We were prepared to devote a significant portion of our budget to this service, and as a result, needed to know we were hiring the right person. But doing a blanket search quickly turned daunting and overwhelming (google "wedding photographer chicago" and see what happens) - so I turned to the next best thing, Facebook. A quick query to all my friends in Chicago ("hey Chicago peeps - did you love your wedding photographer? If so, I'd appreciate any recommendations!") yielded eight solid suggestions, with one guy getting a nod from two different friends. I immediately contacted five of those eight and asked about their availability and pricing options for 2016. After a little back and forth (two were unavailable, one was just a bit too expensive, one seemed oddly unenthusiastic in her emails), we scheduled a call with one of the suggested photographers. I knew that this would be both our chance to get to know him and his chance to get to know us, so I made sure to be prepared with all the necessary questions.

This was the list we used in interviewing our wedding photographer - download a printable version here or scroll down to see the full list - it helped us stay on task during the conversation and get to know who we were speaking to. Feel free to use this list any time you are looking to hire a photographer (because professional photographers aren't just for weddings!), and I hope it helps in your planning. Incidentally, we loved the guy we spoke to and hired him on the spot. Now I just need to tear myself away from the evil Pinterest and it's "cute bridesmaids photos" ugly stepsister and get back to my real job. Happy wedding planning!


·      What is your preferred style of photography?
·      Is wedding photography your main business?
·      Have you ever shot at my venue?
·      Do you bring in your own lighting?
·      Will you work from a shot list/can I request certain images?
·      Will you use my images in any advertising?
·      Will you request the photography guidelines from the venue?
·      Will you provide a standard contract?
·      What is your plan if there is an emergency and you are not available?
·      What is your cancellation policy?
·      How many weddings will you shoot on the day?
·      What kind of timeline do you suggest for the day? How long will you need for “getting ready” pictures, first-look, group shots, etc.?
·      How much of the reception will you cover?
·      What breaks will you need during the day?
·      How many hours are included in your package?
·      How much are additional hours?
·      Do you include a second shooter? If not, is one available as an upgrade?
·      What else is included in this price – engagement photos, wedding album, etc.?
·      How much are individual prints?
·      How much is the deposit? What is your preferred method of payment?
·      When is the balance due?
·      How many images can I expect to see from my wedding?
·      Do you have a limit to the amount of images you will edit?
·      How long does it take to see the proofs from the wedding?
·      Do I receive a disk/jump drive of the images, or do I have to purchase them all through you?

·     Who retains the rights to the photos? In what capacity am I able to use the photos?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On Fitbit, counting my steps, and going the extra mile in 2015

On January 1, 2015, I fastened my new Fitbit Flex to my wrist, taped a daily goal tracker to the inside of a kitchen cabinet, and proceeded to spend the rest of that New Year's day on the couch with nachos and movies. Then on January 2, 2015, I got off my butt and took the first of what would amount to over 2.5 million steps that year. I had set myself the goal of 10k steps/day, and I intended to at least try to hit my daily goal - but honestly, I assumed I'd forget all about my fitness tracker by February.

But in complete contrast to my initial expectations, Fitbit became my most favorite accessory. I grew to love that soft buzz on my wrist indicating when I'd hit 10k steps for the day, and I found myself not just taking an extra lap around the block, but getting off the subway three or four stops early in order to ensure optimal step opportunity. #steportunity.

If there were days in which I couldn't make it to the gym or organically hit my step goal (by going to work or running errands all over the city), I got in the admittedly bizarre habit of marching around my apartment while I watched whatever Netflix show I happened to be binging that week. It was strange at first, but by the summer even J didn't think it weird to have a conversation with me while I wildly swung my arms in the kitchen.

Obviously, I didn't reach my step goal every day of the year - in fact, there were 113 days in which I just couldn't get there. I don't think of these as excuses, but I did hit two rough patches - one in February where I literally had to stand quietly in place for hour after hour and take notes on a show (no chance of moving there), and one at the very end of December when I came down with a nasty sinus/bronchial thing and just getting off the couch was a struggle. Other than those two stretches of time and any travel day where I was stuck on a plane for half the day (because you really don't want to raise suspicion at an airport), my biggest hurdle was myself. I'm human, and there were some days when I'd look at my Fitbit and realize that I still needed another 4,000 steps but it was 10:45pm and I was already curled up on the couch and I just didn't want to move any more. The important lesson that I learned from those times, however, was to listen to my body and give it the time it needed. If I needed to take a day off, then so be it. I just made damn sure to be up and walking at the absolute next possible moment.

I will say that living in New York and working in the theater gives me a huge advantage in the Fitbit department. I realize that much of the country drives to work and then sits in a cubicle all day, whereas I have to walk half a mile just to get to the subway. Then, there are days when I don't sit down - at all - while in rehearsal or running a show. While there was a ton of self-determination that went into my year, I do have to give at least a little credit to my environment. It's an exhausting life sometimes, but it sure is nice to to hit 10k steps before 2pm without thinking twice.

As part of my larger plan to be #HalterTopHot by my wedding day (t-minus 10 months now), I'm Fitbitting for another full year, but the only change I noticed was when I took down 2015's goal tracker and taped up the one for 2016. Walking with the goal of hitting 10k steps is now second nature to me, and I can gauge to an almost scary accuracy where I am step-wise at any given point in the day. I realize that living Fitbitedly has slightly taken over my life, but that's ok - it was a quiet takeover, and one that has positive results. So here's to one year down and another year to go - and if you need me, I'll probably be circling the block one more time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

month in objects: december

paper glasses: because sometimes a pop-up museum is just kinda meh / copa soaps and spices and tease: because christmas shopping at the holiday markets is one of my favorite things ever / fedex: because I took deep breaths / cork: because it's not new year's without a little bubbly / baggage claim: because home for the holidays / stamps: because who doesn't need a little charlie brown in their lives / cookies: because baking with the girls was a most wonderful time / ticket stub: because sometimes you see a show and it's truly awful / hair clip: because these clippys are my everything right now / key card: because I can't quit that place / plastic glasses and ticket stub: because the force awoke in 3d and it was really, really cool

So a year ago I decided to do this 2015 documentation system. I collected little items and remnants that reminded me of each month and put those things into 12 different collages over the course of the year, which I then photographed for posterity. The majority of the items went into the trash, allowing me to clean and declutter once a month. I actually completed this project in it's entirety - I never missed a month, I never had to backtrack and do two or three months at a time, and I was surprisingly consistent in my entire approach to the whole thing.

But now that 2015 has turned into 2016, I can say that I have mixed feelings about the project. While I truly did enjoy the collage-making and photographing process (it gave me an excuse to pull the tripod out way more than I normally do), I feel that the end results were fairly anti-climactic. Or maybe that's too strong of a word. I was looking to tell the story of my 2015 through images and items, and while I did just that, I am now realizing that what makes up a year is not the physical things you use each day - it's the emotions and feelings and people. And my collages don't indicate any one person or human encounter.

Sure, a ring box is a physical representation of an engagement - but what about the selfie I took minutes after he proposed? Surely that tells a much better story that a generic velvet box. And ticket stubs prove that I was at a particular event, but where is the energy and excitement that came with each concert and play? The irony, I'm discovering, is that within my 2D images are 3D emotions that are just screaming to be let out.

Again, I'm glad I did this project. I learned a whole lot about composition, white balance, and the power, or lack thereof, of pictures. But I won't be continuing my collages in 2016 - I miss the weekly pictures I took in 2014 and want to continue in that spirit. I'm really attracted to something like the my week in objects project from Reading my Tea Leaves, but I doubt my schedule will allow me enough good light on a weekly basis. So maybe I will go back to one picture each week. Or maybe just do selfies? Is that a terrible idea? As I write this, it's Monday morning of the first week of January - so I have approximately 6 more days to figure this out - and I know you can't wait to see what I come up with ;)

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 new year's resolutions

I always say "I'm not one for New Year's resolutions," but honestly, I only say that because I think it's what I'm supposed to say, like I'm better than or have evolved from making resolutions. In reality, I love resolutions. They're giant goals that I can work towards achieving all year long, and I love nothing more than accomplishing medium-level challenges by breaking them down into small, attainable steps. And then I can check in on myself at various points over the year and grade myself on how I'm doing. I mean, who wouldn't love this process!

I'm trying something slightly new this year - a bunch of really specific, quantifiable goals. I've learned that I work best when given strict directions and parameters, and I realize that when I say things like "get healthier" I'm only setting myself up for failure because a) I never defined what I meant by "healthier' and b.) I didn't lay out the particular steps I'd take to get said healthier. In theory, this will allow me to plan ahead ("in June I will try ___ recipe") and not have too many surprises along the way. Although yes, I know, the best way to make God laugh is to tell her your plans, so we'll see how all this pans out.

Take 4 rolls of film
Analogue photography is not just a moderately expensive hobby (processing and printing a roll is around $15), it's also unpredictable and a bit cumbersome (I have to remember to bring my Diana or pinhole cameras in the first place, and then who knows what kind of pictures will actual come of them). The thing is though, when I do go on an analogue photo trek, I find such joy in the entire process and am often so happy with the results. So I'm evoking the spirit of Ansel Adams and embracing the unexpected and making a point to take 4 full rolls of film this year.

Choose 10 countries and read a book or play by a writer from each
I'm an avid reader, but I tend to read books written exclusively by American or British writers. There's a whole word out there, and it's time I took a look at what everyone else is writing about. I haven't decided which books or countries yet, but I want to hit all 6 continents (can Antartica claim any writers?) and I'm only claiming the UK if it's a "classic" I never bothered to read in high school (I'm looking at you, Jane Austen).

Stop biting my nails
I'm 31 and I bite my nails and they're a mess and it's ridiculous and it needs to stop now.

Mediate and/or journal 3 times/week
I wasn't sure if I should combine these two actions, meditation and journaling. I realize that they are two completely different things, but I'm not good at meditation and I am good at journaling, so I figure that maybe the journaling will be a jumping off point for the meditation? I've got some research to do on this one.

Expand my bread-making repertoire with 4 new rolls 
I can do challah and the no-knead, but I really want to try different types of bread. I think I can manage four new recipes, no?

Ride the Staten Island Ferry
This one is a bit silly, but I've lived in New York for 6 years now and have never set foot on Staten Island. It's the only borough I have yet to visit, and I should probably do it if I want to consider myself a true New Yorker. Also, it's an incredibly cheap and easily achievable goal, and we all need one of those ;)

What are your goals for 2016?