18 April 2014

Mastering Your DSLR by A Beautiful Mess

A month ago I started an online course, "Mastering Your DSLR" by the A Beautiful Mess blog.

The course is taught by photographer Candice Stringham and provides weekly main lessons, mini lessons, creative assignments, and more.

Aperture Creative Assignment


This week is the last week of the course, however due to my travel schedule and the sporadic internet connection I've had over the past 3 weeks (ie. None at all except when I've been able to make it to the local Starbucks for their free wifi) I am about 2 weeks behind.

So far we have covered shutter speeds, apertures, and this week I have been practising taking photos on the manual setting of my camera - gasp!

The first time I turned my camera to Manual - Ahhhhh! 

If you've been following my blog for a while you may know that one of my goals for 2014 was to improve my photography skills for the purpose of being able to take beautiful photos of my cakes, which will do them justice.

Just in the first three weeks of this course I have felt my skills improve dramatically. I had started an online photography class previously and never made it past the first class. It was oh-so-boring. Candice and the girls at A Beautiful Mess have not only made the class materials easy to understand but they have shared it in a beautiful and engaging way and provided different options for your learning, ie. written, spoken or visual.

This different way of learning has really been beneficial for me. While I learn best by reading, I struggle with large books. Being given small snippets to read piece by piece has really helped everything sink in easier.

Practising with Manual settings at Sprinkles Cupcakes, Palo Alto

If you have a DSLR but have no idea how to use it, I would definitely recommend this course when it comes up again. You can browse their upcoming online classes here in their store.



15 April 2014

San Francsico: Take 3

I was determined to like San Francisco.

I knew there had to be something there I’ve been missing that everyone else adores.

Bay Bridge, San Francisco

Up until this past weekend I had only been to San Francisco at night. My perception of the city was glimpses of potential (the Ice Cream Bar and dogs everywhere, for example) clouded by the seedy streets that come with any large city at night.

I never felt safe and that ruined the whole experience for me.

Yesterday I went to San Francisco during the day. Yesterday I fell in love with San Francisco.

The beautiful houses, the variety of people, the shopping. Oh my!

We parked the ’58 Ford near Market Street and I was all bundled up in my usual coat, scarf, gloves and beanie that has been my permanent clothing choice since arriving in California - who knew it got so cold here?! It wasn’t long though before the sun really came out and all those items were discarded. Ahh, warm sunshine!

We checked out a few stores that I’d never experienced, such as Old Navy, Forever 21, and Macy’s. We happened to stumble upon a Converse store which put the Australian Converse stores to shame. As we walked in our attention was first caught by a whole wall of sneakers in the design of the American Flag (something rather common here I’ve noticed!), and shortly after by a ‘chandelier’ in the middle of the store made of sneakers. So awesome.

Converse Store, San Francisco

After our shopping fix we drove through Fisherman’s Wharf to see some of the touristy sights. We plan to return next weekend to check it out on foot.

Pier 23, San Francisco

There were two sights we had to see before we headed back out of the city. First, Lombard Street and driving down it (also known as causing a bit of scene) in the ’58. Very cool.

Secondly, Twin Peaks: the highest point in San Francisco. Very cool as well, but more so in the temperature sense. Yikes! Glad I had my coat!

The view from Twin Peaks

I have been sold on San Francisco and now cannot wait to explore more of it… during the day of course.



Oh, and in more general terms of the US. I knew things were much cheaper over here, but THIS much cheaper blew my mind.



A KitchenAid for $300?! You would be paying minimum $600 for the exact same thing in Australia - on sale!

I think their recommended retail price is around $799 but don’t quote me on that. Either way, it’s less than half price, and in my favourite colour too! If I have any funds left at the end of this 6 month trip I may have to pack one of these guys in my suitcase!


13 April 2014

San Francisco: Take 2

I’ve been to San Francisco only once before.

Early evening we drove across the Golden Gate bridge and up to a look out to take photos and see the fog rolling in. It was bitterly cold and I’d only been told to pack summer clothes. Later we drove up and down a few streets in the city before our car broke down and we had to run to the train station to catch the last train home - freezing and terrified in a city I didn’t know.

Needless to say, my memories of this popular city weren’t the best. I hoped to change that this trip.

One part of San Francisco I did like during my first trip was the beautiful signage!

In the past week that I’ve been in California we’ve made the short trip up to San Francisco a couple of times. The first time we headed into the “Mission” district to get some Mexican. Strangely, this was my first experience eating a burrito ("Whaaaaat?!”) and I can’t say I overly enjoyed it (“Whaaaaaaaat?!” I know, I know - I’m weird).

Cities are an interesting topic that my mind has been contemplating quite regularly. Being in my not-quite-mid twenties, big cities are supposed to be where I long to spend my time. They are where all the exciting things happen, where all the interesting people gather. Alas, coming from a small town before moving to a small city, I have been struggling to warm to them.

This past Monday, we ventured back into San Francisco to suss out the ‘Ice Cream Bar’. This was one place I was extremely excited about - a bar serving alcohol AND ice cream? It doesn’t get any better than that. Oh wait, it does - because we drove in style to San Francisco in a ’58 Ford!

Unfortunately, before we entered the Ice Cream Bar, we decided to walk down Haight Street a bit and see the sights. A lot of wonderful vintage store windows were gazed through, however I couldn’t shake the anxiety that cities always cause me. The people are loud and unusual and my eyes always keep to the ground to avoid drawing attention.

It’s all a bit much for this small town gal!

Shake, Classic Brownie Sundae and Lemon Soda at the Ice Cream Bar

However, once back to the Ice Cream Bar the evening improved. I was well and truly flustered, but by the time my Classic Brownie Sundae and Lemon Soda arrived I was calm enough to fall in love with the bar. My enjoyment was increased even more by the sight of a dog on the loose rampaging through the bar, with a very apologetic owner in tow.

As we walked back to the ’58, we passed many more dogs out and about with their owners, which raised two points;

A) How and where do people keep dogs in a big city like this?

and

B) The strangely large amount of dogs in this city could potentially be the one reason I may start to love it.


Maybe. No promises.


12 April 2014

Portland, you’re alright!

This time last week I was road-tripping to Portland in the Model S (see previous post).

I’d heard a lot about Portland, all good. One of the things I’d heard which intrigued me the most was that it was “just like” my home town of Adelaide. I was beyond curious to discover if these rumours were true.

We arrived just south of Portland fairly late on the Friday night where we were staying for the two nights. We would have arrived much sooner, but as we were just getting close we passed a hotrod on the side of the freeway. Naturally, out of concern that the car may have been broken down (“a car like that doesn't deserve to be stuck on the side of a freeway”, I was told) we ventured off the nearest freeway exit and backtracked to see if we could find it - twice.

Spoiler: the car was gone so clearly wasn’t in as dire trouble as suspected.

An early night was enjoyed before an early start Saturday to attend the Portland Swap Meet. We walked around buying car parts and admiring the old cars on display for a number of hours before our arms could no longer carry anything more.

I finished the weekend by purchasing this beauty…

The most beautiful blue 1959 Chevrolet I've ever seen at the Portland Swap Meet

KIDDING! Oh, but a girl can dream right?

In reality, I said a sad goodbye to my dream car as we piled all the parts into the car and ventured into downtown Portland for the first time. Having heard good stories about a place called “Voodoo Doughnuts” we headed in that direction.

Turning a corner we were suddenly faced with a mass of people. Could that be the doughnut place? Surely not… that line would be at least a 2 hour wait… surely a doughnut couldn’t be that great.

Apparently they can!

Voodoo Doughnuts seemed to have a cult following where people actually did line up for 2 hours just to get in! My curiosity at how they could be so good was not stronger than my hunger however, and we quickly ventured further to find Killer Burger which I would highly recommend to anyone wanting a deliciously unhealthy meal in Portland. Mmm-mmm.

The burgers were advertised as “1/3 pound 100% Beef and Includes: BACON!” so how could we resist? Personally, I went for a “girlie burger”, the name given to a smaller version of each burger.

The first burger on the menu was a Peanut-Butter-Pickle-Bacon Burger - Errr no, I did not try it. 

We then went for a drive around Portland to see what we could find. We glanced up and saw a strange pod type vehicle travelling through the air and followed the ‘tram lines’ to see if we could find it! We certainly did end up finding it (with some help of google - one way streets make things so darn tricky!) and at a $4 return trip, the Portland Air Tram was well and truly worth it. Incredibly views all round despite it being such a dreary day.


View of Portland from the top of the Aerial Tram - still incredible despite the rain!

Our Saturday concluded with some fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts before our long trip back to the Bay Area on Sunday.

So, is Portland really like Adelaide?

It was certainly full of ‘hipsters’ and the buildings certainly had a similar charm to those of Adelaide. It was a delightful city, but I think that may be where the similarities end.

Perhaps I should reserve all judgement until I can get back to Portland and experience more of it. It is definitely worth a second visit!



11 April 2014

Road Trippin’ to the Future

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to spend road-tripping from the Bay Area to Portland, Oregon in a Tesla Model S.

We set off early Friday morning to our first charging location. For those who don’t know, the Model S is an electric car. A luxury electric car.

The Tesla Model S hooked up to the Supercharger - isn't she lovely?

I have to admit, after seeing some of the hybrid cars out there (and I use the term car very loosely), I wasn’t expecting to be incredibly impressed despite all the good things I’d heard.

Well, cutting a long story short: I am converted. Electric cars are the way of the future and this particular car is making it happen.

Here’s the long story. Fully charging the car took about 40 minutes, so the twelve hour trip to Portland was a mix of decent stops where we left the car and headed off to get a decent meal, and short stops where we charged for a quick 15 minutes to get to the next Tesla Supercharger.

For someone who is in need of stopping regularly during road trips (seriously bladder, could you be more inconvenient?), this worked out perfectly for me.

The best part? The road-trip was free. We travelled to Portland for free.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Freeeeeeeeeeee.

Charging at the Tesla Superchargers doesn’t cost a cent and the ease of plugging in the car was astonishing.

The long story might be starting to bore you now so I’ll cut it short again. Basically, inside the car is a 17” screen that controls everything. Pretty cool in itself, but add to this the music function and the fact that this car is connected to the internet. Hello streaming!

You can also browse the internet (such as the Sugar Push website) but don't try while driving! Passengers only!

Basically I could tell the car to “play the Spice Girls” and it would. Then it would play other music just like the Spice Girls. I’m using this as a hypothetical, but who am I kidding - I totally did ask it to play the Spice Girls. And. It. Was. Amazing.

Aside from asking it to play a particular song or artist & similar, the different genre stations to choose from were incredible too. I was partial to the Indie Folk station, while my driver was partial to the Soundtracks station. Apparently it made him feel important, like he had his own life soundtrack - naturally.

The charging stops probably added an extra hour or two to our journey, but it was such an enjoyable trip that we barely noticed. I think I could be stuck in that car for another 12 hours and still be enthusiastically asking the car to “Play 5ive!” in an American accent, since apparently my Australian one cannot be understood.

More on my Portland adventure later!


2 April 2014

Long flights, burgers and jet lag.

Whoever tells you that flying is fun has either never been on a long flight, or they’re lying.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love flying. Short flights are the best fun. Twelve hour flights? Slightly different story.



Sunday morning I finished packing my bags, said goodbye to my fur baby Lexi (oh, my heart!), and jumped into my parents car to the airport. A quick hungry jacks breakfast later, we waited an hour (Sorry my anxiety about being late destroyed your sleep in Dad!) for my first flight. More goodbyes and I was off to Sydney.

With two and half hours between flights, I thought I’d have plenty of time but alas, waiting for the shuttle bus to take me from the domestic to the international terminal took up a fair amount of time, then explaining to the United Airlines staff member how I was actually only staying in the US for a month despite my United ticket having a return date of the 1st of October ("Is Oakland in Canada? Oh, is it on the border?” - sigh) took way longer than it should have. Customs lines are always painful, but I was grateful that they sent me through a line that didn’t have the ‘full body scanner’. I guess in a bright red and white polka dot dress I look more like a friendly cartoon character than someone who would carry dangerous goods.

By the time I got through security I only had twenty minutes before boarding began on my next flight - ack!

A Facebook update later I was back on another plane, this time for 12 hours. Thankfully I had a very friendly ‘flying buddy’ next to me who provided some great conversation, and the staff on United Airlines took great joy from my polka dot obsession making the flight much more amusing.

All in all, the flight was quite a decent one. I watched 3 semi-decent films, stared blankly at 1 terrible one, beat some high scores in Ray-Man, managed to get down one slightly gross plane meal and politely declined two others, and the flight was shorter than expected, arriving in San Francisco half an hour early.

There was however the fact that once the person in front of me put their seat back I basically didn’t have any leg room at all (why must I be tall? WHY?!), and just the general fact that you’re stuck sitting there for 12 hours. Plus, as usual I didn’t sleep at all. I felt like a kid the night before Christmas, far too excited to sleep. Huge bummer. The little tiny plane on the screen fly over the ocean went so very slowly.

Customs in San Francisco operated much quicker than expected and I was soon let through to wait for my baggage. An hour later (no, seriously - a whole hour) I was free!

Free to go straight to ‘In-n-Out’ burger for a cheeseburger, fries and coke. Yum! Tick that off my food bucket list.



Surprisingly, despite having not slept for 24 hours I was wide awake and stayed that way until 10pm. I went to bed thinking I’d somehow managed to skip the whole jet-lag nightmare.

Oh boy, how I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

I woke up at 2pm the next day. That's 7am in Adelaide. Also known as my normal wake up time. Damn you body clock!

Anyone have any jet-lag recovery tips?


Montage: March 2014

Yikes! Oh how March flew by!

Possibly the busiest month I've had for a very long time. I barely even had time to breathe!

March is the beginning of my very big adventure. I'm a little late in posting this, simply because I haven't had any internet access! Thankfully I managed to trudge through the rain today, despite not being able to find an umbrella and my shoes soaking right through (note to self: buy boots), to Starbucks to steal their free wifi. Yippee! This mango smoothie is going down alright too.

More on my travels tomorrow, but today I am simply sharing my video montage of March. I said goodbye to friends and family, had a lot of great times and made some very yummy cakes!



I can't believe it's April already! Only 30 days until I start at Bonnie Gordon College and I'm so very excited!

The adventure has begun!!!

PS. Sunny California is a myth. All I've seen are grey skies!




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