The Perfect Puddle Fail.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with puddles lately. Which is convenient, since we just had a Tropical Storm come all the way up the middle of our state.

(Granted it wasn’t a Tropical Storm when it reached me, but it was still pretty dang wet.)

I don’t usually get hung up on getting a specific shot, but in my head I’ve had this “perfect” puddle jump for months that I just needed to capture.

The original idea was to be directly above a child who was jumping down into a puddle while looking at the puddle, and get the top of their head and body going down, but their happy face in the reflection of the water.

(I don’t know if that makes any sense but it’s BEAUTIFUL in my head.)

However, this particular shot, I have discovered through scientific analysis, is impossible in a Physics sort of way.

It turns out that puddle reflections are super tricky – sometimes they’re in color, sometimes they’re in black and white, and if you’re directly over the puddle shooting down, they’re not there at all.

I spent parts of three days trying to get this specific shot, with much help from my kids (especially Ali, as Noah prefers contrariness.) But I haven’t been happy with the results.

I even named this entire night of photos “Failed Puddle Jump.”

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I mean they were cool, but they weren’t what I wanted.

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I was puzzled by myself, because I’m really not usually this particular and specific with my photography. But there was just SOMETHING missing. Something I had to capture. And these weren’t it.

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So I tried again Tuesday at The Botanical Gardens. Ali was all in, so we shot several rounds of jumps while Noah whined and loitered in the background.

I was fairly happy with the results – Ali looked completely dreamy in a few – but they still weren’t *quite* there.

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Tuesday night, Chris took us all on a surprise End Of School Year Celebration Night. We ate dinner at a new restaurant, then he took us to Target and gave us each gift certificates to blow on whatever we wanted, then we went up to a downtown parking deck for me to get to shoot the sunset. I was informed that this was the third of four stops, the fourth one being another mystery stop.

While we waited on sunset, I noticed that there was a perfect puddle. And Noah was in an especially amenable mood. So we worked on getting my unattainable shot.

We tried it from one angle.

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Oh yes. The reflections were in color (aided perhaps by the fact that he was wearing the outfit in which I’ve nicknamed him “Dayglow.”)

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Then another angle, and it was even better.

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We were SO CLOSE.

After circling the puddle and studying it with all of my analytical geometry skills intensely tuned in, I finally decided on the perfect angle/lens combination to shoot with the fullest city backdrop.

I realigned Noah and humbly requested his ongoing participation…

“Just one more time! And by one more time I mean as many times as it takes to get it right.”

Shockingly, he was all in. “Okay, but let me take off my shoes real quick. They’re getting super wet.”

No problem.

So he backed up.

We rechecked the angles.

I gave him leap coaching (“one leg out – not a hop – a leap”), and we lined up the shot.

He took off.

I snapped.

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Yes! Yes! It’s going to be PERFECT!!

…But then his lack of shoes suddenly and quite violently caught up with him.

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He slid straight through that Public Parking Lot Puddle, coating his butt with the layers of slime from decades of tires and shoes and bubble gum and spit and who knows what other unspeakable bodily and non-bodily fluids.

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He came out the other side looking like a bog had attacked his backside, and also crying and holding his shoulder.

I feverishly rooted around in the back of the car to find a towel, but only found a blanket – good enough. I wrapped him up and checked on the rotationary abilities of his arm – it still functioned, and he had calmed down.

Then I checked my camera.

And WE GOT THE DANG SHOT.

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And we all lived happily ever after.

(Except his shorts.)

(And possibly his puddle jumping career.)

(And also there is the issue of my Mommy Guilt.)

(But Mommy Guilt never goes away so you might as well get the shot if you’re going to suffer from it anyway.)

The End.

p.s. – My apologies to the Ice Cream Shop that was our fourth stop. I do hope we didn’t leave any Parking Lot Bog behind in your cozy booth.

How to Make Glow in the Dark Frozen Bubbles.

How to Make Glow in the Dark Frozen Bubbles

I discovered this just in time.

I was about to completely lose my mind over the fact that it was COLD. And we didn’t get snow. And what was supposed to be a nice, iced-in, mid-week weekend compliments of the snow that visited everyone but us had turned into just another COLD day.

And then on top of that, I tried to freeze bubbles (to make iced lemonade out of my very cold lemons), and they didn’t come out as crisp as I’d hoped.

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They were okay, but they weren’t enough to satiate my cold grumps.

My grouchiness increased throughout the day, but melted a tiny bit by a fun package arriving from Amazon. It included all sorts of black light / ultraviolet science experiment fun. The kids and I geeked out through the afternoon, making glowing water beads and seeing what all lit up when we shined our black light on it.

(Lots of things, for the record.)

Then I had an idea. An idea so big it could turn around my mood completely. I could improve on frozen bubbles. It was getting dark, it was getting colder, and I had to try it.

It took a bit of work and many shivering trips out onto the porch, but by the end, I was seeing fronds and detail in the glowing bubbles that I couldn’t get that morning with regular frozen bubbles.

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So here’s what you need to make glow in the dark frozen bubbles:

white corn syrup
– dishwashing detergent
– 2 yellow highlighters that you can bust open (I ordered these for all our UV experiments and they’re very juicy)
– a bubble wand
– a black light (for clarification, these bubbles don’t glow unless a black light is shining on them)
– a hammer

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Mix Together:

3/4 cups of water
1/4 cup liquid dishwashing detergent
1/8 cup white corn syrup

Smash open two yellow highlighters with your hammer. Do it gently and on something you don’t mind getting highlighted. Then squeeze the highlighter juice into your mixture.

(I then dumped out one of my kid’s bubble wands and filled it with the new solution (using a funnel) to make it easier to use.)

– Take your bubble mixture outside on a sub-freezing evening (single digits work best, but I did this in 21 degree F and it worked well) and blow bubbles slowly (they need to meander to the ground to have some time to get cold before they land.)

– Have your black light and camera ready. To get the fronds climbing up the bubbles, you have to be ready and quick. Shine your black light onto the bubble and shoot!

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I had my black light laying on the porch shining at the bubbles while I laid on the porch with my camera. I shot at many different camera settings, but the above photo was shot at:

Canon 6D
EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L II Lens
ISO 1000
Shutter Speed: 1/20
ƒ/4.0
With
13mm and 21mm extension tubes attached (which is what I use instead of a macro lens.)

It’s also just fun to watch the bubbles – they swirl and freeze in place in a beautiful dance

If you try it, be sure and share your glowing bubble pictures with me!!

Follow me on Instagram at @ObjectivityRach for more photos.

Stepping Into The Light.

Trigger Warning: Dear Mom, don’t read this post.

(I made the mistake of telling my Mom the some of the details of this adventure on Sunday. She asked me to please never ever tell her if I did this or anything like it again.)

Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve (no relation to any Callahans or Stephens I know) has been on my mental bucket list for a few years, from the moment I first saw a photo of it. It is one of those surreal natural wonders that I a) couldn’t believe existed and b) certainly couldn’t believe existed only two hours from my front door. But it requires a permit, you must travel with at least one other person, and there was no way I could take my kids, so a full day where I could take on such an adventure requires a bit of planning to pull off. I tried last year while the kids were in camp, but Noah got strep. But this would be my year.

Oh and also – the whole thing is super dangerous. This is the “real” kind of cave – unlike the thoroughly safe DeSoto Caverns I visited earlier this year, this one is not lit or guard-railed to make it safe, does not have staff to show you what to do, and you have to sign all the waivers acknowledging that you may or may not survive. I very specifically did not Google how many people had died there until after the trip (the answer is three – that I found articles on, anyway.)

I recruited three people to join me – a photographer who interned with me last school year, Jake Marvin, his mom Kim, and his sister Anna. Kim came prepared. A backpack full of water and a bottle of liquid Benadryl – basically what every cave expedition needs (I mean, helmets and a flashlight would’ve been real nice, but Benadryl was just as well.) It was a mile hike to the cave, along which I got a text from my dear husband.

“I’ll always remember you.”

The cave is set up as such: there’s the “pit”, which is a 143 foot drop straight down with a waterfall running through it. The pit faces upward in such a direction that it catches light beams in a most magical way. To the left of the pit there’s a climb-down entrance. We arrived at the climb-down entrance first, and it was so steep looking that I said, “Okay – here’s the pit.”

…until we found the actual pit. At which point I realized that other hole had indeed been where we would have to climb down. This is the pit:

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After Jake and Anna completely freaked their mother out by getting way to close to the pit, we headed back to the climb-down entrance.

We began our descent, which wasn’t as steep once we got started. It was, however, quite slippery. There were streams and waterfalls in several places along the entryway, making rocks slippery and unstable. Just as I said “look at all these jagged rocks just waiting to break a tailbone!!”, I managed to slip and fall onto my tailbone. Thankfully I have enough cushioning back there to break the fall with no damage.

As we got lower into the cave, the dancing sunbeams took our collective breath away. As we rounded the corner where we could truly see the scene, we were all in awe.

This is what we saw.

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The sunbeams were alive, getting brighter and dimmer and sometimes completely disappearing, leaving the cave instantaneously dark. Sometimes they would fade just enough to allow the waterfall behind them to be seen.

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As water and waterfalls were coming from multiple directions (you can see another waterfall in the right of the above picture), it was impossible to keep our camera lenses dry, hence the droplets on many of the shots.

Since Kim was The Mom of our trip, I sent her to investigate the pedestal – the large round rock upon which the light beams were shining. It was perched on the edge of the pit, about 50 feet up from the bottom. Everything was wet and slippery, and we’d pre-agreed that no one would be going onto the pedestal unless we felt it was safe, even though that was the shot we had come for.

Kim and Anna inched their way around the top edge first, looking for a step down. There wasn’t a viable choice.

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Jake and I were busy setting up our cameras and getting our angles just right when they finally reported (or yelled, as all of the waterfalls made it extremely loud): the only way to the pedestal was from below. Which meant walking through a stream/waterfall, then climbing up the rocks leading to the pedestal.

Anna tried it first. I give Kim full credit for her allowing of this endeavor. But she made it look easy – somehow. And Anna was the first we got in The Shot.

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Starting in the bottom left-hand corner of this picture, you can see the rushing water that she had to navigate down. That rushing water goes straight into the pit, so slipping is not advised.  She stayed up there for a few shots, then climbed down and back up to us.

Kim went next – she wore her Wonder Woman shirt for the occasion.

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She couldn’t hear our photographical instructions over the roar of the waterfall, which led to this gem of a picture.

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As Kim made her way back up, I got a bad video of her navigating the water:

It was my turn. I would hate myself forever if I didn’t try this, no matter how frightening it looked from my angle. I set my camera up on the tripod and left it in Jake’s trusty hands. I brought a dress tied to my backpack – I untied it and draped it like a scarf around my neck. And I slowly began my descent through the waterfall. I shimmied from side to side, trying to find the driest rocks and the safest hand-holds possible, but still fully immersing my feet in the rushing water several times. There were thankfully some really polite rocks that offered perfectly contoured handles on the way down. But still, I admit it: I was a bit terrified.

I made it to the bottom of the pedestal and began climbing up. The rocks were of a size that made it fairly easy at first, aside from the fact that they were all covered in mud that was most likely comprised of 24 different types of bat guano. When I got to the final rock of the pedestal, I realized that there was no way up without a full marriage between my legs, hands, and butt and the fairly thick pile of guano mud. So I went for it. I received a full-body mud treatment, but I made it to the top.

I unfurled my dress and threw it over my workout clothes that were now covered in a wet layer of slop. My long dress dusted through the mud. I took out my ponytail and shook my hair loose. I heard cheering from the other side of the ravine – I’m sure it was for my super-glamorous model preparation.

And then I posed. And Jake got The Shot for which I had waited so long.

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As I looked up to the sky, it was every bit as surreal as one would imagine. The sun twinkling above me, waterfalls dripping and rushing from multiple directions, and rainbows dancing in the beams and mist – all only viewable from my current location. I wanted so badly to have my camera there with me – but the wet and muddy journey combined with the extreme moisture of the air around me prevented that option entirely. However, experiencing the moment – staring into that rainbowey, waterfalley, sunburstey canvas – it was about as close to heaven as one can experience on this earth.

This absolutely should be one of the most notable wonders of our country.

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Getting down was actually more terrifying that getting up – the foothold I’d used to get onto the rock was not accessible from a front-facing position, and I was not willing to slide down on my stomach. After sitting there for a few minutes not knowing if I’d ever leave the pedestal, I gave myself a pep talk.

C’mon Rachel. You’ve been doing planks and push-ups all year. You’ve even been lifting weights, albeit the lightest ones. You need to put some belief in your arms and lower yourself down. It’s the only way.

I planted both my palms solidly through the mud and onto the platform, then slowly lowered my body down to the next rock I could find footing. For a tenth of a second I thought I would surely slip and slide off into the pit, but I didn’t. My level of adrenaline was off the charts.

I had done something. Something that felt entirely unsafe, at least in my narrow construct of life.

Jake went last. I felt bad because by the time his turn came, my camera was hopelessly moist (something that was giving me no small amount of anxiety, considering I’ve already lost one camera to moisture), and all of my pictures of him had a slight smudged quality.

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Once even my camera decided to turn him into a ghost…which, honestly, is a pretty awesome mistake.

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The sunbeams “went out” once when he was up there – you can see what it looks like here with just the waterfall:

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But the beams returned, we got a few more photos, and then he began his descent back down.

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When we finally all climbed our way back out of the cave, I immediately texted Chris and proclaimed our survival. He was overjoyed that he would have more than just a memory of his wife.

As we walked back on the trail, the full extent of my personal moisture began to take hold. I very much realized what it must feel like to be a toddler walking around with a dirty diaper. Had I thought to bring a change of clothes? Of course not. And so, I drove two hours back, waited around an hour, picked up my kids from camp, and headed home – and a full five hours after emerging from the cave, still a good bit damp, I finally was able to begin the process of de-guano-ing myself.

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I’m positive that the long-lasting effects on my skin will be amazing. And I can’t wait to do it all over again (but don’t tell my mom.)