“The Cove”

Driving to exit 299 off I-65 and down a few “God’s Country” Cullman County Roads, you’ll arrive in an area known as Bremen, where you’ll find a cozy little place known as “The Cove”. Thanks to my Grandmother, this place has been a recreational hotspot for hosts of friends and family for a decade! It’s Summer, Hot, Humid, full of flying insects, but there is no better place to enjoy time on the lake in Alabama. Lewis Smith Lake, better known as simply Smith Lake is Alabama’s deepest and one of the most beautiful lakes in America. If you’re visiting Alabama and want to wake to a symphony of Woodpeckers, Chickadees, and Owls with the background of rustling leaves blowing in the breeze, Smith lake is the place to be at 6am with a warm cup of coffee sitting on a wood swing with your special someone.

Got a chance to do some HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography this morning. Here is a couple I liked! If you wondered what HDR on your iPhone’s camera was, it’s the phone combining multiple exposures to better display area’s of the image that are dark and light. These two are a combination of 20 images.



Huntsville Alabama visit

I got to spend the most time I’ve ever spent in Huntsville, Alabama this week, and I found several unique places that will keep you entertained on the cheap if you ever find yourself in the fourth largest city in Alabama for any length of time.

The first place Easton and I went was the North Alabama Locomotive Museum. The place is “Open” seven days a week 9-5, but you wont find many people there, not even employees. When Easton and I arrived, the gate was closed and locked to prevent any vehicles from parking in the main lot. Fortunately, they have a small lot accessible from the road with a large tree providing shade from the Alabama hot sun. We were the only people in the park, and got to give ourselves a self guided exploratory tour. This place used to be a botanical nursery and train stop years ago, but has since fallen in disrepair. Now days, it provides a unique place to take pictures, and centerpiece to the few trains that are on display. Although trains are fascinating to view and explore, after checking out what this Museum has to offer, I would say that it being free was the best part!

After the train museum, we made our way to Monte Sano State Park. Because of the gate guard being unattended, we got more free sight seeing! We just arrived when DeeAnn called wanting to meet for lunch, so we didn’t get to explore. To journal our short trip there, we took a couple pictures, and headed out! I saw a nice playground and the Von Braun Astronomical Society building that I wished we had more time to explore. Maybe one day, we’ll be back.

The next place on our tour was Redstone Arsenal. I had hoped to find a special spot to photograph the Tennessee River that you’d only be able to get with a military ID access card. We traveled on base to the Col. Carroll D. Hudson Recreational Complex, and were disappointed. Huge dragonflies and bees had made the kids playground home, preventing Easton from playing, and the river had a concrete wall built all along the access from the complex, which took away the natural beauty of the area. I hope I’ll be able to get a good shot of the river before I leave. The most interesting thing I saw on base was the nuclear fall out shelters everywhere. It was obviously something out of the cold war era that is rusting away. 

The last place we went was the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. This place was the best place on our trip to Huntsville! It was Military appreciation week, and again, got in free! It was what they call “Wacky Wednesday” at the gardens, and there were lots of kids! They have the countries largest live butterfly exhibit, and you are allowed to pour nectar on your hands to attract them to hold. It was pretty amazing to see hundreds of butterflies flying about all around while you walk through the arboretum. In addition to the butterfly exhibit, they have a kids water park play area, a pirate ship tree house, and 1/10 scale train that Easton loved watching it go around the bonsai trees and model houses that had been placed around to resemble a small town. Wished we had found this place first, but I guess having the best come last is fitting.


Here are a few pics of our adventures



Gunnells Sweet Tea


Growing up in Alabama, Sweet Tea is taken for granted like buying bread at the grocery store. Could you Imaging going grocery store to grocery store not being able to find bread? Knowing about the invisible line through Texas that keeps Sweet Tea trapped from going west, it dawned on me that I would have to learn to make my own Sweet Tea if I were going to survive in San Diego! Lucky for me, my Dad has had the responsibility of supplying the Gunnells’ home with its daily supply of this sweet nectar, so I didn’t have to go far to learn the ways of Sweet Tea making! If you live in San Diego, or anywhere outside of the Southeast of America, Follow the instructions below to get your own taste of refreshing bliss!

Things you’ll need:

1)   15 minutes of time

2)   1 Gallon (3.8 Liters) pitcher

3)   2 Lipton Iced Black Tea Pitcher Size tea bags

4)   2 Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange Spice tea bags

5)   2 Cups of Sugar (Splenda or other artificial sweeteners can be used)

6)   Ice

7)   Pinch of baking soda

To begin, take your pitcher, and fill with 20 Ounces or .5 liter of filtered cold water. Remove any tea bag strings, and then drop all four tea bags into the pitcher to sit in the water for 10 minutes.


While you wait, Boil 57 Ounces or 1.7 liters of water, and prepare your sweetener in a measuring cup.


Once your water has come to a boil, you should by now have let the tea bags brew in the cold water.


Pour the boiling water into the pitcher trying not to pour directly onto the tea bags, letting the tea brew for 5-6 minutes, and then remove the tea bags with a large slotted spoon.


Add the 2 cups of sweetener and stir, making sure all the granules are dissolved.


Add the pinch of baking soda

Add Ice to the hot tea to bring tea level to the top of pitcher and stir while it melts and dilutes the tea and sweetener to the perfect level.


At this point, your tea should still be slightly warm, and ready to pour into a glass of ice for refreshment.




Lina & Ben

It’s not often you get to meet a whole family at once, and even less often is that whole family as warm and inviting! Here are a couple Sneak Peek shots from today’s shoot. Lina and Ben met through an online dating service, and kicked things off at Starbucks! Really a great couple, and were very nice. I couldn’t have asked for a better couple or family to work with! Thank you Lina and Ben! Hope you enjoy that Phill’s BBQ!


Master Bathroom project

Some of my closest friends already know how excited I’ve been over the new shower and bathroom I recently “completed”. (Still missing a door and countertop, but they have been ordered) A few people have asked how it was done, so I thought I would write about my whole experience, and give info to contacts here in San Diego if you decide you want a shower like ours!

A Little History:

At the beginning of 2011, DeeAnn and I looked at the amount of money we had put into the home for upgrades / maintenance and concluded that, with the housing market still suffering around us, we were done. We didn’t envision what troubles we would run into with our Master Bath…

After returning from a vacation, we discovered shower wall tiles buckling out from the wall and falling down to the already permanently stained floor. This was in addition to the hole in the wall right outside the shower along the floor where escaping shower water would regularly drain. Still trying to not put more money into the house, we started using Easton’s shower, and then would finish our morning routine using the Master Bath’s sink and toilet. Unfortunately, the breaking point was only a few months later when our extremely small toilet also ended its life after being on life support for months as I tried to keep the poor thing flushing. Realizing we then only had 1/3 of a functioning bathroom, we had to make some repairs.



The Start:

It was the beginning of February 2012 when we started demo. I slowly deconstructed the old bathroom, careful not to create dust that could get into the rest of the house. I took out all the drywall, flooring, complete shower, toilet, etc… Cleaning out the entire bathroom down to the studs, we removed over 2000lbs of old building material thanks to the help of my friend Jeff and his Dad’s F350 full size van with steel studded snow tires. (steel studded tires not actually needed here!) I highly recommend using heavy-duty 50gal black trash bags to make containment and hauling much easier.


The first part of the construction phase was to repair water damage from years of leaking toilet, sinks, and showers. Luckily, I only had a small bit of damage from the known shower leak, and that was cut out and patched while I worked on the biggest structural issue to bring the floor back to level. Across the 12-foot length of the bathroom, the floor dropped almost two whole inches, and had a bowl shape pressed into the main pathway. To do most of the raising of the floor, I used custom shaped pieces of 5/8-inch plywood stacked and screwed together in the lowest places, and the smoothed out the gaps with a quick drying product from Home Depot called “Fix-It-All”.


Final plans were made once the floor was leveled. The bathroom was going to become one big room without the dividing wall (check out my blog post from February for demo pics), the awkward closet was being cut down to a usable size, and I was adding thickness to a part of the exterior wall to make room for larger shower valves, all part of the spa experience to come! Because of all the structural changes, I spent quite a while adding new studs and framing that would allow me to eventually hang new drywall and concrete board for the tiled areas. At this point in the project, I had spent a month working on the project, and although I personally was happy with my accomplishments, the progress was not noticeable, and it seemed that with the speed I was going, I would never complete the project. Thanks to DeeAnn, she kept me going with cold glasses of water and lots of encouragement!


The next job to tackle was the Electrical wiring. I used two 6 inch recessed can lights in the shower area and two in the rest of the bathroom along with a three light hanging fixture above the vanity. I also added a vent fan to help reduce moisture after showering, and to make “drown-out-noise” for anyone using the toilet.  All the wiring had to be run to two different switch boxes. To fix an annoying breaker issue, I ran a 12-gauge line back to a new 20-amp breaker at the breaker box. Previously, if we had the bedroom TV on, or if I was ironing a shirt, DeeAnn would flip the breaker by blow-drying her hair in the bathroom. If you are going to try this yourself, Make sure you know what you are doing. Messing with the electrical box can be dangerous or even deadly if you don’t know what you are doing!



Once all the framing and electrical work was completed, I needed to recall the plumbing skills I learned from watching the last plumber we had hired almost two years ago. Before I got the torch out, we went to Ferguson to find our new shower hardware and toilet. My recommendation for stores to shop during kitchen or bathroom remodels would be Home Depot for random small things, and then find your local Ferguson store for the big stuff. I told the sales representative at Ferguson that I was doing the job myself, and was in essence being my own general contractor. Not sure if she was supposed to, but she ended up opening a contractors account for me which allowed me to buy their products at a much lower price than the advertised price in their store or even online through price searches. Can’t recall the lady’s name, but Ferguson is where you should go! They also only carry high-end good quality items that you will not find at Home Depot or Lowes. We picked out a Kohler comfort height toilet with soft close seat along with the crowning jewel of our bathroom, the Moen Spa Shower that includes 6 total showerheads, including body spays, wand, and main showerhead. Buying was the easy part!



To save money, I installed all the new valves and plumbing myself. You’ll need a torch, flux, solder, and three wet rags to “sweat” the pipes together. You’ll also need a copper pipe cleaning tool, a pipe cutter, and some general building knowledge such as drawing out a plan, using a tape measure, and how to drill holes into studs. Sweating pipe together is all about controlling the heat being transferred from the torch to the copper. You must use your wet rags to keep the already completed sections cool, while you continue adding more pipe to your design. Also, you should remove any plastic or rubber inside your new valves while using the torch to prevent melting that could damage and prevent the valve from working later. If you are doing any kind of multiple head system on a single valve, you’ll have to make a pressure loop with your pipe. Using the Flux correctly, along with properly controlling the heat from the torch will yield perfect results. Use a wet rag behind where you are pointing your torch to keep things from catching fire! After I completed the plumbing, I temporarily sealed off the ends with PVC caps, and opened the valves to check for leaks. If you are lucky, you wont have to sprint to your main water cut off valve, and re-drain the lines to fix any leaks!



During the week after I completed the plumbing, I checked for leaks daily, and DeeAnn and I went to Coles fine flooring at MCRD San Diego to pick out tile. The lady who works there is the only person who works at that small store, and she is very friendly and helpful. Even though it is a slow store, being the only employee there, it can be hard to keep her undivided attention. Even so, this was our second time going to her for help, and I would recommend anyone with a military ID to shop at Cole’s on MCRD.


After getting our tile, and feeling confident that my plumbing would not fail me, I started putting up the concrete board and drywall on the walls. Concrete board should be used anywhere water could be present. It will not expand or distort if it does get wet, and it also has a great texture for applying thinset/morter for applying tile. “Green board” drywall should be used in the rest of your bathroom because it is specially made to resist mildew and moisture from the humidity you’ll get inside a bathroom. Again, my friends came to the rescue! My friend Charlie volunteered his F150 to pick up the drywall and concrete board while my friend Jeff along with DeeAnn helped hang it up on the ceiling.  You’ll need a drywall saw and a razorblade to score and snap the sheets or cut non-straight shapes out of your boards.


Since the beginning of this project, I had been reading online about all the different types of waterproofing options for custom showers. There are many to choose from, and reading online, you’ll find all kinds that are recommended around the world depending on the local building codes where people live. I couldn’t get a straight answer, but to the best of my knowledge, “Hot-Mopping” is what is used in California due to old building codes. I talked to a contractor back home, and found that “Hot-Mop” used to be the way to do a shower back in the 1950’s, but there were many new options that I could safely use on my own. After many hours of research, I decided to go with a product called “Kerdi” from a company named “Schluter”. You can find Schluter Kerdi at San Diego Tile & Marble. It’s not cheap, but the last thing you want is a leaking shower after working for over three months on a remodel! The other nice thing about their system is that it comes with a pre-pitched floor liner. The floor liner makes it easy to assure that your shower water will flow down the drain without puddling and rotting away at your shower floor. Installing the Kerdi was like putting up wallpaper. The hardest part was putting it up on the ceiling! Ask DeeAnn, and she’ll tell you I was about at the end of my rope putting the ceiling pieces up!



When you are planning your shower, you need to account for wall thickness along with the shower valves you are using to make sure your shower trim will install all the way up the finished walls once you are complete. Measure the thickness of your concrete board, all the layers of thinset/morter, water proofing material, and your tiles so you can know how deep to mount your valves into the walls. This is a very important step!


At this point we have a level floor, electrical, watertight plumbing, buttoned up walls with insulation, concrete board, drywall, and waterproof material, and are ready for all the hard work to start showing off! After listening to my contracting trained wife, I got three bids on the shower glass enclosure! I thought that installing the glass myself would save me money, but thanks to DeeAnn, my third bid from a guy I found on Craigslist was not only $1000 less than the next closest DIY bid, this guy would install it for me! According to my research, the best, and apparently less used, way to have a frameless shower enclosure installed is to use “U bar around the perimeter of the glass, install the glass itself, and then install tile around for added strength. Once the glass is installed, it’s hard to work inside the more cramped area of the shower itself, so… I recommend doing as much of the tile work you can without covering where the glass will actually go before you or your installer puts the glass in place. As for cutting your tiles, I found that a large wet tile saw is not necessary, and can be more work in the end with the big mess they make, and the running back and forth outside to cut tiles. There are tile snappers, and diamond blades that will fit an angle grinder, and they usually can handle any job. I’ve done several tile jobs, and I speak from experience in this aspect. For my bathroom, I used a 4-inch diamond blade on my Makita Angle Grinder for every cut, and was able to do the job nicely and on an angle layout!


When I finished the drywall, I used 20 min quick drying mud with thin self adhesive seam tape. You’ll have to ask were the 20 min mud is inside Home Depot. They don’t sell it along side the more commercial pre-mixed mud that take 24 hours to dry before you can sand. For me, 20 minutes is long enough, and it doesn’t make me wait to move to the next step of adding texture to the walls. Our whole house has orange peel texture, so we did this in the bathroom to match before we painted.


As I was finishing the walls and tiles, I found another guy (Jose) on Craigslist who is just now trying to start a cabinetry business from home, and was willing to custom build our vanity and cabinets for less than the other quotes I got for the cabinets alone. His work is simple, but good quality with solid wood! If you like his style, I definitely recommend! Jose never came to the house, so I was very impressed when he; took my measurements, made the two items, and when I got them home, they fit like a glove! It couldn’t have fit better!


While I was waiting on the vanity and cabinet to be made, I laid the tiles for the floor and once dry, grouted everything in place. Things were looking good, but I still had a hole in the floor! Once the grout was dry, I was able to give DeeAnn a new toilet to cover that hole in the floor, and keep us from having to run to Easton’s bathroom during the night!


Right now, we are still waiting on a countertop and sink from a local guy named Cesar, and the entry door to the bathroom that we are getting from Dixieline pro-build.

With the Shower complete and the toilet installed, we couldn’t wait another day to try it all out, and I can safely say that all the hard work was worth it! Thanks to my friends Jeff and Charlie, and especially my lovely wife DeeAnn!


If you want to build your own bathroom, “Half of doing anything is wanting to!” I’ll be happy to assist in giving you advice or more information from my experience.




Custom Glass – Eric Miller (finecustomshowers@yahoo.com, 714-420-5728)

Cabinet guy – Jose (619-352-7303, tell him I referred you)

Cole’s & MCRD – ((619) 725-6272)

Ferguson – (4699 Mercury Street, San Diego, (858) 974-5100, http://www.ferguson.com)

Place to get Shluter Kerdi – (http://www.sandiegomarbletile.com)

Losing weight


ImageRecently, many people who have not seen me in a while will say “Wow, you’ve lost weight!”, and then the next most common comment is “What are you doing?” so… I figured I would tell you all my “secret”

The secret is really no secret at all!

1) I first got truly sick and tired of being fat! I had been complaining to my wife for a while, and had done nothing about it. Luckily for me, she loves both the fat and trim versions of myself! 🙂

2) At the beginning of the year, in my regular DIY fashion, I figured out a simplistic view of the path I would take to get a “Six Pack” back. I decided that my goal would not really be a number to loose, but a vision of what my body had used to look like back in my high school days.

3) I remembered back in my physics class days, a Calorie was a unit measurement of energy. I also remember learning somewhere that when your body can’t use the energy you give it, the energy is converted to fat to be used at some indefinite time in the future.

4) I looked up my ideal medically recommended weight online (HERE is an example). I have been using this number as a broad range goal, but again not my official goal.

5) I Googled “How many calories in a pound of fat“, and then “how many calories do you burn running a mile“.

6) From this point, I did some simple math. First, I was borderline “obese” (yes, obese!)… I needed to burn off at least 50lbs.  50lbs x 4000 calories = 200,000 calories to burn! THEN! 200,000 ÷ 150 calories burned per mile = 1,333 miles to run! WOW…

7) I realized that I wouldn’t necessarily have to run 1000+ miles because your body uses energy/calories/fat to do every little thing you do. Things as simple as breathing or your heart beating uses energy, plus having sore muscles after exercise burns up the bodies energy as it’s rebuilding muscles stronger. To help me manage the proper exercising/eating, I got a Biggest Loser Scale.

8) My scale tells me how many calories I need to eat that day to maintain the same weight. When I first started, I needed to eat 3800 calories a day to maintain my fatness! If I wanted to loose weight, I could simply eat less than what the scale told me I needed to maintain that days weight.

9) I cut out all liquids besides water (coffee, soda, sweet tea, etc…)

10) I set a goal of 1500 calories a day, and kept a mental journal each day to approximately hit my goal daily. I wasn’t 100% faithful; eating a whole rack of ribs from Phill’s once or twice a month wasn’t a bad thing. Good food is good for the soul! 🙂

11) To attack my 200,000 extra calories, I started running. It was painful lugging around 250+lbs around lake Murray. I found that bringing my son along in his BOB stroller helped relieve the impact off my joints as I held onto the stroller handle.

12) Keeping true to my goal of 1500 calories a day, I pulled a Forest Gump, and just kept running. 4 miles, 4 days a week.

13) I lost 2-4 lbs a week, and then got to challenge my sister-in-law to a biggest looser contest. (Very motivating to get text messages going back and forth with our current weights each day)

14) Currently, I weigh in at 196lbs, and have a 4 pack. I’ve still got some work to do, but I’m well on my way.

That’s all! Two things I regularly remind myself is “Half of doing anything is wanting to” – If you REALLY want to do something, you can and will do it!

“If you don’t look after yourself, aint no one else going to!” – take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t let yourself buy into self-made excuses. The most common excuse I hear relating to weight loss is “I’m big boned, so I can be over the medically recommended weight” I would tell those people they need to consult with a doctor before they keep that extra 30lbs on them for the rest of their life.

I’m now considering training for a half marathon on my way to complete a whole marathon! In the past, I would have never dreamed of accomplishing something as historical as the ancient Greek runner Marathon, but now I’m happy, healthy, and living a dream!

I hope this inspires other to get in shape, and enjoy life as I do!

Solar Eclipse 5/20/12

Those of you who are fortunate enough to live on the west coast will be in store for a rare Eclipse this Sunday. If you want to see it in person, you’ll need special film or glasses made specifically for sun viewing, along with a view of the clear sky 12 degrees up from the horizon. The Eclipse will begin at 5:27pm and should last for an hour or so. If you don’t get the chance to see this, I plan on trying my luck at taking some pictures. I’ve been preparing by building a home made Solar Film Box from plans I got off the internet. (a professional glass solar filter cost $$$)


I’ve taken some test shots with this box, and received mixed results so far. If you are interested in learning more about this upcoming event, check out Oceanside Photo & Telescope’s article.

Here is one of the test shots from my home made box today at 200mm, f10, and 1/4 shutter shutter speed.



Crave My Photography contest!

My “Blog” seems to be like the Egyptian desert where they found an old war plane from 70 years ago… Maybe somebody will find this in the next 70 years! lol

Anyhow, my friend Michael posted a link on Facebook about this contest from Crave My Photography

I can’t say I’ve been a long time fan of Crave, but their work is amazing. I’m always looking for a great opportunity to learn more photography skills from great people, so I’m joining the competition to get free mentoring. If you are interested, check em out, but do it soon! 


New Gear

Got lots of new photography gear lately. Cant wait to use it for the Navy’s 217th Supply Corps Birthday Ball tomorrow. Got a Canon 40D as a backup camera, and the 70-200mm F/2.8L IS II lens. Should really give me all the tools needed to get the business going. Not much else to say right now, but I’m excited about tomorrows event, and can’t wait to get this first big job behind me!

Superbowl Sunday

If you know me, you also know I don’t follow pro football. Is it wrong that my wife knows more about who’s playing in the big game than I? I don’t know… Anyhow, congrats to Manning and the Giants. After everything I heard about the character of Tom Brady, seems like the better man did win after all. I wasn’t impressed with the commercials as much as I expected to be, but I really enjoyed being with friends at my buddy Dan’s apartment. The guy has a place near the top of one of the high rises downtown, and it faces the San Deigo harbor and Airport.