Wednesday, December 31, 2008

all praises for the mangoes of Cebu

Cebu stakes a claim as having one of the finest mangoes in the world. For sure, every other country would proffer that their mangoes are the best. Mexicans and Indians do and the same goes with the Vietnamese or the Chinese.

Cebu Mangoes
the Guadalupe (Cebu) carabao mango variety is often branded as the Philippine mangoes when exported outside the country
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/40s, f/2.8, 7.1mm

Not to thumb down on other mangoes – I for one would admit that the Indonesian mangga manalagi or the mangga madu have a honeyed sweetness that is difficult to beat – but for overall appearance, smell, taste and mouth feel, I have to give it to my home’s mangoes.

mangga manalagi dan gadung
the mangga manalagi and mangga gadung, Nganjuk, East Java, Indonesia
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/6s, f/8, 12.3mm

To me, mangoes just have to be yellow not just inside but outside. The reds of the Mexican varieties and greens of the Indonesian mangga don’t make the cut for me. And Cebu mangoes have a flawlessly beautiful yellow skin when ripe. The skin is also not tough which makes it easier for you to peel it with your fingers To the touch, the Cebu mangoes are firm and soft. In texture, they are even and smooth. For smell, the promise is strong and distinctive.

a world of choices
this carabao mango variety also is grown outside of Cebu, notably in Guimaras but the Cebu name is still the most recognizable all throughout the country
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/30s, f/2.8, 7.1mm

The sweetness is no slouch either. Sugary and saccharine are easy superlative description that come to mind. I love them when the fruits are still ripening for the hint of sourness only elevates the sweetness to another level.

Best of all, and this is where the Cebu mangoes have the decided edge, the ripe flesh is not fibrous. As they don’t have the hairy filaments inherent in many other foreign varieties, you can scoop the flesh out of a slice. And when you taste it, the Cebu mangoes offer a luscious roll-in-the-tongue mouth feel that lingers. To have tried the Cebu mangoes is a heavenly experience and like any good memories, you just crave for more.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

having fun with flower macros

I have an avowed lackadaisical disinterest with flower macros. I’ve seen simply too many sensational flower macros in flickr that I don’t think I can add more to this colorful form of entertainment. On occasions though, when I am idle and when other photographic subjects are not available, I give in.

kamboja macro
a kamboja (frangipani) macro in Sukawati, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1.0EV

As I would find out, macros, even when using the dedicated 100mm f2.8 macro lens, presented special challenges.

Composition. To remove extraneous elements which are distracting, I filled the frame entirely with the flower. Natural colors cannot be beat anyway and the hues of the flowers could be without comparison. I focused on an interesting point, say the pistil of a bougainvillea, the inner heart of the frangipani, or the petal edges of the gerbera, and had them swim in one singular color. I also flushed the focal points off-center to ensure more dynamic interest as a full central symmetry could be too static.

bougainvillea macro
a bougainvillea macro in Selong, Lombok Timur, Indonesia
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV

Exposure . In this age of digital photography, the exposure of a photograph can be calibrated countlessly and in real time. I chimped a lot, which meant that I checked the output in the LCD of my camera immediately after taking the shots and did the adjustments thereafter. What I found out was that sometimes I had to underexpose the shot by several stops to get the right amount of light.

As in most of photography, daylight is your best friend. I could not shoot with a flash anyway as I often leave my Speedlite 380x behind when I travel. There is one indoor macro here though – the mum macro in Jakarta – and I had to jack up ISO to 1600. I was not about to setup my tripod inside the restaurant where I was having breakfast.

mum? macro
gerbera macro in Jakarta, Jawa Barat, Indonesia
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 1600

Manual focus. The macro lens has a pinpoint plane of focus and beyond this plane, the foreground and the background come to a blur. Autofocus then becomes a problem as the lens had trouble delineating sufficient contrast. I had to go full manual. To select accurately the focal point that I wanted, I had to move towards or away from the subject. This to me is the greatest challenge.

"bangkok" trumpet flower macro
adenium macro in Pantai Mengiat, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/500s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100

Although I still don’t find flower macros a photographic pursuit of my choosing, I have to confess that the pictures come out appealing, especially with the collage of the four macros. A final homage to the visual power of flowers I say. T’was definitely fun, if I may complete the verbal pun.

flower fun
a collage of the macros presented below using picasa3

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Monday, December 29, 2008

the Lapindo tragedy of East Java

In the record book of growing environmental disasters of the world, the mudflow “volcano” in East Java, Indonesia ranks high.

Camera: Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/320s, f/6.3, 55mm, ISO 100

In May 27, 2006, an oil drilling project of gas-drilling company Lapindo cracked open a natural gas-rich water lode at a depth of nearly 3,000 meters, without the recommended steel casing. When the limestone bed rock got fractured, hot water shot up like a geyser and began flooding villages, rice farms and factory areas. Ground zero was the Porong district of East Java and being near to the city of Sidoarjo, the disaster has been nicknamed by locals as Lusi or lumpur Sidoarjo (lumpur means mud in Indonesian).

The numbers are appalling. According to a special report in the March 10, 2008 issue of Time magazine, in less than two years, twelve villages were swallowed, about 16,000 people were rendered homeless and 550 hectares were erased from the map. Damages and related costs already are running into $3.7 billion and the worst part is, the 50 meter-wide hole continues to pump up to 150,000 cubic meters of mud A DAY.

dike by the hiway
Camera: Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/250s, f/6.3, 18mm, ISO 100. -1/3EV

As more and more land is turned into a lake of gray bubbling mud, efforts by the government and international community offer some measure of hope, but barely. Neither nature or science can assure that the flow will stop anytime soon. The baffling flow of hot brackish water deep from the earth is unabated, inundating more villages as time progresses.

Last April, when I last passed by the mudscape, traffic was terrible. Lusi has rendered the major toll hi-way between Pasuruan and Surabaya useless and we had to snake around busy choked streets of Sidoarjo. A motorcycle driver offered to take us a shorter “secret” local route. We relented. For about $2, he took us around outskirt a deserted village, through some lesser know bypasses. He delivered and cut our travel by at least 30 minutes.

submerged village
Camera: Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/6.3, 155mm, ISO 100. -1/3EV

Around the “volcano”, gawkers are replaced by tourists who make Lusia a necessary stop. Mud volcano CDs are being touted. Ambulant stores are making some business. On the surface, life seems normal. For now.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rockland- wintry wonderland in Maine

Blame it on the movies, or Irvin Berlin’s song, but the season of Christmas bespeaks of images of white snowy scenes. At this time of the year, imagine this winter wonderland to be Rockland.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 25s, f/22, 47mm, ISO 100, +1.0EV

Nuzzled deep in mid-coast of Maine, Rockland sits in Penobscot Bay, one of the most scenic bodies of water in the Eastern seaboard of the United States. The county boasts of scenes that seem to leap straight out of a picturebook, with numerous 19th century wooden houses, quaint museums, inns and churches. More like a big movie set, it reminds me a lot of the hit TV series Murder, She Wrote. In my first visit in the summer of 1991, I was almost expecting Angela Lansbury to bike her way around the streets.

Rockland sunset
Rockland sunset from the Tradewinds Motor Inn
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/125s, f/3.5, 10.3mm

In the late 19th century, Rockland was a leading port for the export of lime rock. It still shows remnants of its industrial past: numerous limestone quarries and kilns, boat builders and shipyards, a hauntingly beautiful if not spooky lighthouse that sits at the end of ¾ mile-long granite breakwater, numerous boat landings and monumentally large marine relics everywhere. It also has homesteads, farms and plenty of museums.

an antique giant anchor near the public wharf
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/320s, f/3.5, 7.1mm, 2/3 EV

public landing
a giant bell/buoy in the same park
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/1000s, f/3.5, 7.1mm

Thanks to its lace-like coast, Rockland is accessible to scores of islands and a dozen of historic lighthouses. It is reputed to be home of the largest windjammer fleet in the US and is a self-proclaimed lobster capital of the country.

at the public landing, Rockland, mid-coast Maine, the US, 4:33 PM, after sunset
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 13s, f/5, 35mm, ISO 100, -1/3 EV

Today, its charm is not lost to the tourists whose number seems to grow each year. Like most other places in scenic mid-coast Maine, the city has undergone not so subtle changes. Touted as a new England idyll, Rockland, with barely 10,000 people living within its limits, is overrun by visitors every summer.

scene near the Rockland breakwater
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 15s, f/10, 22mm, ISO 100

In winter though, it is a different story. Being way up north, by December, the sun sinks early and it becomes dark before 4PM. Temperatures would already be near zero Celsius in the morning and would dip below freezing at night. Snow comes ahead too, before most part of Eastern US.

spooky Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/250s, f/5.6, 7.1mm

By Christmas, Rockland would be white. Like clockwork, Rockland always manages to slide back to its rustic backwater self, slow and silent.

it's December
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.3s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Vanille part trois

So we found ourselves in Vanille once more last Sunday. I wanted to check out what is new. It’s a lame excuse, but any will do so that I can visit my favorite dessert haunt in Cebu. Here are a few more pastries that we’ve tried.

Cerise. Structured piles of mousse and sponge cakes are a trademark of Vanille. This one promises chocolate mousse with cherries but somehow I was expecting some bits or the definitive flavor of cherry but both escaped me. It was tart but indistinct. Perhaps I was inattentive? There were pieces of cherry on top of the sweetened vanilla-flavored whipped Chantilly cream so the concoction can still lay a claim to its name. Still, the raised sponge cake was as always, very light and delectable and the mousse was rich and not overly sweet.
price= P80

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800

Tarte aux pommes. Non-francophiles, don’t be scared, the name is just French for apple tart. I am a fan of apple tarts and pies. I crave them. I look for them. The Vanille version was not a disappointment. The crust is just the right thinness (I don’t like thick crust in pies) and flakiness. The apples were firm, juicy, tart and sweet, with the usual hint of cinnamon and vanilla. That said, the price of 120 pesos was a bit expensive when compared to versions of other pastry shops in Cebu. If there is a plus, it would be the presentation. The topping of razor-thin apple slivers which were slightly browned at the edges, looks quite fetching.
price= P120

tarte aux pommes
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800

French macarons in passionfruit. I’m already a fan of Vanille’s French macarons . I love the juxtaposition of the saccharine crunchiness of meringue and the creaminess of the ganache. The passionfruit version is a winner. At first bite, the taste is subtle but in due time, the sharp sourness attacks. When it comes to tropical fruits, sometimes, I want them to be in-your-face and non apologetic. True to its name, passionfruit is an ardent explosion in the palate.
price= P25 each

passion fruit macarons
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800, -1/3EV

macaron in passionfruit
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800, -1/3EV

Concerto. The finger-like log of hazelnut dacquoise reminds me a lot of Isabelia (see my first blog on Vanille). The biscuit-like base of meringue is nutty and I always like my dessert to have some crunch. The hazelnut bits contrasted delicately both in flavor and in texture with mousse of creamy Belgian chocolate. This is an uplifting aria of the senses.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/5.6, 53mm, ISO 800

Chocolat. What is a pastry shop without a chocolate cake? Vanille’s version is divine and could be its trademark, what with its elaborate construction. Billed a la maison, the layers of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse are shaped in a spherical half-globe. The cake has just the hint of bitterness which tempers the inherent sweetness of sugar. The clincher is the icing fully covering the dome. Dark and gooey, it stretches like marshmallows, slices like meringue and melts like fudge in the mouth. Too bad that this delicacy cannot be scaled up structurally as the big cake is flat and round and the icing is reduced to a thin upper crust. I’d take the personal mini anytime.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800, -1/3EV

Vanille chandelier
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/5.6, 53mm, ISO 800

Vanille Cafe and Patisserie
The Terraces, 2nd level
Cebu Ayala Mall
Cebu City, the Philippines

This is the 3rd Vanille review after part 1 and part 2.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

the Windows of Bergdorf and Goodman- a Manhattan Christmas special

Fifth Avenue cannot be more encapsulated than in the store windows of Bergdorf and Goodman. People actually queue to see its fabulous displays. Decidedly catering to the highend crowd, the store is famous for their life-size displays of magic and opulence.

window display by Lea
Nikon E5700, 1/35s, f/2.8, ISO 64 (photo by my sister)

In the five years I’ve visited Manhattan during Christmas, Bergdorf and Goodman always showcases different themes in every windows. From scenes of the exotic to themes of colors, they are designed to titillate and excite.

Bergdorf & Goodman 2006
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/40s, f/5.6, 21mm, ISO 1600, -1/3EV

The suggestion of sex can be overt, as seen in the picture above, or it can be suggested. Playing darkness against the light, the glare of the colors that jar from the ordinary, one time, one window showed a mannequin with a shock of red hair and green manicured nails. Then there was that apple, dangled, as if ready for the taking.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/4.5, 31mm, ISO 800, -1/3EV

Almost always, there will always be a window in red. Evoking the allure of rubies and the drama of scarlets, the visual screams.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/5, 38mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV

Or drama could be in monochrome. Conjuring images of the near black and white, the windows could invite the innate desire of adventure and adventurism.

Bergdorf & Goodman_2006
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/5.0, 40mm, ISO 800,+1/3EV

Nevertheless, in the world we live of course, wealth can be the real fantasy. But willingly, we suspend this truth, if only for awhile.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/13s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 800

Bergdorf and Goodman
754 5th Ave
New York, New York

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Eye See Eye in Louis Vuitton- a Manhattan Christmas special

A few luxury brands can match the brand recognition and appeal of Louis Vuitton. You can tell by the number of knocks-off in the streets and the manner ladies automatically eye and analyze whether somebody else’s bags were genuine or not. The LV monogram is the very essence of style.

Louis Vuitton_014-1
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/4.5, 34mm, ISO 100,+1/3 EV, flash fired

One day in Christmastime of 2006, I went to the Louis Vuitton One East in Fifth Avenue, New York. No, I was not there to shop nor to gawk but to check out Eye See Eye, the art installation of Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

at the Louis Vuitton One East, 1 East 57th Street (corner Fifth Avenue), New York, the US
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/4.5, 34mm, ISO 100,+1/3 EV, flash fired

I’ve heard a lot about it. Made to resemble like the pupil of an eye, the glass and light project echoed Eliasson’s knack for participative art and the stage, this time, was the street.

the eye
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/10s, f/10, 22mm, ISO 100,-1/3 EV, flash fired

The stainless steel and aluminum spotlight of mirrors and lenses was large at about 230x120x110cm. Its burst of loud yellow sodium light and vibrant purple produced a kaleidoscope of colors which invited and drew passersby like a magnet.

Capturing it in photographs has its challenges. In getting the shots here, I remembered two things. I shot the lamp when it was dark outside. I also used flash to trigger to the violence of color. Here, violence was good.

seeing purple
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/15s, f/5.0, 39mm, ISO 200,-1/3 EV, flash fired

n.b. This year, Eliasson was commissioned by The Public Art Fund and New York City to create the New York City waterfalls by the Brooklyn Bridge which ran from June 26 to October 13, 2008.

Louis Vuitton
1 E 57th St (5th Ave), New York, New York

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the Cacing Diaries #23- Maayong Pasko

almost 11 months

Two more days and it is Christmas. The Christmas caroling in the neighborhood is sounding more frequent, the store hours are stretching longer and somehow, the days are getting shorter. It is the time to be merry, to celebrate family and to spread the message of love and hope.

From me, Dia and Cacing, Maayong Pasko to one and all!

Maayong Pasko
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +2/3EV

Here are more pictures of the irrepressible Cacing.

that winning smile
Toussled hair becomes her. She doesn’t always smile toothsomely but when in the mood, she can be a real charmer.
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/40s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +1/3EV

showing off her 4 teeth
She has four baby teeth already and she can mince meat on her own.
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +1/3EV

magic wand
A good time to photograph Cacing is right after her morning bath when she is sunny and loquacious.
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 400, +1.0EV

at the Cebu-Sugbo party
When before she barely could crawl, now she can quickly race on all fours.
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/5.0, 50mm, ISO 100, flash-fired

in her Santa cocktail dress
This is her second Santa outfit and her most sophisticated yet. The top has no fur trim but has hand-stitched glass beading.
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/5.0, 50mm, ISO 100, flash-fired

at SM Northwing
Whenever she’s sleepy, she fights off drowsiness by laughing, making faces and squealing. For her, sleep is an interruption of play!
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/250s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +2/3EV

Enjoy the Holidays my friends!!!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

the Lady wears Red and Green- a Manhattan Christmas special

A true lady of the night.

The Empire State Building stands unwavering in the middle of Manhattan, resplendent in night lights, in all colors imaginable, from classic white to blue to green (St Patrick’s Day). For Christmas, the colors definitely remain resplendent in red and green.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, f/32, 30s, 43 mm, ISO 100

Formerly the tallest building in New York before the World Trade Center rose, it now has reclaimed the title. Everyday, almost without fail, the line of visitors wanting to scale its height snakes long, a testament to its enduring elegance and attraction.

down the Empire State
traffic down the Empire State Building
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 10s, f/14, 18mm, ISO 100

The Empire State Building figures prominently in Hollywood and has appeared in at least 150 movies, from Hollywood classics like An Affair to Remember, to Taxi Driver to Sleepless in Seattle. Its most famous appearance is probably in the King Kong movies, from the one with Fay Wray to Jessica Lange and of late, Naomi Watts. As in lore, the 24 feet ape met his match in beauty and ultimately succumbed atop the majestic tower that is the Empire State Building.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, f/22, 25s, 24 mm, ISO 100

The skyscraper in Manhattan is still its queen.

Empire State Building
350 5th Ave (34th St), New York, New York

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gold and Silver in Kyoto

Gold and silver have not lost luster. From ancient times, Egyptians elevated gold as divine. The book of Genesis mentioned these precious metals. Alchemists spent lifetimes to conjure them.

In modern times, they are coveted during competitions when the winner gets the gold and the runner-up garners silver (we thank the 1904 Olympics for starting this tradition).

In Japan, specifically in the prefecture of Kyoto, gold and silver may refer to two important temples, each with a storied past and a breathtaking presence.

GOLD is Kinkakuji

Camera: Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/8, 25mm, ISO 100

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion is a perfect example of a Zen temple on a pond amidst a classical Japanese garden setting. The original structure was built in 1397 as a residence of a shogun and converted into a temple after his death. It is covered with real gold leaf so the glitter is really gold. The current structure is however a replica as it was burnt by a fanatical monk in 1950.

SILVER is Ginkakuji

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/6.3, 18mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV

Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, is the accompanying foil of the Golden Pavilion. Formally known as Tozan Jishoji, it is famous for its contemplative sand garden. The shogun who built this originally planned to cover the villa with silver, hence its name. But the plan never materialized. The name, however, has stuck.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

the Cacing Diaries #22- Christmas becomes new again

almost 11 months

Sometime when I was in my 20s, I began to realize that Christmas really is for kids. Santa is not real. Christmas carols are an earworm. Giftgiving is overreaching. Snowflakes in the tropics? Get real. And what exactly does a reindeer look like? As an adult, you begin to see the commercialism and superficiality of the trimmings and lights.

I'll weave you some Christmas bokeh
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +2/3EV

Cacing 121408 SM_223-1
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 800, +2/3EV

But now that we have our baby Cacing in our life, I am beginning to see Christmas in renewed vigor and through fresh eyes. All is new to her and where she is smitten, which in this season is everything about Christmas, I too am falling in love with all over again.

Cacing 121308 FMC_014-1
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/250s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 800, +1/3EV

Where there are gigantic lanterns and towering Christmas trees, there we go. When there is a party, Cacing sashays with us. And up goes the flickering lights at home and hum I do the Christmas songs all the time.

Cacing 121308 FMC_026-1
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +1.0EV

And Cacing gets not one, not two, but three Christmas outfits. Dia’s distant aunt, a seamstress, gladly measured our girl in short notice, accompanied us in choosing the bright fabrics, tulles and fur trims and executed the holiday glam.

dancing in her Santa tutu
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/500s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV

For now, she’s only tried her Santa tutu. The hat was not exactly floppy and was a bit tight, stiffening straight like a wizard’s conical wimple, but Cacing looked divine just the same. The clincher is her bias skirt which billows, bounces and flounces, what with a white balloon underskirt and a red tulle petticoat.

dang, my slip is showing!
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 800, +1.0EV

Cacing 121408 SM_222-1
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 400, +2/3EV

Cacing still has two more red suits to try and I admit that we the parents are more excited than her. Obviously, Christmas is back in our hearts where it always should be.

let there be bokeh!!!
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +2/3EV

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