Sunday, November 18, 2018

Road to Atticus

On my desk sits a photograph of two golden boys in the prime of their lives. I recently found this photograph in the storage room as I was sorting and purging. My heart paused when I saw it. It was probably put there when it became too painful to look at.

It was October 2014 when we lost the first golden boy. He was 12, old but not too old. I have never been able to fully write about his loss. October 11 marked two years since the loss of the last golden boy. He was only a couple months shy of 14, but he had been slowly slipping away for the last year of his life.

We have lived the last two years with a part-time dog, the grand dog Findley. Findley is the funniest, quirkiest dog you will ever meet, but he is also a geniune joy and blessing.

It took us these two years to heal, to spend some time without a dog, travel, not be tied down. We did all those things. Eventually the heart heals, the wanderlust dies down a bit, and being without isn't fun anymore. Born on October 8, 2018 was a new beginning.

Our new beginning will be coming home at the beginning of December. At first I thought we were crazy to get a puppy going into winter. Potty training, cold and snow didn't seem like a logical mix. But the more I thought about it...when am I home the most? When do I have the most time to devote to potty and all around training? Winter of course.

Then I worried about socialization. The new ideal is for your puppy to have contact with at least one hundred different people before they are sixteen weeks old. Where am I going to find 100 people in the winter? Our downtown of course, with its heated sidewalks. What a great place to walk, get use to different sounds and a wide variety of people and dogs.  Who can resist talking to and petting a puppy?

The first two golden boys were only six months apart, and we took them on many adventures as a family, but two young dogs and me alone didn't go that well. After the loss of the first golden, I was able to take Scout on some day adventures with me, we had such great times. My one regret was that we didn't get to do more before it became too hard for his back legs to keep up. I have many adventures planned for our new boy, so he better like the car. We have places to go and things to explore.

We don't know yet which little golden boy will be ours, there are three boys in the litter. The breeder matches based on what we are looking for, and the personality of the puppy. She has been doing this a long time, so she knows what she is doing. Although...Mallory did ask for a gentle old soul...

Well...He may not be what she asked for, but he is exactly what she needed.

Still, it's hard not to have a favorite. Whoever our new beginning is, his name is Atticus.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Longing to Belong

"Maturity calls us to risk ourselves as much as immaturity, but for a bigger picture, a larger horizon; for a powerfully generous outward incarnation of our inward qualities and not for gains that make us smaller, even in winning."
                                                                              ~ David Whyte, Consolations 

There is an interesting trend going on amongst many of my on-line friends that I first met through photography classes and blogging, they are all turning to art. By art, I mean hand-created art: painting, drawing, fiber, collage. I have always wanted to belong in that world. I grew up doing rug-hooking and counted cross-stitch, but the only really good drawing I did was when I was ten. A pencil and crayon drawing of a Basenji dog. I wish I still had that drawing, or maybe it is better that it only lives in my memory.

Every summer, I have this itch to create with my hands, but this year the itch has turned into a longing. Mid-September, I began the practice of art journaling. I have (sort of) tried this before with minimal results. But here it is the end of October and I am still doing it. What I am finding most enjoyable is the playing, the trying, the failing and trying again. There is no rush, no pressure to get it right the first time.

Each spread pushes me a little further. To learn to embrace color, new techniques, and new materials. To learn to trust my intuition and not over-think.

This is the latest one I am working on. The first pages I did reawakened the longing to belong, it grew a little more with the second, and in this third one it came to fruition: the house/shed in the bottom left corner I drew myself.

I started a sketch book while we were on vacation. It was easy to pack and minimal supplies were needed. I didn't start out good, but I couldn't give up after only one attempt. I drew this from a photograph I took with my phone.

By the fifth day of practice, I was getting better. This was drawn from a photograph of a garden shed on Pinterest.

"If you don't love photography for the sheer act of trying to express yourself, and will only find joy in it when you finally get there, yours will be a disappointing journey. Not only will you likely never "get there" but you'll have missed how beautiful and exhilarating the journey itself is."
                                                                                  ~David duChemin, Within the Frame 

When I started to be serious about photography in 2012, I thought I had found my "art" camp. I wasn't good, but like the Ira Glass video on creativity, I knew what was good, and I knew with practice I could be good.  And I did get good, but what I soon discovered in some parts of the fine art photography camp is that they are only interested in the end result. What I loved was the journey. I needed photography to find my voice and tell my story.

The hand-created art camp feels different. They encourage your journey. They love watching you learn, grow and get better. They are just as excited about a finished piece as they are about the first pencil strokes you put on paper. They all know how hard it is to put yourself and your work out there. This is the camp where I have always longed to be, but I don't think I ever would have had the courage to be here, if I hadn't set up my tent in the photography camp first.


Here are some of the inspiring sites and classes I have found this year:

Jeanne Oliver - Great selection of courses

Laly Mille - Excellent teacher. This where my art journaling inspiration came from.

Toni Burt - Down to earth teacher

Ivy Newport 

Life Book 2019 - There was a free two week Summit for Life Book 2019 in October. While not all the teachers are my style, there were many who were.

Wanderlust 2019 - Looking forward to this.

If you have any art classes you have enjoyed, I would love to hear.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Coming home from a great vacation is always hard. You just don't understand how on vacation you were content with three pairs of pants and five tops that you mixed and matched throughout the week. But when you get home and see your closet full of clothes you feel overwhelmed, and that you have nothing to wear. You long for that small pine armoire at the rental house that wasn't even a third full with your clothes. Or, at least that's what I long for.

I always come home from vacations, specifically, vacations from northern Michigan with a resolve to declutter and only keep things that bring me joy. Yes, I have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo a few times.

Usually though, by the end of the first week home from vacation, that resolve has flown out the window. There are too many things on the daily to-do list and not enough time to do even half of them. With winter just around the corner here in Michigan, time seems shorter than ever. There is yard work to be completed before the snow flies, and some other big projects that need to be finished by the beginning of December.

Still, I am going to try to do some decluttering. One of the big projects is painting and organizing my soon-to-be reclaimed studio aka small spare bedroom. It has been apple green and lilac purple for 14 years, it needs to be simply white. Then, maybe I will use the room for more than storage.  Also, we are making Mallory's old bedroom into a guest room, so when she and Fin sleep over they don't have to sleep on a mattress on the floor. The good thing is, with both of these rooms, decluttering will happen because it has to.

Enough about the drudgery of being home. I will take you on a quick tour of the perfect autumn in Northern Michigan.

The weather certainly ran the gamut while we were there. We had temperatures in the upper 70's to daytime temps. of only 39 degrees. We had bright sun, fog, moody gray skies, and even some white snow/rain stuff.

We spent our mornings hiking. We revisited some favorite trails, and took a chance on a couple new-to-us ones. One of which has become my new favorite.

Usually lunch was at quaint local places.

Afternoons were spent at a couple wineries savoring a glass of wine and enjoying the view.

We only shot with the big cameras one morning because hiking in the woods is much easier with a pocket-size camera. Plus, Glen loves Instagram.  He has complete control when he shoots with his phone. Although, I end up in way more photos and stories that I would like.

It is so hard to leave this place. Maybe a pine armoire with three pairs of pants and five tops is a pretty good life.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Six Windows

I struggled to pick up my camera in September. After 365 days of daily photos, what could I possibly photograph that I hadn't already?

There is nothing wrong with taking a break when you feel burned out, but I also didn't want to let a year of hard work slip away for too long either. Thankfully at the eleventh hour a challenge came my way via David duChemin and The Compelling Frame course that I started last year.

The challenge was:

  • Choose one idea, theme or subject.
  • Choose some constraints.
  • Make photographs in September
  • Chose the six best at the end of the month and post them in the group.

I loved the idea, but struggled to find the subject. I just spent a year shooting whatever I fancied. The only constraint the Lensbaby Velvet 56. I decided to look back at my 365 project as a whole and see what subjects jumped out at me. There were a few different ones, but two that kept reoccurring were windows and reflections.

I needed to talk through the challenge with a friend. So in one of our weekly Skype sessions I hashed through it with my friend Lee. She said she had once done a window project for an on-line course, as did a mutual friend of ours. She sent me the link to the blog post she did on windows, as well as the link to our friend's blog post. Both of them encouraged me. I decided to do windows.

I started out strong with a photo walk in my downtown. So many great buildings and windows. But then that ugly "middle" came. I couldn't find any more good windows. I only had three so far, and those weren't even taken with the constraint I had chosen - my 60mm macro lens, a once favorite lens.

In the "middle", I played many games with myself to get through it. What if I set the timer on my phone and stopped every five minutes to take a detail shot of something? That worked for one morning, again yielding three decent photos. I didn't feel like playing the game again.

The windows still called to my soul.

Then, an unexpected trip to my personal heaven - northern Michigan. My husband had to go for work for three whole days, which meant I had three days to photograph windows in all the places I love.

Bravely, I posted the six finalists in The Compelling Frame FB group. The windows were well received. One comment especially stirred me. Cynthia said, "Great glimpses into what feels like looking into other worlds, both moving forward and looking back."

In the waining days of September, I found all the windows I needed and so much more.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Listening Without Judgement

I spent three days up north this last week. My husband had to go for work, and he invited me along. Of course, then he grumbles about how he has to work, while I get to drive to all my favorite places, photograph my favorite buildings, and drink wine by the lake on a beautiful early fall afternoon.

While up north, I planned to do the second of five Listening exercises:

"Seek out a public or urban environment - a local coffee shop, a busy street corner, your rooftop. Again, for 10 minutes listen to the sounds around you. Try to take it all in, with equal value, without judgement. What do you notice?"

I planned to do this at the coffee shop where I wrote the very last Coffee Shop Chronicle in the series, way back in April of 2015. Surely, one of the mornings it would rain while I was up north, it was in the forecast.

The mornings generally started cloudy with a hint of the promised rain, but usually by nine o'clock the sun started to peek through. Then the rural farmsteads of Leelanau Peninsula called much louder than sitting in a coffee shop.

As luck would have it though, I had to meet my husband on the last day at a coffee shop in downtown Manistee. His sales rep. was dropping him off and I would pick him up to begin our two hour drive home. I arrived early, exhausted from my morning of photographing farm buildings and wandering cold, windy beaches. Since this coffee shop also serves sandwiches and soup, I figured I would eat lunch there and complete the listening exercise at the same time.

When I use to write the Coffee Shop Chronicles, I engaged in two creative skills - observation and eavesdropping. So I guess listening has been a bigger part of my writing life than I thought.

The hard part of this exercise is the No Judgement, that's all the Coffee Shop Chronicles were was judgement, yes funny judgement, but judgement all the same. And as I sat down with my bowl of Pasta Fagioli soup, two ladies at the other end of the shot-gun style cafe did nothing to help me let go of it. They were sitting next to each other at a small round table each talking animatedly on their phones to other people.

I really wanted a table in the window, but both were full. So I sat as close as I could hoping that eventually one of the gentleman would leave. As I was eating my soup, one of them got up, but he was just going to get a refill on his coffee. What I noticed about him was his camouflage shorts and his camouflage Crocs.

Just as I was finishing my soup, the quiet guy directly behind me at the other window table got up and left. I quickly gathered my purse, phone, tiny notebook, empty soup bowl and scooted over to his relatively clean, empty table. I wanted to make sure to beat the two ladies sitting at the table next to me, in case they had the same idea.

I brought my empty soup bowl to the dirty dishes pan, returned to my table and readied myself for ten minutes of judgement free listening.

I set the timer on my phone, cradled my bent head in one of my hands, and closed my eyes. These are the things I heard:

  • The radio - I did not recognize the song. 
  • The two ladies just below me talking to each other.
  • The buzz of the cooler holding bottles of pop for sale that was right behind the two ladies.
  • Ice being scooped into plastic glasses.
  • The voices of the two girls working behind the counter.
  • Camo Croc guy behind me snapping his 3-ring binder shut.
  • Clink of the dirty dishes being taken out of the bin.
  • One of the ladies below me telling a story about somebody knocking on her screen door and she demonstrated by knocking on the wood table.
  • Pans banging behind the counter.
  • My pen tapping on the table as I was getting anxious for the ten minutes to be done.
  • The whoosh of the front door opening and closing. 
  • The building of steam for the latte machine.
  • Me chewing a potato chip.
  • Chair legs scraping across the wood floor.
  • The two ladies getting up and leaving - I could hear much better once they left. 
  • The ding of my timer going off. 
The ten minutes really went faster than I expected. I did feel a little weird trying to sit there with my eyes closed, although I kept my head bent most of the time.

I was surprised at all the sounds I could pick out, given that the ladies' conversation seemed to be the predominant noise. The only sound I was wrong about was Camo Crocs guy's 3-ring binder. It was really a three-hole punch.

Up next is Exercise Number Three:

Find a natural/green space within your town or city - a public park or garden or a tree in your yard. Close your eyes and listen for 15 minutes this time. How is the quality of sound different in this location compared to the location in exercise #2?

And I thought ten minutes was kind of long...but...I do have a place in mind.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Listening Exercise

My husband bought us a white noise machine for Christmas. I have to admit I love it. It helps drown out the sound of his snoring. In the summer we also run a fan in the bedroom (mostly blowing on me, but hey I am over fifty). The night is filled with constant and steady noise. But one thing I have noticed missing this summer, on the nights when it is actually cool enough to shut off the a/c and open the windows, is the hooting of the owl that often roosts in the tree outside my bedroom window, and the coyote calls in the woods across the street.

We seem to live in cocoons of steady white noise no matter where we go these days: at home, at work, in the car. There is no space for silence. Even church is no longer a silent place, and when we do have exercises in moments of silence, we are very uncomfortable. We may not like the drums and electric guitar, but we would rather hear them than our own breathing, or even worse, the breathing of the person sitting next to us.

I stumbled upon a listening exercise recently from a blog post by Kim Manley Ort. She, in turn discovered the exercise in the online publication Emergence (that's how inspiring rabbit holes work).  Kim shared her experience with the exercise, listing her results from each step and I knew I had to give this a try too.

My hearing ability is still pretty good, having given up really loud music a long time ago. But hearing always lags way behind seeing for me, which is why I was excited to try this exercise, to explore creatively with a greatly underused sense.

I have only completed the first exercise so far. Probably because I got so caught up in writing it all down before I forgot.

Exercise One: Where is the place you spend the most time indoors? Go to this place. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Spend 10 minutes with your eyes closed, listening to all of the sounds around you, nearby and far away. What do you hear?

I tried this exercise twice. Once on a 90 degree day with the windows closed and the air-conditioning on. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, I had just spent two hours mowing our grass and had taken a cool shower before lying down on the porch on my nap couch.

What I heard: the air-conditioning running (the whole ten minutes), the refrigerator, occasional cars going by, the windows and siding creaking as they were warmed by the sun. I also noticed the rustle of my shorts on the couch as I tried to get comfortable. The interesting thing is, when there was a noise I didn't immediately recognize, I tried to hunt it down, climb inside that noise. Some time in the last few minutes I dozed off. I dreamed of a tea bowl filled with colorful, small rectangular pieces of tissue paper.

The second time I tried the exercise it was late morning on a pleasant 65 degree day and the windows were open. This time I heard: the fountain in the pond behind our house, peepers down by the pond, an airplane, a cardinal, a crow, lots of cars going by on the road, the whine of a garage truck engine. Personal noises like my stomach rumbling, swallowing, and the chime of the breathe app on my Apple watch. There were more noises, but I was less curious about them. I missed the tea bowl.

Exercise Two: Seek out a public or urban environment -- a local coffee shop, a busy street corner, your rooftop. Again, for 10 minutes, listen to the sounds around you. Try to take it all in, with equal value, without judgement. What do you notice?

Exercise Number Two may be a good excuse to try my hand at a Coffee Shop Chronicle again and see how that goes. The "without judgement" part may be hard.

If you try Exercise One, I would love to hear your results.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Year with the Lensbaby Velvet 56

"It's easy to look at what is achievable in a single day and always come up short. But it is just as easy to underestimate what you can accomplish in a year."
                                                                               ~ Christina Rosalie, a field guide to NOW 

I began my 365 photography project purely on a whim. I took one picture that moved me deeply for no explainable reason on September 3, 2017. A year of heart-moving photographs seemed like the personal growth project I needed.

I chose the constraint of the Lensbaby Velvet 56 Lens for the project. The soft dreamy feel that the Velvet 56 gives images was perfect for what I hoped the project would become. I am a big fan of prime lenses, preferring to move myself instead of the lens. Also, having to manually set the aperture and focus, allowed me to compose better within the frame.

I had grand plans of being a different photographer these 365 days, one who photographed the people in her life on a regular basis, capturing special moments and daily life. And for a while I did good, of the 365 photos, 42 photographs have people. Half of those 42 were from my self-portrait photography phase. Only 14 photos were strictly of Findley, the granddog, which is pretty good, since he is a willing poser. That still leaves over 300 photos that were no different than the other 30,000 that have made me the photographer I have always been.

What I realized doing this 365 project, is that I spent too much time focused on getting the best possible shot for the day. How many little things did I miss? The bird songs in the air, the waves lapping on the beach, the ducks swimming with their babies in the channel. How many shots on my camera card did I dismiss because they weren't the very best shot that day?

Recently, I turned down the opportunity to go to Tuscany next May for a photography workshop. I woke up the morning after I had convinced my husband that it would be great idea, and said, "Don't worry, we aren't going to Tuscany." What I realized while I was sleeping is that I didn't want to spend our vacation solely focused on photography. I had just spent the last 365 days getting up every morning and thinking about getting a photo, I didn't want to spend our first trip to Italy with that same thought process.

Some people take adventures strictly so they can photograph. I am one who loves adventure for the sake of adventure, and I'll take some photos along the way to help tell the story. That doesn't mean that I don't strive for the best possible photos while telling the story. I would just prefer to stumble upon the shots than have to be hunting them every single day.

So in the end, I really am the same photographer that I was when I started. What this project showed me is that I love being that photographer.

I am experiencing some withdrawal from this daily shooting, wandering around in the morning not knowing what to do with myself. So, instead of doing short walks carrying a heavy camera, I am leaving the gear at home and taking longer hikes in the woods. This is especially appealing now that the temperature at night is getting down into the 50's. The mornings are pleasantly cool and bug free. Not everything needs to be photographed, some of life just needs to be lived.