Thursday, March 31, 2016

Evolution of a Photographer

The words have left me. Whenever that happens I turn back to the thing that started me on this creative journey in the first

When I quit my retail job in September 2011 to pursue my passion for photography, I thought I would take a couple of photography classes, practice a little and I would be good. I did not know about the long and winding journey that lay ahead. It is probably good that I didn't know or I may have never started.

It is now the spring of 2016, four and a half years after I started on my photography journey, and I finally feel confident to say I am a photographer when a stranger asks me "What do you do?" It helps that I have the work to back it up, in the form of a couple of published pieces, and a worthy Instagram account.

Writing this post I finally found a good reason to keep my less-than-perfect early work, because when I look at this I can see how far I have really come.  MY goodness...

Confession time - I have ALWAYS hated taking still life photos of flowers, and now in the midst of, what seems like, my hundredth e-course I know isn't about the flower. It is about the light, the lines, the angle, the camera settings, and the post-processing. It is about portraying emotion within the frame.

In the beginning I compared myself to everyone, and everyone was better than me, or so I thought. If they were better than me, it was only because they had already put in hundreds of hours of practice and had earned the place they were at.

It would have been so easy to give up a year into it, when I was still far from good. But if I quit I not only let myself down, I also let my family down who had supported me whole-heartedly into this passion pursuit. So I kept going, chasing the specific things I needed and wanted to learn. It wasn't an easy journey, it isn't a quick journey, but it is a worth-while journey to that place of confidence and being good enough.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Instagram Meet Up

Photo Credit: Sleeping Bear Dunes NPS

Last Saturday, my daughter Mallory and I participated in our first Instagram Meet Up. I have been wanting to do one of these forever, so when the invitation popped up in my Instagram feed on Wednesday, I knew I had to go.

It didn't matter that the meet up was three hours away, what did matter was that the weather forecast called for 100% sunshine, even if the temperature was only going to be 37 degrees. I didn't have anything else I had to do that day, a rare thing for a Saturday. But most important, the meet up was happening in my favorite place on earth - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The appointed meeting place was the one room schoolhouse. Surprisingly, the schoolhouse is not owned by the National Park Service, it is still owned by the Glen Haven School District, so no inside tour.

We did get an inside tour of the Miller barn that was a short trip down the road. A lot of the wood needed for the restoration work on these old buildings is stored in a scattering of historic barns throughout the park.

From the barn we set off on a short hike to, as my daughter teased me "one of your favorite things". Mallory interned at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore a couple of summers ago, she knew where we were going, but wanted me to be surprised.

A small family cemetery located on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, too bad I am not a part of the Werner family, this is where I would like to be buried.

After the cemetery it was an uphill hike to a view from the top of a bluff. The day was crystal clear and we could see for miles.

Just an FYI, that is not Wisconsin in the background behind Mallory - that is North Manitou Island. Mallory and my husband have hiked/camped there on a few occasions and are planning a return trip.

It was a great day spent with my beautiful girl in my favorite place; throw in some history about the area and the Insta Meet was a success.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Insatiable Appetite for Reading

Doesn't it figure that the year I loosen my reading expectations, lower my book reading goal on Goodreads, and quit my book club, is the year that I develop an insatiable appetite for reading.

Last week I had to increase my reading goal on Goodreads from 30 books to 40 books for the year. I was seven books ahead of schedule and it is only the end of March.

I recently finished Stephen King's book On Writing. His top piece of advise to writers is "read a lot and write a lot". I am well on my way this year, although I did feel a bit sheepish when Stephen said he is a slow reader, finishing only 80-90 books per year. If he is slow, I am almost comatose. We won't talk about how many words he writes a day.

I usually have a tangible book, and an e-book going at the same time. The great thing about e-books is that I can be reading it on my iPad and then when I have to wait somewhere, like the grocery story line or the doctor's office, I can continue to read the book on my iPhone. I recently have taken the plunge into audio books. I love listening to a book while I am at the gym, it is a great motivator. I want to keep listening to the story.

I have also found that if small talk isn't your God given gift, being a reader helps you to find a topic to discuss. If you read enough you are bound to find common ground. On our recent cruise with some of my husband's co-workers and their spouses, I found this very helpful (small talk not being my God given gift). I was reading Brave Girl Eating on my iPad on the plane. The book is written by the mother of a high school age daughter with anorexia, a well written book since the mother is a professor of journalism. That book was discussed many times over the course of our cruise, it is amazing to me how many people know somebody with an eating disorder.

I found Brave Girl Eating on (another recent addiction), it is all e-books, either on Amazon or iBooks. They send out a daily emails with the specials of the day, e-books ranging from free to $2.99. You choose the categories of books you are interested in when you sign up for the emails.

One of my favorite daily activities on the cruise was to wander the among the lounge chairs on the upper decks looking at the covers of books people were reading (this is one downfall of e-books), I am a sucker for a good book cover. I discovered a few good ones in my wanderings, one being The Widow by Fiona Barton. It was interesting to see how many people were reading the same book or the same author, I saw a lot of Jojo Moyes.

I didn't finish all the books I brought on the trip, but I did finish two and started two others.

The best moment came when we were at the Miami Airport on our way home, we had a couple of hours before our flight. I had had my share of sitting for the week, so I left my husband in charge of the carry-ons and wandered off towards the bookstore I had spotted on the way to our gate. I went in not with the intention of buying, only to capture interesting book covers with my iPhone. When I returned to our waiting area, my friend Stacy was back from her own wanderings. We discovered that we had each taken photos of book covers for future reading ideas. We compared photos.
Stacy's captures:

My captures:

These five have been added to my very long to-read list.

First Quarter Reads:

Tangible Books:
On Writing - Stephen King - 5 stars
Imagined London - Anna Quindlen - 3 stars
A Detroit Anthology - Anna Clark - 4 stars
Thunderstruck - Erik Larson - 2 stars
Wanderlust - Rebecca Solnit - 3 stars
The Creative Habit - Twyla Tharp - 5 stars
All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr - 5 stars
The Storied Life of A.J. Fiery - Gabrielle Zevin - 5 stars
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain - 4 stars

Brave Girl Eating - Harriet Brown - 4 stars
The Longing for Home - Frederick Buechner - 4 stars

Audio Books:
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris - 5 stars

Not a bad start for the year. I would love to hear what you are reading right now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Writers need obsessions. Photographers need obsessions. Obsessions help us to develop the gifts and talents we have been given.

Last year was my year of obsessions, although this year seems to be shaping up the same way. Some obsessions are the same as last year, some old obsessions have been replaced by new ones.

The first few months of last year I was obsessed with my water project, I am reliving that obsession now as I reread my Morning Pages journal entries from last year. I was constantly obsessing over the weather, getting blog posts done, and taking photographs for those blog posts. I hope to not be as obsessed with one particular thing this year, I don't think I can stomach reading about it day after day next year.

I think the turning point to ending that singular obsession came one morning last April. It was a day for shirt sleeves, I was out exploring a county park I hadn't been to before. As I hiked along the soggy grass paths, I realized that life is too short to focus so much on one thing. I was missing out on all the other things I enjoy. Once I got back to the parking lot, I sat down at a picnic table next to the historic barn I had spent the morning photographing, I took my notebook and pen out of my backpack and began to make a list of all things that interest me, an obsession list. The list was long.

Finished with the list, I repacked my notebook and pen, gathered up my water bottle and backpack and returned to my car. I drove home with a new perspective, determined to not waste any more time ignoring all my other obsessions. Wouldn't life be more fun if I dabbled a little in all of them. When I got home, I transferred the list I had made in the notebook to the notes app. on my phone. I wanted to be able to see that list at any moment, and maybe even add to it.

This morning I went to the notes app. to see if the list was still there, it was. I haven't look at in a while or added to it, but the list did what it was suppose to do, it got me out of that single obsession rut.

Here is my list from April 2015, in no particular order:
  • travel
  • coffee shops
  • people watching
  • water
  • barns
  • iPhoneography
  • leading lines
  • self-portraiture
  • food
  • vintage items
  • color
  • walking
  • parks
  • Mallory
  • Great Aunt Viola
  • Grandma
  • old buildings
  • history
  • reading
  • small town life
  • typography
  • old signs
  • decay
I thought I would make a new list for this year, here is my list as of March 2016:
  • reading
  • people watching
  • writing
  • storytelling photography
  • walking
  • learning
  • handmade pottery mugs
  • old buildings
  • painterly landscape photo processing
  • neutral colors - white, gray and black
  • beaches
  • audio books
  • podcasts
  • fog
  • natural light
  • wide open space with horizon lines
My list is smaller this year, but I feel it is more focused than ever, there is still plenty of room within many of these to develop sub-obsessions.

Don't be surprised if you see some of these obsessions being turned into future blog posts.

What about you? What are your obsessions this year? I would love to hear.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lessons in Observation - Midnight Blue Sky

The dog stood by the door, his signal that he needed to go outside. Not getting a fast enough response he turned his head and fixed his melt-your-heart brown eyes on me. I didn't understand his need to go outside, he had just been out there ten minutes earlier and done all his morning business. Maybe going outside after eating his breakfast was just too much a part of his normal routine, even if he didn't have to do anything.

The eyes won, I grabbed my long, down coat from the closet, pulled on my paisley rain boots, snapped on his leash, and at the last second grabbed my mittens from the counter. I opened the door from the garage and we were off.

He made a beeline down the driveway to the bike path, he thought we were going for a walk. This was not my thought at five o'clock in the morning. Once on the bike path he stopped, giving me a moment to catch up. That's when I noticed it - the enchanted winter wonderland that had been created over night. The stillness. A thick blanket of snow covered the ground absorbing all sound. Above me was the deepest, darkest midnight blue sky, filled with tiny golden lights. Also floating in the sky were jagged edged islands of sooty gray clouds. A weak moon shown through the breaks in the clouds, illuminating the path before us.

Maybe I would indulge the old guy for a quarter mile or so, it was too magical out here to go back to the warm house so soon. We set off down the unplowed bike path. When we reached the subdivision corner, it was time to turn around, my head was cold from the lack of a hat. The dog was disappointed, I have a feeling he had more things he wanted to show me.

Back in the warm house, I gave him one of his big biscuits, to thank him for the breathtaking adventure. Maybe tomorrow I won't forget my hat, and we can travel a little farther.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lessons in Observation - Winter Storm Warning

The weather service has issued another winter storm warning. Since when has 3-5 inches of snow merited a winter storm warning? Have we become wimpy here in Michigan? Maybe it is the lack of snow this year that has created this new panic, anything more than an inch or two seems like a blizzard. As I sit here by the window preparing for a morning of writing, drinking my freshly brewed coffee, I watch the parade of pickup trucks with snow plows attached travel up and down the road. The snowmen are hungry for snow, hungry for the money clearing other people's driveways brings them. As I watch the snow gently fall, I realize this is the prettiest storm I have every seen. 

**I am in a writing class called Story Slices. Creating bite size stories about every day observations. I am hoping to turn these into a new series - Lessons in Observation. Some many turn out to be longer; reminiscent of The Coffee Shop Chronicles days. I know this is a style of writing I want to get back to, without always having to go to a coffee shop to write them. I have also started an additional Instagram account @herlifeinvignettes, which I will be using as a working creative space for story ideas and life observations.