Monday, January 31, 2011

Photos and thoughts

Lately I've been letting my photos speak for me, so I think it's time to let a few thoughts ooze out...just a few. But first I'll start with a picture and a story about my mini adventure. :)
Nutria, 1/28/11, Nob Hill, Carrollton
On friday afternoons if we are not busy at work my boss allows me to leave 30 minutes early, which means I get an extra hour of light for photography. I almost always head straight to one of several nature areas in my city. Recently, I had purchased a pair of rubber boots so that I could go deeper into the woods. So here I was last Friday afternoon standing at the edge of the pond in my trusty new boots, not afraid of a thing. I had been shooting a timid little woodpecker for a good 30 minutes. It was getting near dusk, and he was being extremely shy, staying in the shadows of one particular tree. I was using manual focus because the light was so dim, and my 55-250mm lens does not focus well in low light. Suddenly I heard a rustling sound. I looked down and four feet to my right was a beaver! Well, I thought it was a beaver, but learned the next day that it was a Nutria. A rodent! Glad I didn't know it at the time because I am really terrified of rodents. It's the tail, y'all! *shivers* Anyway, I was able to overcome my fear, get my camera back on the right settings and shoot away. This was the only decent shot that came out. I think he was more afraid of me and my clicking sounds than I was of him. An exciting way to start my weekend.

Hairy Woodpecker, 1/28/11, Nob Hill
This is the bird I was shooting when the Nutria appeared. Dadgum low light caused this picture to be kind of grainy, so I embraced the grain with a wonderful texture by Jerry Jones of Shadowhouse Creations. His button is on the sidebar of my blog. Anyway, this makes me more determined than ever to save up for that 400mm lens. Although I know that once I have that I will be lusting after the 700mm. I really need to get my lens lust under control. I think it's a sin. 

Hairy woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker, 1/29/11, Nob Hill
The next day I had better light, but it's still not as sharp as I'd like.

Now for thoughts...I did promise those, didn't I?
  • I love my church and I love our priest. He makes me feel special, like I'm worthy to be though this is the way Jesus himself loves. It's nice. I'm a little afraid of the feeling, yet I'm drawn to it at the same time. It's so refreshing to have a clergyman practice what he preaches. He has stood at the altar on more than one Sunday and told us we should make others feel as though they matter, that they are the most important person in the room. That's the way he makes me feel. Perhaps he senses my need.
  • My mother was overly emotional yesterday, but I refrained from crying with her as I usually do. I felt a little more in control, talking her through it, although my voice cracked a couple of times because she's becoming like a lost child, and that's hard to deal with.
  • I wish I could start a career in nature photography, somehow. When I'm out in nature seeing all of creation and capturing it with my camera, my soul is at peace. I feel closer to God than at any other time. Sometimes I pray when I'm out there—out loud—and it feels right.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


When I started Project 365 last year I quickly determined after posting my shot of the day, that I would delete all the superfluous "contenders". A few weeks later I ran into situations when I could not decide which photo to choose, so I (thankfully) saved the extra pics to work on for a rainy day. Now that I am no longer immersed in getting a photo every single day, I have the time to go back and look at some of those extras. Here are the ones that got saved:

Reject of 1/6/10
Reject of 1/6/10
Since the weather has been so uncooperative lately, I got the idea of going through my rejects of last year's Project 365. Edited in Photoshop using Pioneer Woman's "define and sharpen" action. Added a texture called Page 189 by Joessistah. I think I'll keep it now!

Reject of 2/17/10
Reject of 2/17/10
Loved Izzy's expression here but wasn't happy with anything else about it. Ran PW's 'define and sharpen" and "slight lighten" actions, then added one of Joessistah's butterflies. Just having fun! Now that the pressure is off 365, I can do that. :)

Reject of 8/6/10
Reject of 8/6/10
I had been waiting all summer for the male cardinal to perch on top of St. Francis' head. Finally I got my wish but he didn't stay long. Afterwards, I decided I didn't like the photos for my project, but still, I could not delete them...just in case. Initially, I rejected this shot because the cardinal's tail had some motion blur and the photo was too dark. Pulled it into Photoshop and slapped on this "LA Post" gray texture which lightened up the photo considerably. I erased the texture from the bird to make him "pop" and I think I like it now. :) Sorry, I do not know the origin of this texture.

Reject of 10/6/10
Reject of 10/6/10
At the time I didn't like the bottom bee because he is out of focus; however, i just noticed tonight the blur of his wings which actually looks kinda cool.

Reject of 10/7/10
Reject of 10/7/10
Shooting dragonflies/damselflies is difficult for me. The biggest problem is the reflections in their bulbous eyes. I think I rejected this one because of that and because his wing is tattered. But I loved his turquoise blue face and couldn't delete him for that reason. Shouldn't we be like that with people? We shouldn't write off someone because of a perceived flaw; everyone has them, and with a little effort, you might just uncover a hidden gem.

Reject of 10/8/10
Reject of 10/8/10
I took about 20 shots of this egret as he grabbed a fish right out of the water. This is cropped to show more detail. Hard to believe, but as recently as October I did not know how to sharpen properly in Photoshop or Lightroom. Not that I know my stuff now, as I'm displeased with the reddish outline that resulted after I sharpened. If anyone knows how to fix this, I would be grateful. :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Austin Street Shelter

Austin Street Centre, where I met stark reality face to face. Sorry the photo is
not very good, but I took this with my iPhone. I could not muster
the courage to take out my SLR for a better photo.
Sunday, January 15, I was very excited and a little apprehensive. I had signed up for the Shelter ministry at my church and didn't know what to expect.

When my friend and I arrived together at the small, but efficient church kitchen, my eyes were having trouble taking in all the activity. It was hard to know where to jump in and start. It's a weakness of mine that I needed to get!

When my eyes finally adjusted, I spied two women dicing red onions on a small cart in one corner. Next I noticed six of the biggest electric cookers I've ever seen lined up on the counters with an enormous block of melting butter inside each that would make Paula Deen swoon. Before I knew it I was in front of one of those cookers and told to place 6-2/3 cans of Cream of Mushroom soup in my pot and mix with the butter. Next came huge cans of green beans, corn, and tuna. Finally, the onions were added. I was thinking the onions should have been sauteed with the butter, but I was not in charge, managing for once in my life to keep my big mouth shut. Someone went around and added milk, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon pepper to the cookers. After the mixture was the right consistency, it was time to let it all simmer.

I jumped over and helped another lady whose job it was to wash out the cans and place them inside garbage bags for recycling. Every now and then I would go over to my cooker like a mother hen, also checking on the one next to mine if it wasn't manned. It felt like a labor of love, and in some possibly irrational way I wanted my love and care to meld with the ingredients in my pot.

As the cookers simmered, four gigantic pots of water were placed on the stove in preparation for the rice. Jumbo boxes of minute rice were dumped inside of three large ice chests. Soon, the boiling water was added directly to the dry rice inside the chests, immediately after came the tuna mixture which now contained chopped, boiled eggs. I was thinking there was a lot of much-needed protein in that dish, which would be a good thing.

We loaded two SUVs with the tuna-filled chests, along with a few hundred sandwiches that had been made beforehand by various church members, and set off. On the ride over I was feeling exhausted. I didn't realize how much physical work it takes to feed 400 people.

As we waited to be let inside the gates of the shelter I was surprisingly calm. The workers at the center unloaded the cars and took everything inside for us. Once all the food was placed beside the tables we began to sort the sandwiches, putting all the like ones together. There was PB&J, ham, turkey, bologna, salami, tuna salad, and egg salad. The men and women were already lined up, eagerly awaiting what we had for them.

It was an extremely orderly, organized process. They were each allowed one sandwich and one bowl of tuna casserole. If there was food left over after everyone had a turn, they were allowed to come back for seconds. A few asked if they could have two sandwiches, even though they had been told one, so we gently reminded them of the rule, and thankfully, no issues. But I was cautioned if someone took two anyway that we shouldn't say anything.

As the people shuffled by in the line, I looked into each face, trying to get some sense as to how they used to be, and how they finally succumbed to this way of life. On some of them you could immediately guess drugs or alcohol. A face can be a road map like that. For others, it was clear they were not all there mentally. There were a few men who looked like former professionals, with somewhat new looking clothes and hairstyles, but for the most part, I surmised the majority had a hard life whether because of their own decisions or circumstances out of their control.

I wondered how many of us could have ended up the same way if we had been abused, or had an untreated mental illness, or if bad luck had dogged us for much of our life. As old as I am I still have difficulty accepting unfairness in the world. Why must there always be the Haves and the Have Nots? Or is it Haves Not? I can never get the grammar right on that. :/

Curiosity soon gave way to pity, and I hoped it didn't show. I have one of those faces that reveals my emotions, even if I don't wish to. Through it all I pasted a smile on my face, willing that it would seem genuine because I wanted to convey hope to these people. As some of them thanked us for the food, I made sure I looked them right in the eyes and said "You are so welcome" in the most loving way I knew how.

The pain and evident suffering in their eyes haunted me. Then there were the ones who could not look into our eyes, who raised their heads up just enough to receive the food...that was deeply touching. At that point I realized that it was much easier to give than to receive.

I did not write this to broadcast what a good person I am, or anything of the sort; rather, I merely wanted to document my personal experience in order to make some sense of it, if that's even possible. I think I realized that all people, regardless of their circumstances, need to be treated with respect. And we all need to help one another get through this life, because it's not easy for a lot of people. Many do not have the advantage of loving, stable homes, so we need to be there to make up the difference when possible.

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

If we all lived by this verse, can you imagine how beautiful the world would be? Let's do it!

Comments off.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A letter to my mother

On January 17, 1939 my mother entered the world. We've never been good at showing affection, or talking about our feelings, so at Christmastime I wrote her the following letter and sent it with her card:

Dear Mama,

I wanted to write a little more than the Christmas card space allowed, so I hope you don’t mind the typewritten letter.

First, I want you to know how much I love you since we never say it to each other, and I want to make sure that you REALLY AND TRULY KNOW. I don’t think it needs to be said because the things we do for each other seem evidence enough. Besides, we both get emotional and Lord knows there are enough tears shed whenever our visits come to an end. “Good-bye” is becoming increasingly difficult to say with each subsequent visit. My urge is to put you in the car and demand that you get on the plane with me. But I know that’s not possible, even though I wish with all my might that it was.

Growing up, we were like a team – just you and me. You made sure I was fed, clean, and decently clothed. You provided much-needed structure, and more importantly, you brought me up in the Catholic faith. You stood silently by as I went to other faiths, and as long as those religions believed in the Trinity, you seemed okay with that. Well, I’ve had 30 years to explore and sometimes not explore, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion, as you know, that I need the comfort and rituals of Catholicism in my life, even if it’s under the umbrella of Anglicanism at the moment. Thankfully, Dennis is on board with me; otherwise, I would have gone on the path alone. The worship service is so comforting to me on Sunday mornings, that sometimes my eyes fill with tears thinking of all the years I could have been worshipping this way but didn’t. Then again, maybe I needed to go through that to appreciate the faith.

Sadly, I haven’t been the perfect daughter, or the perfect mother, or the perfect wife, and it’s hard to admit those things. Hell, it’s hard to live with. All I can do is go forward and try to do better. You have demonstrated how to be a graceful lady my whole life. I inherited maybe 10% of your grace (and that’s a big MAYBE), but I try to incorporate more of you into my personality as the years go by. It’s funny…when I was young I wanted to be my own person and not like you at all. Now, all I want is to be like the gracious lady you are.

Finally, I want you to know how much I appreciate all the things you have done for me and my family over the years. You were at every high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, and more. My children have always felt and known your love from the day they took their first breath. They’re at the age now where they’re trying to discover themselves and make their way in the world, which means they’re busy and preoccupied – not a lot of time for mom and Mimi. But there is such comfort for them to know that you love them unconditionally and are always in their corner no matter what.

Well, that’s enough for now. I will see you soon and hopefully have one of the children with me – probably Greg. Please keep him and us all in your prayers.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Photo highlights of the week

Egret with Mallard and American Wigeon
I drove back to the nature area for the 2nd time this day in hopes of getting more snow shots (see below). Sadly, the snow had already melted, but I spied this egret right away. I sat in freezing temps for over an hour waiting for her to stab a fish with her beak, which never happened. The things I do for photography. :/
Furneaux Creek Trails
January 9, 2011

First Snowfall of 2011
It started snowing during Father Duncan's sermon, falling steadily for over 2 hours. By hour 3 the sun was emerging, the sky was the most beautiful blue, and the snow was no more. I submitted this for the Focus 52 project, although I wasn't completely thrilled with it.
Furneaux Creek Trails
January 9, 2011

Cucumber Beetle
Cucumber Beetle
Yes, a bright yellow flower in my yard in the middle of winter. I had been having a rough week, so this little wildflower was like God telling me that there are bright spots even in areas of desolation—you just have to look for them. The beetle seemed completely unaware of the gray, cold day; probably just grateful for his good fortune.
January 7, 2011

Ring-billed gull in flight
Ring-billed gull in flight
Furneaux Creek Woodlake Pond
January 1, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I thoroughly enjoyed Project 365; however, I'm a little relieved it's over. There were days I spent upwards of two hours (sometimes longer) photographing and editing in the evenings. Surprisingly, I only cheated twice, but the two photos I cheated on I could have easily replicated anyway. Even with two cheats, I am going to give myself a pass and call it complete. 2010 had its ups and downs, so when the days were not going well--and there were many--it was difficult to stay committed.

I never got that "perfect" shot; in fact, there were times I fell so far short of perfection that I wanted to give up, especially if I spent hours trying to get it right. One thing my shortcomings forced me to do was learn how to apply textures in Photoshop. A cool texture can salvage a mediocre photo, let me tell you. I also learned how to sharpen around my subject with the help of Kimi Kreations. The sharpening technique helped tremendously with my insect shots. Now for a better lens in 2011... :)

I'm a nature girl through and through, so shooting birds, flowers, sunsets, dogs, and bugs gave me the most pleasure. This love of mine inspired me to find nature areas in my town that I didn't know existed before this project. I also lost weight along the way because it was difficult hiking and carrying equipment with 40 pounds of extra baggage. I still need to lose 10 more, but I'm not complaining--a 30 lb. loss is nothing to frown about.

This video is a compilation of some of my favorite photos from Project 365. I set it to the music of Broken Bells' song Trap Door for no particular reason other than I love the song and the timing fit with the number of photos I chose. It's about 3 minutes long, and you can see an improvement in my skills about halfway through.

Happy New Year to you all! I'm now embarking on Project 52, a once a week endeavor. Hope to see you around!