Christmas Long Ago

Thanksgiving Almost 50 Years Ago

This year for Christmas, I’ve been fascinated with decorations.  I want to look at them, photograph them, and just enjoy them.  I was browsing the Williams-Sonoma catalog and found a lovely set of Christmas plates and started drooling.  I wanted those plates!  It didn’t make sense.  We don’t have parties or entertain.  We go to our daughter’s house every holiday.  But those plates just called to me.

Continue reading “Christmas Long Ago”

Practicing Stillness

Be Still. . . Preferably, With Some Tea; Photo Stylized With Topaz Impressions

This week’s photo challenge is minimalist, explained as:

An artfully executed minimalist photograph is anything but mundane. It illustrates a moment in time, or an artistic perspective, with simplicity and grace.


Minimalist photography is characterized by a large portion of negative space, a fairly monochromatic color palette with good contrast, and an interesting subject that is able to stand on its own to capture the interest of the viewer. At first thought, it may seem like it would be easy to shoot an engaging minimalist photograph, when indeed it can often be the opposite. A minimalist photo can also effectively tell a story, in spite of its relative simplicity, and it is anything but “plain”.

After I edited my picture, I added the minimalist phrase, “Be Still”.  It comes of course, from one of my favorite Bible verses:

Be still and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10

Simple.  Minimal.  And so very hard to actually execute.

It also comes from my creativity class with the ever-so-creative-herself, Kim Klassen.  In the very first week of “Be Still – Fifty Two”, she encouraged us to practice stillness, even if just for a minute a day.  To paraphrase, she said:

Take a breath ~ pause ~ move forward ~ one day at a time ~ center ~ peace ~ trust.

Also simple and minimal.  Also hard to actually do.

The reasons it’s hard to execute are not a surprise.  Too busy, too many demands, too tired, etc etc etc.  I could put a checklist out here and y’all would check them and add more to it.

That doesn’t make it any easier though to slow down, be still, and just be.

Be quiet.

Be simple.

Be present in the moment.

Be content with here and now.

Be grateful.

Be open to trusting God.

Which is why I chose a tea picture.  Making tea takes time.  There’s a whole ritual to it, starting with pouring out the old water and filling up the tea pot.  Get out a filter (or basket) and measure out tea.  Cut up a lemon, wash the cutting board and my hands, and wait more on the water to get hot enough.  And of course, the time waiting for the tea to steep, then cool enough to drink it.

There are days I don’t make tea for myself.  I don’t want to wait.  So I have a glass of plain water instead.  Which is still good for me, but it’s a shame that I don’t wait on my tea when I enjoy it so much.

If I slow down too much, even less will get done.  But I miss not sitting and just thinking as well.  I need it and function better when I do it.  I think like with anything, this needs practice and for me to make it more important.

So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.
― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking


We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
― Ray Bradbury






Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

This week’s photo challenge was for descent – “a perspective looking down”.

One of the most beautiful staircases I’ve ever seen is at the historic Jefferson Hotel, in downtown Richmond, Virginia.  According to their website, the hotel was built in 1895 by the tobacco magnate, Lewis Ginter.  It nearly burned down in 1901 and was not rebuilt for several years.  The famous statute of Thomas Jefferson had to be repaired when Jefferson’s head broke off as it was being carried to safety.

The hotel also had alligators in the pools until 1948!  They were pets donated by local residents who needed to get rid of them when they got too big.

According to Wikipedia, Margaret Mitchell stayed at the Jefferson during the time she wrote “Gone With The Wind”.  It is believed that the staircase at the Jefferson was the inspiration for the staircase she described in her book.

These pictures were taken at several different times.  The Christmas decorations are gorgeous and I hope to take more pictures of them this year.

Stained Glass in Maine

During my recent weekend in Maine, my daughter and I went into St. Saviour’s Episcopoal Church in Bar Harbor.  She waited patiently as I oohed and aahed over the stained glass, then proceeded to take a bunch of pictures.  According to its website, the church is the “oldest, largest and tallest public building on Mt. Desert Island”.

I offer a selection of those photos as my interpretation of this week’s photo challenge on refraction, which Wiktionary defines as, “the turning or bending of any wave, such as a light or sound wave, when it passes from one medium into another of different optical density”.  These windows were so very detailed that the light coming through was a jumble of bright colors.

I’d like to blithely expound on how this nurtured my creativity.  Well, it didn’t.  I found it frustrating and time consuming, although the end result was quite good.  I think once I get over being frustrated, I’ll be happy for the time I spent on it, but I’m not quite there yet.

Processing these took most of today.  The top 1/3 of several of them were overly dark, I think due to eaves on the outside.  Once I got them looking good, the backgrounds lightened up and the wood paneled walls showed up as maroon noise.  Ack!  My favorite boy toy made several trips upstairs to answer questions and teach me how to use layers and masks in Photoshop.  I got it figured it out too!  So that’s good.  I just wish it wouldn’t have taken so much long.  As is typical with the learning curve, it took me as long to do the first one as it did to do the rest of them together.  Of course, I was doing laundry too, so there were interruptions to hang up and put away clothes.

The pictures were a challenge to take, which is why they needed so much processing.  Thankfully my photography has improved enough that I could switch to manual mode and use spot metering to determine the optimal settings.  However, anything that was lightly colored was blown out (i.e., it showed no detail).  I had to keep slowing down my speed to darken the photos.  Worse yet, I had no tripod and wasn’t sure the church would like me setting on up anyhow.  So I hand held as best as I could, increased my ISO, and hoped for the best.

Below is how it looked before I processed it.  Everything is crooked (something I do too frequently).  The panel of three also has keystoning.  The left and right windows leaned in and while it didn’t look bad, I used transform in Photoshop to straighten them out.  And oops, I also included what my daughter was doing as I took pictures.  She was so intent on her phone, she didn’t notice me taking her picture with my cell phone.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

Grenhouse at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens; processed using Topaz Labs Black and White Filters
Greenhouse at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens; processed using Topaz Labs Black and White Filters, a white vignette, and a frame around the edges

Everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy kind of delight.
― W.B. Yeats, Poems

I like the things around me to be beautiful and
slightly dreamy, with a feeling of worldliness.
― Alice Temperley

This week’s photo challenge is “dreamy”, which Wikitionary defines as “having a pleasant or romantic atmosphere”.

The Lewis Ginter Botanical gardens in Richmond, Virginia are both pleasant and romantic.  Weddings happen nearly every weekend for brides who want a romantic venue.  For me, it’s a reminder of the beauty of nature (albeit, a groomed nature) as I walk the paths, see what’s new every few weeks, and simply relax.

It nurtures my creativity to go frequently to the botanical gardens.  I have my favorite places to look for pictures.  I also spend time trying to find something new to photograph, even if just a different angle to what I normally record with my camera.  New places are a lot of fun – everything is exciting!  But the tried and true is also good and it encourages me to be a more creative photographer to photograph with passion and not get ho-hum about being there.

The above picture was developed using Topaz Labs Black and White Filters, with a white vignette and frame around the edges.  I like the ethereal feel it gives to my favorite greenhouse.  The sky that day was overcast and as you can see in the original below, the clouds barely have a discernible shape to them.  I have many beautiful pictures of the greenhouse, so I didn’t want to spend hours trying to improve this.

If you go to the bottom of this post, you’ll see the greenhouse several years ago on a sunny day with big puffy white clouds.  You can tell by the plants around the water that picture was taken in a different year.

A different view of the greenhouse from this year is in this post and a night shot from the Christmas holidays is here.

As originally shot with some minor adjustments.
As originally shot with some minor adjustments.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Today’s creative time was spent playing with more filters and effects from Topaz Labs in addition to the ones I did yesterday.  I did it to experiment, try new things, and because I like this picture so much, I wanted to see what I could do with it.  I also played with my new Wacom tablet to brush color back into several of them.  The Wacom is easier for masking and making adjustments than trying to use a mouse, which is how I’ve done it up until now.

That wasn’t the only sign I’ve been playing with lately.  For my 31 Days Challenge, I needed a small badge for the link-up.  There were all kinds of creative badges for the 2013 Days, but I wanted to make my own using my own photos and Photoshop skills.  I had trouble making up my mind though.  The first one is the one I eventually went with, but here’s everything I made:

If you scroll your mouse over the photos, captions will show up to explain what each photo is.  To see them larger, double click and a slide show will start.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others did with this week’s photo challenge for signs, click here.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

I think one of the biggest endurance tests is the daily marathon of being a parent.  My child was, of course, perfect.  But I hear that others were not.

Parenting is a day in and day out of love, affection, frustration, anger, and just hard labor.  Nothing stops while you’re raising a child – jobs, other family members, having a place to live – all go on at the same time.  Some days it’s hard getting out of bed and enduring yet another day of challenges, but we do.  Because we have to.  Because we want to.  Because someone has to do and after the baby comes, we realize we truly are the adults and the ones who have to get it – whatever it is – done.

But you know, most days it’s worth it.  I think parenting teaches us, tempers us, and matures us in a good way.  We discover we can do things we didn’t think possible, from explaining fractions to a child who got lost in her homework to taking on a school system over a bullying issue (which resolved very well, thank you).

Parenting brings great challenges and great rewards.  It never ends, of course, but it changes.  And as our daughter and son-in-law prepare for the next generation, our relationships will again shift and adjust.

It is worth the endurance of running the race.

Oh yes, it definitely is.

[The photos above are all captioned or you can double click on one and start a slide show.  That’s me with my favorite boy toy in the pictures except where my daughter is in the red top – that’s my sister in the pink dress.  She gets a shout-out for all her help in raising my daughter and being a second mother every summer.]

*  *  *

I’m not the only one to think of family to describe the word “endurance”.  Over at Blessings Thru Raindrops, Annette posted some great photos of her mother on the slide with a great-grandchild!

To see how others interpreted this week’s photo challenge, click here.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

farmer's market, Williamsburg, Virginia
Farmer’s Market outside the Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia

One of my favorite places to people watch is at the farmer’s market.  There’s such a variety of people, from young families to old women using food stamps.  The farmer’s have their own stories as well.  Some farm full-time, others are helping their parents or grandparents, and some are doing it on the side to raise extra money.  For this week’s photo challenge on humanity, I thought I’d share photos and tell stories of going to the farmer’s market.

My favorite boy toy and I have lived in a number of states.  We’ve bought many of the staples no matter where we live – things like green beans, summer squash, potatoes, and beets.  Yet each region has something that’s just a little better or more abundant.

Omaha had corn.  When it came in, it was so cheap.  My boy toy and I would buy 3 dozen ears a week to eat, because the season only lasted about six weeks.  We mostly boiled it to eat with some butter and salt, but over time we also found some great recipes, like this corn, poblano & cheddar pizza or these corn custards.  Both are worth the work to make at least once each summer.  Omaha also had a woman who made beautiful pewter jewelry and I bought quite a bit of it to give as gifts.

We usually ate breakfast at the Omaha Farmer’s Market.  Upstream Brewing Company was on the edge of the farmers market and had outdoor seating for their restaurant.  There was often a crowd sitting there, enjoying grass-fed beef burgers with a pastry and some iced tea or coffee, all bought fresh just a few minutes ago.

St. Paul had one of the biggest farmer’s market I’d ever seen.  It was all grown within 50 miles of the Twin Cities.  I bought cranberries, all kinds of vintage apples and for the first time in my life, saw brussel sprouts on the stalk.  This is currently my favorite recipe for brussel sprouts, but make a big batch as the recipe takes some time to prepare.  And if you get greedy and buy too many apples, this is my favorite applesauce recipe.  It’s fast and easy, especially if you use a food mill (you don’t need to take off the apple skins before you cook them).  I cut the sugar down to 1/8 cup of brown sugar and substituted vanilla extract for the almond for taste preferences.  I freeze to enjoy later in the winter.

Omaha Farmer's Market, Nebraska
Omaha Farmer’s Market (Nebraska)

I now live in Virginia.  The peaches and blueberries are divine.  I don’t cook them as they get eaten too quickly.  The tomatoes are good here and much more abundant than in the Midwest.  I can buy so  many varieties at the farmer’s market, from heirloom to the latest fads in black tomatoes.  I love making salsa crudo when I can, especially since I have such a bumper crop of basil on my back deck.  It’s an Italian salsa and I use it on anything I can.  If you’re worried about the raw garlic, roast it first and it will be much milder.

The dogs were welcomed in Omaha (nowhere else though).  We used to take the Vizsla with us, mostly to get him out of the house and wear him out.  Kids loved to pet him and he loved it too, especially after he discovered that if you smelled cookies, check the hands and see if you can’t grab a nibble.  Oops.  We had to really watch that one.

A different time, a woman in shorts walked by.  He whipped around, planted his nose on her ankle and ran a trail of wet slime right up the back of her leg.  She yelped and turned to see what it was.  Thankfully he was cute enough that she didn’t get mad.

Empire apples at the Farmer’s Market at St. Stephen’s in Richmond, Virginia

One of the great things about humanity is how they can surprise others with their generosity, from the parents who shrugged off a cookie disappearing to a canine thief, to the many people who petted my dog and talked to him.  In the first paragraph, I mentioned the old women on food stamps.  They weren’t the only ones in Omaha.  There were also young mothers there with their food stamps.  To their credit, many of the farmer’s had a soft spot for those using food stamps and would give them a few extra things in the bag.

It was also a good place for family support.  We especially saw that in St. Paul, where young college women helped their grandparents, who didn’t speak English, to sell their vegetables.  Sometimes grandma was in the back of the truck, sitting on a chair to get the produce ready to put on the table while the parents worked the table.  We met farmers, their children and grandchildren from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.  We heard stories from why I farm to how I took over the family land.  I enjoyed very much getting to know the people I bought from.

If you don’t go regularly to the farmer’s market, I encourage you to try it.  I’ve been to big ones and small ones.  They all have something worth going for and worth supporting your local growers.  If you stop by to read this, leave me a message what you enjoy the most about going to your own farmer’s market.

tomatos, farmers market, Snellville, Georgia
Tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market near Atlanta, Georgia

Travel Theme: Horizon

Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama

I don’t know what it is about new horizons that thrills me so much.  It’s the excitement of something new, whether learning or seeing or just an experience of some sort.

Wikipedia defines horizon as:

The horizon (or skyline) is the apparent line that separates earth from sky, the line that divides all visible directions into two categories: those that intersect the Earth’s surface, and those that do not. At many locations, the true horizon is obscured by trees, buildings, mountains, etc., and the resulting intersection of earth and sky is called the visible horizon.

The first photo was taken at Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.  I was there for a seminar, having spent the first few days of that week visiting a manufacturing location of my employer and then talking with state government officials in Mongtomery, Alabama, also on behalf of my employer.

I’d not been to Birmingham before and this park was several blocks from my hotel.  It had a nice walking path around the perimeter and as you can see, gave an excellent view of the skyline of downtown Birmingham.  It was also busy, so I felt safe walking there.

Smoky Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina

The next photo was taken in Asheville, North Carolina.  Those are the Smoky Mountains in the distance, appropriately named for the haze that perpetually surrounds them.  I went to Asheville for vacation this summer and stayed at the Biltmore Hotel on the grounds of the Biltmore Mansion.  I had a wonderful time exploring the grounds and gardens, eating in the restaurants, and enjoying some solitude.  My favorite boy toy had gone an on extended photography expedition (by himself – vacation for me is NOT getting up at 4 am to take sunrise pictures).  This was my little getaway to reward myself for staying home, taking care of the dogs, and going to work everyday like a good girl.

I’d been to Asheville about 15 years earlier for a conference but hadn’t taken time to explore much of it.  I wanted someplace with lots of outdoors for me to explore, where I didn’t have to worry about mundane details like where to park and eat, and that was nice. . . very, very nice.  In fact, I purposefully kept my vacation shorter in order to stay someplace so nice.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia

Last is a horizon from one of my favorite places, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia.  I took this from high up in the tree house earlier this spring and got a great sweeping vista of the grounds.  Aren’t the blooming cherry trees just gorgeous?  I love going to Ginter.  Each time, I find something new to look at and from year-to-year, my photos are different.  So while not a new place for me to explore, I stay alert for what will be new on this visit.

So. . . did I cover it?  New places to visit and new experiences to have.  I’d also mentioned learning something new.  And I did!  I learned to be more comfortable traveling by myself.  I do drive back and forth to Atlanta to see my daughter, but I don’t stay in a hotel nor am I on my own.  But in both Alabama and Asheville, I not only traveled alone, but I was on my own.

I had to be careful with my security, observant to enjoy and appreciate what was around me without someone to point things out to me (as I tend to miss things), and not feel guilty for leaving my favorite boy toy behind.  In fact, he came home about 12 hours before I left for Asheville.  I offered to bring him with, but after being gone for six weeks, he just wanted to stay home and unpack.  I had a great time and he encouraged me to go alone, but it was weird and different.  I’m so used to him being with me.  But I did relax and enjoy the trip and was glad that I did it.

I have other pictures to share at from Railroad Park and Asheville both.  I wanted to share these though for Ailsa’s weekly travel theme over at Where’s my backpack?  All kinds of bloggers have linked up to the theme – go check it out and see all kinds of great shots of the horizon!

I leave you with this final thought:

The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences,
and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon,
for each day to have a new and different sun.

Christopher McCandless