31 Days Wrap-Up

Gazebo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia
Gazebo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia

October was an eventful month, from work having the number one tax return deadline of the year (October 15) to traveling with my daughter to Maine for a long weekend.  In-between all of that, I blogged daily for 31 Days.

Back on October 1, I set out my expectations and reasons for doing it:

  • To focus me on my photography and writing
  • To nurture and strengthen my creativity
  • To continue with the routine of doing something every night to nurture my creativity
I wanted to share it:
  • To encourage my readers (friends) to nurture their own creativity, whatever it is
  • To give my readers (friends) things to consider for their own application to their creative processes
  • To practice nurturing myself with evidence of it
  • To give me a body of work for my own future reference and encouragement

Those things all happened!  Not surprisingly though, it wasn’t quite as I expected.

  • It was harder than I thought it would be.  When I re-read my posts from the month, it looks so easy, but I really struggled some nights to get out what I wanted to say.  Some of my topics were complicated and I didn’t expect to write such thoughtful pieces.  I really had a burning urge to do write it up, so I hung in there and just made it happen.  I cringed each time I pushed the publish button, then spent time the next morning to lightly edit, especially repeat phrases.  I look back now and wonder why I thought my pieces were so questionable.
  • It was easier than I thought it would be.  Before I decided to do this, I went through my material in Evernote and moved a bunch of it into a single folder for ideas and materials.  At the start, I had 25 ideas to write about.  I barely dented those ideas!  More stuff came up the more I wrote and shared.  I think it’s easier to post daily than once in a while.  My ideas flow faster and easier if I do it everyday.
  • I’m really pleased with the end result.  I wanted a body of work for the future and I have it.  When I’m tired and frustrated, I can look back on this and remind myself why it’s important in my life and that these feelings will pass.
  • I developed reference material for myself.  I also have some new checklists and “how I did it” for when I do things again in the future.  That will save time and reduce frustration.
  • Your comments encouraged me.   The time you spent leaving me a note helped me realize that I was achieving my goal for sharing.  Some of you wrote that this helped clarify your own thinking and creativity.  Others found my posts to be something to try for themselves.  Although I set it for an expectation at the beginning, as the month went on, it became more important to me that it was making sense to someone else and that I wasn’t the only feeling this way or struggling with some of these things.
  • I had much more intellectual content than I expected.  I intended this to be more fun – playing with pictures and posting results.  Some nights when I was too tired, I did that.  But I had a lot more thoughtful and complex posts than I thought I would have.  That made is harder but also more satisfying.  Those posts were good things for me to write up and remember going forward.
  • I had to exercise willpower to keep posting.  For those nights I didn’t think I could summon up the energy to stick with it, I’m glad I did.  One night in particular, I did a good first draft and just couldn’t go longer.  I saved it, shut everything down and got ready for bed.  By the time I brushed my teeth and changed into pajamas, I perked up enough to come back to my office, turn on all my equipment, and finish the post.  Another time, I saved it and did actually go to bed.  But I got up early the next morning to finish and post it before work.  I don’t think I would have done any of that without the challenge.
  • My personal life changed.  This took up most of my free time.  I made sure to give my favorite boy toy my attention and to cuddle the dogs for a while each night.  But I didn’t read, work on piles of stuff, or take care of any other projects.  I didn’t cook much either but mostly used what was in the freezer.  My boy toy took over more chores for me.  Some nights I did my yoga before I wrote; some nights I did it afterwards.  One night I did it at midnight!  But I was stiff and needed to do something before bed to unkink my body and relax.  I don’t think these changes were all bad, but they were unexpected.

Am I glad I did it?  YES!!  I really enjoyed today going back through the posts and working out what I wanted to summarize to finish this off.  I’m proud of it and am glad I participated in it.

So now it’s on to November, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The year is quickly slipping away and there is much to be done still.

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.



Time For Tea

Dark chocolate covered marshmallows with sea salted caramel tea. Picture is stylized using Topaz Impressions.

You’re invited to a virtual tea time!  I’d call it by its real name – PARTY – but in the wisdom of our politicians in this country, the name has been corrupted and I don’t feel like a bunch of landings on this page because people are looking for “the” tea party instead of “a” tea party.

So.  Welcome!  I’ve been wanting to do a tea for a while with all of you.  This will be fun!

What kind of tea would you like?  I have a plain black tea, grown in India, called Tiger Hill.  There’s also a caffeinated chocolate tea that’s not too chocolaty and has no added sweetener to make it sugary.  Or would you prefer decaf such as a blueberry rooibos or sea salt caramel?  No, no sugar added to either of them although they do have some natural sweetness.

And I have some chocolate to go with your tea.  No, sorry, no cookies today.  I didn’t get around to it.  I have almond toffee, truffles, or dark chocolate covered marshmallows.  One of each?  Yes, that’s what I’m having too.  As an aside, my love for those dark chocolate marshmallows goes way back, which I wrote up here.

Were you planning on reading while you slowly sip your tea or did you want to visit?  I know it’s a bit harder to visit over the Internet, but that’s what we do when we leave comments for each other and chat back and forth.

If you want to read, do something fun!  Some inspirational websites are Marc and Angel Hack LifeThe Happiness Project or The Daily Motivator.  If you don’t like the topic at the top, search down the sides for links to other posts.  Or get yourself a Sherlock Holmes pastiche on your Kindle / Nook.  Per Google, a pastiche is “an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period”.  In this case, the authors are imitating Dr. John Watson and some of them do a really good job of it too.  They are mostly short stories and you can easily finish one or two during your tea break.  I particularly liked the ones by Hugh Ashton, although June Thomson and Steven Ehrman are very good also.

One last item – why don’t you keep a pen and paper at the table with you?  If you’re anything like me, at some point your mind will start running off with everything you forgot to do, call, or take care of.  If this happens, note them down so you can release them from your mind and relax for a few minutes.  And turn off the phone while you’re at it.  That’s your first note – remember to turn the phone back on.

Almond toffee, a truffle and blueberry rooibos tea.
Almond toffee, a truffle and Tiger Hill black tea.  A perfect combination.  Picture is stylized with Topaz Effects.

So get your tea, a small sweet treat, and something to read.  Blow on your tea to cool it, then start sipping.  Read a few sentences, take a few more sips.  Repeat.  Every few sips, take a nibble of your treat.  Just sit and relax.  Enjoy the taste of the tea and the taste of your treat.  Ahhhhh. . . isn’t that good?  Do you need to close your eyes for a few minutes and relax even more?  Please do so.  In fact, do so and think some happy thoughts.  But drink a little more tea before you close your eyes.

Now reflect.

Think fondly of the last thing you laughed at or smiled at.  Yes, the dogs are always a good choice for finding laughter.

What are you proud of at this  moment?  Proudest of this year?  Don’t worry if you can’t answer this.  You’re here to relax and have fun for a few minutes.  Move on to one of the other questions instead.

What is going right for you at this time in your life?  There’s always something to be grateful for, even if it’s small.

What are you looking forward to?

Remember, if your mind is running amuck, write it down so you remember it later.  Then let it go.

So sit, nibble, read, and relax.

Do it until your tea is gone, the house is exploding (imploding?) or you have to get back to life.

Taking a break is a great way for me to nurture my creativity.  I hope you enjoyed your break as well!

Now aren’t you in a better mood?

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.




Fixing A Dog Photo

Vizsla adjusted with Topaz Black and White
Vizsla portrait adjusted with Topaz Black and White

As I was playing around with the 100mm macro lens that my favorite boy toy lent me, I took pictures of all kinds of things (you can see more of them here and here).  Because I was learning to use it, at one point I switched back to my regular zoom lens for comparison and in the process, took a picture of the Vizsla on the deck.  The lighting was all off, but when I reviewed it later, the composition was good and I decided to see if I could salvage it.

So here’s the original:

Original Vizsla head shot

Whatever I was metering from, the dog is too dark and the background is too light.  I should have changed over to spot metering and blown out the background.

Continue reading “Fixing A Dog Photo”

Staying Encouraged

"Mom looks tiny compared to the trees" - text message from my daughter to her father and husband.  Little did she know I'd already taken a picture of her looking the same way!
“Mom looks tiny compared to the trees” – text message from my daughter to her father and husband. Little did she know I’d already taken a picture of her looking the same way as she went running that morning!  This picture was taken at Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine.

At some point, every writer wonders if his or her stories are important, and if anyone will ever care about them.  .  . I told him writing, like Tai Chi, was internal, not external. It is about feeling and honesty, if something wants to come out, it needs to come out.  One has to set up a boundary, you write for yourself and you hope it has meaning to others, but when you write,  you write only for yourself,  you cannot be thinking about what everyone else might feel or say.  Creativity is a coming out, a leap of faith, it is neither simple nor easy, but it can be profoundly rewarding.
– Jon Katz, Author and Blogger

Two years ago, after I’d been blogging for nearly 1.5 years, I had a fairly major case of discouragement about the whole thing.  I hadn’t yet thought out whether I was doing it for myself or for an audience, but I questioned whether it was worth doing in my limited time.

I got a number of thoughtful comments about it, which I eventually wrote up in four posts (start here with Part 1).  To summarize, here is what I was struggling with:

  • Overly high expectations
  • Being perfectionistic about what I was blogging
  • Trying to do everything and not being selective enough
  • Not keeping perspective that I was trying things out and discovering what did and didn’t work
  • Forgetting that my job and its requirements would have an impact on my creative time
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unsatisfied
  • Overdoing it (at one time, I was trying to keep two blogs)
  • Concern that my posts were worthy of the time my readers spent on them

I finished off with why I blogged:

  • To record my life for my own remembrances
  • To share my life with family and friends
  • To be an encouragement to others
  • I want to write
  • I want myself and everyone around me to enjoy the beauty and laughter that is everywhere

Continue reading “Staying Encouraged”

My One Thing – Storytelling My Life

Path to Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Path to Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine

Pick a direction, start marching down that path and
see how you like it.  Time brings clarity and if you find
you don’t like it, you can always change your mind.
It’s your life.
– Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The One Thing

The Short Version

After reading “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (see my notes on it here), I realized that my ONE Thing is storytelling my life.  Being a writer is too narrow for my life and being a photographer is also too limited.  I desire both and need both to achieve what I want, which is to record and curate my life.

I first read about curating my life on Gretchen Rubin’s blog (here), particularly her comment from a book that said, “self-curate or disappear”.  She expands on this with these questions, all of which I answered “yes” to:

How about you? Do you “self-curate”?
What steps do you take to preserve memories,
to catalog memorabilia, to leave a record of your life,
thoughts, experiences, and to review it?
Do you do it for yourself, or with an eye to an audience?

Wikipedia says curation is, “archiving, historical record keeping”, and that “in general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist. This means that archives are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization”.

This is what I do with my journals and photographs.  I keep a historical record of my life that is mostly unpublished and mostly unique, for which no identical copies exist.

No Longer A Writer

I realized earlier this year that being a writer no longer fit me, way before I started contemplating my one thing.  In my journal, I wrote:

What about not being a writer?

I’m okay with that.

I don’t want to be in front of the computer for long periods of time, just staring at it.

I really really hate the thought of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting all those drafts.  I’d rather watch grass grow – at least I’d be outside!

My imagination / observation is not up to that of authors.  I read all the details they put in to bring a story to life and it just blows past me.  I skip over a fair of that, which is NOT helping develop my skills as a writer either.  But if I find it interferes with the enjoyment of the story, I’d find it tedious to no end to actually write.

My life experience is actually pretty limited to be a writing what goes on in my Walter Mitty imagination.  My real life is narrow and boring with few opportunities to experience what I daydream about.  In other words, I would write without authority or knowledge.  I suppose I could obtain such knowledge through research but my time is limited, my energy is low, and my desire to do so is non-existent.

And the photography? It’s easier for me, goes faster, I have my favorite boy toy as a resource,  and people would rather look at picture than read something thoughtful anyhow.

So I guess I want to keep my journals, but for now, nothing more beyond that.

After I wrote that, I stared at it for a couple of days, then grieved.  I wasn’t ready to give up being a writer, something I thought all my life I would do.  So I decided to not give it up.

And a few days later realized that yes, this door was closed for now.  It really was good to decide that I’m not a writer.

Not Only a Photographer Either

As the summer went on, I realized that I didn’t want to be just a photographer either.  It would have been easy enough to convert my blog to mostly photographs.  I’m capable of some really good work and have enough inventory that I could post a daily picture for a fairly lengthy period before I’d run out of ideas.

But that didn’t suit me either.  Just as being a writer was too limiting, being only a photographer didn’t contribute enough.

Witch Hole Pond in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Witch Hole Pond in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine

Being a Storyteller

That’s when I realized that I wanted to tell stories from my life, with both writing and photography.  They complement each other and together give a fuller, more rounded story, the story of me.  Something to remember my life by and hopefully pass to generations after me.

Per Wikipedia, “storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences”, which is what I want to do.

Margaret Heffernan wrote an article in Inc. about a narrative template for storytelling, called ABT, that said:

So if you start with your information (And)
but only pile on information, you lose momentum
and a sense of destination. So you have to
move on to your challenges (But) and then
imagine a resolution (Therefore).

I haven’t overly focused on technique, but it matches what I try to do.  I make a point, share from my life how I executed (or failed) and why it was important to me.  As with anything, it doesn’t work everytime, but I get (and appreciate) the comments that you all are relating to many things that I post in my blog.

As I’m writing this, I did some research on Google about storytelling techniques.  Needless to say, there are all kinds of hints and tips out there.  Storyteller.net had a useful list of tips for those telling verbal stories that also applies to what I’m doing.  Two particularly good reminders were to tell stories that I like and to not hesitate to remove slow moving parts.  Amanda Lewan’s blog post is directed to the fiction writer, but she has a good reminder to show, don’t tell.

I’ve been working on this approach for a while and need to continue honing my skill at storytelling my life.  For now though, for my creative side, this is my ONE Thing.  Identifying it and writing it out nurtures my creativity by giving me focus and helping me prioritize my time and efforts.

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.


The One Thing – Book Review

View from Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine.  This was taken from the Blue Hill Overlook.
View from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine. This was taken from the Blue Hill Overlook.

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants.
The question is, what are we busy about?
– Henry David Thoreau

Among the things I’ve done recently to nurture my creativity is to finish the book, “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  I’ve been reading it off and on all year, going back over parts several times.  More information and resources can be found at their website, the1thing.com.

Below are some of the parts that I highlighted because it really spoke to me.

My purpose here is to create a short list that I can refer to going forward.  The book is much more involved than this, with lots of examples of how to apply to this and pitfalls to watch out for.  The constant theme is encouragement that I can do this – it’s within reach.  But I have to act on it.  Reading about it, thinking about it, and talking about it is not enough to reach my goals.

  • Not everything matters equally
  • Success is sequential, not simultaneous.  You do the right thing and then the next right thing, building success over time.
  • Only ONE Thing can be the most important.
  • No one succeeds alone.
  • Passion and skill are connected.  Passion leads to disproportionate time practicing or working on something.  When skills improve, results improve, which leads to more enjoyment, more passion, and more time invested.
  • Achievers work from a clear sense of priority.
  • Multitasking is a lie and exacts a cost few realize they’re paying.
  • We don’t need more discipline than we have right now.  What we need is the habit of doing it and just enough discipline to build the habit.
  • Build one habit at a time and give it enough time (66 days at least) to get solidly established.
  • Willpower always being on will-call is a lie.  Willpower has a limited supply and has to be managed like food or sleep (see the extensive list of what taxes willpower in Chapter 7).
  • A balanced life is a lie.  Time on One Thing takes away time from another.
  • We have to envision our own journeys, make our own maps, and create our own compasses.  What we want doesn’t come with a set of instructions.
  • See Chapter 11 for the focusing questions to help identify my ONE thing.
  • Productivity is driven by purpose and priority.
  • I need to know what matters to me and take daily actions in alignment with it.
  • Goal setting needs to work from the distant future back to right now.
  • Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another (Walter Elliot).
  • My biggest challenge is likely to be my need to do other things besides my ONE Thing.
  • It takes elite performers 10 years to gain mastery.
  • The four thieves of productivity are the inability to say no, fear of chaos, poor health habits and an environment that doesn’t support my goals (both people and physical surroundings).
  • Success is an inside job.
  • Chapter 8 has a great discussion about balancing our lives.  For our personal life, the authors talk about the need for tight counterbalancing and that the need to avoid long periods where we’re out of balance.  For our work lives, it will be necessary to be out of balance for long periods to achieve extraordinary results.  They include a quote by the author James Patterson, that describes our personal life as glass balls which if dropped, are irrevocably scuffed, nicked or shattered, whereas our work life is like a rubber ball that bounces back.

I see where I’ve done many of these things at work.  I unwillingly took a job doing state income taxes, only to find out I was very good at it (I wrote the story up here).  The more I practiced and studied, the better I became.  Over time, I pared away the things that kept me from being an expert in my field and concentrated on mastery.  Although I will never know it all, I know more than many people do about corporate state income taxes.

So for my next post the question will be, how do I apply that to my creativity?

Note from yesterday’s post – I went back and added another item to my checklist of what I need to remember for next time.  I also added in some more blooper pictures.  I did a lot of experimenting and it’s a shame to not display all my ideas, even though they didn’t work.

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.



Bloopers and Practicing Failure

This week’s assignment for my close-up photography course (I discussed in more detail here) was to use items from the kitchen or bathroom.  The three above turned out really well.  I especially like the bubbles that’s almost entirely green.  But wait until you see what didn’t turn out.

I spent all afternoon working on this and by the end, was really frustrated.  Not only did I feel like a real fumble fingers trying to do this, but a lot of what I tried didn’t turn out.  Some of it was that my subject matter was just bad.  Others were bad technique, from not paying attention to the composition to being out of focus.

I did this outside on the deck and what a mess!  Eventually I realized that the tripod was not helping.  I had to move around to catch my subject matter and I couldn’t predict ahead of time where my focal point would be.  My favorite boy toy helped me figure out how to keep that cardboard upright (there’s a box behind it, plus the two Windex bottles to push it back against the box).  Sitting on the stool gave me the right height, but only some of the time.  The sun got really hot, but not until after I’d brought out the chocolate to photograph with the tea.

Geez, what a mess.  The only thing not here is the miniature pinscher who is off to the left, guarding me from elderly women taking a walk.
Geez, what a mess. The only thing not seen here is the miniature pinscher who is off to the left, guarding me from elderly women taking a walk.

So here are some things that I learned:

Continue reading “Bloopers and Practicing Failure”

A Walk in October (2014)

I went to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens last weekend.  I wanted a walk, I wanted some fresh air, and I wanted to see what was new for picture taking.

What a change from just three weeks earlier!  Many of the flowers that had been in bloom were no longer there.  The top row of the gallery above is what I saw in October; the bottom row is from September.  There were still things to see, but only the rose was brightly colored.

My first clue as to how much the garden had changed was as soon as I walked out the doors of the visitors center.  The lush greenery and flowers around the fountain were gone and in its place, some rather sparse potted plants.

A few more feet out and the next fountain was actually shut off (the only picture I could find of the fountain working is from April 2012; the fountain is to the far left of the photo).

The greenhouse fared no better.  All those lovely red flowers and yellow bromeliads from the photo on the left were gone.  Violas, a winter hardy pansy, were waiting in pots to be planted.

The gardens on the side path leading to the greenhouse were also gone (left photo).  The dahlias, lantanas, and orange gerbera daisies were all gone, replaced by more violas.

I saw only one – ONE – bee the entire time.  There were no butterflies, no dragonflies, no wasps, and few birds.  Of course, with how few flowers there were, I wasn’t overly surprised.  But still, it was warm enough I would have expected to see at least a few bees getting a last load of pollen before winter.

I did see Christmas lights and they were lit up too!  You have to look closely due to how bright it was outside, but those yellow dots on the shrub and the white dots on the ground cover next to it are Christmas lights.

Did I have fun?  Of course!  There’s always something to take a picture of and as I said at the beginning, the opportunity for a walk and some fresh air is important too.  So here’s a few more things that I saw last weekend.

Remember to keep looking for beauty everywhere.  Enjoy the seasons, such as they are.  And take a walk to get some fresh air, everyday if possible.

Go outside.  Don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone.
Start walking and keep walking until you no longer know the road
like the palm of your hand, because we walk the same roads
day in and day out, to the bus and back home and we cease to see. 
We walk in our sleep and teach our muscles to work without thinking
and I dare you to walk where you have not yet walked and I dare you to notice. 
Don’t try to get anything out of it, because you won’t. 
Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. 
And that’s the point.  Just walk, see, sit down if you like. 
And be.  Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have,
and realise that that is enough to be happy.
~ Charlotte Eriksson

To wrap up – did this nurture my creativity?  Actually, it was a difficult post for me.  I had to scan two sets of photographs, looking for commonalities and differences and keep a storyline straight.  It would have been so much easier to just post what I saw on my walk in October, but that didn’t accomplish what I wanted to set out.  So yes, trying something different did nurture my creativity and give me ideas for future ideas with showing my photography.

To see what others are did for their Walks in October, click here.

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.




Still Life With Tea

Sun tea, stylized in Topaz Labs Effects

Tonight I unexpectedly nurtured my creativity by going prop shopping.  I have some ideas for pictures this weekend and needed some different types of teas.  I will, of course, have to taste test them as I take pictures!

I was thankful to not have many crowds.  I went straight from work, which helped, but by the time I was finishing up, it was getting noticeably busier.  My favorite boy toy met me at the mall and we have a wonderful supper at the Cheesecake Factory.  I got a flatbread pizza, with chicken added to it, and strawberries with whipped cream for dessert.  It was decadent and a great way to finish the week.

I stopped afterwards at Barnes & Noble and bought several books, including one on night photography.  I love it when night photos turn out well and after my posting here, I definitely want to try more of it.

This is a picture I took earlier this summer of sun tea brewing on the deck railing.  For instructions on how to make it, click here.

The original photo is below, uncropped and unadjusted on the left; on the right is cropped and adjusted.

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.