10 Things I’m Super Thankful For.

It’s that time of year to step back, take a look at the big picture, and reflect on all the little things we take for granted. Obviously, it’s good to do this more than once a year, but sometimes life gets in the way. Making a conscious effort to recognize all the GOOD stuff is not only super healthy, but really helps bring me back down to earth.

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1. Family, friends, and Hubby. These people are the cornerstone to my existence!

2. My 20′s. A time of learning, risk taking, and growth.

3. Every moment that led to today. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the little experiences that have shaped me.

4. Dreams coming true. Even when it feels like all hope is lost, keep going. The bad times will pass and newer, greater doors will always open.

5. Good health. I’m thankful to have a healthy body and mind, because those two things are crucial to proper health in all other aspects of life: relationships, spirit, energy, etc. And with the month I’ve got in store, I’m going to need it all!

6. Quiet time. Call me a homebody, but my favorite part of the weekend is when it’s time to wind down on the couch. I suppose I should count my blessings now, before we have kids, as I’m sure these days are numbered.

7. A loving environment. Before I started surrounding myself with positive influences, it was incredibly difficult to sustain a meaningful existence. These days, I’m blessed with a support system made up of loving individuals.

8. Disneyworld. OK, here’s my one superficial thing on the list. I just LOVE Disneyworld/Disneyland.

9. Every other photographer in the world. I’m thankful for other photographers. I can look at their work and help define who I AM, or who I am NOT. Lots of photographers give me things to strive for; others just remind me how much I’ve developed. In this way, I gain perspective on how far I’ve come and how far I still need to go.

10. Run Toward the Light. I can’t express my gratitude for this blog; this little space in the corner of the internet. It has given me so much joy and peace. And I’m thankful for YOU – the person reading this right now.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art – The Beginnings

The Souvenirs

Stalls stretch for blocks as tourists and visitors purchase trinkets in Tokyo.

Oh Lordy, Lordy! It’s been many a moon since I participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge. ‘Spose I’ve gotten lazy in my old age. Now I feel guilty about my laziness.

Anyways, call this my revival. I really like this week’s photo challenge theme, Cover Art. It fits so well with the style of photography I strive for: one photo that tells a story. Or maybe just one that gets you hooked enough to want to know the rest. I like that a lot, because it’s generally not an easy thing to do. I like the idea of storytelling with images, and I like that it makes you stop and think before you press the shutter.

The image I’ve chosen was taken in Japan five years ago. If you hang around here often (which you totally should be), you know that my entire obsession with photography started in Japan. So, this photo is meaningful because it represents my beginning. Is it interesting enough to make you want to explore further?

I’m gonna toot my own horn here a little bit. There are two elements that really stand out to me. First, and perhaps the more obvious, is the use of strong converging lines to draw your eye into the image. Second is the girl in the foreground. She helps create a sense of depth and humanity. More importantly, she’s looking at something (or someone?) behind her which continues to draw your eyes in. But that mystery has always haunted me. What is she looking at? I wish I could find her and ask.

Vintage Camera Display Pinboard: REDUX

With our new house (and lots more square footage!) on the horizon, I’m revisiting a few ideas on how to display my collection of vintage and working film cameras. In the apartment they were scattered throughout the bookshelves, hanging on wall hooks, and generally filling every empty space that I felt needed a little “character”.

I’m starting to get the feeling that Hubby would really like me to wrangle my collection and find a more cohesive way to display them… Of course I thought, “What’s his problem!? They look so cool and kitschy!” until I started thinking about it from his point of view. Sure, Hubby supports my photography and encourages me on just about every level. But expecting him to think my collection of broken cameras is cool is the equivalent to expecting ME to think his collection of gun and car parts is cool.

I like the idea of something like this to hang on the wall, but I couldn’t imagine the constant rearranging that would be required with each new camera… It would be like a constant game of tetris.

Then there’s this piece of gorgeousness. If only I could find a piece like this at the flea market.

Now THIS I love. Simple, affordable, and just the right amount of shabby chic. Two ladders, one in each corner of the office?

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I dig the idea of these high shelves for storage. They draw your eyes upward and create some architectural interest.

Free Halloween cards! By Photography Concentrate

It’s not too late to send out a little spookiness – or in this case, a lot of cuteness – to your friends for Halloween this year. I just love these free printables created by Rob & Lauren over at Photography Concentrate. The web versions are below, but I totally recommend signing up for the Explorers Club so you can print and send them.

 

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Too cute. For some reason they look like little hamburgers to me, which just makes it so much better.

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This one is fun. The illustration totally reminds me of a little Sardina camera or something.

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OK, these are getting pretty punny.

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And my favorite, a play off the famous scene from The Sixth Sense. “I wanna tell you my secret now…” *music swells*

Refuge

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We did it y’all. We bought a house! Although it took a lot of searching and some divine intervention to find the “right one”. I’m almost a little afraid of publishing this post in case something falls through and we don’t get the house. Almost. But I’m just not that superstitious.

We’re quickly approaching the closing date (sounds ominous) and there’s still so much work to do. There’s a lot of TLC on the horizon before this house becomes a home; the honey-do list seems to get longer and longer.  But it’s exciting and awesome and totally worth it.

It’s a little bittersweet leaving the apartment. We’ve spent three happy years here, most recently as newlyweds. Nestled in and amongst our eclectic horde of mismatched furniture and pets is a deep comfort and peace. (And frankly it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced that.) So I guess I’m more afraid to leave the FEELING of this place – this refuge, this comfort, this familiarity – than actually leaving the place itself.

But in good time we’ll make the new house our place of peace. After all, it’s the people and the love inside the walls that count.

Like the song says, “home is wherever I’m with you.”

Where the deer and the antelope play.

The autumnal transformation is usually one of my favorite times of year. I find the warm colors incredibly inspiring and motivating… but this year I feel like I’m stuck in a rut. I haven’t gotten that bubbly, excited feeling in my stomach yet. Probably because I’m so distracted with the home buying process and with our vacation coming up. Life seems heavy right now. Not necessarily in a bad way, but the days are antsy and the nights are sleepless. It’s really just starting to wear down on us, and we desperately needed to get our minds off it.

So it was a relief this weekend to get out of town for a while. We went and watched the annual elk bugle, which is spectacular year after year. It never gets old. Basically you sit on the side of a gravel road, in a specific area where the elk return to every year. You watch the males spar with each other as they attempt to round up as many females as possible. We’re talking HUNDREDS of elk within an area about the size of a football field. The males make this incredibly haunting sound that resembles a bugle horn. It was even better because there was such a heavy mist this year, and they almost looked like ghosts floating through the brush. The animals get incredibly close to the road, which in the context of elusive creatures such as deer and elk, can be a very unsettling feeling.

These images were taken with my Sony NEX-7 and an old manual-focus Minolta 200mm lens fitted with an adapter and a 2.0x doubler. Because of the 2.0x magnifier, I lost an automatic two-stops of light right off the top. I had to crank the ISO from 3200 to 6400 as the night went on. The result is INCREDIBLY grainy images and very soft focus, but I like it!

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This time last year.

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This time, last year… I guess you could say I was up to all sorts of interesting things. Like the the leaves changing color, last fall was a time of transformation.

My entire idea of what it meant to have a family changed overnight when my parents disowned me. I grappled with that for a long, long time. But slowly (with a lot of therapy and mood-altering drugs) the rain clouds cleared and I began to understand and accept things. I even found opportunities hidden within my loss. Most significantly, I was given a chance to reevaluate EVERY THING and EVERY ONE in my life. Now I make a point to no longer allow negative people to effect me.  And if they come knocking, I simply turn them away. That’s something I would never have done a year ago.

black-beauty-sonya-delger-run-toward-the-lightAround the same time I was also transitioning out of my portrait photography business. I decided to step back into the shoes of a hobbyist and vowed to make pictures for myself. If other people enjoyed them it was just an added bonus. Yes, the side cash was awfully nice but I don’t regret my decision for a second. With a big dose of humble pie, I can look back and giggle at my attempts to be a pro. While I did enjoy the process of actually creating those images, in the end, working with clients (and bending over backwards to meet their every whim) just wasn’t for me. Call me rigid, but I just can’t handle that shit.

Which kind of leads into the start of my film photography. Some time after quitting my business, Hubby and I were perusing a pawn shop where I picked up a Pentax Spotmatic; my first 35mm camera. I didn’t even know if it worked, but I liked the way it felt in my hands and I had a good feeling in my gut. It must have been a week later that I was nervously handed over that first roll of Superia 400 to be processed at the drug store. An hour later I got my prints and I was hooked.

Fast forward 12 months; I now have seven working film cameras that I use regularly and about a dozen vintage “show” pieces. Film photography has become a huge part of my journey, both artistically and emotionally. It has taught me to break the rules and color outside the lines. It’s taught me about unconventional beauty. But best of all, it’s given me the confidence to explore the foggy bits of my comfort zone. I like it when that fog clears away.

What a difference just one year can make. I won’t say that it flew by because it didn’t.  It was the hardest year of my life and often the minutes felt like days or the weeks felt like months.  It was a long, hard road but it needed to be taken. I’m sure you all, my readers, have all gone down a similar path at one time or another. Maybe you’re on that path right now. I don’t know anyone who isn’t just trying to take it one day at a time, so all I can say is keep trucking.

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A non-baker’s guide to: strawberry buttercream frosting.

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This tutorial was made for non-bakers, by a non-baker. Read: if I can do it, so can you.

Now, I will warn you. Since you’re a non-baker like me, you probably don’t have no fancy ass mixing machine. Hopefully you do at least have an electric hand mixer. If you don’t have one of those just abandon ship right now.

Things you’ll need:

1 1/2 c (300 g) sugar
1/3 c (47 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c (155 ml) milk
1/3 c (78 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 c (355 g) butter, room temp and cubed
1 tsp vanilla
Strawberry Jam

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“Step 1: Combine the sugar and flour in a cool saucepan.  Stir in the milk and cream, then set the pan over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, cook the mixture until quite thick.”

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So far so good…

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Make sure to absolutely destroy your heavy whipping cream.

Ok, now, what the hell does ‘cook the mixture until quite thick’ mean? I need exact measurements of time, people. So your guess is as good as mine. I went for about ten minutes, or until my arm got tired. You need to stir that shit on a pretty much constant basis.

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Keep going until it gets kind of bubbly and goopy.

Taste test: at this point it tastes and smells as expected. Really hot flour and sugar.

“Step 2: Remove the pan from heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of your mixer.  Fit with the paddle attachment and whip on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about fifteen minutes.”

I have no idea what a ‘paddle attachment’ is so I just used the whisk looking things that came with my electric mixer. It worked out splendidly.

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At about the nine minute mark I started to get really bored and decided to use this time to catch up on Facebook.

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I also discovered I could balance the electric mixer on the edge of the bowl and just nudge it around from time to time. Look ma, no hands!

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“Step 3: When the bowl is cool, add the butter all at once and whip on high speed until very light and fluffy.”

While keeping an eye on my precariously balanced electric mixing death trap, I cut my room temperature butter into small cubes.

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More. You need more.

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MORE! MORE BUTTER! This shit ain’t called buttercream for nothing.

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You’ve now created a small mountain range. Perfect.

Taste test: I wasn’t shocked to find that this tasted exactly the same as before, but now with 3,000 calories of additional deliciousness.

“Step 4: Add the vanilla and whip to combine, then begin adding the jam, spoonful by spoonful, being careful not to add so much that the buttercream becomes soupy.”

The frosting finally started to taste like something edible after adding the vanilla extract. I’m always tempted to add more than a teaspoon but DON’T DO IT!  Stick to the plan.

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I kept things simple by going for the ol’ Smucker’s brand strawberry jelly. After three large spoonfuls the frosting was becoming decidedly ‘soupy’ so that’s where I stopped.

Taste test: It tastes like strawberry! God in heaven, we did it. I’m so proud of us. Hugs.

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Crossroads.

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Almost 6 months into marriage and Hubby and I have begun to ask some BIG questions…

Where do we want to raise a family?

When do we want to buy a house?

What about our careers?

We recently found ourselves at a crossroads. One path would lead us toward opportunity and career advancement (stay in the city), the other would lead us toward family and small town life (move back home). Both options are appealing, and they both have pros and cons.

Ultimately, we decided to stay in the city so we could continue to focus on our careers and cultivate the friendships we’ve made here. Hubby and I are both really happy with our jobs; they are intellectually stimulating and have great benefits. And since we work at the same place we get to spend all our time together. (You’d think we’d get sick of each other but we don’t.)

We’re going to start the home-buying process soon (exciting, scary, awesome!!) and eventually look forward to having a child.

I hope we made the right choice. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. One great thing about marriage: you’ve got a partner throughout it all.  When it’s all said and done I know we will be surrounded by love no matter what.

If they could talk – 2

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If this photo could talk, it would tell you about Angel the tabby cat. My first cat who, in my limited memory of years 7-9, was the sweetest kitty in the world. My other fleeting memories include: Angel, the tabby cat who shed a lot. Angel, the tabby cat who gave us the silent treatment after long weekends away. Angel, the tabby cat who we kept as part of the divorce settlement.

I don’t remember what happened to Angel. In my recollection she’s there one day, gone the next.

Just down the street.

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I’m constantly amazed at how my neighborhood is filled with a never ending supply of photographic potential. It reminds me that I don’t necessarily need to cross borders to find inspiration. All we need, friends, is a fresh set of eyes, an open mind, and the courage to get out and shoot (easier said than done).

Sometimes I can feel my senses becoming dull to my surroundings, especially at home. The scenes don’t really ever change.

But I enjoy going on a photo walk now and again, just to push myself to see things differently. To help combat the monotony, I like to walk at different times of day (even at harsh noon). I let the light guide my eye, and I make a point NOT to look for anything in particular. This way, when I do see something spectacular, it’s even more rewarding and surprising.

That brings me to one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learning in photography: be open-minded! The worst thing you can do is force your creativity into a corner.

“I don’t shoot landscapes. I’m a portrait photographer.”   Yes, that’s a real quote from a photographer I know very well… Can you guess who said it? It was me! By limiting my abilities I was limiting my soul. The world had always been (and will always be) speaking, I just had to be willing to listen.

Above all else, go outside (or stay inside) and shoot! Your camera and lenses – no matter how exorbitant - are nothing but expensive door stops until you place your mind and heart behind the viewfinder.

Go outside and walk for 10 minutes today. Bring your camera, but don’t feel obligated to use it. Just walk. Then come back. What did you find?

Greenough, again.

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Lake Greenough, not our first time and probably not our last. This serene pocket of heaven is tucked into the mountains near Red Lodge, an iconic Montana ski town.

I’ll let the photos do the talking today; all taken with a Nikon N90s and Superia 400 35mm film/

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The Hoochy Goochy

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Hmm, what’s the word I’m looking for? Unconventional, kooky, eccentric? Sure, let’s go with that.

If you find yourself in Montana watching minor league baseball, keep an eye out for this lady. She’ll sell you a sleeve of raffle tickets and, if the mood is right, she’ll give you a good luck “hoochy goochy” dance: an experience you’ll never forget. Let me walk you through it.

You hand her the moist five dollar bill that’s been marinating in your sweaty back pocket for the past four innings. But like a pro, she’s unfazed. Before you can form the beginnings of and awkward apology, the ritual methodically begins. She raises your tickets up to her head and taps them against her ball cap, as if telepathically predicting the outcome of the raffle. She closes her eyes; she’s concentrating… Will you win $376 tonight, or have you just given up the last of your beer money? Only she knows.

You suddenly find yourself locked in a deep starting contest and your opponent shows no signs of breaking. You’re in a trance. Someone (or something) much more powerful than your measly human mind can fathom has taken over your body and you’re lost in space and time.

She never breaks eye contact, not even when she proceeds to slap the tickets on her bottom, shaking her hips like the sultry siren she is.

Finally, with slow, deliberate movements, she hands you the red construction paper tickets. You reach out your hand and find that it’s shaking, but she pretends not to notice. Look down at your tickets: number 105768 through 105788. Twenty chances to fulfill your destiny.

You can only muster one word, “Woah.”

You look up and she’s gone, already seeking her prey in the next section of cheap seats…

 

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Seasons change.

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It’s raining outside and I barely recognize the sound., which is significant for two reasons. One, I grew up in Seattle. I grew up in rain, so how on earth did I end up forgetting it? Two, other than snow and ice, Montana doesn’t get much moisture. Rain is a rare treasure.

So I see I’ve answered my own question.

I like to write about the rain when it comes. Somewhere wandering around the crevices of my heart, rain triggers memories of a simpler time. I remember walking to school in the rain. Waiting for the bus (too young for a driver’s license) in the rain. Soaked cotton hoodies in the rain, because we were too cool for umbrellas. Pruney toes in the rain, when we wore flip flops ’cause it was summer time.

Summer’s been good this year. I wouldn’t want to complain one bit. But I welcome fall with open arms. It’s my favorite season, after all.

But I like it best when seasons are changing. I like the transition, the anticipation of something new and fresh. I like that feeling when something you’ve been waiting for is just around the corner.

“Leaves are falling all around, It’s time I was on my way.
Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay.
But now it’s time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way.
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s headed my way.
Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I’ve got one thing I got to do…

Ramble on!”