one picture/one paragraph

His train was due at 8am, but late by almost 2 hours. We waited with equal parts anxiety and excitement. Times of transition are fraught with expectation. Rituals and routines help ease the distance from Atlanta and his boyfriend to Virginia and his parents. We walk along the quiet street from the train station a few blocks to Frost Diner. The sudden cold snap leaves us shivering, and we are grateful for the warmth of the familiar setting, the comfort of the old-fashioned booth and a hearty breakfast. We breathe a deep sigh. This is the space in-between, and we feel the moments deeply because we know. Love is built on moments like these where time moves slowly. I took this picture because I want to remember his face.

Fall is for – eating a slice of pumpkin pie

I’ve enjoyed pumpkin pie at countless Thanksgiving meals, but I’ve never made one myself. It’s my husband’s favorite pie, and his mother usually makes it for him.

But this Fall, spurred on by the list of things to do in this season from Of Note Stationers, I decided to give pumpkin-pie-making a try. I followed the simple recipe on the can of pumpkin. I made one change to the recipe as I opted to pre-bake the shell. The whole house smelled delicious – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. The pie cooked up beautifully with a crisp crust and smooth filling.

I’m off to make homemade whipped cream for topping. It really feels like Fall today.

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As we settle into autumn, I feel exceptionally grateful.

I’ll be attending my first-ever photography retreat at the end of this week! I’m looking forward to joining instructor Jennifer Carr and four other fine photographers for The Saltwater Retreat in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. I’ll fill you in on all the details once I'm back home.

I plan to continue my photography practice, and I will share here from time to time. I haven’t lost my motivation or my inspiration, but I am respecting the signals my body is giving me to slow down.

I want photography to be a part of my whole life, and in order to achieve that goal, I need to respect my need for rest. I’ve learned something really important.

My own instincts and ideas are good enough.

tiny libraries

When I discovered the first Little Free Library in our area, with its invitation to “Take a book, return a book” I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. The handmade weatherproof book cabinet looked, at first glance, like an oversized birdhouse. Standing on Hanover Street at the edge of a lovely garden, the tiny library was stocked with a carefully curated collection of books.

I removed a few volumes, making a silent promise to return, with books of my own to share.

Since that first tiny library sighting, I’ve located at least six other Little Free Libraries in our area, and many others in nearby cities. Each one has its own unique, personal touch, and I’ve had the chance to meet a few of the owners to say thank-you. My husband and I enjoy stocking the Little Free Library near the playground in Kenmore Park. We fill the box and the next day, the books are all gone.

Coincidentally, I found a beautiful book that celebrates libraries at my local library.

Improbable Libraries: A Visual Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Libraries, by Alex Johnson

If you love books and libraries, this one is a worthwhile read.

From the chapter on tiny libraries, I learned about the Little Free Library Movement.

The first library box, built by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009, was a model of a one-room schoolhouse designed as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. He erected it on a post in his front yard and then teamed up with social enterprise expert Rick Brooks. The project has since seized the public imagination; it is now estimated that there are more than 12,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, most in the US and Canada, but also in countries including Ghana, Pakistan, India, and the Netherlands.
The goals of the Little Free Library enterprise, now a nonprofit organization, are not only to promote literacy and a love of reading among both children and adults, but also to build a sense of community by encouraging neighbors to meet up and chat while browsing new arrivals.

Fall is for – going apple picking

If you don’t already know, I’m a fan of handwritten letters and cards. I seek out unique cards to send to friends, and I like to support makers of fine stationery. In true Southern tradition, if you send me a thank-you note, I’ll likely send you a note to thank you for the thank-you. I send postcards and write letters to several pen pals, too.

And so it was with great pleasure that I came across the duo of Isabel and Kate, the creative force behind Of Note Stationers. Their philosophy is in perfect sync with mine.

Together, we believe that letter writing is a mindful act, one that allows you to slow down, appreciate the little things in life, and share that appreciation with others. We strive to keep people connected and deepen relationships through the written word.

I subscribe to the Of Note newsletter and enjoy shopping the newest collections of cards. I love what I see.

Gorgeous letter press craft.

Clean and simple designs that invite rather than overpower.  

No syrupy sayings or contrived messages, just honest words from the heart.

Like some of my favorite photographs where beauty is found in the subtlety of life, cards designed by Isabel and Kate help us to see that there are no ordinary moments.

I was especially drawn to their card, Fall is for . . .

Not so much a to-do list, more of a wish list. A little reminder of the power we have to make time for things that enrich our lives. I love that the list includes things that bring us together like going apple picking AND things that encourage us to rest and relax in solitude like cozying up with a book and a blanket. There is mention of eating a slice of pumpkin pie but no mandate to “make a pumpkin pie from scratch.” It’s a lovely list infused with balance.

As we put on more layers, we remind ourselves of the opportunity this time brings to re-visit and perhaps re-set our intentions for the rest of 2017. We have three and a half months, how can we make the most of what is left?

I ordered a few cards from Of Note Stationers and a sweet little “keep in touch” stamp. I’m going to use the Fall is for . . .  card as a framework for some photography fun, aiming to take pictures of each activity. And when I am finished with the list, I'll send that card to a friend with the photographs as my gift.

Here’s my first check mark . . . going apple picking.  

We spent a gorgeous Sunday in the Shenandoah Mountains picking apples.

Black Twig, Winesap, Fuji, Golden delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, Empire, and York.

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progress

It's interesting to watch my progression in photography over the last decade. It's taken a lot of practice but I feel as though the pictures I make today more truly reflect my voice.

For all the work, my photographs are in focus and yet less clear. There is more subtly, more ambiguity, and more rule breaking to my work these days.

I try very hard to make the best photographs I can. I also try very hard to get better. That does not mean that I am trying to achieve perfection. Mostly, I look for things that are both beautiful and broken.

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insight

I wonder how many of us have created our most meaningful works from a place of heartbreak or loss or uncertainty.

I know for myself that my photography took a dramatic turn as I faced down the devastating effects of my mother’s dementia and the depression that threatened to consume my son.

I’ve followed the work of Brandon Thibodeaux for years, and I understand the place from which he began the work for his newly released book, In That Land of Perfect Day.

From the Washington Post article – Finding Race and Compassion in the Mississippi Delta, by writer Marisa Schwartz Taylor:

Thibodeaux had just come out of an eight-year relationship that ended with a lost pregnancy. “I was heartbroken and lost,” he said. “I did what I’ve always done as a cancer survivor and curious photographer, I turned to strangers to find the answers.”
“My goal for this work is to allow the humanity of the region, the stories of triumph both small and large, to rise to the surface in hopes of fostering a better understanding of its racial identity,” he said.
“As long as there’s been race, there has been racism,” Thibodeaux said. “It didn’t start with us, and it certainly won’t end with us. But finding common ground through a shared human experience can help solve this pervasive and long-lasting cancer, and this is done one heart at a time.”

I don’t know how, or if, my photographs will change the world.

I only know that each of us must try to find a place where even broken things are whole.

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don't let the cat out

As a frequent photo walker, I am keenly aware of posted signs that warn, Beware of Dog. On more than one occasion, I’ve been deep in the thoughtful act of composing a photo only to be scared out of my wits by a dog barking madly to protect his territory.

Dog owners, by and large, want to keep strangers out.

Cat owners, on the other hand, worry less about keeping intruders outside and more about keeping their pets inside.

The sign on the door leaves no doubt about their priorities. Don’t let cat out.

Of course, there are always exceptions. When I visited my friend, Pete, he met me at the door and introduced his cat like this, “Meet [insert name I cannot remember], but be careful, he sometimes bites.” In the case of an attack cat, it’s the visitors who want out.

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better together

In David duChemin's episode 72 of the Vision Is Better show, he discusses ways to deal with creative boredom. David's advice is to challenge your ideas, challenge your skills, challenge or change your context, and my personal favorite, to collaborate. David suggests that we find someone to do a project with and allow the ideas of the other person to challenge our own.

Writer, Sage Cohen, shares a similar sentiment. Just replace the word "writing" with "photography" or any other creative pursuit.

Writing is commonly thought to be a solo activity. But I believe that a sustainable writing life takes a village. When we feel connected to community and are engaged in collaboration, our productivity and satisfaction can exponentially increase.
When we gather to share our work, explore our ideas, and declare our intentions, we increase our odds of success.
Why? Because being witnessed adds accountability. Witnessing others is inspiring and invigorating. And seeing ourselves in the context of a tribe of writers who share our commitment and passion gives us a sense of belonging that can be hugely mobilizing.

I usually prefer to take pictures as a solitary pursuit. In truth, I find that taking pictures alongside someone else kind of clouds my view. It's hard to see my way because I keep seeing their way. I feel pressure to perform or maybe even conform, and I lose sight of my own vision. And still, I feel lonely in my work sometimes. I want someone to talk with about this passion, someone who "gets" it, someone to visit museums and galleries with, someone to help me learn, and someone to work with on a project like an essay, exhibition, or community service.

Is there something we could work on together? Want to collaborate? I wonder how much better our photography might become if we challenged each other.

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As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
— Proverbs 27:17 New Living Translation (NLT)

some thoughts for the hunter-gatherer

Go slow. Focus — but at the same time be in multitask and multi-level mode. Let things sink in, even burn in. Catch the spirit. If possible, go it alone. Know that quality counts — you do not need to fill your bucket. Be prepared that what you went out to get may not be what you end up getting. Take with you the sobering thought that you will never, ever be in this exact place again. 
Hunting and Gathering, from The Painter's Keys
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weekend adventure

We trained for months for the 30-mile bike ride through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the day of the ride, a crisp October morning, we met for breakfast and drove the 40 miles to the bike ride. We were eager, a little anxious, but ready.

We laughed over our different packing and preparation styles. Always the minimalist, I carried my phone (to use MapMyRide) and cue sheet for directions, some grapes and cheese, my car key, and water bottle. My two friends, Diana and Jane, brought the following items in their respective backpack and fanny packs: wipes, Fig Newtons, energy bars, electrolyte replacements, chewing gum, trail mix, Swedish fish, credit card, cash, Kleenex, an extra shirt, along with water bottle, car key, and phone. They were prepared for anything. I carry only the essentials and hope for the best. We make a good team.

The events of the race are as follows.

One mile into the ride, Diana’s bike chain slipped as she changed gears. For a few minutes we thought the ride was over before it even began. But I was able to ride her bike a short distance and re-align the chain and gears. And we were off again.

Smooth pedaling with a few rolling hills and gorgeous scenery until mile 15.

At the half-way rest stop, we’re all happy and feeling confident. But Jane complained that her bottom hurts. We all have this problem. She has on her padded biking shorts but her underwear is bunching up and she’s convinced she’ll feel much better with no underwear at all. There is only one problem . . . just how she will accomplish this goal. Off to the porta-potty she goes. I have no idea how she completed this maneuver in the confines of a portable toilet, but she came out with a smile on her face. When asked just what she did with her underpants, she looked at me and with a straight face, she said, “Oh, I threw them down the hole.”

After snacks and a little stretching, we were ready for the second half of the ride. This portion of the ride was extremely hilly. I was out ahead of my friends but waited at each turn or direction change to make sure everyone was okay and knew where to go.

After a long slow uphill grade around mile 22, I pulled over in a residential driveway to wait for my friends. Sure enough, both had to dismount and walk a bit to tackle that hill. Jane came first with Diana not far behind. We were commiserating over the challenge and catching our breath when all of a sudden Diana hit the ground. She didn’t actually fall or even crumple, but quickly lay down. This was startling as one moment we were just chatting away and the next she’s on the ground. Diana explained she had felt lightheaded and knew to get to the ground and lie down (she’s a nurse). She sat up and slowly assessed her situation. In the meantime, Jane wondered if maybe Diana needed food, specifically sugar. “I have just the thing,” she said, reaching into her well-stocked fanny pack for the Ziploc baggie of Swedish fish.  Diana perked up at the sight of the candy and popped one in her mouth. Mid-chew, Diana made a funny face and said, “Uh-oh.” She pulled the gummy fish from her mouth for us to see – the crown from her molar firmly implanted like a little house atop a candy mountain.

In the meantime, we are trying to decide if Diana is okay to continue with the ride, 8 miles to go. Other riders shout out to check on us as they pass, and within a few minutes the SAG (support and gear) vehicle pulls up. I decide it would be safer for Diana to end her ride early and convince her of this wisdom. So the handsome young man with a wad of chew between cheek and gum loaded Diana’s bicycle onto the bed of his pick-up truck and her in the cab and off they went. We waved goodbye and told Diana to expect us in about 45 minutes. We figured those last 8 miles would fly by.

Still along a scenic route, the wind picked up. Not a head wind, fortunately, but a powerful wind coming at us from the side. So strong it becomes harder to control the bike. We passed a large tree with black walnuts scattered across the road. As we cautiously pedaled along, trying to avoid running over the walnuts, the wind sends walnuts sailing through the air. We look at each other as if to say, “Is this really happening? Did a flying walnut just almost hit us in the head?”

And then the pretty scenic views come to an end, and it’s just miles of long steep hills, one after the other, along highways and busy routes and even through a traffic circle. It feels like we’re never going to finish.

And then we do – finish. We pull into the Baptist Church parking lot and collapse. The ending is unceremonious – no ribbons or medals or bands or finish lines. Just a t-shirt, which seemed a small consolation at that time. But there is our friend, Diana, waiting for us, fully recovered and smiling. There is a lovely lunch together, shopping, coffee and coconut cake, and the giggles that come so easily when you are spent.

I didn’t take my camera on the bike trip, as it just wasn’t practical. But I went back the next day, early in the morning, driving my car this time, gathering pictures of scenes that marked the miles. And already the memory of the ride had softened so that the arduous work was forgotten and all that remained was the gratitude for friends who are by your side, always, and good health and the adventures of this life.

 

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step into my office

I’ve been reading an interesting book recommended by Life Coach Helen McLaughlin. The book, Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield, terrified me by way of its title alone. I identify myself as an amateur photographer, and the notion of “turning pro” seems overwhelming. Still, the subtitle, tap your inner power and create your life’s work, seemed right up my alley.

In reading the book, I’ve not followed the usual format of front to back. Instead, I’ve been skipping all over the place, impatient for understanding and information.  

Here’s what I’ve learned so far. Many jobs come with two salaries. The first is comprised of conventional rewards – money, applause, attention. I do not typically receive this salary. The second salary is more of a psychological reward.

When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning.
It turns into a practice.

Now we’re talking. This work of mine, taking pictures, is a practice. I devote space, time and intention to photography. The humble act of being common and ordinary and workmanlike produces the sublime.

When I read Pressfield’s description of the qualities of the professional, I see myself turning pro.

When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.
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seeing shades of gray

One of the blessings of a long life is self-knowledge. The longer we live and learn the better we come to know ourselves and the more grace and goodness we can give.

For as long as I can recall, I’ve been prone to all-or-none thinking and action.  Black and white.

And now, ironically enough, when my hair is gray, I am seeing shades of gray.

Life events are rarely ‘completely disastrous’ or ‘absolutely wonderful,’ but instead a mixture of both good and bad elements.

Needing to do things perfectly – as in ‘go big or go home’ – can get in the way of doing anything at all.

Seeing life in black and white oversimplifies things and this can create wild emotional swings.

I am grateful that I’ve not known the depths of depression, but I’ve surely known the anxiety that accompanies high energy, drive, motivation and discipline. Too much of a good thing can be unhealthy. I love the emotional stimulation of experiences, conversations, and relationships, but I also recognize that I sometimes spin out of control, like a top wound too tightly. It could be time I started doing with less.

It’s not more happiness I need, it’s more calmness. And more gray.

 

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i love you, honey

Some women might swoon over a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from their loved one. After all, it feels good to receive a treat ‘just because.’ After 36 years of marriage, my husband knows me well and he brings gifts that speak to my heart.

No flowers for me. I’ll take farm-fresh eggs, an exquisite jar of blueberry honey, and autumn gourds from just-down-the-road Mr. Burnley’s Apiary Farm.

The gifts were thoughtful, and I wanted to take a few pictures to savor the details.

But here’s the rub. I don’t want to stop the flow of my day and the joy of these simple gifts to make a picture – at least not in the “let’s arrange and rearrange things till they look perfect” kind of way. Still life photographs make for beautiful art, but I find them frustrating as photo styling quickly leads to seeking that magazine-like magic. And this sometimes spoils the experience.

A little compromise.  

Picture one. Still life.

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Picture two.  Life still.

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Saving America

I’ve followed the work of photographer Carol Highsmith ever since I saw her featured on a special segment of CBS’s Sunday Morning back in 2013. Carol is on a mission to save America for posterity.  For more than 37 years, she has photographed America’s architecture, landscapes, and rural and urban places and people. She donates her images to the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at the Library of Congress, the country’s national library in Washington, DC. Anyone can download them from the library website, free of charge and without copyright. So far, Carol has donated about 42,000 photographs to the Library of Congress. She aims to donate 100,000 images by the time she's done.

At age 71, Carol shows no signs of slowing down. She and writer Ted Landphair, her husband of 29 years, average about 40,000 miles on the road every year. Ted drives while Carol edits images in the back seat.

I know I would like Carol because she says things like this –

“There’s a lot of America out there. Why would I want to fly over it, unless I’m doing aerials?”

and this -

"What's important to me is to record America during my lifetime so that many, many years from now, we can see what we looked like, so we have a sense of who we are."

and this –

“It’s my legacy . . . but it’s our legacy.”

I feel just the same, Carol. You inspire me. I like to imagine that I am your sidekick, and in my own way, I’m doing the same work as you – taking those photographs of quintessential America in my own little corner of the country.

Today's photographs are from a road trip to Virginia's Northern Neck. In the heart of the Northern Neck, small towns like Kinsale, Callao, and Heathsville are nestled among long stretches of farmland and small peninsula's that jut out into the rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay.

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finding inspiration

I’m waiting for fall and for fall things to do. And while I’m waiting, I’m looking for inspiration near and far. This is what came across my desk today.

One. The lovely newsletter from Chic & Basta, the Canadian based company founded on the idea of supporting and promoting independent Quebec creators who produce handmade objects – beautiful, unique, and made to last. Owners Manon Martin and Louis Durocher, husband and wife, love the look and feel of perfectly imperfect objects. Me, too! I lingered over their curated collection of modern wood spoons, handmade by independent designers and artisans.

Two. A long overdue visit to Mary Jo Hoffman’s blog, Still, to view her recent collection of photos against dark black backgrounds, night.

And so it is that I came to pick up my camera and make a few simple still life images. I prefer simple, most always. I began with my favorite hand-carved wooden spoon and the golden garden sage that is the last of the herbs still flourishing in the flower bed.

The spoon, the springs of sage, against the dark wooden dough board. Snap, snap, snap.

Rearrange sprigs of sage along the handle of the spoon so that spoon becomes flower and sprigs become leafy foliage. Snap, snap, snap.

Inspiration. Objects to cherish.

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