a dog on the bed

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Hannah and Heidi are blowing their coats.

In Labrador Retriever or dog lingo, it simply means that they are mega-shedding.  It happens twice yearly – winter and summer – not fall and spring as one would ordinarily assume.

Labs shed year around, so the vacuum cleaner makes its rounds every few days. And because of this, I do not allow my dogs on any furniture.

Hannah and Heidi, known as “the girls,” have their own dog beds in the family room as well as in my bedroom.  They spend the nights in my bedroom, and knowing they are there is such a comfort.

A few weeks ago in the middle of the night, around 2 a.m., I suddenly became aware of a dog on my bed. I could tell by the heft and movement that it was Heidi.  It was a shock because neither of the girls have ever been permitted to be on my bed, nor have they ever even considered doing it.

I was barely semi-conscious, so I didn’t even bother to turn on the light. I humped my body and moved my legs, and she jumped off the bed.

Only a few minutes had passed, when I felt her jump back on my bed. This time she laid down over my body.  I was sleeping on my stomach, and her weight was very uncomfortable. Again, I contorted my body to get her to move, and she jumped off.

I began to wonder why this was happening because it was completely out of the norm.  But because I was so sleepy, I just pulled up the covers and drowsed off again.

But then, oddly enough, Heidi jumped up on the bed a third time and draped her body over my legs and lower back.  Three times in one night?! I knew the comforter would be loaded with black hair. Again,  I kicked my legs until she finally jumped off the bed.

And that was it. The rest of the night was quiet and uneventful until the early morning sun started to leak in around the window shade.

It was time to rise and start my day.

Remembering Heidi’s sojourns onto my bed during the night, the first thing I did was to pull the comforter up to the pillows to see how much hair and dirt had been deposited.

I smoothed the comforter and stared.

There was not one single black hair to be seen . . .

 

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exercising the friendship muscle

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Yesterday I read a wonderful blog entry by a gal, Janet, I know through the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm. She is recently retired and is still feeling her way in using her new-found free time.  She speaks of developing friendships as out of her comfort zone but recognizes that it is important to start “exercising the friendship muscle.” Oh, I love how she phrased that.  It made me think about myself.

I learned at a very young age how to reach out to people.  Because I had a hearing disability, my peers were not inclined to reach out to me. I was different, and many of them thought I was stupid. So it was up to me to foster friendships. I experienced a lot of rejection, but I just kept plugging away. And I was blessed with a few really good friends growing up. And some are still my friends, even though great distance separates a few of us.

I am very fortunate as an adult to enjoy many wonderful friendships. Having no family left and being an only child, these friends have become my chosen family.  Not too long ago, I took my friend Nan along when I visited Hannah’s oncology vet.  After I introduced Nan to Dr. J, she turned to me and said, “You have lots of friends!”  I replied, “Yes, I am so lucky.” This remark was prompted after she’d also met Wendi and Fran who had both accompanied me on other high stress visits.

But sometimes I get very tired exercising my friendship muscle.  It’s frustrating when it continually falls on me to initiate contact and arrange time to get together.  We all know that true friendships require a balance – a “two way street” as the cliché goes.  I’ve gotten very good at navigating one way streets, but sometimes my tires and motor just fizzle out.

  • There’s the friend who comments, “Good idea,” when I suggest getting together. And then nothing happens.
  • There’s the friend who says she doesn’t want to bother me. Boy, would I love to be bothered!!
  • There’s the friend who will never give me any dates when I invite her and her husband to my home. So we wind up almost never seeing each other. We genuinely cherish our friendship too.
  • There’s the friend who says she’ll be in touch, and then a year or more will pass.

These are all people I truly love, but sometimes my friendship muscle just gets overworked to the point of fatigue.

True, we live in a crazy and fast paced world. But life isn’t worth living without friends.  I’m so grateful for my friends who take a few seconds/minutes to email or send a text  – just to say hello and check in or to suggest a spontaneous outing.  I’m so grateful to the friends who call me family. I’m so grateful to the friends who support me through my crises; they call, text, stop by, and accompany me to appointments. I’m so grateful for the friends who take phone messages or make phone calls for me.  They’re there, and I am so fortunate.

~The image is a photograph of Coral Bells with post processing in an app called Waterlogue.

evolution

There’s been interesting discussion in the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm about photography. This, and my preparations for a photography excursion to Iceland, has triggered a multitude of thoughts about the progression, over the years, of my own photography.  When I view posted snapshots and judge photography contests, I realize that there’s a fine line where photography becomes an art.  I watch as people who love photography travel the same paths I did in my early days.

I fell in love with the camera and taking photos when I was in junior high school. My Brownie camera was pretty straightforward and did not lend itself to any sort of creative efforts other than what my eye saw in the viewfinder.  And like most beginners, I shot everything dead center.

After I graduated from college, a friend introduced me to the SLR cameras, and I bought my first 35mm SLR when I was 24 years old. I still have it – a Minolta SRT-101. The focus was manual, and the exposure was manual. The lens was a 55mm f/1.7 prime lens. Given that there was no such thing as AUTO on that camera, I was forced to learn the basics. In hindsight, that’s where I got a solid foundation in the basics.

Then the digital age arrived. I knew  I did not want a point and shoot camera, so I saved up until I could afford a digital SLR. In 2005, I got on the phone with a representative from B&H in NYC who recommended that I go with Canon since, at that point, Canon was ahead of Nikon in digital photography. Several friends who were serious photographers also pushed me towards Canon. And that’s when the next phase in my journey as a photographer began.  (NOTE: I use the term photographer loosely as I feel a real photographer is able to present images as art. At this point in my journey, I wasn’t really a photographer. I just loved taking pictures!)

So the camera arrived, a Canon XTi, and it sat in the box awhile. It was scary!! But it had a zoom lens!! Up until then all my photography had been with prime lenses.

Finally the camera came out of the box and was immediately set on Auto. I just didn’t know what to do with all the bells and whistles! And it had been so long since I’d done some serious photography that I needed a refresher in the basics! I became more and more frustrated with the lack of creative control I had when shooting on AUTO. So I signed up for a Canon digital 101 workshop at the local camera store. The instructor was terrific, and as he talked and demonstrated I was having one AHA moment after another!

So I turned the dial to Aperture Control. Hey, it was a digital camera; I could get instant feedback without paying $$ for film and developing.  So I learned by trial and error. I loved the freedom of adjusting the ISO and f stops to control my shutter speed. And then eventually I got to exposure control.  And then I began having fun! I wanted to get out and shoot all the time.  And I got fixated on photographing different things.

I chased sunrises and sunsets.

I shot flowers and pets.

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I photographed horses, being certain to take the coveted “eye” shots.

I took insects, especially butterflies on flowers!

I shot birds and wildlife.

I chased silhouettes and had a blast creating them through exposure control.

I took landscapes.

I toyed with portraits.

I struggled at times with focus and clarity! Enter DOF (depth of field), shutter speed, and good glass.

And eventually I realized  I was just taking snapshots. I got bored. The pictures were common, cliché if you will.  I was shooting what everyone shoots. My photos were not unique. Even though I was operating the functions of my camera, I was taking very little creative control of my images. I still thought of photography as TAKING a picture.

I bought PhotoShop. I learned about Picasa and PicMonkey. I explored the variations of filters.

At the urging of friend and photographer Hillary Shemin, I joined SmugMug and set up a photo website where I could store my photos. I actually sold a few! I became a member of the Smug Daily Community and began to see the work of talented photographers and got some valuable feedback and guidance.  It inspired me to improve and advance with my photography. I began investing in good glass.

But I still thought of photography as TAKING a picture. . . and I was still shooting in jpg.

My post processing was just playing. Usually my better efforts in producing a decent image were often an accident!

I started experimenting in PhotoShop with layers – that was a phase, and it was another step in learning  to manipulate images.

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I purchased the Nik Collection and fell in love with Color and Silver Efex Pro.

And then I decided it was time to take some workshops, to work with some mentors. Good mentors do not tell you what to do; they merely open doors and challenge you to walk through them. I love being challenged. I love thinking about what I’m doing with my camera and editing and WHY.

Jeff Anderson finally made the Law (or Rule) of Thirds clear. He reminded me to “move my feet” to discover the best angles. And when I did an equine photography workshop with him he forbade me to take the “equine eye” shot – it was so overdone and so cliché. AHA! He forced me to look for new ways to photograph horses.

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My work with Jeff gave me the courage to work with other mentors. And I’ve been so fortunate to work with amazing photographers and persons.

Craig Varjabedian, a gifted and published landscape photographer based in Santa Fe, NM, was my next mentor.  Craig and I had amazing conversations about conscientious practice and concepts of photography as art.  Craig had worked with Ansel Adams, and it was Craig who finally made me understand that we MAKE a photograph. When we sat down together to work on an image, he asked me, “What do you want to do with this?” Duh? I had never approached my images that way – I just played and hoped I’d get lucky!

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Kim Scianghetti, daughter of photographer Barbel Scianghetti, was a photographer I admired in the Smug group. She is a very talented, award-winning portrait photographer, and I was mesmerized by her images. I knew I wanted to work with her if she was willing, and she was. Kim is a brilliant creative, a wonderful soul – and an amazing hands-on teacher.  She opened the door to Lightroom and encouraged me to become more diligent about shooting RAW.

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And along the way, my images changed.

Am I a photographer? Well, I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

. . . and the evolution continues . . .

 

 

finding the joy

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Inspired by a fellow creative at the first Bedlam Farm Creativity Conference, I started making junk journals. These are a compilation of left over pieces of paper and boxes, cuttings from magazines, calendars, and catalogs, unused photographs, art prints, my own artwork, and random pictures and illustrations.

While making these journals, I allow synchronicity and spontaneity to take over.  I quickly chose phrases and pictures to glue onto individual pages.  Some were humorous, and some were philosophical. And yet, some were downright warped in perspective.  After making two for myself I got the idea to make some for friends as Christmas gifts.  It was a JOY to make each journal, with love, for the friend who would receive it, keeping in mind the things that meant a lot to each friend and reflections of who each one was as an individual. And that’s when I came up with the idea of calling them JOY JOURNALS. I invited each friend to note things that brought them joy throughout the days and weeks, hoping that we could have a JOY FEST at the end of 2016.

Here we are in mid February, and I am now on page twelve of my own joy journal. I keep it on my kitchen table where it serves as a daily reminder to look for the joy in my day. It is not a true journal or diary in the sense that I write long entries – some are phrases of just four to six words.  It’s enough to capture the joy I see or feel and validate that I recognized it.

Joy is not always about being happy or having fun. It has a way of sneaking in between the cracks. Joy is more often internal than external and sometimes takes some serious probing to feel.

It’s too easy to get bogged down by negativity, allowing it to play over and over in our minds, like a broken record. It’s my thinking that if we permit ourselves to “listen” to the repetition of negativity that we empower it and allow it to permeate our very essence of being.

We take responsibility for choosing joy in our lives and affirming its power. By encouraging joy to become our natural mind set, it manifests in a myriad of ways in our lives.

 

coffee

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Most of my friends find it amusing that I just started to drink coffee at the age of 67. Although I do make it at home, nothing beats a good cup of hot black coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts – no sugar, no cream, no nuttin’.  Anyway, I think it is a little like eating a meal prepared by someone else; it always tastes better than when you make it yourself.

Recently, when I was staying at a friend’s home, she asked me what I wanted to drink for breakfast, and I replied, “CAW-fee.” (caw as in awe)  My aunt who was a “New Yawker” always pronounced it this way, and I loved the way it sounded.

My friend, not immediately realizing that I was being funny, corrected me and said it was pronounced “COUGH-fee – like in cough, cough”  I giggled, and said I actually preferred “CORE-fee.”  She looked at me askance and realized that I was enjoying the word play.

I then proceeded to tell her that even though she pronounced it COUGH-fee, the sophisticates were known for saying, “KAH-fee.”  (kah as in hat)  By this time, she’d already measured out the Gevalia and plugged in the pot.

As the rich aroma filled the kitchen, I relinquished the word play and admitted that I really said “KOFF-ee.” (Koff as in coffin) – not that I was trying to bury the topic.

I just wanted my cup of JOE.

 

helping deb get dressed

Every morning, without fail, my two pups arrive to help me get dressed. There’s no routine to this, mind you.
I used to think that it was the sound of the drawers being opened to retrieve my underwear and socks . . . so I tried opening those drawers v e r r r y quietly. Didn’t work. The girls still arrived to help me get dressed.
Then I tried putting my underwear out the night before . . . that failed too. I still had two black noses helping me put on my socks and slacks.
I tried sitting on my chair instead of the bed (thinking they heard the springs creak?) — no matter — chair or bed. The girls still arrived to assist.
It’s actually gotten to be funny.
I suppose it’s rooted in thinking that when Deb goes to put her clothes on that one of them will be “going to work.” (They’re both therapy dogs.)
But it has really made me think about intuition and that extra sensory perception that IMG_2770animals have retained. It doesn’t seem to matter when I get dressed or how I mix up the signals; my two wonderful pups, Hannah and Heidi, are devoted maids and love to help me get dressed.

creativity, mediocrity, and me

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I am a retired librarian with 37 years in public education. My father was a well respected college professor, and my mother was considered the best piano teacher in the town where I grew up. Both my parents were also writers and always encouraged any creative bents I displayed while growing up. So, creativity and education are in my blood, and, I suppose, it has molded my views on constructive feedback and mediocrity. My standards have always been high, often to the dismay of my colleagues and my students. I basically abhor status quo; to me, it’s boring and uninspiring and an anathema to my creativity.

There has been much dialog recently among the members of the creative group about feedback, triggered by recent events and blog posts. This has caused me to pause and reflect upon my own philosophy about creativity and participating in a group of others with creative interests.

Obviously any group is made up of a very diversified membership. Because of that, the reasons for being in the creative group are most likely just as diversified. We need to consider what our personal goals are for group participation. Ask yourself, am I a member because. . .

I want to learn more about my art and improve?

I want a place to gain inspiration or to embrace as a muse?

I want constructive feedback on my art?

I want an audience with whom to share what I’ve done?

I want a place to be social with like-minded people?

I want to share my creative journey with others and help them on their own creative journeys?

Most will embrace several or all of these goals. Some may embrace none and choose not to challenge themselves and advance. Everyone’s goals are different, and those goals should be in a constant state of flux as your creative medium grows and changes.

I’ve learned that giving constructive feedback is an art, and for many people it can be just as frightening as sharing their own creative medium. But, like anything else, the more you do it and the more you read good feedback from others, the easier it becomes. Learning to give quality and thoughtful feedback is an important part of growing as a creative person and supporting others in their own journey.  When I really take the time to look at a photograph and weigh in on what MAKES it a good photograph or image, it forces me to become more astute in evaluating my own images. Deliberation (thinking) is just one important step in advancing our own creativity.

It is not uncommon to be uncomfortable with giving feedback because it involves “feelings.” People are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings and potentially discouraging their efforts. Unfortunately, this leads to generalizations and comments like, “Gorgeous!” “Awesome!” “You are a brilliant writer!” “I LOVE your work!”  People think they are giving feedback, but it is a path to encouraging complacency.

I, as a photographer, do not want mediocrity to dictate the standard of my work. I am constantly looking to improve and step outside my comfort zone. It can be frightening, but it’s the only way I will learn to be better. Yes, we all progress through levels of performance as we advance in our art.  At some point we travel through the stages of beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert.  Mediocrity is a natural phase as one progresses, but it should just be a phase and not an accepted end in our creative journey.