Category Archives: Life

If you see something red, shoot it

It’s even better, if there’s an interesting sky.


Red Barn With Sky

Rural Putnam County, Indiana, on an ordinary October day.

A beautiful view

I’ve been gone for a few weeks, spending time with friends, seeing new places, and sometimes just enjoying a beautiful day watching the scenery blur by, in places like this somewhere in Normandy:

A beautiful day in Normandy, near Colleville-sur-Mer

Thank you to all who have stopped by in recent weeks and have enjoyed a virtual meeting with some amazing photographers in the 5+5 x 5 series.  I plan to do another series soon — look for details early next week.

As much fun as I had in my travels, it is good to be home, enjoying the local scenery and spending time with family and friends closer to home.  Hope you are enjoying the view wherever you are.

Quotidian (WP Weekly Photo Challenge: A Day in My Life)

Today — more than most days — was not a day to take pictures.  Sure I was busy.  Who isn’t?   It doesn’t matter what you do, we always try to squeeze more activities into less time.    I don’t usually read the DP Photo Challenge when it is published, so I was surprised to see it early this morning.  But, only a few words into the post I realized it was because it was a day-long assignment.    Oh bother!  I had such a boring day planned.   Who wants to look at my laundry, or my dirty floor, or the umpteenth coffee cup of the day.

I decided that instead of taking good photos of the mundane, I would try to take great pictures of the hidden side of my day.   The lights in the laundry room seemed to pulse:  a rhythm of the day beating “Go. Go. Go.”   The vacuum cleaner needed to be cleaned.  There wasn’t enough coffee.  I waited for a contractor who didn’t show.  I had some banking tasks to attend to.  I found time to dust, but “dust” is a bit euphemistic when you haven’t done it for weeks.   Is it possible to shovel dust?   If I waited a few more weeks I might have been able to experiment.

Along the way I was distracted by the usual bright shiny objects.  One in particular has been sitting in my living room for two weeks:  a topographical map of an area near my home, as surveyed in 1946.  Of course, in the middle of something important — like fixing the beater bar — I had to stop and unroll that map.   How fascinating!

It’s all in the collage below:  the coffee, the duster, the broken vacuum, the laundry soap, and the dust; it was interspersed with computer work and phone calls and oranges for snacks;  and there were flowers to deliver, and others to spy peeking out of the ground, and a new bird’s nest discovered in an  outside light.  And the topo maps?  Oh yes!  the maps!

Everyday Jazz

Everyday Jazz

The laundry is done and the house is quiet.  But that pulse of activity beats on . . . .

Be sure to check out other’s post for this week’s challenge.  Here are a few (you’ll find more on the DP page):

A Christmas Story

If you’ve never read Paul Auster’s Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story, or seen the movie Smoke, you should take a few minutes and do that today. It’s a Christmas story without Christmas trees or Santa Clauses or silly pop songs, but it’s all about giving.

You can listen to Auster read his story here.

You should definitely watch the movie Smoke too. Not only is it a wonderful film with outstanding performances by Harvey Keitel, William Hurt and Forrest Whitaker (and music by the extraordinary Tom Waits), it is all about love, loss, grief, dreams, writing, passion, forgiveness and kindness. It’s perfect for Christmas without saccharine.

An excerpt from the ending — the Christmas Story part.

My favorite scene in the movie: “You got to slow down.:

Nostalgia and Common Sense

When I was about 10 years old, I thought my mother was cheap when it came to Christmas tree decorating.  We had only 2 or 3 boxes of ornaments — and I didn’t like any of them!  I always wanted her to buy us more.  After working on the lights this evening, I’ve changed my mind.

I strung 3 long strands of lights, making sure each strand lit before I wound it around the tree.  I had finished about half the tree when I plugged the three strands together.   Sparks didn’t fly, but I did hear one strand pop.  The string of lights was gone, filler for the kitchen trashcan.  The strings were old so I wasn’t surprised that one of them didn’t work.   I just wish it had happened before it went on the tree.   With not enough white lights to finish the tree, I had to switch to strands of the multi-colored lights — after I removed the strands already on the tree.

By the time I checked another 5 strands of lights and placed them on the tree, I was tired. But, since I had opened one container of ornaments, I dug deep to find the motivation to get those 100 ornaments on the tree.   One hour later, my tree, while not finished, looks okay.  I may leave it as-is.

Why?   I’ve reassessed my mother’s tree-trimming days of my childhood.   I think that the small allotment of ornaments she owned was not due to frugality.   She wasn’t cheap; she was tired.  We had exactly the number of ornaments that she had energy to hang once the kids grew tired of decorating the tree.

Hanging ornaments this evening, I thought about those ornaments and grew a bit nostalgic over them.   What happened to them? I wondered.

And then my senses came back to me:  those ornaments are still ugly and I don’t have the energy to put out all the ornaments I already own!


Travel Theme: Transportation

Planes, Trains, Automobiles.  Bicycles, Boats, Jets, Rockets.   I haven’t taken all of them — and am not likely ever to take a rocket anywhere — but they are all part of our world.

Where I live — the middle of the United States — automobile is the most common form of transportation.   Earlier this year I checked what my neighborhood was on   Answer:  20, which could be translated loosely to  “It sucks to live here if you don’t have a car”.  Indianapolis is developing more walking paths and bike lanes, which makes me very happy, but I live in a car-dependent neighborhood.

I’m not the kind of person who cares much about my car.  I drive them long and hard.  I’ve  had more than one person tell me before that they didn’t know that [fill in the name of the automaker] made garbage scows.  As long as my car gets me to my destination safely and efficiently, I’m happy with it.  The best car to me is one that I can drive until it literally falls apart.  My only wish is that it doesn’t happen prematurely or in traffic.

I wish that there was reliable train transportation throughout the US, because I think that I would use it.   I don’t particularly like to fly, but if I’m driving I can’t enjoy looking out at the landscape, so trains seem ideal.  For now, though, and the foreseeable future, if I’m traveling slow it will be by car; if I need to get somewhere quickly, it will be by plane.

Last summer, I accompanied my son on a quick one-day trip to the Dayton area.  I had spotted this particular artwork at the I-70/I-75 interchange before, but I had always been driving.   It isn’t the best shot, but it was taken at somewhere over 60 mph.  I won’t guess how much over that speed!   I like this interchange because of the arching lines.  This is in the area of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and not far from the childhood home of the Wright Brothers, so the motif on the columns is fitting for the area.   I like how the arched pathways of the jets echos the arches of the two interstates as the reach in different directions.

Planes and automobiles

Planes and automobiles

This is part of Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme. This week’s theme:  Transportation.   Why don’t you join us by seeing what others have submitted (some links are below; more are on Ailsa’s blog) or by submitting your own interpretation of “Transportation”.

If You’ve Seen One Mall

In early September, I was driving through a commercial area in Pensacola, Florida with my son.  “Except for the names on some of the restaurants, we could be near Greenwood Mall” I said, referring to the mall on the south side of town where we never go.   By “never” I mean that I haven’t been in at least the last ten years — maybe not even this century.

But, it could have been the mall near our home too.  There was just some intangible feeling about the self-proclaimed “Hillbilly Riviera” that seemed like the south side of my town.

Inside Dillard’s, I thought that I could have just as easily been inside a Macy’s.  I’m sure that the Dillard’s and Macy people wouldn’t like to hear this, but it’s true.  When I’ve been in Macy’s in New York, I’ve thought that if I’d been plopped down there without seeing the city, I could just have easily guessed that I was in the former Fields store in Chicago — and it has nothing to do with it now being a Macy’s.

Maybe it is because I really dislike shopping, but it seems to me that all stores seem alike.  Perhaps that is why Wal-Mart has the bright yellow smiley faces and Target has the big red circles hanging all over their stores.   Without them, people like me might forget what store they were in.  Not that it matters, much.   My brain is usually so addled by the music, the displays, the crying kids, and the ding-ding-ding of the cash registers that I often forget why I am in the store.  Nevermind which store it is.

I thought I would thwart the mall demons this year by shopping online.  But, one item was not available online for shipping.  Oddly, Amazon had it in stock but marked it as “No Ship”.   How you purchase something from a virtual store without shipping is something that I didn’t want to waste  brainpower pondering.    In-store pickup seemed the next best option.   I placed my order, carefully read the received instructions for pickup and waited for an email telling me the item was in.   I had no intention of picking it up over the weekend, so I waited until I could get to the mall on a slow, weekday afternoon.

The mall isn’t far from my house, only a few miles.  But I used to work in that area and going to the mall means traveling through the busiest intersection in the city.   This is not an area to travel to in December just for fun.  It is only undertaken with intent and with a plan, preferably one that involves a rapid getaway.   I thought I had just enough time to accomplish my task before the rush hour hit:  10 minutes travel, 5 – 10 minutes in the store, 5 minutes to get out of the mall parking lot, home in 35-45 minutes tops.

But I forgot about Bad Mall Karma.

The line at the electronics store was not lengthy and the wait was not unreasonable.   However — you knew there would be a however, didn’t you? — the item pictured on the box was HOT PINK.   This is not the color of an electronic gizmo that would belong to my son.  It isn’t the color of anything that I would want either.  I’m talking Neon, Day-Glo PINK!    I was crestfallen.   Where did my plan go wrong?

“Please tell me you have it in grey.  I’m pretty sure that is what I ordered.” 

The clerk looked quizzically at his invoice and I stared at my receipt.   “Grey!” I said excitedly, pointing to the form at the same moment that he said “Pink!” and pointed to the printed description.   Twenty minutes later and what was either a lengthy smoke break out back or an archeological dig in the store room, the clerk returned to the counter.   “I’m sorry Mam, but there isn’t another one in the store.”   

Not in any other color?

This is the only one.   And it IS pink.   Our system is wrong.  You did order the right thing, but I’ll find one and have it shipped to you.  I promise.”   Ah! Promises are easy;  order fulfillment is not.

It took another 10 minutes for him to determine that the system would not allow him to ship this item or transfer it to another store.  This was especially perplexing given that the boxed item weighs about a pound and would easily fit in my purse.

The end result?   They put one on hold for me at the Greenwood Mall, 30 miles away.   I trekked down there this morning.  It’s been updated since the last time that I was there – a few more stores, a bit more congestion.   But you know what?  Except that it is 12 hours closer, it could have just as easily been that mall in Pensacola.    I hear it is a lot warmer down there now, though.

I now have my electro-gizmo-gadget thingy in grey.   Maybe I should have just scheduled it for store pickup where my son now lives and avoided the mall hassle.   But then it wouldn’t have been wrapped.   I’m sure I have some paper somewhere. Now if only those elves would get busy wrapping.

Not Mall Santas

Not Mall Santas

The One in Which I Use Bad Photographs For A Photo Challenge

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is:  Thankful.

Initially, the theme — to be blunt — irked me.   How lame! I thought when I saw it.  How predictable!  Haven’t we had enough of public displays of “gratitude” and “thankfulness” for a while?    And then I immediately felt guilty for being such an ingrate.  But, how, I thought would I show gratitude in the types of photos that I shoot?  But, I didn’t ponder that dilemma as much as I pondered why I felt so jaded by displays of gratitude via social media.

It isn’t that I’m not thankful for things.  I am:  my family, my friends, my home, my food, my health, my general comfort level, my intelligence, my …..    Perhaps that was it:  everything was “mine“.   Since the beginning of the month several of my friends have been posting daily “I’m thankful for …” status on Facebook.  I started to participate in this exercise but had abandoned it by day four.   I have tried to keep a gratitude journal before, with similar effect.   It always seems that after a few days I realize how self-centered, rather than introspective, my thoughts of gratitude are.  It makes all of the things that I am thankful for seem irrelevant.

If I think of these things in terms of “first-world problems” it makes it seem all the more trivial, and perhaps even down right selfish.   My problems aren’t problems to someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from;  who doesn’t know when they will see their children again because the only work is days away from home — or if those children are safe from war, unrest, famine, disease; who can’t imagine how their children’s lives can ever be different if they can’t read or write.  Or closer to home:  what will happen when the bank account is depleted, when the food stamps and public assistance run out, when the gas is turned off, because there hasn’t been work for several weeks, or there isn’t an affordable and safe place to live, or there isn’t enough money to pay for both healthy meals and medicine.

It is why I always feel queasy when I hear someone say “There but for the grace of God, go I”.  That statement makes it seem as if God took favor upon a person — spared them cancer, or hunger, or financial ruin.  What is the inverse of that?  That the troubled person has not had the Grace of God?    I don’t think it works that way.   If it did, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it.  Similarly, this is why platitudes of thanksgiving ring hollow for me:  much of which I have to be thankful for is due to lucky circumstances of time, class, society.  I wouldn’t want to do without them, but it isn’t what makes me thankful.  I don’t want my thankfulness to be focused on things, on the details of my life.

I was thinking these thoughts today when I wandered by the window and happened to notice a large swatch of red moving quickly out of view.  I went to grab my camera and long lens.   The cardinal was still nearby, though he never stood still quite long enough for me to compose and shoot.   After a few attempts, I looked beyond the patio where the cardinal was to the woods that stretch behind our home and towards our neighbors.  There were more swatches of red — robins, cardinals and woodpeckers.   An afternoon convocation!   At one point, I spotted 1 pileated woodpecker, 2 red-headed woodpeckers and 2 northern flickers all happily flitting from tree to tree looking for bugs.

Again, I could be thankful that I have a warm, safe home with a beautiful view of birds and trees and non-threatening wildlife.  (It isn’t like bears or tigers are likely to maul me here.)  But, can I be thankful for the birds?  And why exactly, would I be?

It was then that I realized that I am thankful for a sense of wonder that I feel when I am taken away from the “stuff” of my life and observe the life that goes on around me. I can laugh that it seems as if there is  a regular 2 o’clock coffee clatch of birds near the feeders, or that I can enjoy watching the squirrels chase each other down the drive and back into the trees.   But they don’t do those things for me.   Those aren’t things that I have.  They would happen whether I observed them or not.  They happen whether I am here or not.   And the animals don’t give a rat’s ass about me; as long as I don’t intrude upon their habitat or try to capture them for food, they are oblivious to my actions, my concerns, my life.

It is this realization that I am grateful for.  To realize that life goes on without me.  It goes on without each of us as individuals.  It isn’t here for our enjoyment, but it is something that we can enjoy.  The world may not be about us, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be about the world.

It isn’t things that we should be thankful for; we should just be thankful for life — the lives of our families and friends, the lives of those we interact with regularly, the lives of those we intersect with briefly, and the lives of those whose spheres do not touch ours directly, but that share this planet as well.   We should be thankful that we can laugh, and cry and share those emotions with others. We should be thankful for our intellect and for our senses of humor; thought and laughter are vital to life and wholeness.

I am thankful that I got up today.  I am thankful that those I love got up today.   I am thankful that those I don’t know got up today and we all keep going on this weird, wonderful planet in our weird, wonderful lives.

I will be thankful tomorrow for the same.  I’m glad that the squirrels and birds helped me to realize this — even if they don’t have a clue that they did.

Squirrel Blur

A Touch of Bright Red in the Barren Trees

Other entries into this week’s Photo Challenge can be found here.  Likely they did not take the same rambling approach as I did. 🙂

Hoboken, not Hobgoblins

I was set to post something appropriate to Halloween this evening, but then I watched the evening news, viewing once again photos of the devastation in New Jersey.   Halloween costumes and jack-o-lanterns were not something that I wanted to focus on.  Rather, the all-tricks-no-treats aftermath of the storm — too monstrous in real life to still refer to it by the humorous pre-storm moniker of “Frankenstorm” — is on my mind.

Throughout the day on Monday, there were photos of the rising tides, of flooding in areas of New York City that I am familiar with, like Battery Park City.  As the storm made landfall, the shocking photos of the subway stations flooding were difficult to believe.   I have been in many of those stations.  I can visualize the depth of the tracks in the 86th Street Station and understand just how many feet of water were on the tracks below the flooded platforms.  I’ve been through South Ferry Station on several occasions; I can’t imagine it being filled to the ceiling with water.  But none of the photos were of places as familiar to me as the PATH station in Hoboken.  Seeing the water gush out of the closed elevator doors was truly shocking.

For more than five years I worked for a company that had offices in Hoboken.   During a special project that I managed in 2007, I commuted regularly from Indiana to northern NJ.   I had my comfy well-furnished office in Indy and I had a temporary office — filled with banker boxes of papers, manuals, computer cables — in a rarely used conference room in the Hobo office.  What it lacked in furnishings and conveniences (like a steady internet connection) it made up for in view — an unobstructed, breathtaking view of Manhattan.   Because I was nursing a broken foot at the time, it was important that I had lodgings that were accessible to public transportation.   This was not disappointing for it meant that I usually stayed in Manhattan, a short ride under the Hudson River on the PATH, rather than somewhere in New Jersey where I would have to walk a distance or use a car which I was unable to drive with my injured foot.  Since the elevator from the PATH went directly to the street, it was nearly six months before I could take the stairs and see what a magnificent old train palace the Hoboken station had once been.

It isn’t that I’m overly attached to that elevator or the somewhat neglected train station that made the photo so shocking and surreal.  Like all subway elevators it is dank, dirty, smelly.  Sometimes there were rain puddles in it for hours after it had rained.  Sometimes there were  puddles that you knew weren’t water but you didn’t want to think about it.  Instead, you just held your breath as the slow elevator shuttled you down underground.  But, seeing that photo (if you didn’t look at the link, here it is again) of a place that I have been to hundreds of times made the frightening views of Sandy’s wrath all the more real.  It wasn’t happening someplace that was far away, some place where I could understand the implications but had no connections to, some place where I couldn’t quite grasp the scope of the destruction.  It was happening to a place that I knew well.

This evening on the News, one of the reports was on the severe flooding in Hoboken, a densely populated town that is only about a mile across.  There isn’t much to Hoboken except for residential buildings that are home to people who work in the city.  There are some offices and commercial businesses, and lots and lots of restaurants.  Tonight, most of the town is flooded and many people are stranded in their homes without power or water, trapped by the high floodwaters in the streets and lower levels of their apartment buildings.  The National Guard came in today to assist people.  Reports are that it will be a few days before they can pump the water out of the streets and out of the buildings.  The officials haven’t said how long it will be before the trains are running again, but it won’t be soon.  As I looked through photographs of the floods,  there are streets that look familiar, but I can’t determine exact locations because rivers instead of streets disguise the landmarks, masking street corners and buildings that I’ve walked by many times.

The company I worked for was sold a few years ago.  The Hoboken office was closed and I have lost touch with most of the people who worked there.   Only one or two of them lived in Hoboken; the others lived in nearby Jersey towns — Newark, Bayonne, Weehawken, Jersey City.   There are miles of displaced beachfront with burned houses, the remains of businesses, dwellings, and livelihoods strewn with the sand, all along the Jersey Shore; there are neighborhoods without power in New York; towns obliterated on Long Island; places along the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers experiencing historic flooding.  My heart goes out to all those affected by the storm, in Hoboken and elsewhere.

Here are two photographs I took from my office the last time that I was there in 2010:

The front of the Hoboken Train Station

Another view of the train station with the Hudson River in the background. ERIE is now eerie.

I found photographs of the train station and surrounding park showing the rising flood waters before the hurricane made landfall,  here and here.   You can see the building where I used to work to the right in the first photo.

A meditation on a Fall afternoon

Discouragement: When you look at the big pile of leaves and realize that you still have several hours of work left to do — and there are still leaves in the trees!  

On a brighter side:  I don’t have any grass to cut during the summer.