Posted in Photography

Every Picture Tells a Story

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

Ansel Adams

            When I am behind my camera, I see things that others miss.  I feel new and young and inquisitive.  My world is more interesting, with colors so vivid it is almost too much to bear, and I am able to focus on what really matters, the fine details of the bigger picture.

            When I retired, I upgraded my little Nikon Coolpix to this bad boy, Nikon D3500.  The 3500 came with one lens that was adequate and allowed me to snap pics from 17-55 feet, but as I got used to taking photos and our travels expanded, I soon “needed” a larger lens.  (18-400)

            On a trip to Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George and Martha Washington, I found myself enthralled with the immaculate grounds, gardens, and the Potomac River.  You can actually sit in rocking chairs on the back porch and just stare at the beautiful trees, river, and horizon.  There are probably 40 plus rocking chairs set up just for visitors.

            By now, Boo knows nothing means more to me on vacation than taking photos.  He lets me wander and stop to snap as much as I want.  Sometimes he will call out worthy subjects and point to interesting sights, as he did at Mount Vernon.

            “Babe, look at the cool bird sitting on top of that huge magnolia tree.”

            I love photographing trees and as I was snapping away, I felt something behind me as two rather ‘weathered’ ladies tiptoed up, whispering, “We saw it too. You’ve got quite an eye.”

            I turned smiling, “Thank you.  It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”

            “Have you seen one before?”  they asked, still whispering.

            “Oh sure, lots of times.  We have them in Texas.”  I whispered back.

            “Ohhhhhh my, that’s rare.  They are usually only seen in this region.  Do you use a journal or keep track online?”  One lady asked.

            And that is when I realized that they thought I was a Birder.  Before I had to admit I was talking about the tree, the bird flew off and two more with it that had been hiding in the tree.

Impressively, I snapped photo after photo of the birds in flight and was able to follow the birds across the sky, all the while not having a clue as to what kind of birds they were. 

            The ladies stopped and burst into an applause. Then waved fondly as they moved on down the path.

            “Good luck!”  they called.

There is something about a large camera that makes people think you must be taking important photos and you must know what you are doing.  On my first ever trip to Mardi Gras, I went with my Sittn’ Ugly Sistah, Ginger, to her parents’ home in Eunice, Louisiana.  Our friends, Mary and Cynthia went too and the three of them really schooled me as to Mardi Gras etiquette.  Once we got to downtown Eunice, I was behind my camera soaking up the colors, sights, and action.

 

People would stop and ask, “Will you take our picture?”  They never seemed to worry about seeing the picture or wondering where it would go, they just wanted to be photographed.  Couples would dance by on the street and pose, waiting for me to snap.  I gladly obliged.  I could almost hear the band and smell the gumbo through my lens.

I love photographing pets, and I could make a large coffee table book just on the pictures I have of our cat.  She’s very photogenic, if I do say so myself, and she is a subject that never gets old.

On a beach trip to Galveston, Boo broke speed limits and raced against time to get me to  ‘the best place in Galveston to capture a sunset.’  He googled the location and even carried my tripod, while helping me out onto the pier.   In Maine, he carried my camera backpack all the way on our three-mile hike around the pond. 

In Glacier National Park, he sprinted through the rain with my camera under his shirt just to make sure the camera stayed dry.  At family gatherings, he’s constantly asking, “Did you get that?”  He’s happy to see me happy taking pictures.  Even Uncle B, Boo’s brother, is supportive.  He gave me his tripod and is always sending me photos he knows I would appreciate.

When your heart jumps every time your camera locks focus- You’ve become a photographer.

Mark Denman

My heart jumps when I photograph my grandkids.  In fact, my favorite subjects are the people I love.  My second favorite is nature.  Any raindrop, insect, flower, tree, or animal; all gardens, mountains, oceans, and clouds.  My mind actually sees things within a frame.  It’s as if my vision is a camera lens.

Most of my photography is what the professionals call a “happy accident.”  I accidently get a beautiful shot and I’m not sure how it happened.  I’ve taken classes, yet sometimes I feel intimidated by people with seemingly more knowledge, bigger vocabularies, and fancier equipment.  But, as with writing, there are a lot of people who talk about it, think about it and plan to do it, and there are those of us who do.  I’m taking a chance, embracing imperfection and enjoying my photography more than I could ever explain.  It simply fills my soul, and that’s all I need to know.

Posted in Nature

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

My backyard sanctuary is home to two new families.

Being an amateur photographer and Birder I use words like cute or sweet to describe the new families that have inhabited our decorative birdhouses on the patio. I call them chickadees but I’m not positive they are, so maybe one of you will know for sure.

Every year these little birdies spend a week or two preparing a new nest for their springtime babies.  It is hard work to fly back and forth, collecting leaves, string, feathers, and twigs to weave elaborate homes for their soon-to-be eggs. Below you see our bird taking in a rather large piece of white, paper-thin material.

Building the nest

When the nest is built, the mother-to-be will unceremoniously enter the nest, lay eggs, and begin to brood.  Although, we saw the birds building their nest, we were surprised when we peaked in one day and saw the mother looking back at us.  Even if the mother were to be scared away, she will come right back for the two-week incubation period. 

We definitely saw the little brown bird building the nest in the bluebonnet house, but during Easter weekend our son-in-law peeked into the white house and saw babies. How, we wondered and when did this happen?

Shortly after Easter the babies hatched in the bluebonnet house.  We do not hear their faint cries yet, but there is quite a commotion that ensues nearly all day long as the parent birds fly back and forth, looking for food and bringing food to the babies.   I read that when the eggs first hatch, the female will brood the young and the male will bring food.  After brooding both female and male will search for food.  Right now, I’m assuming the male flies out to locate worms, seeds, insects and berries. When his beak is full, he flies to one of the patio chairs and surveys the area.  Then he will fly to the roof or a plant near the birdhouse, and after looking around, he will land on the perch, glance around, then stick his beak into the birdhouse.

Boo, Emmy Cat, and I are mesmerized at their beauty and diligence.  We spend way too much time watching from the window and sometimes from outside, as I sit at the table quietly observing. Usually after a few minutes the birds will resume their work after they’ve decided I am no threat.  Even the other birds watch with anticipation.

We have stacked more plants on the rack to deter any neighborhood cats or other animals from disturbing the new family, while we wish we could do more to keep them safe, nature has its way.

I would love to know from you fellow backyard Birders if these are chickadees?  And are the brown ones in the same family? The brown and black/white birdies are both going to both houses! What’s going on? Boo said this is like an episode of Sister Wives!

Inquiring minds want to know!

Emmy sits for hours watching her birdies.

Posted in Contemplations, Gratitude

I Need Something Sweet by Nancy Malcolm

            There are days, we all have them, where it seems everyone and everything around us is sharp. Sharp tones or answers to our questions that feel snippy and harsh.    I call these tender days, a day when tears are close by and thoughts are deep.  On these days I feel alone in an alien world that thrives on being blunt or quick.  “I need something sweet, Lord,” I whisper in a quiet prayer.  “I need something sweet.”

            As I get older the tears fall more readily.  They often are on the brink, ready to fall and just as close is a smile open and ready to fill my face.  Maybe it’s because I realize I have less time to waste on foolishness, or hurtful people or things that don’t serve a loving purpose.  I appreciate more the answered prayers that are sent to me.  I feel the more I ask for sweetness in my life, the more is sent to me. 

            On one such tender day, two years ago, I was volunteering with my elderly Hospice patient.  She had wanted to go to the grocery store, just to look around.  I pushed her wheelchair up and down the aisles as she looked at make-up, smelled the candles, and marveled at the various types of crackers. We perused the Hallmark cards and bought some candy.  She just wanted to feel normal for a change and I wanted that for her too.  We had spent an hour wandering the aisles, when we got in line to check out.  The woman behind us kept staring and smiling at us and finally she said to me, “Is this your mother?”

            I smiled at my patient and said, “Oh, how I wish she was.  We’re just good friends.”

            The woman replied, “Well, you look beautiful enough to be mother and daughter.”

            And my patient said, “I wish we were.  She is the sweetest girl in the world to me.”

            I bent down to hug my little friend, and we both had tears in our eyes.  That was something sweet.

            I always find when I whisper my need for something sweet, God is waiting and willing to send it.  A smile from a stranger.  A love pat from my husband.  A phone call from my daughter.  A thank you from a friend.  There’s goodness on its way in many different forms if I am open to see it.

            My dear friend Mary, who has since passed away, always encouraged me in my photography.  She would call and ask if I wanted to walk the trails at the Wildflower Center, “Be sure to bring your camera,” she would say.  Then as we walked, she seemed happy for me as I found butterflies or dragonflies just begging to be photographed.  “Look over here!” she would say. “This butterfly is just waiting for you.”  She never failed to compliment me or brag to others about my talent.  She was something so precious that I can live on the memory of her sweetness for years to come.

            I feel the blessings when I encounter kind and generous souls inside my day.  The friendly cashier, gracious friends or a loving card in the mail.  I feel so lucky because my inner whisper, “I need something sweet,” seems to send my guardian angels into overdrive sending me all manner of beautiful expressions.  Even now as I sit at my desk, there is a gorgeous red cardinal outside my window especially for me to enjoy.

            I pray to be reminded that when I whisper, “I need something sweet,” there are others, too, who are whispering.  Perhaps it is within my power to be that source for someone else.  I want to be mindful of their whispers, too.  Take note of the whisper in your heart and the hearts of others. Ask God to let you hear the whisper and give you the courage to answer the call.

In loving memory of Eunice J.
Posted in Pets, Photography

How To Love A Cat

How To Love A Cat by Nancy Malcolm

            We filled out mountains of paperwork, completed a background check, paid our fee, did a home-visit to the foster parent and solemnly swore to care for her until the end of time.  We knew we would be a good match, but did they?

            Emmy Lynn came to us through an adoption agency.  She had been born during Hurricane Harvey and transplanted to Austin shortly thereafter.  We have always been partial to little black cats, so after our Blackie left this earth, we waited one year to make sure we were ready.

RIP Blackie Marie

            “She’s shy,” the foster parent kept saying, but she also had two other cats and a loud, hyperactive Lab living there, too.  We persevered and finally got to hold her for a minute or so before saying yes, we wanted to adopt.  A week later, we were bringing her home, where she promptly hid inside our leather couch for two days.

            “She’s shy,” we mused.

            She finally crept out from the couch and began purring, rubbing our legs, eating, and pooping.  Then, over night she began racing around the house, demanding snacks and kicking her litter out of the box. 

            “Remember, she’s just a kitten,” Boo smiled.  “She needs our love and support.”

            “I don’t get a minute to myself,” I countered.  “She follows me around the house, wanting me to carry her everywhere and is only happy if I sit still and pet her.”

            “So?”

            “I’m busy,” I retorted. (Busy being retired) “She’s like a toddler.”

            In the morning during my sittin ugly time, she would sit on my lap while I did my prayers and daily reader.  If I dared to get up for more coffee, she would chew on my Bible and try to bite me when I took it away.  Get thee behind me, Satan!

            She would race from room to room, jump on counters, and at Christmas she jumped up into the tree trying to bite the lights.  At one point, I called the adoption agency behavior hotline.  I was anonymous, but I felt ashamed as I kept asking, “Is this normal?  I don’t know what to do. I got a water bottle to spritz her when she acts up….”

“Oh No,” she interrupted. “Absolutely no spray bottles!!!”

The hotline worker kept repeating that she is a kitten and simply doing what kittens do.  “The only acceptable discipline for her is ‘time-out’, she said.

            “How do I do that?”

            “You go in another room for a few minutes and she will eventually understand that Mommy will not accept her behavior.”

            “Thank you,” I said without meaning it, and I promptly went to my room and shut the door.

            The next day, I went to the swanky pet store in our neighborhood and asked for help in keeping this little kitty happy and entertained.  Money was no object as I purchased several ‘never fails’ and ‘guaranteed’ toys and gadgets.   I vowed to stay calm and renew my patience with this adorable, bad to the bone kitty, and s l o w l y she adjusted to life and we have adjusted to her.

            Emmy has charmed the grandkids and trained them to her liking.  She will play fetch with her soft felt balls, even bringing them back, and dropping it at my feet.  She sleeps with her tongue out and still is the happiest in my arms or on my lap.  She sits in the ivy in the front yard and waits for mothers pushing strollers so she can greet the children, and she climbs up between the comforter and sheets on the guest bed to nap when no one is home.  If we go out of town, she is always forgiving and charms her sitters with good behavior.

She is delightful, funny, loving and loyal.  She’s our little black kitty and this we know to be true…In a perfect world every cat would have a home and every home would have a cat.

Posted in Photography

The Hummingbird

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In grief as in life, we often say, see or do things that make us feel better or more connected to our loved ones.

“Oh, there’s Dad again,”  someone may say while looking out the kitchen window at a cardinal sitting on a fence post.  While another might notice yellow butterflies on their morning walks, declaring, “I know that’s Mom.  She loved the color yellow.”

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It’s not so much that I believe my loved ones are reincarnated into insects or birds, but it does feel like a gentle embrace from the other side, meant to comfort and bring peace.

My friend, Mary, passed away last year, rather suddenly.  She always loved dragonflies and was drawn to their vivid colors and flighty paths.  She had dragonfly notepads, nightgowns, and tote bags.  She adored all things ‘dragonfly.’

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Try as I might, I am not convinced that every dragonfly I photograph is Mary.  “Hold still, little beauty,”  I whisper to them.  “Let me take your picture.”  I know Mary would have loved my photos and might even have asked for a framed one for her walls.  While I do not feel that these dragonflies are Mary, I do believe that it is her spirit that beckons me to seek the beauty in nature, urging me to take time to enjoy God’s creations.

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We recently put up a new hummingbird feeder in our backyard.  I made the nectar and as we hung it I fully expected hummingbirds by dusk.  Two weeks later my little friend arrived.  Flighty, thirsty, and perfect, although not flashy in color like the butterfly or dragonfly.  Every day she drinks the nectar and then flits to an adjacent branch to hang out for a bit, then over to a flowering plant, then back to the feeder.  Then, without warning, she flies away until another time.DSC_0436

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds, yet they can travel up to 49 mph.  Their heartbeats nearly 1200 beats per minute and they get their name because of the humming sound of their beating wings.

I feel like a hummingbird sometimes.  My attention goes from details to musings.  I flit from rigid routines to spontaneous creations, photography, or writing.  My concentration varies.  My observations bounce.  When I’m dead and gone, will my daughters see a hummingbird and say, “ Oh, there goes Mom.  She never could sit still.”?

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There are six large blue jays that visit our bird feeder every day.  Occasionally they are raucous and loud, trying to dominate the backyard.  I’d swear one of them is my Dad, just trying to get in the last word.  Trying to control, even from beyond!

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It behooves me to wonder who would want to be remembered as a squirrel or pesky fly, but every family has one of each.  Maybe our loved ones visit as birds or maybe a Higher Power nudges us to notice the beauty in nature, helping us to slow down and feel a connection.  Whatever is true and whatever is your truth, enjoy the noticings and remember your loved ones from beyond.  And if you receive a hummingbird feeder from me for Christmas, keep it.  Someday, I may come for a visit.

 

Posted in Travel

Missing My Port Aransas

Every year around my birthday, I plan a trip to the beach.  There’s something so peaceful and predictable about the ocean and its natural habitat.   This year will be different because of circumstances beyond our control, but as Jon Kabat-Zinn said:

“You can’t stop the waves…. but you can learn to surf.”

Take a look at a few of my favorite photographs from last year in Port Aransas.

Blessings to you all

 

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Posted in Friendship

And Then There Were Three

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I’ve always been an early riser; I simply must.  It is my time to “sit ugly” and spiritually and mentally prepare for the day.  As I sip coffee, I often stare out the window, enjoying the rising of the sun and watching the birds fly in for a snack.

In our backyard is a bird bath that serves as a way-station for the many birdies that frequent our neighborhood.  They nibble at our bird feeder, get a little drink and take a little bath…then fly off again to decorate the trees and sky with their beautiful colors.  Our bird feeder is guaranteed to be squirrel proof, but still…you know how crafty those squirrels can be.

A few weeks ago I glanced out the back door, checking on my plants, the bird feeder (aka squirrel feeder) and saw two small owls sitting in the bird bath!  They were sitting side by side, turning their heads, acknowledging the blue jays and pigeons who wanted their turn to bathe.  The owls would drink, splash and then sit perfectly still while their heads turned side to side.  I ran to get my camera and tried taking pictures through the glass, but that didn’t work.  So, I gently opened the back door and snapped away.  I thought this was just a fluke, but so far, every day at 6:30 a.m. my owl friends drop by for a bite, a bath, or a drink.  Maybe owls like to ‘sit ugly’, too.

After the first few times I saw them, I thought perhaps it was an omen.  Maybe it was a sign I should pay attention to, so I googled “owl visits” and “what does it mean if you see an owl?”  Lots of things popped up, as you might imagine.  Much of it was about finding your Spirit Animal and Native American folklore.  Was an owl on my totem pole?  I really didn’t know.

However, as I read, it boiled down to two main messages:  consistently seeing owls was either a sign of really good luck, wisdom and magic OR a really bad sign, like imminent death!  YIKES!

After reading for awhile, I came to my own conclusion.  Perhaps our backyard was famous in Audubon circles, and these owls wanted to check us out.  Maybe God simply wanted to bless me, a faithful early riser, with a beautiful surprise.  What if the message was, “take time to be present, notice the glorious world in your own backyard”?  

 

A few days ago, I stood waiting at the backdoor, taking my first sip of coffee and wondering if my friends were on their way, when all of a sudden...there were three.  One little owl would bathe then fly up into the tree and the other two would come down to splash.  They all three took turns and rotated branches and birdbath; then they flew away to do whatever they do during the day.  Perhaps sleep.
I’ve haven’t seen the 3rd owl since that day.  Some mornings only one will show up and some days two.  I suppose one day, my owl friends will move on and find another a.m. stop-over.  Meanwhile, I’ll continue my morning ritual and maybe keep the camera nearby just in case my owls fly in…..that sounds like a wise thing to do, don’t you think?

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Posted in Friendship

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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There’s something about taking pictures.  It connects you with the human race…  It gives you a mind’s eye view of the world… Shows the window to the soul…Tells a story…Frees the imagination…Captures the truth.

It is a universal language.  Everyone loves to see themselves in photographs and to see photos of people and things that they love.  When I am behind my camera, I see the greater good, the brightest color, the person behind the eyes, and the wonder of all God’s creatures.  There is nothing that rivals that feeling.

Wherever I go, when I take my camera, I am transported to another dimension!  Strangers are drawn to me and want me to take their picture, or ask me to use their camera to take their picture.  Once on a trip to Mardi Gras’, I began taking pictures during a street dance.  Soon, couples I didn’t know and would never see again,  danced by and posed, wanting me to capture their revelry.  I must have taken 300 pictures in a two-hour span.   Photography breaks down barriers and builds relationships.

When I was 10 years old, my dad let me take a camera to Girl Scout camp.  It was a Brownie.  Brownie Cameras were boxed shaped and you looked down through the top to find your subject.  The film had to be threaded through the inside maze until it clicked into place.  I thought it was fabulous.kodak-860732__340

 Through the years I have had the Brownie, Polaroid, Instamatic, Digital and of course disposable!  After I retired, I purchased a Nikon 3100 and began my true love affair with photography.  I have, of course, chronicled our family’s growth, events, and trips,  but I have also been fortunate enough to capture some glorious sights.. and here are just a few.

197Outside of Denver at Buffalo Bill’s Grave!017Kerrville, Texas

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My beloved Maine!086Peek-a-boo Kitty

071San Antonio Zoo

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Sunset was taken courtesy of God and Galveston!