Sunday, February 09, 2014

Snow Birding

This morning we awoke to a land of white... the snow which has been attacking Portland for days finally crept it's way up to our neck of the woods.  It is little more than a passing thought, however, as the temperature was only cold enough to snow overnight, and quickly climbed above freezing before noon today.  It was an ideal time for me to head out into the yard with my camera, as the backdrop was a solid lovely white yet the temperature was relatively mild.  I donned my snow gear and shuffled out with my 300mm lens, pausing to listen for chirps or wing movement.

I've noticed that robins do not visit my feeders at all, yet any time I mow the lawn they tend to appear right behind me to take advantage of the newly exposed undergrowth land.  The same was true this morning, only I found the robins bouncing about in the patches of lawn left by G having made snow angels earlier in the day.  As I observed the robins and adjusted my exposure for the bright snow, this robin jumped up to the very edge of one of G's wings to scope things out.

Through the gate and around to the back, I stopped to observe some of the action around my feeders.  We have a resident song sparrow who frequently visits among a flock of juncos.  This morning she was on her own, I found her resting atop of the wood pile on the back edge of the property.

She seemed to be resting, fluffing up her feathers for warmth, so I did not want to disturb her too much by coming too close.  She watched me, though did not seem to go into any high alert mode as long as I stayed back along side one of the trees.

From that vantage point I noticed a thrush at the base of the feeders under the trees.  I attempted a few shots, but with the thrush in the shadows and the white yard in the backdrop, all I could achieve were silhouettes, and the thrush bailed before I could adjust my settings.  He flew first up into the trees, then across the yard to the feeders next to the house.  I traced my tracks back around the edge of the property to the side path, then across the yard towards the chairs in the center of the yard, attempting to use them as a blind.  They were ineffective, being too short to hide behind, and of course I made a lot of noise in the snow.  The thrush enjoyed some seeds at ground level, every so often poking his head around the flower pot to see where I was at.  He was easily startled, though, and made a dash up to the trees.  As I walked away from the trees, towards the house, the thrush came down and landed on the same wood pile as the sparrow.  Now with the forest in the back drop, the lighting was just right so all I needed to do was turn to capture a shot of the bright thrush.

By this time my toes were beginning to feel the chill, so I headed in to warm up with some hot coffee and late-morning yoga.  It was lovely to spend a Sunday morning seeking out signs of life in the wintry silence.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Comprehend and Move On

A couple years back I experienced an unpleasant period of time where I learned that looks can be deceiving... and seemingly lovely and fun people can turn out to be toxic, pathetic bags of douche.  Having been locked into and dragged through a couple of different quagmires, and finally reaching the other end, I've spent the last 6 months trying to readjust to the new "normal" of life.  This is a life freer of the negativity, stress, drama (real and manufactured), confrontation, and nightmares, however this is also a life laced with the underlying stench of the quagmire experience.

In other words... there are residual effects on my behavior after those experiences, and my initial reaction to a given situation can be more reactive than is most likely necessary.  The most prominent example of this is what I call my "bullshit meter" - this internal meter is, more often than not, on a hair-trigger sensitivity level these days.  If I detect a whiff of "this person is full of shit", "this person is selfish", or the worst... "this person is being passive-aggressive"... red flags fly in my mind and my patience drops to zero.

In some instances this isn't that bad of a thing.  I most definitely stand up for myself far better than I did 4 or so years ago, but on the other hand I don't really enjoy the anger that bubbles up as an accompaniment to the recognition of bullshit.  Ideally I would like to be able to simply see it for what it is and deal with it accordingly, minus the rise in blood pressure.  So I have spent the last 6 months or so thinking about this quite a lot, and I have been working on ways to mentally step out of a given situation, take a few deep breaths, and determine the best course of action.  I ask myself, "is this situation worth my time and effort to engage in?  Will anything positive come out of this?  Or do I just add another mark to the 'bullshit' column and remove myself from further hassle?"

Through conversations with good friends, I have refocused my energies on more positive philosophies.  One such wonderful philosophy is this:

"We do our best, and then we let it go."

There is only so much of yourself you can offer to any given situation, and at some point beyond that it is no longer in your hands, nor in your control.  I cannot count how many times in the last year that I have taken a deep breath, let it out slowly, and repeated those words to myself.  The difficulty is in recognizing the point in which to remove your white-knuckled grip from the current position, realize you truly have done all that you can and all that could be expected of you... then let it go and hope for the best.

In a recent discussion, the idea of "forgive and forget" was brought up to me.  Maybe that would help me feel better, if I could "just forgive and forget."

Even before the quagmires I was never a fan of this philosophy.  For one thing, if we "forget" everything, are we not doomed to repeat it?  I don't want to hold grudges by any means, but there is a limit to how often one can (for example) be an hour late to dinner, and if everyone just forgets about it all the time then they are doomed to have cold soup every time they invite Her Tardiness.  Forgive the lateness if you feel like it, but rather than forget about it maybe remember that they are always late and pad the invitation for next time.  Learn from history.
Additionally, forgiveness to me equates to "I understand why you did it, and I'm OK with that, let's hug it out and grab some coffee."  If you truly feel OK about it then great... but there are things in this world which are simply unforgivable.

That's not to say I don't seek to understand where the other individual is coming from.  In fact I am probably curious to a fault in that I will mull things over and ask repeated questions in an effort to understand exactly why someone said the thing they said, or did the thing they did.  Once I comprehend the why, then I reach that crossroads of decision; to continue to put effort into this situation to find a solution, or take another path.  In either case, my goal is to comprehend and move on.

Life becomes far happier when you are able to wash off the stench of quagmires and distance yourself from the toxicity and negativity that others produce.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Photography Site Update: Butterfly Gallery

I've decided it would be a good idea to combine my Photography goals with my Communication goals, and communicate an update to my photography site.  I finally took the time to look up all the names of each species of butterfly so that I could complete and publish this Butterfly Album update

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Putting down a marker

I hesitate to use the phrase “New Year’s Resolutions” mainly because I am perpetually setting goals and agenda items for myself, regardless of the date on the calendar.  However, with the major holiday push  behind us and looking forward to a year that will soon be free of outside-force agenda items, I feel this is a good time to take a peek at my goal list and stick marker in the sand noting how far I’ve come, and where I am headed.
My health goals are broken into two categories… food and activity.

My Food Goals: Cook more from scratch and become more consistent in cooking leafy greens better.
I have been exploring more seasonal recipes with some great successes and I have made some improvements on the leafy greens, although consistency on the greens front is still a challenge.  At the very least, I figured out that the garlic needs to be added at the *end* of cooking, not the beginning (to avoid that burnt garlic bitterness.) Though I am still not confident enough to just “toss together” food without a recipe, I am at least choosing recipes that work.  The most helpful aid in this endeavor has been reading Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, which goes into great detail as to how each recipe was developed.  Understanding the mishaps that others have had in the kitchen helps me to understand where I’ve gone wrong in the past, and I am slowly building a foundation of knowledge so that maybe someday I can wing it with random ingredients.

My Activity Goals: More inversions and challenges in yoga
 Last summer I gave Hot Yoga a try, and while I enjoyed the challenge of the heat and I believe the extended flexibility helped resolve a shoulder injury… I just didn’t much enjoy doing nearly the exact same routine every single time.  (My gym does the traditional Bikram yoga, which is the same 26 poses with very little variation in a room roughly 90 degrees with 90% humidity)  Once school started in the Fall my schedule had to adjust to fit with G’s new school, and it took some time to settle in and figure out when I could work out and what sort of classes were available.  I’ve recently discovered this Yoga II class at the gym, which I can generally attend at least once a week.  This class is a great challenge, I have achieved poses that I’ve never even attempted before, and so far she includes inversions in every class period.  This class has inspired me to include at least one good long-stretch yoga session at home every week, where I warm up and then lean into a stretch and hold for at least 20 breaths, and I look forward to the crazy circus-performance type poses she will dream up for us.

My Crafting Project Goal: Catch up on scrapbooking
My scrapbooking fell to the wayside back in 2003, when I first packed up my supplies in anticipation of our move to Washington in 2004.  Back then I was only about 18 months behind.  Since that time, my photography equipment has evolved, and every time I attempted to pick up the reins of my scrapbook I found myself buried in great frustration trying to wedge new technology into an old platform.  I was also creating more work for myself than was necessary, making two identical albums at once so that G would have her own set, in addition to her baby book, a separate album for school, and what exactly should I do with the multitude of travel photos piling up?  I was trying to keep each book to one calendar year, but I just shoot too much, and the idea of the duplicate set was determined back when I thought we would have multiple children who would each want their own family album.  So, last summer I decided to scale back.  I will complete the analog scrapbook through the end of 2003 (since I already paid to have all those photos printed) and begin digital albums starting 2004 for a majority of the photos, and to tell the story of our years as a family. I have still collected ephemera from our travels, dance recitals, etc… so I will construct accompanying journals for each calendar year of just those event-related items.  This plan gets the photos out of my hard drive and out for the world to see much faster, and still allows me the creative page-building time in the art room that I really do enjoy.  As of this moment, I have October of 2003 photos laid out on my craft table for the last analog album, and I have completed the digital albums for 2004 and 2005.  The photos for our 2006 digital album are nearly completely edited and just about ready to upload to a new book.  This is *great* progress for me.  I will have simultaneous projects going on, but the analog project is in the art room – where I can work on it in the evenings - and the digital albums are on the laptop.  When I have days like today (where I am currently off-site for a few hours without wifi) I can make headway with the digital stuff.

My Photography Goal: Complete the update of my website and maintain editing/uploading new work
Now that I shoot in RAW format all the time, it has become more of a necessity than a goal to keep up with the editing.  I simply run out of hard drive space on my laptop, and I am required to basically shit or get off the pot with these photos.  I have edited up through roughly last winter, and the final photos are separated into categories, however every time I look through them I debate about whether or not I want to add them all to the site (is this shot worthy?) or reorganize the edited stuff and do a smaller update.  Clearly I need to get over this speed bump and move forward.

My Communication Goal: Cut back on unimportant distractions and remember that Blogger Exists

I am truly remiss that I fail to even check Blogger, and I know that I have said this before.  It is not for lack of desire, it has just been a few years of major adjustments and trying to rediscover a new balance under all of life’s new circumstances.  Some clarity came to me last week when I read that a friend of mine on FB has decided to bail the format all together, but will still be online via blogging and other means.  I have already been wavering on my own time spent in that forum, and I have been taking steps to reduce the distraction-based posts there and in my email (it took me 2 hours, but I unsubscribed to nearly every automated list I was on, which brings my daily email in-box down to a far more manageable level)  His post has inspired me to reconnect and communicate in a way that is not limited to 140 characters and a link.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Eighty Percent

My rate of successful completion of agenda items seems to be running at a perpetual 80%.


The Goal: procure, wrap, package and ship all out-of-state gifts by Friday December 13th.
Reality: procured most gifts by Friday, wrapped several on Sunday, finished putting together/wrapping Monday morning and finally shipped Monday December 16th in the late afternoon.

The Goal: Address and stamp all my Christmas cards/calendars and mail them out by Wednesday December 11th
Reality: Cards and calendars were trumped by work, and did not get stamped and mailed out until Friday December 13th.

The Goal: Finish putting up Christmas decorations, set up the train set, and stack boxes back into the attic, and clean the house by the end of Sunday December 15th.
Reality: Most of the decorations that will go up are up (save for 3 items which need to be hung up)  House is straightened, swept and vacuumed but not mopped or scrubbed.  Train set is still boxed.  Boxes are still in the bonus room.

The Goal: Bake 3 batches of cookies Sunday afternoon
Reality: Put together dough for 2 batches, have not sliced and baked anything yet.

The Goal: Catch up on all the laundry, including the backlog of towels, and put Christmas towels in the bathrooms
Reality: Laundry is clean and dry, clothing is upstairs and stacked but not put away.  Towels are washed and dried, and piled up on the dryer waiting to be folded.  Christmas towels are probably still in the closet (though I haven't looked yet)

The Goal: clean out fridge and pantry Tuesday December 10th in anticipation of Christmas baking/cooking/sampling over the next week, keep kitchen clean every night so dishes don't pile up.
Reality: Fridge was cleaned out on the 10th, pantry was cleaned out on the 13th, kitchen was maintained up until Sunday, then became something of a disaster zone after a late dinner.

The Goal: Clean the front hallway/entry table and keep it clean every day.
Reality: OK, I've actually managed to do that one!!

To cut myself some slack... we have had some unanticipated situations arise with family health issues (which have thankfully been resolved for now, but occupied my mind for some days last week) and having been in this neighborhood a year now, we have gradually developed a social life the likes of which we've never really experienced before.  This has been wonderful, but also somewhat time consuming... and I'm looking forward to one whole weekend where I'm not putting on makeup and worrying about hostess gifts.  As always there is the adjustment and readjustment of agenda items and goals need to remain pliable to some degree.  There are some hard-lined deadlines to worry about (such as getting packages out in time to arrive before Christmas and getting teacher gifts figured out prior to school getting out for break) so I try to schedule things with a buffer zone to anticipate the unexpected snafus.  Other things, such as hanging up my Christmas quilt, might not happen at all... and that is OK.

80% is not a bad rate to be running at... and I've managed to balance in some important things that are easy to drop this time of year.  I'm still going to the gym regularly (although the time shifts based on outside influences) I'm spending creative time in the art room, and I'm volunteering at the school where I can.  I've taken time to spend with family in Oregon and friends around here, and I work in a little photography when nature inspires me.

I am breathing deep, and looking to see how I can improve the 80% without driving myself batty.