Perfectionism and Photography

In the Dolomites near Ortisei, Italy

These last few weeks have been a mental killer as perfectionism has made it’s way into my proverbial driver’s seat more often then I’d like to experience. It got me thinking about what activities or elements I haven’t ruined with perfectionism. What I landed on interestingly enough is photography, which really has the potential to be a perfectionistic feast but for whatever reason hasn’t been engaged like that for me.

So I got to thinking – why not? As far as I can tell, it was all about perspective and expectations on myself. This more “laid back and emotional freedom” is called “Type B” mentality by some authors (see Daniel Pink’s Drive) whereas I have lived predominantly in a “Type A” mentality until my mid-30’s and it’s been difficult to completely replace, especially when I’m trying new things or exploring.

In the Dolomites

At one time I loved my perfectionism because it drove me to succeed and finish many milestones (doctorate, licensing, walking 39 miles, etc.). However, I realize that perfectionism comes with a joy robbing harsh judge and though I’m not coming from a binary perspective of believing this well-developed quality isn’t good, it’s much more complicated than naming it bad. Perfectionism can be both good and helpful as well as mentally taxing and stressful. What I’m trying to learn is how to approach life with high standards that aren’t paralyzing or joy killers but also stretch and grow me so that the standards themselves become an opportunity for me to learn something about myself. (I HAVE NOT found this balance with writing my book, which is why it hasn’t appeared yet – ugh! the perfectionism there can be paralyzing but that’s for a post on another day.).

Siena, Italy

Recently, I had the opportunity to wrestle with my perfectionism as I explored new territory and skills professionally. My autopilot categories are great and not good, which essentially as binary as winner and loser. Not the creative, exploratory mental playground I want to live in. I do not want to live in fear of underperforming and have been struck by how regularly this can happen to me. It got me thinking about areas of my life where perfectionism hasn’t shown up to spoil my exploration or invoke shame of being a beginner. What’s became clear is my journey with photography has been the most enjoyable learning and “crafting my skill” experience I’ve ever had. So I decided to invite you along this analytic and artistic journey to help me name and uncover the possible antidotes to my perfectionism around exploration and “the unfamiliar.”

Capturing a Moment Fly Fishing with My Dad
Piazza Navona, Rome

Like many good things in my life, my children were a catalyst to improving pictures – after all, who wants “just okay” photos of adorable children! Interestingly enough, this desire to improve didn’t bring with it a fear of shame or self-doubt about my abilities. There was no question in my mind that I was never going to be a professional photographer so I needn’t aspire to be one. Posture number for for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s set – expertise not expected or needed. “I’m good enough” was simply that, “good enough” which gave me space to explore and play without needing a professional photograph result.

Oak Creek in Sedona, AZ

My starting point as a photographer:

Theme – ignorance is freedom for I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Eden and her Cousins — Centered
because of course the subject is supposed to be centered, right!?!

The above represents how I thought every picture should look – centered. Then, I attended a short photography workshop at a mother’s group and learned about composition and thinking about the picture in thirds. I started there – vertical and horizontal thirds but kept pointing and clicking whatever struck me – I absolutely refused to judge each picture by this new framework BUT I did began getting some pictures like this –


I practiced this for many years before adding anything. Posture two for drowning out perfectionism – allow the “unfamiliar” the time and space it needs to become familiar – without rushing it.

Still Working with the Third Concept

Besides buying a digital SLR camera, in 2011, I attended a one night beginning photography class by my good friend and professional photographer, Dane Sanders. I walked away with two different concepts that would later become internalized. Regarding composition – look at the lighting. Notice different aspects of the light in terms of light and dark/ shadow as potential friend. And in terms of the camera, I moved off the auto setting to “scene” setting. I did began playing with all the individual settings (like aperture and shutter speed) but I didn’t use them enough to integrate ANY of that knowledge and felt fine about all of it -after all, I’m a hobby photographer. No need to stress – just play around with switching up the scenes and notice new lighting consideration. Posture three for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s seat – accept your limitations and enjoy your abilities.

The following pictures were taken within two months of the workshop:

Jelly Fish Babies, Oregon Coast
Tiffany Lake, WA
Tiffany Lake, WA
“Not great” pictures like this one are part of photography but by learning some techniques I began trying shots that seemed interesting. In the editing process, my critiquing mindset (noticing what worked and didn’t work) would be turned on, which helped me become a better hobby photographer the next time I shot and could help me make adjustments to get something like this looking “great.”
Sometimes there’s just plain good luck with the subject matter…

As I’ve honed my craft as a photographer, it has unearthed a playfulness and curiosity about the visual world around me. I love playing with lighting, composition, angles with not one care about mistakes or getting it wrong. It’s the process that’s soul giving rather than the outcome and pride of a job well done that’s feeding my soul. Sure it feels good to nail a shot but it’s like the cherry on top – not the primary “dish.” The focus on process rather than outcome is the fourth antidote to my perfectionism.

Pasadena with my iPhone

Then last April, I took a photography workshop with National Geographic Photographer, Stephen Matera, and my learning and play factor took off. (Read about the trip here – Seizing the Moment, Part 2)

Utah

I learned about “golden hours” – catching sunrise and sunsets.

Golden Hour Light
Other side of Wood as Pictured Above – Mid-day Lighting
Sunrise – 5:30 am – Val Gardena, Italy
Sunset on Val Gardena from Ortisei

I learned about white balance adjustments which can have a significant impact around color. See below:

This…
Then this…notice color difference
Watching a professional like Steve at the workshop, I got a taste of the artistic eye, skill and persistence it can take to get a great shot. This particular shot took 188 photos to get the lightening strike and even at that I felt extremely lucky to get it.

I learned about editing in photoshop or Lightroom. Due to the skyline, this picture shown above was much darker unedited. However, using Lightroom helped me bring a bit more perspective to this spectacular wood carving up on the top of a mountain in the Dolomites.

In terms of composition, Steve really helped me “extend” my lines because I was cutting things off or not giving them “space to breathe.

Playing with Lines
More Lines and Layers

As I think as evidenced in the pictures taken post-workshop, getting instruction from Steve really changed my ability level on multiple accounts. Since we were together for several days it was so much easier to internalize the techniques and knowledge being taught because I then had to remember the next day what I’d learned from the day before. What’s exciting to me as a perfectionist is that it didn’t turn me in to an outcome driven/ best shot photographer. Instead it gave me more tools to play with, which I’ve done with none of the perfectionistic thinking I’m so used to experiencing inside of me. It gives me hope that I might be able to decrease my self-torture around other artistic and creative endeavors like in my professional work. In this spirit, I’d name the last antidote for perfectionism is getting feedback by a grace-filled expert so that grace and generous spirit around performance can be internalized.

I love following good photographers on Instagram because it helps me keep an eye out for potential shots and helps me get an idea of why certain photographs are pleasing to my eye. Also, it’s encouraged me to be ready for pictures like the examples shown below.

This set of pictures was captured by shooting a snake as it came off the water near us while we were fishing on shore. I began shooting it for fun, trying to catch a shot that was interesting – like this one with its tongue out.

Having my sights on it, set me up to capture this food grab that was buried on the lakeshore sand.

Notice Now the Body Expansion

Some reflections for your own process: What keeps you from being playfully creative? Do you have a creative outlet that captures your artistic side? Does perfectionism rob you of enjoyment or even getting started with a creative hobby? How might you navigate it?

Thank you for coming on this journey with me. It’s a blessing to be able to share.

Camping – Community Style

Convict Lake

2019 marks the13th year of our group of friends camping together. We’ve been to Patrick’s Point, Big Sur, Salt Point, Morro Bay, Huntington Lake, Union Reservoir, Running Springs, Dark Canyon and a few others scattered in there. This year about 40 people joined us at Mammoth Lakes, including three new families, as every year we have a different combination of people who can join us. Our philosophy – the more people, the better conversations, the crazier the campfire stories, the more chances to be able to outrun individuals in the occasion of a bear attack while hiking, and the higher possibility of being able to enjoy a campground game. Another benefit – we love new talent. This year, magical margaritas from the closet bartender and newcomer “campee,” Aimee Churchill, were a celebrated addition.

Panorama Dome

As much fun as we have – hiking, playing games, making S’mores, and whatever creative endeavor comes up, we have significant people who are no longer camping and we miss them. We’ve had two cancer deaths in our community. This is the second year without Danielle, the fifth without Amy. Danielle loved the Sierras, a legacy passed on from her father who frequented often during D’s life. We camped here in honor of her though when it went on the camping list back in 2017, I had imagined camping with her, not in honor of her. But her body couldn’t beat back the aggressive breast cancer in her body and she lived only six days in 2018, about 14 months from her diagnosis.

Lakeside activities included mainly skipping rocks and warming on the rocks since fish weren’t biting from shore

Her spirit was alive to us though deeply missed by us all, robbing us all of pure enjoyment because we had the certainty that this isn’t the way it should be. D should have been there as Matteo, her son, blew out his birthday candles – 11 years old and when the rest of the family took him to Starbucks (benefits of camping close to town) for his favorite drink, a hot chocolate and he demanded a Venti rather than the usual tall size. We could all rightly declare this isn’t the way it ought to be – this unending longing for her presence that will be unfulfilled this side of heaven.

There are many things to miss about D but what was unique between her and I was the hike and event planning. She was my comrade and took full responsibility to investigate hikes and local attractions along with me. She would’ve walked with Mary and me to the Welcome Center to discuss hiking options. She would’ve been with us when we sought shelter in an empty bear box due to a downpour, hail included, dumped on us as we made our way back to camp. True confession (which feels shameful to this country girl who prides herself on having an internal GPS) our trip back to camp wasn’t exactly a direct route because we turned left instead of going straight so we ended up on the wrong camping loop – and the country girl in me was determined to “find our way” going across country rather than backtracking down the road from which we came.

Bear Boxing It
The Scene at the Foot of the Bear Box Once Wave One of the Storm Passed

The other person missed, Amy, was always a willing camper but she needed her amenities. She would’ve been the first person to have crafts and activities for the kids, a role Laura filled this year with markers, paint (which was used as make-up by the younger girls painting the older girls’ face) and white paper. Amy would’ve color coordinated our table cloths and possibly rented a RV for her family so she could sleep – an important activity to her and one not done best on her blow up mattress and sleeping bag. She might have had the latest padded camping chairs, especially the rockers found at REI. And she definitely would’ve brought cloth napkins (possibly ones she’d made) with napkin holders to set the ambiance for dinner.

Running Springs – 2007: Our First Community Camping Trip
The Summer Following Amy’s First Brain Cancer Treatment and Surgery

Present time, an event I think Danielle spearheaded from heaven was our junior ranger program. She always found the local programs and would get us special group presentations so I swear she was in the planning of our Devil’s Postpile Monument hike because we got off the shuttle and without even knowing it, picked the stop that had the ranger station and the booklet for all the kids. I was a miserable substitute because I didn’t actively engage with the displays of stuffed animals (via taxidermy) inside the forest station. Instead, my competitive state of mind kicked in as I saw forty people in the next shuttle bus start filing off, so I grabbed my backpack and began walking down the trail, yelling behind me, “I’ll see you at Devil’s postpile.” I’m certain Danielle, in her calm and collected way, would’ve rounded up the kids to look at the objects and thought absolutely nothing about the hikers getting ahead of us while we listened to the presentations. Later, she would’ve also loved the clever answers and interpretations from our group as the kids filled out the booklet — placing dog’s paws on a page for signatures of fellow hikers or circling phones and televisions as hiking necessities while asking, “will we get a badge with these type of answers?”

Our Junior Ranger Adventure — Devil’s Postpile
Naturally Formed Stones
Rainbow Falls – In Devil’s Postpile Monument

My mind can picture both D and Amy with us at different junctions. I know Amy would’ve been so proud of her almost-six-year-old son, Nathan’s, completing a 3.5 miles hike with the last mile a doozy – all uphill. D would’ve meandered, enjoying the present moment of being together and in nature, and would’ve taken turns with her husband, Mynor, with their dog, Juneau.

Juneau, the Dog

What I’ve learned about death is it’s honoring to family members to share grief, stories, and longings to let the family know they aren’t alone in their longings and sorrow. So we talked about D and how she would’ve loved taking the kids fishing or going on walks with the dogs and eating the edible cookie dough from the Schat’s bakery in Bishop. We also wondered how Amy would’ve felt about the wind and what she’d even think about camping now that two of her kids are old enough to drive. As a community we make an effort not to hide our feelings, having learned that there is comfort and goodness in sharing our grief. For certain, it doesn’t take away the longing for the other but it somehow makes it less lonely in the ache of the hurt.


The cliff notes of what camping with this community means to me. I have learned most of what I know about doing life well from these people. A number of them I’ve known since my early twenties, more than half my life. They’ve loved me when I had more rough edges. They’ve loved me through my own devastating loss of a our middle child in 2006. They’ve loved me when I haven’t loved my husband, who they like, well. They’ve loved me so I can be brave and take risks. They’ve filled the gaps when my children needed a second mother, a ride, a safe place and I couldn’t be there due to my work. I’m grateful to know them and their children – even the ones I’m just getting to know.

Ice Warm Water
Can you see the goosebumps?
Hanging at Convict Lake

At the end of the day, what I love about communing in the woods as campers, is that for five days out of the year, I live communally -sharing meals, washing dishes, listening to snores or night talkers. And it’s here in this ordinary life where I know I never want to live permanently with these people the best of life is found in the mundane and the ordinary – the conversations around the water spigot, on the hiking trail or at the brewery (because when your walking-close to the local brewery it would be sinful NOT to go).

Mammoth Brewery Company: Huddled by the Heater – Dancing
Warmth First. Style – Irrelevant in the Mountains

What is reconfirmed year after year around the campfire is that one doesn’t need to travel around the world to find extraordinary beauty. It’s usually at our fingertips when we are in the company of those we enjoy and take delight in.

Upper Falls at Twin Lakes
Hot Creek Geo Site
Boiling, Bubbling Water

Bye, Mammoth! Until ski season when you just may see us again.

Poetry in the Rain

Fishing on a mountain lake without a single soul is always second best to fishing on a mountain lake with my family, even if that family sometimes skips rocks (a fishing kill joy), yells across the lake, or brags relentlessly. In my childhood home world, fishing with a non-family member is annoying (no one else is supposed to be here!) and fishing with several groups is unheard of where we go – unless of course we’re fishing in the North Cascade lakes or streams off highway 20 which I consider an absolute highway for hikers and fishers alike. The only time in the last couple decades I’ve been solo on those lakes is when I’ve snowshoed into them before the trails were officially open.

Rainy Lake – 2012

Turns out – when you have a father who is an avid hiker/backpacker, you can pretty much go where the crowds are thin. When you add poor weather (50 degrees and rain) to the mix it pretty much guarantees you’ll have the lake to yourself. Name of lake you’ll need to discover on your own. That’s part of the beauty of exploration and adventure – curiosity and a good map leading you into the wild Pacific Northwest is all that’s required.

Today we decided catch and release was on the menu as we weren’t so daring to cook up a meal besides Cup ‘o Noodles in the rain.

The fishermen got down to business….

While the fishermen were discussing things like whose fish was bigger, what flies were working, who was catching any and where, Eden and I decided to fish ourselves, only with words. The conversation may or may not have included words like, “UUMMM – that’s dumb. Is that the best you can come up with? Really?” It also included promises to pay for future therapy while encouraging creativity to be less concrete than the “gray sky.” For the osprey in the tree next to us, it likely sounded more like a conversation one expects at a bar after a few drinks – plenty of laughter in between sentences like, “I can’t believe you said that. I’ll be scarred for life.” “You’ll be fine. No truth, no gain.” It may have been followed with shoves on the arm or not, like two girlfriends vying for the one barstool – only in our situation, it was the positioning on the garbage bag beneath us laid out like a picnic blanket. In spite of ourselves, the inspiration was plentiful – laced with God’s magic.

Mountain

Specifics unseen in it’s shadow

Rain-soaked soil, the grave of a fawn

Colorless trees, flamed a decade ago, line up like forgotten dominos

Clouds, slate-colored, cover the sun,

dropping pieces of gray, drop by drop

I walk one foot in front of the other

down, then up, sometimes over, other times under

In the shadow, I’m hard to notice

— In collaboration : E & K

Our Scene

Raindrops at the tempo of 1 1/2 beats

Trees naked from the fire of 2009, stand together unashamed

Tripod -170,000 acres burned

Lines cast of the non-movie type

Two sets of trees and mountains

One real, one moves in the wind

Crackling behind us – manmade,

Mosquitos dive bomb

Fish eat, a safe distance from shore

1/2 beat tempo, slapping of hand on body parts –

Blood, usually one’s own, leftover

Boredom of the non-city type

Orchestra of the senses

— In collaboration: E & K

Rain Ain’t Stopping this Crew
Cameraman Missing in Photo, Bears in Role of Photographer – Unavailable

All ended well. No melting of bodies – Oz style, nor extreme coldness to our bones. Just a well-lived summer day, adventuring in the conditions provided for us. May you find yourself an adventure soon – preferably with good company.

Ode to My Tractor – A Reflection

I began writing this blog post long before the fires in California erupted and took lives, some of them families, property, and animals -so much devastation in both parts of the state.  I’m struggling with, “what’s the point,” but what I remember in my own life about devastating losses is that sometimes it was helpful to jump into someone else’s world in order to remind me that devastation wasn’t all there was in the world.  So I post this with what I hope is a humble posture regarding saying good-bye and reminiscing about a fire loss but recognizing the loss here it is nothing compared to the devastation that continues to rock the state and my past experience of my hometown area having tremendous fire losses that took property and lives too young to be taken from us.

What sixteen year old would ever admit, “My tractor grew me.” Yet, looking back, it may have.  It gave me chunks of quiet several hours long during my summer breaks when all other parts of my life were loud and chaotic.  I visited my tractor, two years ago this November.  It was a different type of quiet this time around.  Me.  Alone.  The rest of my family a half mile away at my childhood home.  I’d come back to pay homage – to the place I spent five years of my life – five to ten years old, within binocular viewing distance of my childhood home.  Those years grew me in significant ways and it wasn’t easy but there was something special about being among the early homestead houses, chicken coops, sheds and cellars that were lost once we moved to our new house.  There were hours of adventuring – exploring the half packed homestead, discarded goods in the sheds, and packaged treasures like Indian pennies, furs, and my first encounter with “naughty” – a marble statue of David, the Michelangelo replica.  Here, in this place, my first childhood adventure grounds my tractor was laid to rest.  So I came.  To acknowledge our sacred time together.  To reflect on my Western upbringing that hasn’t escaped my bones even in my Los Angeles area home, which hosts deer horns, coyote skins, and hides.  I’ll leave it at that.  What I eventually left with on this cold, scarf needed evening, was finding a piece of me that I hadn’t known I’d left – my nature stance – quiet, centered and observant.

I was about 12 when the Ford and I met.  For even though I’d seen my dad and grandpa driving around the golf course cutting the fairways hundreds of times, it was ordinary in the eyes of a young person.  Yet, when it became mine to use, we bonded like a teenager with their favorite pair of sneakers – unremarkable, yet so personal.  The tractor became a ticket to freedom, to money, to something all my own since I was the oldest and no other sibling got to drive before me.  On that first day, I showed up, Sears catalog in hand – extra height to see over the steering wheel.  My grandpa had the green velvet pillow to go on top – a pseudo-pad.  I swear that day I grew my spine closer to the clouds just so I could do the job – cut the grass on the 4th and 9th fairways.  

As I looked around, taking in the setting sun, and encountering the pieces of my tractor long put to pasture and trying to find that first vehicle love again – my eyes filled with tears of a yesterday that was long gone.  There would be no driving around the course, smelling cut grass.  Heck – the tractor no longer looked like mine with the added cage surrounding it now.  So much has changed since those days of driving around in circles, when some of the largest problems were steering clear of flying golf balls, testing my visual-spatial skills by experimenting with the exactness of “hitting the line” or driving around the small trees without turning mower into chainsaw.  Life hasn’t turned out to be an experiment.  Some decisions and situations haven’t allowed for freedoms, instead they have required nose to the grind and blinders of some sort.  When I was here, two years ago, I’d just found out my friend, Danielle, had a lump in her breast and was starting treatment.  We didn’t know she would only have one more fall in her bones.

What I didn’t realize during the hours of circling without music or headphones since they didn’t work with the ear muffs – was that this simple practice would stick with me only through the form of meditation and contemplation.  A decade plus I mowed – around and around every summer.  And it’s interesting because though sometimes boredom entered into my circles, it wasn’t the primary experience.  My mind found what it needed to find in order to observe and be engaged.  I’d set about doing certain tasks – timing my passes correctly as to impede the least amount of golfers.  This sometimes meant slowing down slightly even though I’d be a half circle away.  Or I’d watch the magpies and robins along with the occasional deer.  I imagined my life ahead of me.  What I’d do – possibly be a teacher.  Who I’d become – a wife, a mother, a professional, qualities and character traits unknown.  What I never imagined was living in Los Angeles for almost 30 years.  Going through a relational desert with my husband for 10 years before finding abundant life again.  Burying friends from cancer.  Burying friend’s children, my own.  In my adolescent mind, I didn’t imagine my life without my grandmother but I’d made room for my missing grandfather, since he’d died suddenly from a heart attack in 1989 – I’d been 19.  I hadn’t imagined that either.  I prayed on my knees every morning that fall after he died – simply to acknowledge his memory and my huge loss of his human body not sitting on a bleacher in the gymnasium while I played basketball.  It may have given me permission to leave the Puget Sound area and make my way to Southern California where I wouldn’t be trapped in overcast for 90 days straight (the clouds set a record my sophomore year – most consecutive days covering the sun).

What I didn’t know while growing up, seated on my tractor was how much I’d miss the quiet, mundane and simply way of life.  There is nothing simple about Los Angeles except the sunrises, sunsets, and the waves at the nearby beach – but not my hometown beach because it doesn’t have waves due the breaking wall built during WWII.  Around and around I drove that tractor. The sun, the wind, and grass.  Lots and lots of grass.  My path lay before me.  Simple.  A clear beginning and end. No distractions from billboards, traffic and neighbors close enough to smell their nightly dinner and hear their occasional fights.

As I enjoyed the sunset here now in Washington, I took in more of my surroundings, hoping for lighting goodness through my camera. The cellar – where I found teapots and cups from China, my great grandmothers ring, and Indian head pennies.  The stone area had been off limits because it was a storage place for dynamite.

Tanks.  The days of my parent’s guppy breeding experiment.  Also, temporary housing for a pet mouse or a frog.  We never kept them long.  That’d be cruel. Taking care of my pony and horse meant building fences – with my dad.  Official title – moral support and beverage carrier.A season of homemade root beer.  The house only smelled better on the once a month homemade glazed doughnut days.

Evidence of another lifetime – outhouse and “concealer” for friend hide and seek.  After all, what kid feels comfortable hiding in an outhouse except the kids who’ve spent hours playing games with their siblings in them.

I learned how to spot deer here.

All that’s left of my barn…

Standing on the place where the barn once were, I swear I could smell the ash even though it was at least fifteen years gone.  So many fond memories – hours of “Pageant of the Masters” – creeping up to the ground hog hold trying to catch them with a box or bucket; petting my horse, reading in the loft, catching mice, swinging on the questionably safe rope, and getting away from younger siblings to do nothing.  It too communicated – much has changed.  For forever.

As I returned on foot before the sky turned black to my childhood home, I realized that though much has changed, I’m still in there.  Somewhere that girl who drove a tractor, rode horses, spotted deer, and sat – in quiet, she’s still there.  And though I live in the huge urban sprawl, I can make my own quiet, my own mundane.  It’s harder.  The pace of this city I live in is fast.  Yet, I don’t have to be fast.  I can let people merge in front of me when I drive.  I can learn the names of the farmers and their sellers at the market.  I can meditate on my balcony, which does look at neighbors’ homes and a condominium but also has some vegetation.  I can make a way to sit, observe and be.  But let’s be real.  It will never be as cool as driving a 1956 Ford tractor the color of fall sunsets.  And the piece of me that was lost there, here, can be carried with me in memories that remind me to keep on the lookout for my next pseudo-tractor, the next flying golf ball that needs to be avoided – even if it requires leaving the city often or sitting on the balcony with pine scented candles.

I’m finding that girl again.  Slowly but faithfully, she’s bringing me back to the goodness of driving in circles.  Often.

Seizing the Moment – Part 2

photo credit: Stephen Matera

Presence.  Awareness.  About 12 years ago, when my son, in utero, died at 33 1/2 weeks, I decided my life had been underwhelming.  When faced with this devastating grief, I decided I was done “just getting by” and faced into what I had around me that I hadn’t been enjoying, noticing or simply addressing.  “Facing into” included addressing problems in my marriage, embracing my longing to get into “real” nature, confronting my personal challenges of living in the LA urban sprawl when I loved country living, and integrating the inner athlete who had been put on the back burner during my doctoral studies.  More recently, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this past five years has been one of saying good-bye to several friends as cancer took over their body and something less mentioned and much less significant, was rehabbing a shoulder injury that hurt for about a year and a half and kept me from my summer rock climbing expedition in the Casades.  What all these realities have propelled me to do, is ask myself,  “What’s around me that I need to grab hold of?”

This year, as I began my 48th year on this earth, the answer to this question came easyily – A photography and canyoneering trip in Utah (a former yearly spring break destination -pre-kids) with a National Geographic photographer, Stephen Matera, whose work I’ve admired a several years now – especially since he sometimes shoots in my hometown.  Given that my shoulder was rehabbed and I had stayed in shape enough to manage canyoneering, I decided to jump in (or in canyoneering terms, down climb) into the adventure.

The 12 hour road trip was completely worth it.  Utah’s rock formations are unique, simply magnificent.  My appetite for rocks has always been insatiable.  I used to have my own rock tumbler, which polished rocks collected from hikes.  Everywhere I go, I still collect rocks (unless it’s forbidden) and have a lovely collection in a planter.  For this trip, as I drove, each area brought with it a unique geological treasure so the visual feast kept me driving, ignoring the stiffness in my joints.  (The sun went down while I was in Capital Reef, a beautiful area.)

Highlights:

Day 1 — Overview of the Area – Dirty Devil and Robber’s Roost

For our evening shoot, the clouds left us looking for wonderful contrast since we weren’t guaranteed good lighting at sunset.  Our guides didn’t disappoint…

The above picture – illustrates something I learned about my photography – I tend to crop things too much – as Steve reminded me, “give the composition some space to breathe.”  Nonetheless, in this photo, I enjoy the contrast of the two trees, each with different green, along with the rock in the background.

Photo below – my view while at base camp.As I’ve mentioned above, I love Utah for all the different rock formations – from the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capital Reef – this unexplored area of Dirty Devil/ Robber’s Roost didn’t disappoint.

We developed our canyoneering expertise as we went.  Steve is executing a “chimney” move to traverse the canyon.  This, along with “stemming” were two techniques we used all day long as there was water in the canyon when we were there, making it tough (until about 1/4 of the way in when all of us but our guide were wet and then we didn’t care if we walked through the water)
 I’m executing a “bridge” move.  This is fairly upright compared to what we have waiting for us up ahead.

The next three pictures were taken by Stephen Matera — you can see the water sitting at the bottom…it ranged from ankle deep to about 5.5 feet deep (I swam through that section.)
Even though I was exhausted after a grueling canyoneering day, shooting the stars at midnight was a definite highlight.

Prior to this trip, I felt much more comfortable getting up close and personal with macro shots, like the ones below, than shooting landscape, which I never felt quite satisfied with.  I’m excited to claim landscape has become a new favorite and though I like macro shots, I feel more confident with my landscape composition, which encourages me to attempt the larger scenes.  In the past, I’d have deemed them much more uninteresting in print than in person – so the “why bother” mentality would win.

Even though I was exhausted, this last picture (below) gives testimony to my commitment to not losing a Utah sunset by driving through it.  Unfortunately, I drove into rain clouds so this is a partially sunny/ cloudy sunset.  But I wanted to at least do due diligence of applying what I’d learned with decent lighting, so I stopped to shoot Chimney rock.  (Still, a non-cloudy sunset would have made the rock light up brilliantly.)

The trip was a wonderful culmination of learning, experiencing and challenging on so many layers.  It felt good to be alive.  It felt stimulating to learn.  Conversely, it felt humbling to learn.  It felt wild to be trying something new.  It felt like home to be out in nature and quiet.  I also felt expectant for beauty in obvious and subtle places rather than having my “urban dull” on.  I loved meeting new people and hearing their story.  I felt refreshed while exhausted.

Unfortunately, my adventure didn’t end with me getting good rest to make up for all lost sleep during the workshop (and the pictures below aren’t nearly as pretty).  Instead, I was one of those rare people who picked up an infection in the canyon’s water (at least according to healthline website scrapes gotten in fresh water like what was left by the rain, can cause this type of infection).  I rushed to the ER to make sure the infection didn’t spread to my entire lymphatic system (my official diagnosis was Lymphganitis) after several hours of heating the area brought the infection to the surface.  (A longtime family friend, who is a nurse, gave me this suggestion and I took her recommendation seriously to the point that I brought a hot rice compress to my  daughter’s concert that night so I could put heat on it long enough to expose any infection within my system.)  My concern and thus action to take heating the area seriously paid off.  The first picture shows Monday, then Tuesday at 1 pm and the third picture shows what showed up at 10 pm.

You might say I was a bit freaked out when I saw this red streak going down my arm but then when you add the on-call nurse saying, “You need to get to the hospital and be seen within an hour.”  I became VERY freaked out, in which case my coping strategy is to be witty at every opportunity and not have a mental breakdown.  Needless to say, the ER doctor informed me I had medically high blood pressure and, “was I treating it?” for which I answered, “You’d have high blood pressure too if you had this red streak running down your arm.”  We each laughed but nonetheless, he didn’t fully believe me as he rechecked my blood pressure before I was discharged.

Overall, I was grateful for my mom who invited me to take a first aid class with her when I was in fifth grade.  I may have been one of two children in the adult-centered class but it taught me three things that have stuck with me 1) I don’t know what I don’t know – so ask.  2) Early intervention is ALWAYS preferred to later.  Therefore see #1.  3) Red streaks running down your arm are BAD.  Therefore see #1.  As well, my mom was the one who suggested I talk with Eunice, our family friend who is a nurse, and it was her who told me to draw any infection out and to get help immediately if it worsened.  So the lessons I learned from this experience are 1) a wipe is not the same as washing a scrape with hot soap and water  2) wash all scrapes immediately (not 24 hours later at the hotel) after coming in contact with stagnant water 3) everyone needs a nurse as a friend ;-).

In the end, this trip felt like a culmination of leaning into my love of adventure and desire to live fully as well as leaning into the frailty of life – never knowing when something serious could invade my body and change my healthy status.  All in all, the first quarter of my 48th year has started with gusto!  Grateful.

Seizing the Moment – Lessons from Nature and Cancer

Last year in California, we had a superbloom spring – where the flowers open in abundance when rain hits in winter or fall after a considerable drought.  For us in Southern California, we’d had five years of drought before we welcomed last year’s superbloom that brought millions of visitors to witness the hillsides and deserts in all their glory. With this year being a superbloom fail; instead, year one of drought, I’m grateful I trekked to the hills to witness the blooms.  It’s easy to disregard the urgency of such moments.  When I’m juggling all my aspects of doing life (self-employment, mothering two active kids, volunteer work, church, friendships, family, etc) it can be easy to tell myself, “I’ll catch it next year.” Or, “It’s not that big of a deal, it can wait.”  With my words I ignore a reality that is undoubtedly true – “seize the moment because it will pass.”   And with things of nature, this is doubly true.  The moment won’t come around in exactly the same way -ever.  And just like going to the gym and working out, I don’t think there has ever been a time where I’ve regretted missing sleep to catch an eclipse or sunrise or time at home over traveling all day to witness canyons and rock formations.  Adding to my sense of urgency is the reality that loss of life happens.  In the past five years, I have lost three good friends to cancer.  These were friends who spoke into my life, knew me over a decade – some two, and were significant encouragers in my personal and professional growth.  What they taught me, no matter how long they lived with cancer, is that there isn’t a guarantee for tomorrow and even if it seems tomorrow will come, there isn’t a guarantee for how much or how little pain there will be.  So if you can do it, and have the opportunity, better do it now before the window has passed.

I think this sense of urgency is one of the gifts these women left me with.  I’m trying to live now with a, “Don’t wait.  Do it now while you can.” These pictures from last year’s superbloom remind me that I didn’t wait.  We got up before the sun, drove the 1.5 hours and beat the weekend crowds in order to witness and enjoy these poppies at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.  I find mentally marking these type of remembrances, when I did something well and didn’t let the moment pass, encourages me to look for the present moments when I want to skip over something that needs to be savored, or taken in, or leaned into so the “it’s too much effort” belief doesn’t win out.  This year, I’ve created space to “take in” – a canyoneering trip, a trip to Italy, a 30 year class reunion, a writing retreat in New Mexico – twice, and our yearly camping trip with 40 other friends.  And yet, I want to make sure I’m not forgetting that each mundane, every day moment calls out to be “taken in” because if I wait until these “big events” – well, I’m missing a lot of life.  And as I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death during these past five years, I know that each day is truly a gift and I hope I can do it justice by living well.  In the name of Beth, Amy and Danielle, I want to honor the gift they weren’t given – more time.

May you also seize the day, capturing the moments of your life by paying attention and finding what there is to enjoy.  As well, may you be encouraged to shift as I’m trying to do, to live more “urgently” with time because we never know what the future holds.

 

 

Yearly Reflections

What did you do in 2017 that you had never done before?

I walked 39 miles in the Avon Walk for a Cancer Cure this September.

Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I kept almost all of my New Year’s Resolutions except for my blogging goals.  I’ve had to rethink my blog because my writing time has mostly gone towards finishing my memoir, which I’m still working on.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth? (I can’t fix these numbers without a great deal of time so please forgive them.)

Cousin Emily Joy gave birth to a baby girl, Lila Joy, in December, whom we haven’t had the joy of meeting yet.

2.  Did anyone close to you die?

No but a church family, whom we love, lost a son in April and several good friends lost a parent this year.

  1. What countries or new places did you visit?

Had a business trip to Midland ,Texas and I’d never been to West Texas as well as Grass Valley in Northern California.

  1. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Consistent paper organization and zero email box.  At the end of 2017, I finally got my email box down to zero and have a new mail/paper system.  The challenge for me is to keep up my system and continue to remain organized.

 

What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

April 16th – the day Dylan Stump died.  Although I didn’t know Dylan, I love his parents, who have been a part of my church family for 20 years.  Death of a 19 year old devastates us all.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Eliminating the hip pain I’ve had for nine years.  I have lived with hip pain of an unknown cause since 2008.  I’ve tried more interventions than you would care to read about.  The last piece of the puzzle was a massage therapist recognizing my gait was off, which led to a discovery that my left toe had been jammed for years – creating issues all the way up to my hip.  Once I got the toe moving (which took my toe from no pain to tremendous pain), it took four months of daily stretches before I eliminated the pain – (toe and hip).  I identify this as my biggest achievement because while I was in the middle of it I had no idea whether I could live without pain and it was a exercise in grit and perseverance.  There was no glory, no prize, no internal motivation except for a determination to keep trying to live pain-free.  What kept me going: regular appointments with my skilled massage therapist for deep tissue release, stretching and exercise routine created by my chiropractor from regular assessments of which muscles were overworking or weak, taking turmeric capsules and asking for external accountability to stretch daily.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

My garage is still a mess and I didn’t finish my memoir.  I made progress – it’s three parts and I’m 100% complete with part 1, 80% done with part 2 and 5% done with part 3.

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

In addition to hip pain, I had a shoulder injury from a snow weekend that turned out to be deeply inflamed and required creative modifications and finding natural anti inflammatories (turmeric, fish oil) to help reduce the swelling.

  1. What’s the best thing you bought?

I love my new car – A Chevy Bolt.  I love never going to the gas pump but most of all, I love my back-up camera which gives me a bird’s eye view so I can see the LINES.  As someone who loves parallel parking, it has taken my game to elite status.

  1. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage – I live in Southern California need I say anything else.

  1. What did you get really excited about?

I got excited about developing organizational habits in order to stay organized, efficient and eliminate avoidable stress – and so far have maintained it for about 45 days so I’m encouraged I’ll be able to maintain it.  I have also been excited about creating fun and meaningful memories with my children.  My daughter, a freshman in high school, is a concrete reminder of how little time I’ll have with everyone living at home.

 

  1. What song will always remind you of 2017?

‘Issues’ by Julia Michaels epitomizes my mental world this year.  The older I get, the more I realize I will forever fall short of the type of character I’d love to possess.  What’s different for me now, is I’ve come to accept myself within my limitations – impatience, at times intellectually arrogant, undisciplined in some areas, and critical.  I’ve developed enough self-compassion not to like these things that show themselves when I’m at my worst but at the same time, not have an overactive internal judge show up when they’ve been present.

  1. Compared to this time last year, are you:

—happier or sadder?

Neither…I’ve had ups and downs.  Up – celebrating my 20 year anniversary and we’ve never been happier.  Down – walking with a friend who has stage 4 breast cancer.  This is a difficult road to journey and we’ve had a lot of sad news to navigate as treatment after treatment has failed.

— thinner or fatter?

fatter – hormones and carbs caught up to me.  I gained more weight this year than I ever have.  Luckily, with the help of my nutritionist who I’ve used for pre-diabetes threat, we discovered how to eliminate the weight gain.  Now the job of losing the weight I gained…more positive results regarding health though is I am no longer pre-diabetic – dropped my levels .2.

— richer or poorer?

richer.  Business was good this year and we live with a budget.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Read great fiction books.  This year I didn’t read a ton of books.  Most of my reading time was spent on professional non-fiction and magazine articles.

17.  What do you wish you’d done less of?

Driving.  Last spring I spent 20 hours a week on the road.  My son’s school is about 30 minutes away, which gives he and I time to listen to non-fiction audio books together, which we both enjoy.  But this year, I may try to sneak in some juvenile fiction.  (He may not go for it -non-fiction is his favorite.)

18. How did you spend Christmas?

I spent Christmas in my hometown in the mountains of Washington. It was a splendid white Christmas with lots of family time.

19.  What was your favorite TV program?

I don’t watch much television except sports (can’t wait for the Olympics!) However, I have watched a few things on Netflix this year.  Though I’m only on season 2, I’ve enjoyed Parenthood – love the relational and family dynamics at play.  Confession: I really want to watch This is Us but I haven’t spent the time figuring out how to watch it since I’m behind and need to first watch the first season.

20.  What were your favorite books of the year?

Though an older book, I read The Martian by Andy Weir for the first time and loved it so much, I had my husband read it (edited) to my nine year old who LOVED it, too.  The tone and style of the narrator captured me and drew me in as he overcame trial after trial.  Other favorites were How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overcoming Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (highly recommend for parents with middle school students or above) and I reread and enjoyed the newest edition of John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Healthy Marriage Work.  (great reminder of what helps cultivate intimacy and goodness in marriage.)  

21.  What was your favorite music from this year?

My favorite album was Imagine Dragons’ Evolve and Ed Sheeran’s Divide.   I’ve also been enjoying U2’s new album, Songs of Experience but haven’t listened enough to say it’s a favorite.  Songs on repeat were ‘Believer” by Imagine Dragons, “Back to the Garden” by Crowder, ‘If I Told You’ by Darius Rucker and ‘Walk on Water’ by Thirty Seconds to Mars.  I indulged in about six concerts this year – favorite large concert was U2’s Joshua Tree Tour and smaller venue was Needtobreathe’s House of Blues concert.

22.  What was your favorite film of the year?

Again…Star Wars.  Though The Last Jedi has had mixed reviews, I really enjoyed it.  I know this isn’t a deep, rich choice but when I go to the movies, I long to escape some of the realities in the really world.  So, living in this world that I’ve known since my childhood, satisfies my soul.  I will confess as I sat in the theater during the credits (one of five of us who stayed to the end), I couldn’t help shed a few tears about Carrie Fisher’s death.  I grieve we’ll miss a “good-bye” film with her like we’ve had with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill.

23.  What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I had a small gathering of friends the night of my birthday.  I worked my birthday weekend in Texas so wanted to keep it low key but meaningful.

24.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Having a personal cook.  Making meals at the end of the day and having prepared lunch was a challenge this year.  Loved ordering Blue Apron to help me out when I was in a pinch to buy ingredients for a yummy meal.

25.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Boho – still.  :).  I have yet to give up bright colors.  I enjoy bohemian style, one of a kind, comfortable clothing.  I love supporting LA designers and haunting sample sales occasionally where a person can find unique items that never made it to mass production.  “Comfortable feet” was a value — purchasing several styles of “non-athletic” tennis shoes – white Eccos, red Munros, gray and black Josef Seibels.

26. What kept you sane?

Keeping my calendar steady but not over committed as well as learning how to manage all the information coming at me that needs to be organized and kept track of…definitely hoping to continue to improve this type of organization.

2017 Day Timer

27.  Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

Be present in the moments you have.  Live well and full.  You never know when your life is going to be turned upside down.

28.  What new habit are you developing to decrease your environmental footprint?

We purchased metal and glass straws in order to decrease our straw use.  In the US, we use 500 million straws every day.  For the last 15 years, I have made different choices, created habits in order to help my environmental footprint.  I realize I’m only one person but I’m modeling for my children how to think outside of their own convenience, ease or financial benefit.  Some of our choices over the years have been: changing out our gas vehicles for alternative fuel, reusable bags (for the last 10 years), for a year – buying new clothing from only social and environmental justice sources but mostly buying from consignment stores, don’t buy from the $1.00 bins at Target – almost guaranteed – fair wages and/or environment impact isn’t being considered for cheap items, fair trade chocolate versus commercial chocolate, using cloth napkins and towels instead of paper napkins and paper towels and changing out chemical cleaners with environmentally “pure” cleaners.

Hope your new year is starting well!

Community Camping – Big Sur

40 of us banned together to once again make our community camping trip happen.  I believe we’ve been camping together (a combination of us, at least) since 2004.  This year did not disappoint.  We booked a year ago for Big Sur and as fate (or God) would have it, three mudslides later we pretty much had the highway to ourselves.  There’s only one way in and out so cars are sparse.  A few of us took advantage – napped on the road (maybe an exaggeration though we did lie down), walked six miles, biked (7 miles until the first car was passed), and enjoyed the sound of the waves during the night rather than car and motorcycle motors.

Yes – that is the world famous highway 1 we are walking by…

We saw sea otters wrap themselves in kelp.

Otters in Kelp

Played Games.

Hiked.

Explored.

Saw whales from the road. In many ways magical.

And yet, we surround a family fighting for health as their Mama has stage 4 breast cancer.  The unspoken was, maybe is, will Danielle be able to join us next year?  I continue to hold hope with her without ignorance to the ongoing battle.  Her latest markers are down.  We pray specifically to buy time until we can find a treatment that works because thus far, her aggressive cancer marches on.

(A picture from last year because somehow adults just aren’t as cute as the kids according to my picture selection…)

In her honor, as well as in memory of my dear friend and mentor, Beth Brokaw, who I swear showed up in the form of a heron that landed about 5 yards away from me on my morning walk (it held specific meaning to the longevity in which she lived with her stage 4 cancer), I’m doing the Avon 39 walk in 17 days.  This is a 39 mile walk in 2 days.

I still need to raise about $750.  Please consider donating today.  This organization gives millions of dollars for cancer research.  All donations are tax-deductible.

Here’s my link:

http://info.avon39.org/site/TR/Walk/LosAngeles?px=8227757&pg=personal&fr_id=2515

Thank you for sharing with me in both the adventures and the pains life brings.

Warmly,

Kimber

Inspired by My Grandma and My Son

Grief is like being naked in a lake full of people with swimsuits.  It makes you feel raw, exposed, at times embarrassed, especially when people are staring at you while someone else is leaning close with words you know have something to do with you and your situation.  Your situation, whether it be a tragedy, a major devastation, is really only yours to tell, to disclose.

Grief is like doing a triathalon.  You can have people cheering for you from the sidelines, running beside you, but it’s you that has to will yourself to keep going.  It’s like when I wanted to walk after transitioning off the bike to the run but a kind man ran beside me for the first mile saying, “Come on.  You can do it.  Follow my steps, it will only hurt for this first mile, until the lactic acid is worked out of your muscles.”  I was twelve; the man, significantly older and not worried about his final time.  I tried to stop a couple of times, but he was there, reminding me that my legs would get used to this new motion — running.  He was helpful in getting me through the tough stuff, the stuff I couldn’t have done on my own because my mind wouldn’t let me but I’m the one who ultimately had to make the decision to run instead of walk, to take his encouragement rather than listen to my legs screaming, “Stop! Stop!”  Grief is this way, people come along beside us but they aren’t feeling our debilitating pain, or thinking the thoughts of our own death because the pain is so great or making decisions other than taking that drink, that smoke, that sniff because surely it is all too much to bear without substances altering our experience.    Ultimately, it’s me who has to choose to lean into the pain, to bear the pain, to move through the pain until it eases, isn’t so sharp.

Grief feels like it reaches inside and squeezes your gut, your intestines, your appetite.  It makes you feel like something has gone terribly wrong and somehow it will never be made right.  It’s a signal, the signal, nothing will ever be the same.  It cannot possibly be the same.  Humpty dumpty will never be put together again, and really, how could those million little pieces fit together to make the whole it once was?

Grief is like a pause button.  An interruption to the regularly scheduled program.  Like a mass shooting.  Or an earthquake.  A change in power.

Grief is like returning home only to find the barn has burned.  Then 20 years later, when it still smells like ash, the tears come.  The visions of the rope swing, the saddles, the canister of oats, memories of stalking wild cats and groundhogs.  I can still see them waiting at the gate.  For me.  Ladybug, my Shetland pony.  Thunder, my Quarter-Thoroughbred mare.

I can still feel you against my belly.  Swimming.  The color of your eyes – never determined.  I miss you, Baby Long Beach.

I can see you in your recliner, sleep-watching the football game.  Stuck in 1990.  I miss you, Grandpa.

I can see you in your garden picking raspberries.  Waving at me while I drive by on the golf cart.  I never saw you in the hospice care facility, you didn’t make it before I could see you one last time.  November 27, 2004.  Cancer.  I miss you, Grandma.

A Birthday Wish for My Mother

 

IMG_2601It brings me great joy to celebrate my mom today.  October 2014, when she was getting a medical emergency helicopter trip to Harborview in Seattle, I wasn’t sure how many more birthdays we would be celebrating.  Thankfully, they continue — her birthdays, that is.

What I love about my mom is her appreciation for the outdoors.  Her favorite part of the house is her screen porch where she reads, prays, journals, listens and watches the wilderness around her (which can include bear cubs, deer, snakes, her cats).  She is a faithful attender to her outdoor environment, planting tomatoes, flowers, shrubs, etc. and when I was growing up, a humongous garden, a sizable strawberry patch, which was winterized every year, as well as raiding local “wild” produce of crab apples, choke cherries, apricots from an abandoned homestead (with permission – though this tradition stopped shortly after we encountered a rattlesnake, on the way out AFTER all four kids had stepped right by it, sleeping under a log right smack in the middle of our walking path).  She developed my food palette so I crave what’s ripe and in season which has translated into me going to the local farmer’s market regularly.

There are so many things to love about my Mom, (Mimi as she’s known to her grandchildren):

She’s always up for an adventure – whether it’s a trip around the beaver ponds while we gawked at the osprey nest, or climbing up to Goat Peak, or taking a “little” hike with my Dad to his hunting grounds (which is never little, more like strenuous-not-for-the-faint-of-heart), she’ll “give it a try.”  Though after succeeding she may choose not to try it again, because, well that’s what a person with some intelligence would wisely choose since the three mile hike was really a six mile hike straight up the mountain without a trail.

DSC_0114A lover of the ocean, she has taught me the value of reflection, journaling and listening to His Spirit.  Her prayers and written words have been sweet salve to many of people. DSC_0183 She’s committed through the thick and thin — celebrating 50 years this year.DSC_0309She is a servant, whether it be getting up early to make our favorite breakfast — chocolate chip pancakes/waffles with her homemade whip cream, bacon and eggs or faithfully keeping my Dad eating right and on the straight and narrow, tirelessly thinking of others before herself. DSC_0462 She faithfully knits creative Christmas presents for all of us (see below) — hats, scarves, fingerless gloves, leg warmers — whatever happens to be in season.DSC_0946 Happy Birthday, Mom (and Mimi)!!  We love you!  Glad you continue to charm us with your play on words, wit, and hospitality.IMG_2574