Rustic Living

A couple of months ago I wrote about the unexpected opportunity to remodel our kitchen. At the time, we had no usable kitchen and were just dealing with drying out the water from the leak and hadn’t yet decided how to resolve the issue. First things first, right?

Two and a half months later, we have a minimally functional kitchen and a plan for a full remodel. It’s amazing how everything snowballs. One little leak to a full kitchen remodel, flooring through most of the house and a fresh coat of paint through much of it too. It’s also amazing how long everything takes… First sorting out what we wanted to do (minimum fixes or full remodel), then getting the contractor bids, and on to decisions and orders. The decisions have been made, the orders have all been placed. Now we wait.

In the meantime, I thought I would give you a tour of some of the features of our interim kitchen.

Isn’t this a lovely storage unit? We have no water or drain hooked up, so the sink is really just there to plug the hole in the cabinet. We keep our paper and plastic ware stocked there, to keep us from dumping things into the sink. It’s amazing what a habit that is! Since there is no water or drain, we have no dishwasher either. We do our dishes in the bathroom sink. Kind of inconvenient, as it’s down the hall, but my son has learned a useful life skill (washing dishes by hand) so that’s a plus.

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Note the charming rustic finish of the window frame above the sink. Also the lovely grey countertops. Folding plastic tables fit perfectly on the cabinets as temporary counters.

We still have use of our cooktop, but the oven is currently unusable. In the effort to get the flooring up to dry out the subfloor, the range was moved and the glass on the oven door broke along with the handle. So we don’t use our oven at the moment, for fear of burning ourselves or our pets. No point in replacing it when you are getting a new gas range in a few weeks, right?

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Note also the rustic subfloor look we’ve got going on! Yes, it’s attractive, and matches that rustic window framing. A nice touch, don’t you think? I’m sure it will soon be all the rage.

There is one bright spot in all of this. We got our new refrigerator early, and so we actually have water in the kitchen now, from the water dispenser in the door. What a luxury! I’ve never had such a thing before. We don’t fill up the pasta pot here, but it’s nice to at least have a water source for little things. Like drinking.

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It’s not been optimum, but we’ve been making it work. If at the beginning we knew how long everything would take, we might have at least hooked our sink back up, but there’s no point this close to the end.

In about three weeks, the full demo begins and the remodel will truly be underway. We’ll lose our kitchen for a month, which at this point seems inconvenient but not insurmountable. Grill, crockpot, and microwave for cooking. Refrigerator in the garage, water down the hall in the bathroom. What’s a few extra steps to get dinner ready? It doesn’t seem so inconvenient, since we’ve already been living with a partial kitchen for two months.

A kitchen remodel wasn’t in our plans this year, so all of this certainly wasn’t the timing of our choosing, but we have adapted and are muddling through. At the end of all of the work, with a new kitchen, flooring and paint, our house of sixteen years will feel practically brand new. I’m not sure, after four months without a fully functional kitchen, we’ll even quite know what to do.

Certainty in Life

She would not turn back in fear, not desperately shape herself to fit into old, tightly wedged spaces. She never thought of herself as someone who would do anything other than what was expected of her, yet there was never really an arrival at any fixed point. All that wishing for certainty, all that belief in the clear path always visible up ahead. Here she was with life before her unknown, a reluctant yet inevitable traveler on the path still uncharted.
— Excerpt from Visible City by Tova Mirvis

There was a time in my life I longed for certainty. I made big choices, life choices, based on reducing fear of the unknown. If I could only follow a charted path, get further down the road of expectations, things would be certain. Then I could relax. My younger self was sure of it.

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I started my career in a time of uncertainty. In college, my family lost the business that had supported us through most of my childhood. I watched my father cast adrift, trying to figure out what he was going to do with himself without his business to run. I graduated in 1992, the middle of an economic downturn, where jobs were scarce. I was one of the lucky ones with an offer from a good company, a large corporation with a track record for stability.

Things were certain now, right?

Three months after I started there were layoffs. I wasn’t one of the ones who lost their jobs, although I was in fear of it for weeks, until one of the managers told me I was safe. “It would be cruel and unusual punishment,” he said of hiring then firing me in so short a time. Whew, I could breathe again.

Things were certain now, right?

This first job had an interesting demographic. I was the only woman in an engineering department of about 30 engineers. The closest in age to me was 10 years older, the average age was closer to 20-25 years older than me. In my quest for certainty, I looked at those older engineers with envy. They had it all figured out. Good jobs, families grown or nearly so, retirement on the horizon… To my mind, they had it all laid out. I wanted to fast forward to that point.

Things would be certain then, right?

Oh, my poor little younger self, in her quest for certainty. Now that I’m at that point I so longed to be, middle age, I understand just how uncertain life is. There is no path, no course where if you do everything right you will get the prize of absolute stability.

Life happens, life changes. Jobs go away, illnesses happen, loved ones leave us. All of the coworkers who I thought had life figured out had lots more life to live, lots more uncertainty to face, just as I did.

Looking back, I can see how naive I was to want to skip ahead. Life isn’t a destination or a goal that you can shortcut to, it is something to be lived. Something to be experienced, in all of its ranges of emotions and options. It’s the choices we make in the face of uncertainty, in the face of fear, and the lessons we learn from them, that make us whole people. It’s our struggles that make us human.

Fundamentally, uncertainty is what makes life interesting. It’s how we get to shape a life, and a self, that is wholly our own.

Like the character in the Mirvis novel, my younger self faced “life before her unknown, a reluctant yet inevitable traveler on the path still uncharted.” That young, reluctant traveler has, with time and experience, turned into a willing participant in the journey through uncharted territory. She has learned to face her fears and move ahead out of the “old, tightly wedged spaces.”

I have learned there is no certainty in life. That’s what makes it worth living.

Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Summer Vacation

I’m back! Did you miss me? My family and I were off last week for some fun in the sun in Leavenworth, Washington.

Before we left my son asked me if this was Travel or Vacation. You see, in our family, we have a different meaning for each word. When we Travel, we are going somewhere to enrich ourselves. We pack our days full of sightseeing and activities. Travel typically involves advance planning, tickets, timetables and lines. Vacation, however, involves sleeping in, lots of reading and loose timetables. We are flexible on what we do, or don’t do, and when. It’s more about relaxation than enrichment.

Last week was definitely Vacation, and I thought I would share a Do’s and Don’ts for a successful vacation based on our week away.

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DO go someplace hot, dry and bug-free. 95+ degrees Fahrenheit is good. That way, you have no guilt about laying around reading all afternoon because it’s too hot to do anything else. Naps in air conditioning are prescribed. Visit the pool or the river or both whenever you start to overheat. Stay in your wet swimsuit and air dry all evening as things cool off. (I’m usually cold, so it was awesome to feel hot enough to want to get into the water.)

DON’T go someplace hot, dry and with extreme fire danger if you are intending to hike. There is a good chance all of the trails will be closed so that the officials don’t have to worry about rescuing stranded hikers if they wander into an existing fire area or if a new fire starts. Leave your hiking boots at home. Flip-flops are the only shoes allowed on vacation. (So much for my daily hikes!)

DO have your son, an only child, bring a friend. It is totally worth the extra money you will spend for said friend to join your family. It’s like giving your child the gift of a sibling, only one they’ve chosen, who listens to you, is polite, and willingly helps with chores. All that, and you don’t have to pay for an additional college education! It’s a bargain. With the friend along, you will get more relaxation time in, and keep the surly teenage behavior at bay. (It was lovely!)

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DON’T wake anyone up early, especially teenagers. Let them sleep. Everyone will be happier. Let them stay up as late as they want, so they sleep in even later. Spend the cool hours of the morning doing your own thing… Walking the dog, reading, or sleep in yourself. (I would sleep in if I could, but I’m an early riser and enjoy my quiet morning time, even on vacation.)

DO enjoy the touristy, Bavarian-themed town you are staying near. Sample the local merchandise, wander the stores, and maybe actually even buy something for yourself (like a cute skirt). Sit in a beer garden and have a bratwurst and an imported German beer. Daily. (I finally found someone who knew what a Radler was and could make one for me – first time since the real Bavaria!)

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DON’T expect fancy museums or educational activities. Visit the local Pioneer Museum with its random collection of artifacts and pioneer buildings, go miniature golfing, float in a tube down the river, visit the local candy-making factory or all of the above. Only one activity per day is allowed. More than that, and it will become Travel. (Ever heard of Aplets and Cotlets? Yes, we saw how they make them. Free samples! Yum!)

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DO read lots of books. Four or five, at least. Stock up on books before you leave and enjoy the time guilt-free. Fiction only please, no non-fiction is allowed on vacation. (The best book I read last week was Visible City by Tova Mirvis.)

And here is the kicker, the biggest DON’T of them all…

DON’T, absolutely ever, set your iPhone on a stack of books on the edge of a sink. Especially not a sink with a shallow pool of soapy water in it. Especially not if you plan to leave for 15 to 20 minutes to take the dog for a walk. Because if you do, there is a good chance that when you return, you will find your iPhone in the sink, swimming in the shallow pool of soapy water, flickering ominously. Not only will you lose your phone for the rest of the trip, but you will lose your camera too. (Even after turning it off right away and keeping it in a bag of rice for 3 days, it never recovered. Luckily, we were able to stop at the Apple store in Portland on the drive home and I got my camera, er, phone, replaced. Whew!)

So there you have it, a few Do’s and Don’ts for a successful summer vacation. Do you have any to add to the list? Let’s hear them!

Gatherings through the Lens: Guest Post by Holly Clark

Today I’d like to introduce you to Holly Clark! I met Holly through Mortal Muses, the collaborative photography site I was involved with several years ago. I don’t think we were ever Muses at the same time, but we’ve gotten to know each other through a mutual love for all things photographic. Her work is beautiful, and her enthusiasm comes through in all she does. Give her a warm welcome!


The past few months have been busy for me and it feels like summer has somehow passed me by. August. Already. How did that happen? Part of the illusion was created by the late arrival of temperatures here in the Northeast. For the first time in years, we didn’t turn on our air conditioning until the beginning of June! Work has been busy from mid-May straight through until now, which when you work for yourself is a blessing indeed, but it certainly left the garden in shambles! Luckily I was able to find a few evenings to relax amongst friends celebrating whatever was on hand.

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In early May it was the annual Kentucky Derby where a group of us gathers to bet on the horses, mix mint and bourbon and catch up on each other’s stories from the past year. In February, we lost our close friend –who ran the “bank” – to pneumonia, so this year’s celebration was in his honor. I took over the betting running the bank and I think I did Eric proud.

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We sipped juleps, ate burgers, talked nonsense and lived in the moment enjoying the camaraderie of this year’s gang.

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In June we gathered with friends to watch the USA’s opening world cup soccer match with some friends. Lee’s a British expatriate, now American, who’s built his own English pub in his basement to remind him of home! Not only was his bar fully stocked, but he had craft beer on the tap and willingly poured us all a tall, delicious pint while we shouted at the TV and cheered on the game.

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In July one of my closest girlfriends had us over for dinner to celebrate my birthday, always a treat once you’ve passed the big milestones. 41 couldn’t have started better with big hugs from little girls and tasty hors d’oeuvre with a lovely South African white wine.

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We grilled. We talked. We played, and each one of us received a pink princess sticker to place on our shirts. I even had my own hand-made place card and a red-velvet cake! I’m keeping my fingers crossed this birthday wish comes true!

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Each gathering was a well-earned escape from the busy months surrounding them. A good reminder for me of what’s truly important: celebrating life’s gatherings both big and small with the characters that make them special. I’m sure you’ll agree that these treasured memories are picture-worthy moments to be relived again and again. By now, my friends are used to me raising my camera to shoot at a moment’s notice. From the dainty details to the unscripted moments I couldn’t expect, I try to capture everything. Despite how random my shooting might seem, I shoot with and open heart and with purpose, as these are the memories I want to hold onto forever.

How about you? Do you shoot the special occasions of your life too? Do you also shoot with a plan? It is absolutely possible to capture your memorable moments and take captivating photos of the faces you love and the places you’ll never forget. Join me August 28th at Big Picture Classes where I’m teaching an exciting new 4-week workshop called Gatherings through the Lens.

The pre-classroom is now open where I several lessons available immediately to start you on your journey. During our time together I’ll cover weekly topics on portraits, details, actions and candids along with insight from expert guest photographers sharing their perspective on capturing all of life’s events. I hope that you’ll join me, and I can’t wait to meet you in class!

Happy Snapping,
Holly

You can see more of Holly’s gorgeous work here.

Photo-Heart Connection: July 2014

Heat. That’s what I feel in this image. The heat of summer, direct sun, scorching and uncomfortable.

And yet… the promise of coolness. Once you get away from the edges, move through that heat, there is a deep relief.

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There is a saying people use where I work: “Run to the fire.” It speaks to the idea that you shouldn’t run away from challenging things, but run to them.

This image speaks to me of running to the fire. Of running to the heat, dancing at the edges where it is uncomfortable, seeing how far you can go. And knowing, always, there is a retreat to come back to. There is relief away from the hot edges.

I think you can’t fully enjoy the delicious respite of that cool retreat if you haven’t felt the heat. If you haven’t pushed yourself into the intensity of it, seen how much you can take, you can’t relish the contrast. Cool becomes cold quickly when you stay too long in the deep shade.

Run to the fire. Feel the heat. Relish the cool. It’s the contrast that makes life interesting.


It’s no surprise to me this would be my Photo-Heart Connection for July. My life is on the busy side lately, between taking on new challenges at work, in my photography world and a kitchen remodel. I’ve definitely been running to the fire, and, knowing what I have lined up, I will be hanging out near the hot edges for the next six months or so. There is a small part of me that views everything with trepidation, worried about my stress level and whether I can do it all. But there is a large piece of me that says, “Bring it on!” I know I love a good challenge and will rise to the occasion. In the end, I’ll be able to look back and see what I’ve accomplished, truly enjoying the respite of the cool shade. I am encouraged; my Photo-Heart Connection tells me I can do this.

What is your Photo-Heart Connection telling you this month? What message do you find in your images? Share it with us here, and then visit others. We all have much to learn through our photography.


Beauty in Repetition

As I photographed these flowers on my hike the other morning, I realized how much nature repeats itself. Just look at this field of flowers… Not one, not two, but flowers over and over again.

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A field of flowers, repeated. Every year, at the same time. Every morning, the sun comes up again, repeating the cycle of night and day. It’s predictable, but always just a little bit different, and always beautiful.

So why do I, so much of the time, feel like I shouldn’t be repeating myself? The themes I write about, the subjects I photograph. There are times I think I should vary them more. That I’m not creative if it’s not entirely new every time.

But look at nature, it repeats. We rely on it.

It made me stop and realize: It’s a beautiful thing, when you repeat. If we did not repeat ourselves as artists, how would we find a voice and a style? If we did not revisit the same themes that inspire us, varying things a little bit every time, could we build a body of work that is cohesive? I’m not sure we could.

After spending the weekend at the art fair with my winter trees, I’ve started to create new work with summer trees. They are similar, yet different. I’m repeating myself, yet I’m not. It all works together.

Beauty in repetition. If nature can do it, so can I.


Tomorrow is the Photo-Heart Connection! Won’t you join us in finding your photograph with the strongest heart connection in July?