Finally some fall colors: 10 on 10 for November

We waited for it patiently and that patience finally paid off this past week when the leaves on our trees finally changed from dreary brown to bright yellow and then scattered the ground, creating a blanket of bright for us to walk in and inspect.

My daughter and I spent part of a day picking up leaves and tucking them away in her bicycle pouch if we (or rather she) deemed them pretty enough.

We still have one tree that hasn’t changed yet, but always changes late. The tree blesses us with amazingly beautiful and uniquely patterned leaves even as the cold weather sets in and the snow starts to fall.

This post is part of the monthly 10 on 10 blog circle where a group of photographers share ten photographs from the previous month on the tenth day of the month. Find the link to the next blog at the bottom of this post.

DSC_7581DSC_7601DSC_7629DSC_7655DSC_7661DSC_7670DSC_7688DSC_7759DSC_7771-2DSC_7662To continue the blog circle, please visit Erika Kao.

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What I’m reading this week: Rediscovering Mitford

This is part of the Sunday Salon – a series of blog posts where regular folks write about what they’re reading.

In the last couple of weeks, I decided to rediscover Mitford, the fictional town created by author Jan Karon, and the characters within it – most notably Father Tim Kavanaugh, the charming Episcopal priest and his wife Cynthia, who he married late in life.

downloadI own hardcover and paperback copies of most of the series but started downloading the new books into my Kindle a couple of years ago. This time around I started my latest visit to Mitford with book 13, “Come Rain, Come Shine,” which I had started last year but never finished. Then this week I started the latest book in the series, book 14 “To Be Where You Are”. I’m afraid to look anywhere online until I finish it because of spoilers, but I did Google Karon when my mom and I were wondering how old she must be now and learned she has recently written the last of the series as a collection of sermons and prayers by Father Tim. This distressed my mom a little because she has read “To Be Where You Are” already and said some of the character’s stories were left hanging

I started reading these books in high school and have loved following the stories of the characters. I’ve laughed with them (because there is a lot of humor) and I’ve cried with them (because there are some definite tear-jerking moments, some heartbreaking and some simply touching). I used to read the books in a couple of days because I simply couldn’t put them down. I still move through them fairly fast, but I’m faced with more interruptions now that I have children so the books are a nice thing to disappear into late at night once they are asleep.karon

For those who haven’t read the books, Father Tim and Cynthia have an adopted son Dooley and a slew of friends and family, whose stories are also part of the books. The story of how Dooley became their son and the fracturing of his family weave in and out of the books, with new characters, such as Dooley’s brothers and estranged mother, being added in each edition. There are other reoccurring characters who are part of almost every book and include the local newspaper’s editor and his reporter wife (something I could definitely relate to), the owners of the local restaurant, the local veterinarian, and church parishioners whose stories often intertwine with the main characters. At times there are a couple of different plots going on throughout the book, but each one seems to come back to Father Tim.

While Karon’s writing isn’t super deep or complex, she is a talented writer who is able to use words to paint a beautiful picture of a scene or an interaction and pull the reader into the moment.

In the first chapter of the fourteenth book in the series, one sentence she wrote made me pause and read it slowly again: “The chlorophylls of summer foliage would have degraded into nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites, and hidden pigments would explode in a pyrotechnic extravagance of scarlet, gold, vermilion, and out-loud yellow.

I think one reason I’m in love with the books is that I can relate to the characters, the life in a small town and to life in North Carolina, which is where my mom’s entire family is from and where she grew up.

Opening the books is like visiting with old friends and also makes me think of an old friend who had loved me but needed so much love she drained me and others of almost all their energy in the process.

She once gave me a small, wooden frame with the words: “I’d rather be in Mitford” printed off a computer. I have many regrets in my life and not getting back in touch with her after one too many of her demands weighted me down is one of them. She passed away a couple of years ago and I like to hope heaven is a lot like Mitford for her – with quirky, funny and friendly characters.

As for me, I’ve often looked at that little sign during stressful times in my life and thought the same thing – how much I’d like to be in Mitford instead of dealing with the stress of the moment.

So what are you reading these days? Anything good? Let me know in the comments!

Creative Tuesday: The loss of time to be bored may be killing our creative buzz

My kid flops on the couch on his stomach, face smashed into the cushions and lets out an exasperated sigh.

He turns his face toward me, eyelids heavy and his words are full of whine:

“I’m sooooooo booooooored.”

While I once thought filling my children’s days with various activities was the key to keeping them out of trouble, and their mind engaged, I’ve started to embrace what I’ve heard others talk about – the importance of allowing ourselves to be bored, especially if we are a creative person.

That’s right – actually having nothing to do can be a blessing to us, not a curse.

When we are bored we stop, look around us, and find inspiration. When we are bored our brains wander and when our brains wander, they often stumble on creative, interesting ideas.

It’s no surprise that some of the greatest innovations of our time came during a time in life when things moved slower and there were fewer distractions from technology.

Technology is a double-edged sword for creativity. It benefits us by connecting us to so many, getting our creations seen by others, and by adding a different dynamic to how we create. But technology also hampers us by filling our brains with so much information and distraction that we rarely slow down to simply listen to our own hearts and visions. And if we are too wrapped up in technology it will actually completely suffocate our creative voice.

Many of us are guilty of being addicted to social media. As easily as we can find ourselves trapped in a Youtube spiral (where we jump from video to video until we are bleary-eyed) we can find ourselves falling down the rabbit hole of comparison when we follow several artists in our particular medium. Even if we are not comparing when we are on social media, we are easily distracted on sites like Facebook and Instagram, so much so that we may find ourselves wasting most of our day on our phone or sitting at our computer and that is time we could have been using to create and truly experience life.

I recently downloaded a book into my Kindle by Manoush Zomorodi, a journalist who found herself face-to-face with boredom in 2007 when her first child was born and never wanted to sleep. The iPhone had just started to become popular (can you believe it’s only been about 10 or 11 years since the iPhone/smartphone started taking over our world?!) and she found herself walking several miles a day to help the baby sleep. As she walked her mind wandered and she began to dream of what she would do when she could sleep and work again. She came up with ideas of how she could work at home while also being a mother and all went well until she started using the smartphone everyone else was using; to help make her life and work easier.

She found that every “down moment” she had was filled with wasting time on the phone and that left little time for imagining or thinking about new ideas. So when it came time to create for the podcast she had conceived while at home with her baby, her brain was empty. She realized that one reason she didn’t have any more new ideas was that she was never bored. She never gave her brain any time to rest.

After talking to neuroscientists about what happens when we are bored, she learned it is during those down times that our brains create new neural connections. When our brains are quiet they look back at our lives, create a personal narrative, and make plans for our future and for future projects, she was told.

The problem is that many of us never give ourselves time to be quiet and let our brain decompress, Zomorodi points out. We keep our brains busy constantly. We don’t simply watch a television show anymore. We watch a show while doing reports on our computer or listening to a podcast and scrolling through Facebook. Not only is this detrimental to us from a mental standpoint, but it’s also detrimental to us physically, for a variety of reasons, which Zomorodi details in her book and in her TED Talk.

When it comes to creativity we need those moments of boredom even more. We need periods of boredom to think, to imagine and to hear our inner, creative voice.

Many of us, myself included, equate boredom to laziness. This could not be further from the truth, as Zomorodi learned and many researchers are learning. And beyond what “experts” are learning, you can learn it yourself.

You’re not being lazy when you’re contemplating, working out creative ideas or thinking about what you hope for your future.

You’re letting your brain have the space it needs to open doors to creativity.

To hear more about Zomorodi’s findings, you can see her TED talk below or find her book, “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.”

Creative Tuesday: Just take the photos already

So many people want to be a photographer but are stuck on the idea the photo has to be technically perfect. They want their child to sit just right or the light to hit just so or the moment to be simply perfect and if they can’t do that then forget it – the photo isn’t taken.

Maybe because I like to photograph moments more than poses, and had to focus on them when I worked for newspapers, the lack of perfection in a photo bothers me less than it does some photographers. When I look back at my photos over the years I sometimes mentally scold myself for a technical error, knowing my aperture was set wrong or my ISO could have been raised or lowered, but normally my attention is on the moment captured rather than the technical aspects.

I don’t want to look back at my memories from a special time in my life and pat myself on the back for nailing focus. I want to look back at those photos and remember how I felt, what was happening, who was there. I look at photography in a similar way to art – it’s about how the art makes me feel not how it was made.

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DSC_0290-2DSC_0008A local art teacher recently shared a photo of a painting by a student of his on Facebook. The painting was of a woman singing and I actually scrolled past it but then flung the cursor back up to take a better look at it. As I stared at it for a while I found it left me with a relaxed, easy going feeling, something I needed in the midst of a stressful week. I could hear the smooth jazz music and the velvet tones of the singer’s voice and imagined a cup of hot tea in front of me.

Someone else could have looked at it and said they saw technical errors (I doubt many would have) or that the singer wasn’t as “realistic looking” as some might think it should be, but none of that mattered to me because what was important to me was how the painting made me feel. What if that young painter had given up on her work because she decided, in her own mind, that her work wasn’t good enough? What if she had decided that because something didn’t look technically right, the painting could never touch anyone emotionally? She would have been wrong and if she hadn’t finished the painting she would have robbed me of those few moments of respite I was given that day by looking at the painting.

But because she picked up that paintbrush and painted what she felt, not only what she saw and knew, a soul, my soul was touched.

So pick up that camera.

Pick up that paintbrush.

Pick up that pen.

Put those fingers on the keyboard.

Just paint the painting, take the photos, write the words, create what you feel in your heart, not only what you know in your head.

You may not touch millions or thousands or hundreds or even fifty people but if you even touch one – isn’t that worth it?

For more inspiration to get out and create already check out YouTube entrepreneur and photographer Peter McKinnon talking about the power of an idea.

It's better to create something

To follow my work you can catch me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or at my photography site at www.lisahowelerphotography.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

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Quieting the creative voices of others so you can hear and feel your own

I fell into one of those Youtube spirals the other night (like one does) and I caught an interview from last year with Ellen and Bradley Cooper. Ellen asks Bradley if he is on social media at all, although she admits she already knows he isn’t. When he says “No, I’m not.” she feigns shock and says “Oh my gosh. What do you even do with yourself?”
He laughs, shrugs and mumbles something about being able to waste a lot of time on the internet without social media. But really, a better answer, since he was there to talk about a movie he was filming, would have been, “I create.”
“A Star is Born” comes out this week and Bradley both stars in it and directed it. If he had been sitting around wasting his life on social media, getting distracted by the drama and ridiculousness that can be found on it, he might never have made the movie or made the music for it along with Lady Gaga and Luke Nelson.
Lady-Gaga-and-Bradley-Cooper-in-A-Star-is-Born-2018-670x335Imagine all the books and paintings and songs we would never have heard if social media had existed earlier than it had. Yes, there are good things about social media for a creative. We can share our creations and our art to a wider audience and immediately. But what we lose in that immediate interaction is taking the time to really develop and plan our craft before we throw it to the world. What we lose is the time to actually create because we are distracted by looking at either the work of others or the drama of others.
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We are squelching our inner voice because we can’t hear it over the shouts and creations of others. We are comparing and contrasting and then going back to our creative work, thinking we can’t create as well as the others we’ve seen. Or maybe we think can do the same, but end up disappointing because we never give ourselves time to really develop the skills we need to create, as well as, or better than, those we admire.
Bradley Cooper worked with a voice coach, musicians and others for almost a year and a half,l before creating what many are calling a masterpiece. He had a vision and he put the work in to complete and present that vision.
If he had wasted his time on the distraction that comes with social media, he may have never reached his goal of creating something he is extremely proud of.
Though I don’t know what Bradley Cooper’s personal reasons for not being on social media are I do think abstaining from it strengthens his creative voice. It’s something other creative people, or anyone with a goal they want to reach, should try as well.

That weird crush I had on Peter Davison and other strange facts (or just a post about what I’m watching right now)

I haven’t been blogging much lately, mainly because sometimes life sucks and you don’t feel like writing about it.

But while I haven’t been blogging I have been watching somewhat odd British murder mystery shows from the 1980s and early 1990s thanks to Britbox on Amazon.

250px-CampiondvdMy husband suggested I watch Campion, a show headed by the fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison, who I first developed somewhat of a crush on in the old BBC show “All Creatures Big and Small” that they showed reruns of on PBS when I was a kid.

To be honest, half the time I have no idea what is happening in the episodes, which are two parts and an hour long each. I’ve found myself rewinding them to try to figure out what just happened or what someone said, partially because of the British accents, and partially because I think in an attempt to be clever, the writers simply make the dialogue vague and confusing.

Despite those shortcomings, I can’t stop watching the show and wondering what is going to happen next. Campion’s sly, mischevious, and brilliant character is fun to watch and it’s also nice to see that Davidson was able to break out of the typecast hole some of the other Doctor

Who’s fell into over the years.

Miss Marple is another of the British mystery shows I’ve found myself caught up in, even though I’ve only watched two episodes so far. From what I can tell, each series takes us through one mystery, with each episode offering another piece to the puzzle each time.

 

There is so much meaty dialogue in each installment I found myself needing to take a break before diving into the next episode. These older mysteries weave such interesting stories it’s hard to binge watch them without becoming overstimulated, which is both a pro and a con of them.

 

On the lighter side, my son and I have been trying out Netflix’ latest cop show offering, The Good Cop starring Tony Danza and – uh – could it be? Is that him? Why, yes it is. It’s multi-million selling recording artist Josh Groban in the lead roll as Tony Caruso, Jr. The premise behind the show is that Tony Sr. is a crooked cop who just finished serving time in prison for various nefarious actions while on the force and his son, Groban, has swung the pendulum completely the other way by being the “good cop” or the stickler for the rules.

Woven in the storyline is the backstory that Tony Jr.’s mom and Tony Sr.’s wife was killed years ago in a hit and run accident and Tony Sr. is working behind the scenes to try to find her killer.

Groban really surprised me with his acting skills. The acting in the show is solid overall, but the plots and the writing could definitely use some work and I feel that is a disservice to the high quality talent they have on board. I’ve never been a huge Tony Danza fan but he really pulls off the slack off, flippant and defiant, bad cop Tony Caruso role.

If you’re looking for a hard hitting, gritty cop show don’t look here. The rating on this one is PG and the storyline is simple and cases easy to solve, except, even if you know who did it, you don’t always know how. My son compares this show to Pysch, which used to be on USA Network and you can catch in reruns on Amazon (no, I’m not being paid by Amazon… yet. ha!), mainly because of the intricate and humorous way they reach a mystery you may have been able to partially solve in the first ten minutes.

Since the show is PG, it is fairly safe for your older children to watch with you, but there are still some adult themes of sex, murder, cheating, and a few swear words. We haven’t finished the season yet to determine if this is one we will put on our list to look forward to a second season.

So, what are all of you watching, listening to or reading this week? Let me know in the comments or link to a blog post where you share what’s on your watch, listening or reading list this week (or month).

On the eve of her fourth birthday

And there she was, drifting off to sleep on the eve of her fourth birthday. There was pink in her hair and I wondered what it was since we’d just washed our hair together tonight in the tub. Then I remembered she’d got paint in it a week before and apparently I hadn’t got all of it out in the bath that night. I thought about how much I loved noticing those little details of her childhood.

The day before she’d been sitting on the hill, in the grass and fallen leaves, outside her grandparents’ house, wearing a shirt on backward, since she still hasn’t mastered how to put them on the right way, with rainbow pants and chocolate smudged on the corner right above her upper lip, left over from the brownie cake her grandma and grandpa had made. After her bath, the day before her birthday, she put on an adorable, felt looking pink dress, as if she was preparing to wake up the next morning ready to celebrate her official birthday, one I couldn’t believe was already here.

She was the baby we never expected and the one we never knew we needed.

She delights us, surprises us, aggravates us and most of all she completes us.

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When families laugh together

When I was a kid she danced around her room and recited Anne of Green Gables and sang songs from musicals as if she was on Broadway. The funniest moments were when she did it while sleepwalking.

In junior high, we both wrote dramatic, slightly melancholy romantic short stories and shared them with each other and cringed at the idea anyone else would see them.

She was elegant and charming and pretty. And for that reason, we honestly, didn’t roam around with the same crowd once we hit high school. I was never elegant, charming, or pretty, which isn’t meant to put myself down, it’s simply how it was.

I didn’t enjoy the small town limelight she stood in as she found her footing amongst the popular drama clique that ruled our tiny high school, and I never would have wanted to.

I was introverted, hid behind books, baggy clothes, a journal or a sketchbook, later a camera, and didn’t mind the lack of attention. In fact, I preferred no attention at all.

She had (and still has) a beautiful voice that needed to be showcased and I’m so glad it was. Even though we didn’t “hang out” in high school, in the strict sense of the word, I still made sure I attended her productions so I could watch her talent grow.

We managed to maintain a friendship over the years, despite her moving away, so when her youngest sister contacted me and asked if I would photograph their family I agreed immediately.  That youngest sister was the first baby I’d ever held so to see her, and all three of the girls, grown, with beautiful smiles still, and being wonderful mothers was worth the detour around flooded roads to get to their parent’s house.

It was so special to see their families full of joy, happiness, and laughter, to know they’d grown up and that life, though I’m sure not always perfect, had brought them so many blessings.

It is these sessions, when families laugh, that make the frustrations of running my own business worth it.