Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Eastern Bluebirds Come to Call

       What are you looking at?

What is he doing??

What's that finch doing here?

Finch: Was it something I said?

Why is that finch still here??

Much better

Four of a kind beats two pair,
But a straight flush wins the hand

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rosa Parks, 1913 - 2005

(Sculpture by Ed Dwight of Rosa Parks in downtown Grand Rapids Michigan)
It was 55 years ago this week that Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. This monument to her stands in Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, Michigan.*

Parks wasn’t the first to refuse to give up her seat, but she was the one chosen by the African-American leaders in Montgomery for the lawsuit test case. The bus boycott may or may not have been spontaneous but it lasted 381 days and became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. At the time, Parks was working as a secretary at the local branch of the NAACP.

Some claim both events were entirely spontaneous and deny any advance planning, and others vociferously argue otherwise. Those who question the accuracy of the spontaneity claim are usually shouted down with accusations of racism in diminishing what took place. And no mention is ever made of the earlier women who “sat down” for their rights. Their names are not remembered.

Regardless of the ultimate truth, nothing can take away from Parks’ courage in refusing to give up her seat. Just a few months before this incident, 14 year old Emmett Till was brutally mutilated and murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman (his killers were later acquitted). Parks knew she would be arrested and she was. She was bailed out later that night and ended up becoming a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.
For all of the accolades received in her lifetime, Rosa Park’s life was anything but easy. Employment became difficult for her and her husband in Alabama (Parks was fired after her arrest). They moved to Virginia in 1957 and later to Detroit, Michigan. Parks worked as a seamstress, until she was hired by U.S. Representative John Conyers as a secretary/receptionist in 1965. She remained in that position until 1988.
Parks continued to work tirelessly for Civil Rights, donating time and money consistently throughout her later years. The nation was treated to a sorry spectacle during the last years of her life when a lawsuit was filed on her behalf against a hip-hop group who referenced “moving to the back of the bus” in a song. Relatives decried the action and claimed they were kept from seeing Parks. They also claimed she was not aware of what was taking place. Her longtime friend and caretaker proceeded with the suit that ended up being settled. Parks passed away in 2005. She had no children but left a meaningful legacy to the world of how one person can make a difference.

“I am leaving this legacy to all of bring peace, justice, equality, love, and fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die - the dream of freedom and peace.”
*The sculptor, Ed Dwight, has an interesting story of his own. Back in 1962, when he was an air force jet pilot, President Kennedy nominated him as an astronaut trainee, making Dwight the first African-American ever appointed. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Dwight was forced out of the program and eventually became a sculptor.
When I first saw this work, I questioned why she was standing up instead of sitting down. But Dwight's thought was to show Parks as emerging from her seat, becoming the quiet leader that she was. I suppose we could also say she was standing up for "the dream of freedom and peace."  May we all show as much courage today.

Friday, August 27, 2010

To Blip or Not to Blip... is no longer the question.

1.    a spot of light on a radar or sonar screen indicating the position of a detected object.
2.    a temporary or insignificant phenomenon, especially a brief departure from the normal.

If you’re not familiar with the term, then you do not have friends or family who have succumbed to the addictive power of

Started in Scotland by a man who created a website to upload and share one of his photos per day, the site expanded in 2006 to allow others to do the same. Like a virus, Blip spread through Europe, Asia, Australia, and made its way to North America. The stats of where these blippers are and how many there are would be fascinating, but Blip does not disclose that information. The bulk of subscribers appear to be located in Europe and I haven’t come across any journals from South America yet.

Blip has rules, some of which are applied concretely and others a little more subjectively. First and foremost, the photo uploaded must be a photo taken that day. You may upload a photo for last Wednesday but it must have been taken last Wednesday. Be sure your camera date and time are accurate or you’ll receive a message that your picture wasn’t taken on the day you are claiming. If they believe your explanation of an inaccurate camera date, your photo will appear.

You may subscribe to a person whose photos, or journals, are interesting to you. They may or may not subscribe back. Like a facebook friend request ignored, or a “follow” on Twitter that doesn’t get followed back, it may seem like a virtual slap in the face (thanks for the friend request / the follow / the subscription, but you’re not worthy of my attention - ouch!).

But time management can also be an issue. How many people can you subscribe to and comment on with any regularity? Some people upload a photo every day and others post sporadically. Either way, you could spend all day looking at photos and posting comments.

Some journals are worthy of a subscription regardless of whether or not they subscribe or comment back (depending on your photography interests). Follow the blips of a soldier in Iraq; a photographer capturing daily life on the streets of Cairo (oops - account suspended!); a woman exploring the people, food, and ruins of Tuscany (Rest in Peace, Molly); a Dutch captain of a ship in the North Sea; or a woman sharing her rural life in New Zealand. 

In Blipland, it’s not just about the photos. Many people create stories or poems to accompany the picture. Others post appropriate quotations or songs, or provide historical information to enhance their photos. Some write-ups are very personal and relate traumatic events that have occurred or are occurring. Check out the Spotlight Feature and you’ll see a lot of so-so photos with fascinating or very personal stories. You will also see some extraordinary photos without much text at all.

The formula for reaching the Spotlight page is known only to Blip Central. It's an automatic  mathematical configuration based on views and comments, and perhaps, ratings. If a photo is awarded five stars, and by the more people the better (you have no idea how people have rated it and who they were), the threshold for hitting Spotlight is much lower. One of my rated blips hit Spotlight with 89 views and 22 comments. An unrated blip recently arrived on the Spotlight page when it hit 117 views and 31 comments.

5/9/11 Update: The "automatic formula" has now been disproved. They modify and moderate. They have also raised the bar for hitting the Spotlight.

The other scenario is that ratings are not involved, just the views and comments as they compare to other blips of that day. Your image can hit Spotlight but as soon as another image tops your mathematical total, you're off the page. There's also a time limit, somewhere under 24 hours, for your photo to reach the Spotlight threshold. You may have a fabulous blip that day but if other blippers do too, and blip world is active with views and comments, you may not ever hit the page. Images drop off automatically after a certain time period, if they haven't already been pushed off by others.

And here's a third observation/theory: if you don't comment on other journals, the threshold for hitting Spotlight is lower. So if it is important in your mind to hit Spotlight, you are in effect encouraged to make few, if any, comments. This seems like an unfriendly blip idea/procedure.

Membership level defines the depth of your activity on Blip. If you are a paying member, you can “favorite” someone’s photo and upload a picture starting from the day of your birth, assuming you were there to take a photo (okay, you’re taking a photo of the old photo :). Otherwise, you may upload only from the date you subscribed. Everyone gets to award one to five stars on any photo. And there are some (one?) who will reduce the number of stars awarded to a photo. This affects the placement of the image on the Ratings page, i.e., your photo may have moved back a few pages. Disillusioned with having awarded stars later reduced by someone else, some blippers remove the ratings option from their journals.

(March 2011 Update:  star ratings have been revised. You now have the opportunity to award stars on each image but can see only the stars you have awarded. The image-taker sees the total stars awarded but still not from whence they came, unless the commentators have stated so. In effect, the star-reducers now only add to the total stars award.)

Composite photos or montages are permitted so long as each image was taken that day (at least those are the rules). Usually, a current photo of an old photo is passable as is a photo taken of your computer screen displaying an older photo. But if you don’t write up an adequate context for it, Blip might suspend it. You may link to your other uploaded photos (on Flickr, Picasa, TwitPic, etc.) but need to avoid linking to “commercial” sites, the definition of which can get tricky. There are trollers out there looking for "cheaters" (get a life, trollers) to report to BlipCentral. At times the application of the rules can be a little fluid but Blip attempts to keep any disagreements private (there was a recent public exception to this philosophy). Controversial forum threads get “locked” to end the discussion. 

There is a great divide between "oldies" and "newbies" that you can see by looking at subscribers/subscriptions. Otherwise, people seem to stick together by interests.
Here’s the upside: you will look at the world around you through new eyes. You will observe things and people you otherwise would not have noticed. You will make friends and see parts of the world you would never have otherwise seen. On the whole, it’s a very polite community. You may receive a little constructive criticism here or there (some blippers remove the comment capability after receiving less than welcome statements). Generally, people here are just nice, and very encouraging.

The responses give you a sense of who is out there and when, and I believe that Blip never sleeps: when Europe goes to bed, North America carries on, and as they turn their lights off, blippers from Asia are turning theirs on; next up, the Mideast. 

Blip on, my friends.

8/24/11 Update: After I hit 365 blips in a row, I decided to back off from what now felt like an obligation to post and to comment. I also reduced my subscriptions to alleviate what had become to feel like a burden. So now I post when I have something, and I comment when I can. I had to take my life back from blip...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Watching An Afternoon Move Into Evening on a Florida Beach

Late afternoon light dances on the waves. The sun plays with clouds and changes the colors of the sea. Green and blue ribbons of water gently roll under the purple and blue slices of sky. Purple now touches the sea forming a harmonious, fluid palette, merging together, pulling apart, hues and positions in constant motion. No photo can capture this beauty.

A brown pelican drops vertically into the sea. After finding his target, he rejoins his squadron. Their formation breaks one at a time after which they float amiably together before synchronously taking off for another flyover.

A team of terns dives on cue, black beaks pointed down and wings folded back. Flighty plovers and sanderlings, like hummingbirds of the shore, move with quick, unending steps, waltzing with the waves on the sand. Stately herons fearlessly and patiently wait by nearby fishermen for any opportunities that may present themselves. 

The setting sun moves from yellow, to orange, then red, and crumples on the horizon, evidenced now only by lit tips of clouds. Pelicans float together offshore forming an island, waiting for sunrise. Orion displays high above, our Michigan winter constellation. It seems out of place in warm weather, but it’s only my perspective that’s off. Orion unwaveringly remains on its celestial course, as the world continues to turn.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Do People Walk the Beach?

I ask myself this question as I take my daily vacation walk on the beach. Why do I walk it? I like looking at, and listening to, the water, I like the exercise, and I like watching for birds and other photo opportunities.

Although past beach trips might prove me wrong, I’m not a member of the very large shell collecting club. Other people walk to work on their tans. Young men jog and old men shuffle or are pushed in a beach wheelchair (very big wheels). Away from the crowds, couples carve out a place for themselves in the sand grass; another couple embraces out in the water for all the world to see and take note - yes, we see you and are sure yours is the greatest love of all. Preschool age children are everywhere, but planted, digging or splashing, not walking. Grandparents and parents are the careful attendants.

Age-appropriate attire is sometimes sorely lacking for people in their 50s and beyond - I had to put blinders on frequently so as not to go blind. For a few minutes I was stuck behind..., never mind. Florida natives of every age and gender are easily spotted - no, I didn’t take pictures of them.

Young women prance in their bikinis and young men, and old, watch them. A very fit, tan, tattooed 30-something blond woman slowly parades up and down the beach looking for shells and finding attention. Another very tan European man struts his speedo stuff. Most of us are more modestly clothed and amble along, sometimes alone, other times chatting with accompanying companions. Bits of conversation are heard from those going by as well as from people sitting in their beach places. Once you tune in, it becomes an entertaining, non-sequitur conversation:

“Goldman dropped 13 doctor’s’s good for you...what can you say that would...he wasn’t spending time with his family...(unintelligible Dutch)...what did you catch?...stay togethuh...she’d be better off...mamacita!...(Russian phone conversation)...summer program at college...”

Over-riding the human talk are sounds of terns, seagulls, willets, and waves rolling onshore. Your own music of the beach depends on what channel you tune into. Is it your own thoughts, the music of nature, or the conversations around you? For me, my channel constantly changes depending on the wave-lengths I’m picking up.

Why do you walk the beach?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Daffodils Save the Day

Looking at the rain with gloomy dismay,
Pink daffodils moved in a gentle sway
And reminded me, everything has its say.
Whether rain, wind, or clouds, it's still a good day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Gift of a Timeless Day

The day is open and stretches before me like the blank canvas of an artist.
How it will be painted is unknown -
for there is no plan,
there are no constraints.
No one is scheduled to be met; nothing is required to be done.
Nothing will subvert this transitory liberty;
no obligation will be imposed -

the weed does not need to be pulled, laundry does not require attention,
and neither do the plants on the porch or the dust on the shelf.
Everything can wait -
while I enjoy the gift of the freedom of today, and dance in its light.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wheel of Time -
Seasons Go By -
Rust Never Sleeps

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blue Beauties

greeted by a budding forsythia branch,
hugged by leaves whose days are done,
encircled by myrtle ever-green,
blue beauties smile on their garden day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Winter Berries

Winter berries doggedly remain.
They've withstood
driving rain,
winter freeze,
heavy snow.
And passed over by cedar waxwings,
they now take on a different role in the circle of life,
as they gently let go, to fertilize earth.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leading to the Unknown

Railroad tracks mesmerize me.
Like sirens of the sea, they tempt me to follow:
mystery lies ahead,
an unknown destination,
a new adventure,
my destiny.

But I save that path for another day,
and memorialize the moment.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Early Harbingers of Spring in Michigan - 3/22/10

Throughout the garden, early blooms rise up through garden detritus. They stand alone, and gently sway like lonely sentinels watching over a graveyard.

They’ll soon be joined by others, as a greening mass slowly makes its way over the garden. By then, these original sentinels will have faded, making room for others whose time has come.

Although they will not play a part in the final array of spring plants that will soon cover every inch, they’ve played their part in the panoply we welcome as spring...yes, life.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Allure of a Manicure - A Comfort Forfeiture - Old McDonalds Reassures - 3/12/10

Having a manicure is not one of my normal habits but today I indulged myself after looking in disgust at what I call my nails. Walking into a local nail salon for the first time, I was greeted by a woman sitting in a customer chair, manning her laptop, asking me what I wanted. “I’d like a manicure?” “Sit here.” Alrighty then. There were also two men in the rear of the shop, sitting at computers, and as the manicurist and I became situated and began the process, there was a constant stream of conversation between the three of them in their native language (Seinfeld fans, you know what I’m thinking).

Well, so what. English seemed to be a little difficult for her and I’m not a big fan of idle chit-chat anyway. Then she took a personal call on her call phone while she’s working on me - now she’s losing me. But the rest of the manicure transpired silently and I started to look around the shop. Egads! The place was filthy: the towel my hands were on, the dirty little fan used to dry my nails, dust on the entire work station, a small anonymous machine with dried drippings of some mysterious thing along its sides, work chairs stained, dirt on the floor - yikes!

I tried not to think about it while she finished. The concluding procedure was moving me to a counter with some sort of cool (not as in “groovy”) light that was intended to dry my nails. So I’m now in the front of the shop, facing the room. My manicurist immediately returns to my chair with her laptop, faces the two men in the rear, and they all resume their obscure (to me) conversation and computer gaming. Having nothing else to look at, I became the Peeping Thomasina.

During my time under the light, with my hands on the sticky counter, as I was dreaming of washing these same hands, another customer entered and in response to “what do you want?”, asked for a pedicure. Without another word, one of the men got up to wait on her. Division of labor is obviously clearly demarcated. After about 15 minutes at the drying counter, my manicurist turned around to ask me if my nails were dry. Once again, I was taken aback. I assumed I was on a timer of some kind. To my response of “I don’t know, what do you think?”, she said most would be done by now. Good enough for me - just let me out of here.

This was one of the most unprofessional businesses I have ever patronized. And here’s the postscript. My next stop was the gas station. By the time I opened the gas cap and started the pump, four nails were partially ruined, polish still soft enough that I could still ineffectively push it around in a vain attempt to salvage the manicure. Nice. Having hunger pains and wanting to salve the trauma, I treated myself to a McDonald’s cheeseburger and french fries (easy now, it’s been at least six months since I’ve caved to that indulgence). Life is good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Adventures in Wine #2 - January 2010

With a slightly different group, we gathered again. This time we were blind tasting - comparing grapes, and new world vs old world. Discerning the flavors and learning to put a name to that flavor is a skill for which we all strive. Do you taste earthiness, minerality, black cherries, citrus? How about wet earth, chalk, teachers (no, not the last one; that was just a hilarious moment). How oaked is it? Being guided by a passionate expert, it becomes a great learning experience. There were brief moments when our Wine Host lost control of the group but he managed to wrest it back amidst the laughter. And when he waxed on a bit too long in his enthusiasm, his able assistant gave him a gentle nudge to move along.

One member of the group is an Executive Chef and we prevailed upon him to bring the appetizers this time. At our last gathering, he had brought the bulk of the food and anything anyone else had brought paled in comparison. So this excellent decision resulted in a gourmet spread worthy of a fine restaurant.

Wines were kept around the corner and served from within a brown paper bag, identities concealed. Beginning with Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, we compared Chardonnays from France and California, and Rieslings from Germany and Michigan. Moving from whites to reds, next up were Pinot Noirs from France and California. Our one Italian wine was a Sangiovese from Tuscany, and the next four wines were blends from France, Australia, California, and France. (The resulting discussion reminded me of a funny Frasier episode in which Frasier and Niles are competing against each other for Corkmaster of their Wine Club. The final blind taste-off bottle is identified as a Merlot by Niles and a Cabernet by Frasier. The wine is 45% Cabernet and 55% Merlot so Niles wins.) Our last taste-off bottle was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and although we were all sorry to see the evening end, our taste buds were saturated (someone’s lips were numb :) and any further tastings would have been for naught.

It was a very enjoyable evening and here are two important things to take away:

~ Only novices hold up their wine to the light to judge it visually; instead look at it against a white piece of paper.

~ Amateurs are tentative about their opinions; professionals make statements with confidence.

In vino veritas ~

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Acquiring and Discarding

Since I was in my 20s, just married and with my first full-time job, I wanted to acquire things. I had a salary and wanted books, furniture, albums (yes, 33 ½ record albums). Cassette tapes and VHS came out and I needed those too. When “recordable” versions arrived, I ferociously recorded music and movies so I would always have handy anything I wanted.

Shelves to hold my things were necessary as knick-knacks and souvenirs were added. Clothing and jewelry, rugs and art, cookbooks, cooking utensils, and gadgets - my appetite was insatiable. When I had my son, my focus shifted to toys, games, little boy clothes, and anything I thought would enhance his life experience. These items moved along his age continuum and I continued to pour things over him, even when he moved out for the first time.

Now I am in my 50s, looking at 60, and want very little. GoodWill is a constant recipient of my things. Those that have sentimental family value are shipped to family members. My clothes closet is culled at least twice a year and I have empty shelves and hangar space. There are some things with which I cannot part. My mother’s antique teapot and sugar bowl made in Prussia, books that belonged to her father containing his funny inscriptions, a couple of beautiful glass “knick-knacks”, and a partial set of Redwing pottery dishware. Another packed-away box is filled with baby items, a few special blankets and toys, that can bring a tear to my eye just looking at them. Photo albums are stowed on a shelf, though I question their value down the road. Pictures not labeled will be meaningless to my son. Should I go through them and label and date the best I can? Would he care anyway? Probably not. Have you ever seen old photographs for sale in antique stores? It always strikes me as being a little sad. But I digress...

I buy artwork occasionally but need to have a place for it before I bring it home. Books, I still cannot resist. Photos are stored digitally and I have my passwords written down in case I shuffle off this mortal coil unexpectedly. Food and wine are favorite purchases, and I have learned to enjoy the present, magical moment. When I have a chance, I still like to buy things for my son but he resists. We do, however, indulge ourselves with lunch or dinner out every week, at a different restaurant, for conversation and culinary education.

About five years ago, my husband and I stopped at an estate sale down the street. The elderly couple had passed away and their children had hired a company to sell off their goods. We walked through the house and looked at the accumulated items that no family members wanted. The house and garage were stuffed. We bought a few things, antique artifacts, to add to our things, inside and out (yes, I have garden accessories also). But it made me think about what would happen if my husband and I died tomorrow. Our son would inherit a house full of things. Having gone through my mother’s possessions after her death, and I have four siblings, I started to rethink what I wanted to leave for my son. Here’s a house full of stuff, inside and out, a burden for you to deal with - sorry! Striving for simplicity is a worthy goal at any age and I have come to it late in life.

So I am paring down and trying to live more minimalist. We have what we need and that’s good enough. My son will keep all of my books and our artwork, and the baby grand piano. Other than that, I really don’t care. I’ll be gone and life belongs to the living. The things he keeps will be his link to the past but not in a way that drags him down into that past. Everything else will be sloughed off to GoodWill to find its way into someone else’s home that may see that thing as a found treasure. And I’m happy with that. I’m enjoying this very moment and won’t ask for more.