Fire Dancing!

Quote of the day: The most tangible of all visible mysteries – fire.  -Leigh Hunt

Fire Dancing - Infinity

Today I’m actually writing about photography in my blog.  Last night I had a wonderful adventure of taking photographs of a young friend fire dancing in my back yard.  It was pure fun, since I didn’t really know how to best capture the wonder of her dancing and decided to treat the photo shoot as a learning experiment.  I ended up being happily surprised with some of the photos.  And I have some ideas to try next time I can persuade her to come over for another session.

I tried using my new flash with a rear curtain flash but found that illuminated the background too much. This is the first time I’ve used the flash (other than a few experiments) and I have much to learn. I think that if I had adjusted the power of the flash down, I might have had better luck.  At any rate, I turned off the flash,  set my ISO to 3200 and tried some long exposures.  I got some very interesting results.

Timing the shots was challenging. With long exposures and a moving dancer, I found it was more a matter of luck than skill.  As time went on, I got better at choosing the right moments.

We also shot some photos of my young friend using a colorfully lighted hula hoop.  For those shots, I used my flash with rear curtain sync, adjusting the power down.  I think it worked quite well.  But I would like to learn more. If you’ve done photography of fire dancing and have any hints on improving my technique, please leave a comment.

Here are a few more of the photos from last night.

Still Pose

Practice kindness

Quote of the day:      So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world

— Buddha, Metta Suta

Loving-kindness Barn

I stumbled upon this barn the other day in all it’s glory and couldn’t resist coming back to photograph it near sunset.  It made me happy to think of all the people who drive by and see this loving-kindness prayer every day.  It also reminded me to send out thoughts of kindness and compassion to all beings and to practice compassion for myself.

I wrote recently about recognizing that I’ve been operating unconsciously much of the past few months, feeling driven to succeed in my new business venture as a photographer.  When I first realized how driven I’d been, I wanted to beat myself up for once again getting lost in the woods of self-deception.  And then I took a step back and recognized that I had become aware of my self-deception and once aware of it, chose consciously to live differently — for that moment at least.

I decided to imagine what I would say to my best friend if she told me a similar story. I hope that I would speak with great compassion and kindness, like this, “Wow. How wonderful that you woke up to your underlying feelings and intentions.  Do you know how hard it is to wake up in our culture?  Be kind to yourself and recognize that breaking a lifetime of patterns of behavior does not happen overnight.  Each time you think a thought based in loving kindness for yourself and the world, you create a tiny spark of positive energy.  Each time you confront a thought that comes from a sense of fear or lack and replace it with a thought that comes from a sense of gratitude, trust, and kindness, you light a candle in the darkness.  Each time you continue to do what your heart tells you to do rather than listen to fear-based “rational” thoughts, you create an impetus that will grow with each courageous deed.”  So that’s what I’ll tell myself next time I get scared or wake up to how I’ve fallen asleep again.  Loving-kindness as a way of life.

Another Day in Joy School

Quotes of the day:  “You have to sniff out joy. Keep your nose to the joy trail.”  – Buffy Sainte-Marie

“We need Joy as we need air. We need Love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.” – Maya Angelou

Joy School - Blue Skies, Yellow Flowers, Honey Bee

Another day in joy school.  I got up early and went out to Carver Park Reserve, west of the Twin Cities.  Got to the park while the dew was still wet in the grass, the light was golden, and the breeze soft and cool.  Joy!  I had no agenda and no expectations – just me and my camera wandering the trails. Joy!

If your days don’t leave you feeling that you’re in joy school, maybe you should take a little time to stop and breath and find one thing each day that brings you joy.  There’s a lot of chaotic and scary stuff going on in the world and some days it’s hard to hold onto hope, joy, love and peace.  Focusing on the negative doesn’t make the bad stuff go away. It just creates more negativity.  This is a hard lesson for me as I’ve been trained to focus on what needs to be fixed and to plan, solve problems, and work hard. And God knows, I do my share of worrying about everything that’s wrong with the world.  But in my experience, problem-solving and working hard doesn’t create positive change.  Listening, finding what is working, amplifying the positive, being grateful for small blessings, following the soft yearnings of my own heart – these bring transformation which starts to create wholeness and health.  I don’t want to think and work my way into success as our culture defines it, because  I don’t believe we’re going to solve the problems of today’s world with yesterday’s solutions.  Instead I am working on changing and healing the only life I can – my own.

Photography will not solve world hunger, global climate change, or world-wide economic woes.  When I create a photograph that helps me or someone else connect with joy, beauty, and grace, I make a very small positive change.  It’s what brings me joy.  Here’s to another day in joy school.  These area a few of the photos I made today.

Barn and Silo on a Country Road
Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed
Signs of Fall
Golden Grass
Red Sumac Leaves
Trumpeter Swan Family

Lost in the Woods

Quote of the day: “To be human is to be lost in the woods. None of us arrives here with clear directions on how to get from point A to point B without stumbling into the forest of confusion or catastrophe or wrongdoing.  Although they are dark and dangerous, it is in the woods that we discover our strengths.”  – Elizabeth Lesser from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.

In the Woods

About three and a half months ago I was laid off from my job of 16 years as a software engineer.  After the layoff, I decide to live differently, focusing on living simply and sustainably, doing what I love (photography and gardening), and making a positive difference in the world.  Yesterday I realized that even though I had made a decision to embrace a different kind of life, I was lost in the woods of self-delusion – again.  While I haven’t been punching a time-clock or heading out to the office every day, I have been driving myself to do more, learn faster, and to succeed, whatever that means.

It drives me crazy that my ego carries on the games of trying, doing, measuring up, when I know that happiness does not lie in external achievements or things.  OK – we all get lost in the woods sometimes or maybe we’re lost in the woods most of the time. But occasionally we wake up and find our true path. When I’m awake I choose with presence.  Yesterday I took a real walk in the woods (as opposed to a metaphorical walk in the woods) and took no photos – just walked and talked with a friend. I checked nothing off my lengthy to-do list. It was a great walk. It was a great day.  This morning I got up and did what I love – went out into the woods with my camera and took photos.  It was a good morning.  Here a few of the photos I took today.

A View Through the Reeds - Wood Lake
Hanging Out on the Boardwalk
Great Day for a Swim
Boardwalk Across the Marsh
My Heart is in the Woods

Life is Simple


Quote of the day: “When I think about simplifying my life, I see it as a process, rather than a thing or a destination. There is no point in time when I will say to myself, ‘Ah, I have arrived. Isn’t this grand?’ It is not something that I have accomplished. It is not even anything I can really define.” – Linda Breen Pierce in Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World.

So it is with all of life.  We never arrive. There is always room to learn and grow. Today has been full of opportunities for growth.  Here is just a short sample of my thoughts during the day.

Where’s the joy? Where’s the passion?  Where’s the fun? Why am I so out of sorts and grouchy?  Tasks that just yesterday felt like fun have lost their zest.  When I look at my work I see faults and issues.  When I contemplate the future I feel worry.  And to top it off, I haven’t been out making new photos for over a week because of some back pain issues.  Even doing still life photos at home doesn’t appeal to me today.  I’m not sure where this mood has come from but it sure is uncomfortable.

Yesterday I spent several hours framing photos for my first exhibit.  It was great seeing how everything came together and I was jazzed by seeing my work matted and framed.  But here’s the rub, I’m also feeling uncertain about how the exhibit will go.  Will others see beauty in my work? Or will they think it’s amateur and boring?  I know. I know. I’m not doing this for others.  My photographs are reflections of how I see the world.  They are expressions of gratitude to the flower kingdom and the trees and the water and to life. But…I can’t afford to keep doing this if no one wants to buy my work. OK, this is fear speaking and judgment and probably a little bit of ego.  Let it go.  Feelings come and feelings go. They are not reality. Breath.  Focus on the next right thing.  Let the other stuff go.  Feels like an AA meeting – one day at a time, one moment at a time.  Life is simple when you live in the moment.  It’s the days when I’m not living in the moment that are complicated.


Surrender to the moment

Quote of the day: 

This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.

Another challenging week for me.  This time it wasn’t my mind that did me in. It was my body.  For some mysterious reason, my low back kicked up with huge pain last weekend and I’m still moving very carefully almost a week later.  At least I’m moving – a little (actually a very little).  And while I had planned to spend my week differently, I’ve discovered once more that I need to surrender into the moment.

At first I was just plain grouchy.  “This isn’t what I planned to be doing” I complained to myself.  “I have so much to do, I don’t have time to lie around and rest.”  Eventually I recognized the futility of my resisting my current reality.  Since I could hardly move, couldn’t bend over, and looked like a little old lady shuffling around the house and easing myself gently and slowly into chairs I finally accepted that I needed to slow down and rest.  The photos I planned to mat and frame will wait another week.  The photography outings I planned to make will also wait.

I soon discovered that even “down time” can be productive.  First, I took some time out to design my new business card.  After looking at many designs online and not finding anything that felt right for me, I finally took one of my recent photos and re-worked it to use on a business card.  I think it turned out well – can’t wait to see it from the printer.  Earlier this week I spent a lot of time learning and experimenting with different blog layouts and settings.   I was able to do a lot of reading and research on Etsy shop setup and selling.  Since I plan to open an Etsy shop soon, everything I learned will be put to use.  Last night I met with a friend of my daughter’s who wants some photos of her fire dancing and we had a great visit as well as finding an opportunity to barter some of her web savvy for my photography.  It’s going to be great fun photographing her fire dancing!  Today I visited a coffee shop in Edina (managed by another friend of my daughter’s) where I’m happy to say I will be exhibiting my work during the month of November.  I’ve also been working on cash flow analysis, a task that sadly has been languishing in my “I should do this but I don’t want to” bin for too long.   While it still feels a little awkward projecting future sales without any real experience, I’m beginning to get a feel for all of the costs I need to take into account when I price my work.  And on top of all of this, I am so much more relaxed and centered than I was last week.

Right now I’m sitting on my deck on a slightly overcast afternoon listening to the birds, soaking in the green all around, and writing about surrendering to the moment.  How great is that?

Finding Your Voice

Quote of the day: “An artist marks out time and space boundaries or forms through which she will reveal the infinite.” , “Zen – the infinite way of doing finite things.”  Laurence G. Boldt in “Zen and the Art of Making a Living”

Last Saturday I took in the Powderhorn Park Art Fair in Minneapolis and visited with several photographers who were selling photographs at the art fair.  I found myself drawn to photographers whose work spoke in a “clear voice.”  They didn’t try to be all things to all people.  Rather, they developed their own unique voice and view of the world through their photography.  In my work, I aim for revealing the extraordinary that is hidden in ordinary life.  I see life through a lens of the heart.  Everything is sacred and beauty is hidden in plain sight.

Dragonfly Gardening

Quote of the day: “Whoever heard of dragonfly gardening?” — Me

A couple of years ago I was working on finding an image that expressed how I wanted to live my life.  I was tired of carrying around the image of having to work hard doing something I didn’t love and believing that it was only through struggle one could succeed. I knew that my current work life wasn’t working for me any more. And since I am a visual person, the first step in creating a change was to come up with an image that expressed the feeling I wanted to evoke in my life. I love gardening and I love dragonflies.  After playing around with several ideas, it struck me that I’d never heard anyone talk about dragonfly gardening.  I’d heard of butterfly gardens but who ever heard of dragonfly gardening?  I loved the freedom I felt imagining my life purpose as dragonfly gardening.  Who in the heck knows how to do dragonfly gardening?  Perfect.  There is no one right way.  There is no thing I need to do. Dragonflies seem to do just fine without any work or trying or intervention from us humans.  They are wondrous, beautiful creatures.  I’ve carried this playful image with me since then and it has inspired me to embark on my journey as a photographer.

Today while I was making photographs in the garden that surrounds the duplex where my daughter lives, I found a wonderful string of dragonfly lights hanging over the garage window.  The window was reflecting the garden. Magical! Dragonfly Gardening! I’m jazzed thinking about all of the wonderful things I’m creating in my dragonfly garden.

We are all artists.

Quote of the day: “Conceiving of ourselves as artists in whatever work we do gives us a metaphor for a life of integrity, service, enjoyment, and excellence.”  Laurence G. Boldt in Zen and the Art of Making a Living.

Each one of us every day has the opportunity to live as an artist.  What does it mean to live as an artist?  I think it means living with authenticity, courage, compassion, and vulnerability.  Making art or making an artful life means being willing to be seen. That can be scary because we worry about being judged or looking stupid.  But I have found that the stuff that makes me feel vulnerable is the stuff that carries the juice that makes me feel alive and brings me joy.  Each time I publish a photo online or write a blog entry or tell someone about the photo exhibit I’m preparing for, I get a little scared.  At the same time, I love what I am doing and can’t not do it.  Today I took photos to Blick Art Store to make the final prints for my exhibit.  As I was talking with the printer and looking at the images all of these thoughts about how this guy must be judging my work were going through my head.  When I told a friend about my fears about my work, he asked me who I was making the photographs for.  At first I said, “Myself – I’m making them to please myself.”  But then I realized that really my photographs are my gifts of gratitude and love to the creator.  Who am I to judge or worry about others judging me?  My job is to show up, be present, and to see with my heart.