Pixels and Prose

The years are flying by...

April 17, 2019  •  1 Comment

Can it really be two years since posting to this blog?  Surely, something eventful has happened during that time.


Today I sit here contemplating how much I want to get into my little cottage garden and do some planting of bright flowers, but I am recuperating from a right knee replacement that was done the end of February.  Old age has crept in unexpectedly and the osteoarthritis has taken it's toll on my knees.  When the right knee became painful to walk due to bone-on-bone and multiple bone spurs, I knew the time had come to have the surgery.


The surgery was done in the late afternoon and by 11PM, I was walking the halls with a walker without pain and thinking... this is a "piece of cake"!  Oh!  How wrong I was!  When the nerve block wore off in about 24 hours, the pain started in earnest!  I had no idea it would be so painful!  I became dependent on my husband to drive me around and do the grocery shopping and help with meals.  I started going to rehab twice a week, and the simplest maneuvers would bring a scowl to my face as the pain was intense, but I blundered along knowing it was so important to my recovery.


I would frequently ice my knee with a bag of frozen peas to decrease swelling and inflammation and I watched way too much TV.  I was becoming depressed and  frustrated with the situation as I like to be up and about and independent.  My little "therapy dog" Mollie Sue, the black pug, was always by my side and she gave me great comfort.


But gradually I started feeling better, thanks to the pain med, and I was walking with my walker.  One day when I was going to rehab, my sense of humor was once again kicking in... and that's a good thing!  I decided to put my spare license plate (yes, my grandchildren call me "Lala") on the front of my walker.  After all... I wanted to be legal!  You should have heard the laughter when I walked into the waiting area at rehab.  Laughter is indeed good medicine!

User comments

Before long, I had no need for the walker or those elastic stockings which are a b**** to get on. 


But wait... there is more to this story!  When I started getting these "electrical shocks" to my knee as it was healing, in my demented brain, I knew what it was all about!  My doctor... "Dr. B", being forward thinking , was indeed using me as his test subject for a SELF-DRIVING KNEE.  How cool is that?  And... he had a GPS implanted in the knee so that he could monitor my whereabouts from his phone! 


So, if you see a 73 year old woman using a walker suddenly veer from a parking lot to a major roadway... have no fear.  It is just me!  I am being monitored and my self-driving knee will immediately change course and hopefully keep me safe!  (Just a little more craziness!)


El Gato and the Impatient Gardener

May 06, 2017  •  1 Comment

Spring has sprung and so has my little cottage garden.  This will be the second year for the garden and of course, the question comes... what has survived from the previous year, and will I recognize it?  I go out each morning after breakfast to check on the progress.

The birds are chirping and fluttering from feeder to feeder.  They bring such simple joy to my life as I watch them.  They are getting braver as they see me so often and are becoming a bit more trusting but there is no bird like my Lucky, the mourning dove.  Lucky and I developed a relationship last year when he would walk up to me within arm's reach and we would talk.  He showed no signs of fear and this interaction happened again and again.


There are a myriad of birds visiting... the mourning doves, a white winged dove, a Eurasian dove (last year), purple finches, a chickadee, a robin, cardinals, blue jays, and grackles.  And of course there is a squirrel.  I have named him "Quirrel" and he too is becoming braver when I am in the garden.  Last year we had a toad and there are several little lizards (anoles) that call my garden home.  And I get especially excited when the butterflies, moths and dragonflies visit.

Purple Finches at the Feeder "Quirrel" in a Group Hug"Quirrel" in a Group Hug

There is also a cat who hides in the tall plants.  I never know when he is there as he makes no noise.  He always sees me before I see him, and he gets spooked when he sees me, and jumps out of the garden and runs to the fence.  Once at the top of the fence he will pause and watch me for a bit and then go down the other side.  I call him El Gato.  He is an "illegal alien" from the neighborhood and in spite of the wall/privacy fence, he gets in and out without difficulty.  I worry that he will harm a bird.

Gardening in Texas is difficult.  The heat is intense in the summer months and along with that comes the drought.  This spring, the wind has been frequent and strong but at least we have gotten occasional rain.  I am impatient to fill in the "holes" in my garden and have it look complete and consequently, I am impulsive when buying plants.  Mine is not a manicured garden but what I call a "cottage garden" filled with both natives, and perennials that hopefully will proliferate and return year after year, and then there are annuals for immediate satisfaction.  But... I want to learn more so what better way than to go to the FREE classes offered by North Haven Gardens in Dallas.  I love this nursery.  They have a huge selection of plants, a café, an art gallery and all of the employees are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  Oh... and did I fail to mention their plant lists?  They are excellent!


I have attended classes on butterfly gardening, native plants, passionvines, and perennials.  The class on Tried and True Natives and Perennials was given by Rusty Allen.  There was uproarious laughter when he introduced himself and said "My name is Rusty and I have killed mint!"  Now, everyone knows it is next to impossible to kill mint!


When you have a very small garden, you must be careful of what you plant.  I do not want to deal with invasive plants.  Early in the season I went to a local nursery and came home with several plants, one of them being broom.  It had delicate little leaves and the most beautiful yellow flowers.  It was an impulsive buy and I had the perfect place for it, but before planting it, I checked it out on the internet.  Oh no!  What have I done?  It is extremely invasive and is highly toxic and is known to have killed cows!  Now, I don't have any cows in my little back yard but I do have two dogs.  I immediately returned it to the store and got my money back when I explained why I could not keep it.










Last year, an unknown plant popped up in my garden.  I had no idea what it was but it was green, had nice leaves and looked so healthy.  I watched it grow... and grow... and grow.  It was nearly as tall as me!  I was intrigued as to what it was.  Finally it bloomed and much to my dismay... it was goldenrod, but it really gave a pop of yellow color to the garden at a time when some plants were stressed by the heat and drought.

This year, in the same general area, I again saw a plant growing that I wasn't sure I recognized as one I had planted.  And then it was popping up in a couple more areas of the garden.  It got taller and taller.  I became suspicious.  Had the goldenrod reseeded?  I was not about to wait for it to bloom as it might take over my entire garden, so I donned my gardening gloves and started pulling it out.  The roots were huge and it took all my strength to pull them out. 

As I kept pulling, I suddenly saw feathers on the ground and then the remains of a grackle with only the head remaining.

I was so sad to see this and assumed that it was El Gato, hunkered down in the vegetation, who surprised the bird.  And in that same area of the garden I had a metal sculpture of a cat with some birdseed in it.  Little did I know that this was only adding to the problem bringing the birds into a cat's reach .  So I have pulled all the goldenrod and now will replant the area within the next week.

I love all animals and wish the cat no harm, but will watch for him as I do not want the birds put in jeopardy.


There is lots of trial and error in gardening.  My biggest mistake last year was planting sweet potato vine.  I love that bright chartreuse color in the garden and it actually grew very well... maybe too well, as I would fill half a garbage bin weekly with trimmed sweet potato vine just to keep it in bounds and prevent it from choking out the other plants.  I certainly made myself a lot of extra work!


So to all of you out there... Happy Gardening!  It is always an adventure!


Check out my two favorite nurseries:

North Haven Gardens in Dallas: http://www.nhg.com/

Covington's Nursery in Rowlett: http://www.covingtonnursery.com/

Old People Should Not Be Left Alone in the Garden!

October 30, 2016  •  4 Comments

I cannot believe I am even entering this in my blog, but in retrospect, it is too funny not to!

My days often begin in my little garden.  I wander out in my nightgown (well, we do have a high fence!) and sit on my covered patio with camera in hand, and settle into my favorite chair and wait for the action to happen.  It is closer to 9AM when the garden becomes more active as that is when the butterflies start to flutter about.

I had not sat down for more than a minute when I saw some activity by the herb barrel.  A skipper butterfly had landed on the broken sun ornament.

From beneath the herbs, out comes the little anole in search of a good meal.  He sat there very still watching the butterfly before making his move, and then he suddenly lurched towards the butterfly, but the butterfly was quick and flew off, and the lizard scampered back into hiding amongst the herbs.

This scenario played out again, and that is when I got the "brilliant" idea of sitting on the little stool that was on the patio.  I moved it to the stone walkway in the garden to get a better perspective of the action and patiently waited... and then... it happened again!  But again, the butterfly got away and the lizard went into hiding.

While I sat there waiting for the next encounter, I looked around for another photo op and suddenly saw a wee tiny baby lizard on the head of the pug dog sculpture.  How cute he was!  I leaned a bit to get him in focus as I had my long lens on the camera and was really quite close, snapped the photo, and as I did so, the little stool suddenly gave way and threw me to the ground!  I was still holding my camera and had no way of catching myself!  HOLY CRAP!

Now, to a young person this is not a big deal, but as you get older and osteoarthritis sets in, it is difficult to put pressure on your knees to get up due to the excruciating pain.  As I lay there on my back with my camera still in my hands, I had no idea how I would get up.  I rolled to my side, knowing full well that I would have to somehow land on my knees.  As I lay there, I see the fireants coming my way!  Oh no!  I've got to do something... and quickly!  I called out to my husband for help, but little did I know that he was taking a shower and heard nothing!

So, I proceeded to position my knees on the grassy area between the stones and with much frustration and pain, finally got up and hobbled to the safety of my chair.  I lifted my camera and took a shot but it was totally whited out! 

Panic sets in!  Did I break my camera in the fall?  I repeat the action two more times with the same results, and then I realized that somehow the dial must have gotten turned to manual from the aperture setting in the fall.  I corrected the setting, took a shot of my poor stool, and it was sharp and appropriately exposed. 

Whew!  So glad I saved the camera!  Life is about priorities, you know!

I am now nursing sore knees, but in retrospect, it was a funny scenario.  My left knee used to be my "good" knee... but no more!  Getting old is not for sissies!

My lovely little stool with the honeybees on the seat is beyond repair, so I take the seat and place it on the mantel for now.  Yes, just another memory in the adventure of life!  It is good to be able to laugh at your own antics.  Laughter is good medicine... it helps the pain go away! 


The Tornado Just Keeps on Giving

October 25, 2016  •  1 Comment

I am a collector... of sorts!  I have collected bits and pieces of things I have loved or things that have held memories from the time I was a young girl.  After all... that is what a proper attic is for!  But in the newer houses in Texas, there is little storage space and the attic is nothing like the attic that I grew up knowing.  Our attic was nearly the full size of the house and was reached by permanent stairs behind a closed door. 

I loved to play in the attic as a child... so many cool things to discover.  I would dress up in old clothes that my mother had squirreled away.  Some were dressy and made of beautiful fabrics with rhinestone buttons and I would model them in front of the dusty mirror with boxes and pieces of furniture all around.  And my favorite piece of furniture was our old victrola.  As a matter of fact, I took it apart one rainy Saturday and then realized I could not put it back together.  Hmmm... I wonder what happened to it and what it might be worth today?

Once a year my mother would clean the attic... usually in August, probably the hottest month of the year in New Jersey.  And, of course, the attic had no air circulation and would feel like you were only seconds from landing on the sun!  Never once did I think to say to my mother that perhaps we should clean the attic in the spring.  We would sort through things, donate some things, repurpose others and what we didn't want, would go in a small bonfire.  That's how you did it back then.

Fast forward about 60 years and it brings us to today... almost a year, post tornado.  I was thankful for all the help from friends and family to salvage what could be salvaged from the debris of the tornado and now, when I look at what is in our two storage areas, I know that I never stopped collecting.  I have always loved glassware and tabletop collectibles, as well as photos, bits and pieces of paper treasures and those wonderful finds at garage sales and estate sales.  Oh!  And did I forget to mention my collection of rubber rats?  So many memories!

Yesterday I was going through another box of stuff and found  3 "nested" faux books decorated with flowers and butterflies.  As I un-nested the books, I found in the smallest one a little wallet of old photos from years ago that held photos of my classmates.  Most had a little something written by that person on the back.  Stuffed inside the plastic sleeves were also ticket stubs and a lock of someone's hair!  Yes... I was a collector... of sorts, even back then!  And then I pulled out a folded piece of paper that read "Ghost Town Menu". 

Cue up the scary music! 

I had no recollection of saving this, but how appropriate that I am finding this just before Halloween.  I thought it was terribly clever and well written and decided to add a few of my photos to go with it.  It is totally worthless except for the giggles it gives me so many years later.  And isn't that the joy of saving things... you can enjoy them again in years to come!  The top photo is the "tornado pasta" that I found in the hot refrigerator in the remains of the blown apart house, and then we have my friend "Mr. Bones" in his spaceship ready for take-off and then sitting in the cemetery.  Mr. Bones was saved from the tornado as he rode it out in the front passenger seat of my car (the "lalamobile").  You just can't make this stuff up!



To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow...

September 17, 2016  •  3 Comments

Thanks to the tornado... we have downsized from a two story home with soaring ceilings and light flooding into each room to a modest little cottage (as I call it), to end our days.  It is on one level with a living room, small dining area,  kitchen, bedroom, two baths, two computer rooms and a laundry room.  Just enough space... and not too much.  Oh... and did I forget to mention, a very small backyard with privacy fence?  This is the suburbs of Dallas, you know.

We are now in our 70's... a scary thought!  Where did the years go?  Life is different now.  Body parts ache that never ached before and I find that I tire more easily.  The hopes and dreams of younger days are gone.  Time is not on my side and I have come to see life differently.  I am thankful for each morning I can put my feet on the floor, stand up and enjoy the simple things in life.

But... I still need to "believe in tomorrow"!  I need something to look forward to.  I am not talking about expensive trips, or extravagant shopping forays, but simply, something to hold my interest on a daily basis.  I have become very frugal in my old age. 

The house we bought has a simple rustic stone path curving across the back and the side yard, behind an 8-foot privacy fence.  It is a shallow yard area with nothing planted and to the side of the house... a huge cottonwood tree.  Initially, I loved that tree until I found out that a cottonwood is one of the fastest growing trees and has menacing roots that had already infiltrated the foundation of the house.  Not good!  When the wind blew... the leaves sounded like the tinkling of rain, but I worried that the tree might fall on our house or the neighbor's house in a bad wind storm. It should have never been planted there.  It was a disaster waiting to happen... and I have had enough of disasters!  It was a spring day when I decided to eat lunch outside and found bits of "cotton" floating in the air, directly onto my lunch.  That's when I decided that the tree had to go!  Thanks to Danny and his crew from Arborworks, that tree became history in just a few hours!

My next plan was to have a flower garden.  This lousy clay soil is dreadful to dig in and there was no way I could physically do the digging, so I hired Covington's nursery to plant a Natchez crape myrtle and to dig a flowerbed along part of the pathway.  They amended the soil and dug me a proper garden... a lot of hard work in the heat of the unrelenting Texas sun and they did a marvelous job!

I watered the crape myrtle tree as instructed but suddenly, after a 107-degree day, the leaves were scorched and the tree looked to be dying.  So... was it transplant shock, and would it survive?  Very much like the tornado did to me... initial shock but then, a will to survive.  I did not give up hope and in a few weeks I saw some new green leaves emerging and even a few blooms and now the tree looks robust and healthy again!  Yes... to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow!

But wait... here is the problem.  I love nature.  I used to live in the country in New Jersey on nearly 3 wooded acres.  I loved it there!  It was quiet, peaceful and wildlife and wildflowers were outside my back door as well as a little brook and pond area.  Why did I ever move to Texas?  I still ask myself that on a daily basis!  I needed a bit of nature now, more than ever in my life, and I was determined to make my little flower garden my tiny oasis... my getaway... my escape.  I started planting a few perennials along with some annuals, things that I knew could survive the Texas scorching heat.  Summers are incredibly long and hot here and not all plants adapt and now, with the tree gone, I had no shade!  This would be a garden of trial and error.  A huge learning curve!

Did I have a plan?  No, not really... just flying by the seat of my pants.  If I liked it, it got planted, and very slowly my little garden was taking shape.  Those delphiniums that were so beautiful when planted, suddenly were looking sad as the summer heat wore on.  I do love blue in the garden, but was it a mistake to try to grow them here?  I don't know.  Only time will tell.  Some things lived and some things died.  My sunflowers that I planted from seed gave me great joy as they stood tall and faced the sun and I will definitely plant more next year.

And then I had a brilliant idea of planting some sweet potato vine to help fill out the garden and give it a pop of chartreuse color.  But... would they survive in the heat and sun?  I planted a few, and then planted a few more.  They not only survived but proliferated.  They were running rampant and trying to strangle the plants that were already there.  A couple times a week I would go out and clip them back and filled half a garbage bin on a weekly basis with the trimmings.  Yikes!  What had I done?  I sure made myself a lot more work and if I stood in one spot for any length of time, they might even strangle me!!

Each morning I start my day with my little black pug, Mollie Sue at my side, and we sit quietly in the garden together.  Living here is not like living in the country.  There is constant noise!  I have to tune out the drone of air conditioners, cars going by, dogs barking, children playing, planes flying overhead and the sound of sirens in the distance.  This is the price you pay for the convenience of shopping close-by, medical care nearly on your doorstep, and being close to family.  So many trade offs!

But suddenly, my attention is on the birds coming to the feeders... purple finches, cardinals, doves (Eurasian collared doves, white winged doves and mourning doves) and an occasional blue jay.

 And then unexpectedly I will see a shadow fly by and see a butterfly flitting amongst the flowers or a dragonfly perching on top of a stem. 

 How excited I was when I discovered a little green lizard.  I named him "Andy" Anole and before long there was another and I named her "Andrea" Anole.  And now, there are babies.  The one I call "Anatole" Anole and I have not yet named the other one. I sit and talk to them and they sit quietly as I ramble on. 

We play a game called "Spin the Lizard".  Here's the technique...

"Anatole" tries to hide in amongst the flowers in the hanging basket.. 
I am holding my camera and macro lens with my right hand.
My left hand is beneath the basket giving it a gentle spin.
"Anatole" pops his head up.
I stop the spinning basket and take a photo.

He hides... and we do it again!
Now, that's CrAzY!


I have had a similar experience with a mourning dove that comes each evening and sits with me and does not seem the least bit afraid.  He will come within arm's reach and we have a one-sided conversation but he will occasionally cock his head as though he is listening to me.  I have named him Lucky.  The one day he visited in the afternoon and was not about to let me out the back gate to pick up my grandson from school.  He would not budge until finally he saw me opening the gate and he took off.

And then there is the garden clown.  I call him "Quirrel".  He is a bit skittish but will go through all kinds of antics to get to the bird feeder and devour all the sunflower seeds.  And when he sees me... there is no time for small talk.  He takes off and climbs the fence holding on with his sharp little claws.

As I sit in my little cottage garden, I have my camera in my hands to document the activity in my urban oasis.  My biggest surprise came when I was shooting the fritillary caterpillars on the passionflower vine.  I was using my macro lens and concentrating on getting the caterpillar in focus and when I put the photo on the screen of the computer, there was a huge surprise!  Near the caterpillar was the one-and-only Andy Anole!  I shrieked with joy when I saw him and could not believe that he was right there and I never saw him as I was taking the photo. 

Honestly!  Photography is better than therapy!  It just keeps me happy.

It seems that each day there is a new adventure.  I look forward to my time spent in the garden and it has given me reason to believe in tomorrow!.       I invite you to come into my garden, sit for a while, smell the flowers and watch as the wildlife in my garden plays out.  There is never a boring day, but sometimes you must take the time to look a bit more closely for the beauty and drama as it unfolds. 

Yes... to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow!          



Craving Normal

July 03, 2016  •  4 Comments


It has been a little over 6 months since the tornado struck and destroyed our home.  Through the kindness of family, friends and strangers we have managed to see our way through a complicated maze in an attempt to put our lives in some kind of order.  There are no words to thank you enough for the help in retrieving belongings from the rubble left by the storm, for the gift cards and donations at a time when we were so overwhelmed that just going to the store to buy some underwear seemed a daunting task.

A caring e-mail meant so much and an invitation to have a simple breakfast or lunch at a local restaurant helped break the monotony of list-making and planning.  Every day another list of things to do, people to call and paperwork to fill out.  Each night I would fall into bed exhausted but still could not sleep as my mind was going 24/7, searching the remains of the house (in my mind), looking for things I had lost and wondering if they might have been found.  And rather than feeling refreshed in the morning, I was tired beyond belief... physically and emotionally exhausted.

Finding a place to live was of utmost importance.  Each morning I would pore over the real estate available as we had decided to buy rather than rebuild.  The long drawn out ordeal of rebuilding and all the decisions necessary were more than we felt we could handle at this stage of our lives and we certainly did not want to end up in debt.  We simply wanted to downsize to a single level home and return to some kind of normal... whatever that is!

So, to make a long story short, we found a house to buy and are now settling in.  It is nothing like our other home, and I will admit that I miss the architecture of the other house and all the light that filled each room but this house is considerably smaller, easy to live in, and I hope to make it a cozy place to end our days.

I crave normal.  Something as simple as fixing dinner takes my mind off of the ongoing to-do list, so yesterday I decided to make a Mexican Chopped Salad.  I love to cook and I love to try new recipes.  Most of my cookbooks are gone but there is no shortage of recipes on the internet and I like tweaking them a bit to make them my own.  I started by making the dressing.  Oil, lime juice, honey, and cumin.  A simple but tasty combination.  I then started chopping and tossing the veggies into a bowl.  Tomatoes, peppers, jicama, cucumber, romaine, onions, corn cut from the cob, cilantro and black beans.  But wait!  Where is my can opener?  I was sure I had it here.  But... there was no can opener to be found.  Probably in another box somewhere.

My dinner was nearly ready but I wanted those black beans in my salad, so off I go to the Neighborhood Market to buy a can opener.  I wonder to myself why beans cannot come in a container that does not require a special opener.  So... do the homeless have can openers?  After all... beans are cheap and you can eat them cold or hot and they are high in protein.

As I entered the market, an employee who I always see when I visit was standing there and I explained my dilemma and asked her if they sold can openers.  "Well, of course we do", she replied.  We headed off to find them and suddenly there at the end of an aisle were cans of beans and can openers!!  We got a good laugh out of that and she apologized that they did not have fancy can openers... you know... electric ones.  Heck... I just needed something to open the stupid can and this opener was ergonomically correct and had black handles... and you know I like black!  How lucky could I be!

I took off for home with can opener in hand and proceeded to finish fixing my dinner. 

Yes... that tornado just keeps on "giving" when you might least expect it.

For the recipe: http://www.pbase.com/shutterpug/image/163602428


"D" Day... Demolition Day

March 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The tornado struck the day after Christmas at about 6:45PM and in a matter of 15 seconds we lost our home.  Our lives were turned upside down but the good news is... we and our two dogs survived as we took shelter in the bedroom closet.

It has been a long and arduous journey to reach "D" Day.  I have experienced every emotion possible in dealing with this disaster... tears, anger, frustration, impatience, thankfulness and even some levity to help me through it all.  I have seen the kindness of both friends and strangers who have come forward to help us pick up (literally) the remains of our lives and help us along our way to recovery, not to mention the ongoing support and hard work by our daughters and their husbands.  We could not have done it without each and every one of you! 


For those who know me, I often say that photography has saved my life so many times.  It takes me to a better place, helps me to focus on the moment and is a great stress reliever.  I have not been able to do as much photography as I would like since the tornado struck but am thankful that my son-in-law, Anthony climbed the ladder to the second floor of what remained of the house and found my camera amongst the debris.  He took a long piece of wood and picked the camera up by it's strap and lifted it to safety.  The camera was partially under debris and was covered with insulation but miracle of miracles... it still works!  Canon makes a tough product!  They have made a believer out of me!

Yay!  My camera was found!Yay! My camera was found!My son-in-law climbed a ladder to peer into my computer room on the second floor. The roof was gone and part of the room had dropped down into the bedroom and masterbath below. Along with it went almost 1,000 cookbooks and magazines. But he saw my Canon 5D Mark ll and pulled it to safety with a 2x4! And it still works!!! Canon makes a tough product, that's for sure!

Nearly every day, I would go to the remains of the house and find another bit of my life to salvage.  I became obsessed with finding what I could and could not sleep at night as, in my mind, I would still be searching and wondering if certain items had been found.  Each day that I would return to the house, more of the structure would have caved in and it was becoming more dangerous to enter some areas.  I could see things but could not safely get to them.


It was almost a relief when "D" Day came as it would mark the end to my searching and hopefully bring closure to this part of my life.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  Interestingly enough, demolition came on a day exactly 28 years from the day when we moved into the house.  My husband moved to Texas ahead of us and rented an apartment.  Our youngest daughter Missy and I came to Texas on Valentine's Day in 1988, stayed in the apartment that night and then moved into the house the day after Valentine's Day.  Who knew at that time how things would eventually play out 28 years later?


As painful as it was, I was there when the demolition took place.  I had my camera in my hands to help me stay focused.  I watched with tears in my eyes as the remaining walls came down with a thud and the dust of debris flew into the air.  As the monster machine pushed the debris into a pile, I thought about what a photo friend's daughter had written when she saw the house for the first time.  I actually only knew Rajesh from the photos he would post on-line but I got to meet him and his two lovely daughters when they came to "the house" on New Year's Day, 2016, to help pick through the debris to help salvage and box what might be found.  

Rajesh wrote... "I spent this New Year's day afternoon visiting and trying to help a photographer/blogger friend in Rowlett, Texas. My kids joined me and here is the experience narrated by Nayana, my 12 year old. The destruction is mind boggling. It was heart warming to see friends help each other out including total strangers."  In my 6th Grader Nayana's words...


"As we entered the house, I pulled my jacket up over my nose. Glass crunched under my shoes and dust particles and debris littered the ground. I looked up to see what used to be the roof. The beams were exposed, and it looked like an angry giant had punched through the ceiling. “So, this is what happens in a tornado” I murmured.

I walked out to the driveway where dozens of boxes were being packed with trinkets, posters and other things that had survived the tornado. So many people were busily moving about, packing, cleaning and helping. I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could do to help.

“How do we know Fay again?” my sister Anika asked. “Well, she is with me in the Rowlett Photography Group on Facebook and she needed help” my dad replied. “There she is”. He was looking towards a lady wearing a black coat, holding a cardboard box. Despite the fact that we were surrounded by destruction, she was smiling and laughing. She told us how she and her husband along with their two dogs had 15 seconds to take cover in the closet. Looking at the destruction all around us, it was a miracle there were no injuries to them.

There were still a lot of things visible inside the house and the garage that have not been retrieved. Perhaps it was unsafe to go into those areas. There were hard hats available and every one there including us wore masks, gloves and other protection. We spent the next hour or so trying to help loading some boxes and trying to stay out of the way of other people helping. We prepared to leave as the trucks were loaded up with Fay’s belongings headed to the storage facility in Royse City because all the storage facilities in Rowlett were full.

Since we had never seen such a calamity and we were in the area, we went to the car and took out my dad’s camera and walked around the neighborhood taking pictures of the incredibly sad scenes.  As we went around the road, I noticed how one house would be intact maybe with some roof shingles ripped off, and the next would completely be destroyed.

A man across the street had put some boxes of food, cups, boxes of soda and other things under a tent. The house behind him had only one fourth of it left standing. We walked across the rubble and crossed the hardwood floors now covered with dust. Everything was gone except a small part of a staircase which we found out later was where the three teenage boys in the house took shelter when the tornado hit. All of them miraculously escaped.

My dad asked the man if it was his house that was rubble now. He replied, “It is my sister’s house and her kids were in the house when the tornado hit. They stayed in the closet. That’s what kept them alive. One of them has cut on his arm and is in the hospital. But it could have been a lot worse”. The rest of the house that wasn’t standing was blown over and was sitting on its side.

We crossed the road to the other side where was similar destruction that was left behind by the tornado. We saw a stop sign that was turned 180 degrees and lay flat on the ground. I could look through the crushed sides of some houses and find myself staring out of another giant hole in the back.

We were about to leave and head home when my dad stopped. He looked across the street. “That” he said “is a symbol of the Texas spirit”. He was pointing to a flag that was attached to a tree. It was slightly battered, but its colors were bright. And the Lone Star stood defiantly in the midst of the destruction."



The Rest of the Story

January 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The traffic was bumper-to -bumper as I headed to the local Target store a couple days post-tornado.  I needed to pick up some basic items but also needed underwear.  Oh... the things we take for granted until we have none!  It was the first time since the disaster that I felt just a bit "normal" as I drove to the store.  For a few minutes, in my mind, I put the immediate concerns aside and delighted in the normalcy of the drive. 


It didn't take me long in the store.  I was tired and hungry and looked for the shortest aisle to check out.  It was there that I saw an African American woman at the cash register.  She had such a kind and beautiful face and her earrings caught my eye as they were huge silver crosses.  As I loaded my things on the conveyer belt, she lightheartedly said... "How are you today?"  I could have simply said fine but instead, I said that I could be better, and told her that we had lost our home in the tornado.  With that she said that God had brought me to her aisle to check out.


I know she meant well but at that moment, I was hardly in the mood to hear the "God-thing".  I just wanted to get "home" and curl up in my cozy quilt and have some dinner.  So, I gently broke the news to her that I am an atheist.  I really did not want anyone trying to convert me in the midst of dealing with our loss.  She went on to tell me that she is an ordained minister and that she wished I did believe, but told me that God loves me anyway.  She said that she knows I have a good heart.  OK... so I have to admit, that response threw me.  I fully expected a negative response from her or more proselytizing.  At this point, I noticed that other people standing in adjacent aisles seemed to be listening in on the conversation.


She then told me that she had been in Katrina in New Orleans and lost everything including her brother and could empathize with my loss.  Suddenly the gal behind me interrupted and asked to buy a gift card.  She bought the gift card and handed it to me and said she wanted me to have it and told me how sorry she was for the loss of my home.  I was dumbfounded!  She was a complete stranger to me!  I said that I simply could not accept it as there were others in a far worse situation than I, but she insisted and gave me a big hug.  


With that, the cashier came out and gave me a big hug as well and held my hands as she talked to me telling me she was thankful I lived through the tornado and that the experience would make me stronger and that I would get through it just as she had done in the aftermath of Katrina.  Tears came to my eyes as I knew she understood how overwhelming it is when disaster strikes. 


I thought of that quote by Maya Angelou...  "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."


The random acts of kindness shown to me by Althea, the sales clerk, and Stephanie, the gal who bought the gift card, made me feel cared for at a time when I needed it the most.  I cannot thank them enough for their kindness on a day when I was feeling down and tired and just wanting to feel like my ordinary self again, bumbling through life.


I did write about their kindness on facebook and there were many complimentary comments on what they did that day; however, I did not include the part about my lack of belief and the discussion pertaining to that as I have seen much hatred and negativity in this community towards those of us who do not believe.  To my mind... religion is a very personal thing and we all must be tolerant of others' beliefs, and although Althea is a devout believer, she respected my right to not believe and did not force her religion on me, but rather she could empathize with my plight in my recovery from the tornado. 


My friend Troy wrote a beautiful entry in his blog about the Nature of God or the God of Nature:



A sincere thank you to you both for how you made me feel that day!  I will never forget you and will certainly pass it forward!

A special thank you to my daughter Missy for getting these photos with her cell phone following the tornado showing the damage to our home.


A House is Not a Home

December 28, 2015  •  18 Comments

Ahhh... I remember it well.  Our first "home"... an apartment in an old Victorian house at the top of a hill in Stockton, New Jersey.  We were newly married with dreams and aspirations of raising a family and of facing the future together.  With each new purchase to "feather the nest" our identity was forming.  And then, a baby was born and we named her Molly.


As life went on we moved to a rent house in the country.  I was a small town girl... grew up in Flemington, New Jersey, and grew up in the same house for my entire life.  My family home spoke of permanence and I liked a small town atmosphere as I knew so many people there.  It all had intimacy and meaning.  But this little  rent house in the country spoke to me, as I could walk through the woods to a little trout stream and I could marvel as the leaves changed colors.  There was little traffic on the road and I was at peace each time I would drive down the lane to home.


When my mother suddenly died in her sleep, my essence of home changed.  That house, my childhood home, would no longer be a safe haven.  I was looking for permanence and we chose to  buy a home in the country just outside of Frenchtown, New Jersey in Kingwood township.  This was still in my beloved Hunterdon County, so I was still "home", so to speak.  I wanted a place to raise our family, and then another daughter, Missy, was born.


Life growing up in the country was idyllic.  The girls could play in the brook that babbled through our few acres and we even had a small pond with frogs, minnows, tadpoles and occasional wildlife that would visit.  It was quiet and peaceful and the night sky was inky black with stars in abundance.  This was to be our forever home.  We had dogs and cats and throughout the years I continued to work as a critical care nurse to sustain our lifestyle and to grow in my career.  I watched the seasons change and over time, we all changed.


The year was 1988 when my husband was offered a job in marketing for the Garrett metal detecting company.  He had always been in retail sales and I had hoped this would be a major accomplishment for him to take the job that was offered because of his passion for his hobby of metal detecting.  It was Christmas time... the lights were still glowing on the Christmas tree, I could smell the wood smoke from the fireplace and he packed his bags and left for the great state of Texas and we were to follow a couple months later. 


Molly was in college at Penn State and Missy was a junior in high school.  It would be a move from the only home they had known.  I was left with the daunting task of packing up a house of collectibles and paring down to make the big move thousands of miles across country.  I was not excited but rather, in tears, as I did not in any way want to leave this place that had become home to our family.  It was here that we had memories of our lives as a family.  It was here that I felt safe and insulated from the outside world.  This is where our lives had played out.


You see... home is more than just a place to hang your hat.  A home is a place where you make love, and yes, sometimes war... a place that feels safe and secure.. a place to welcome friends and family.  A place where you can be where nothing else matters.  It speaks to routine on a daily basis.  It's where you come after a long and hard day at work.  It is where you laugh, you cry, and you are at peace with the world.  I was losing all of this to travel to a "strange new land" called Texas that I had never even wanted to visit, let alone, move to, but I was not going to be the one to hold him back from what was hoped to be a bright future.


We moved to a brand new home that was extravagant compared to where we had lived in New Jersey.  Housing is much cheaper in Texas.  We proceeded to set down roots and form a new life here in the land of guns and cowboys, BBQ and jalapenos, and people who really did talk differently.  If I heard the term "fixin' to" one more time, I thought I would scream, but I did pick up on the phrase "y'all" as opposed to "you guys"!


Several years later my husband lost his job and was back in retail, this time at a bookstore.  Texas had become our new home and the thoughts of once again packing up and moving was more than I could bear.  I had settled into my job as a critical care nurse in my new hospital close to home, Molly graduated from college and went on to get her CPA and Missy would be going to the University of North Texas to pursue an education in music.


For 13 years I gave the ICU Christmas party and would have about 40 guests.  Some years it came complete with a Santa (thank you Wayne) as well as an Elf (thank you Sheila).  We entertained new found friends and memories once again developed.  Our girls married and had lives of their own.  I continued to have a passion for cooking and my photography became more than just documenting family happenings, it became a burning passion that continues to carry me into my life today.  Our home had once again become a place of memories but it has always distressed me to live in suburbia with traffic and strip malls rather than nature outside of my window.


For the past couple years since retiring from 45 years of critical care nursing,  I had not put up a Christmas tree.  It seemed like too much work as we would only pass it on our way to our computers.  We no longer entertained and life was indeed changing in so many ways as we entered our 7th decade of life.  We have three amazing grandchildren and enjoy watching our daughters and their families as they begin their own family traditions in their homes.  This time in our lives was about following our passions and simplifying our lives to our own expectations and no one elses!


The sky was getting dark and I flipped on the weather to see what was happening.  After all... this is Texas and storms can be a big deal.  A threat of a tornado south of Dallas in Ellis county.  I continued to watch the path of the storm and initially it looked like it would go west of us but as it drew closer to Dallas we were indeed in the path of the storm.  What we were seeing outside was grey skies and thunder, lightning and some rain, but it was unsually warm for Texas, the day after Christmas... about 80 degrees and there was a cold front butting up to this causing rotation which can spawn tornados.  Suddenly, the sirens went off signaling to take cover in a "safe place".  No... we do not have basements and few have tornado shelters so we did what we always do with one of these alerts, we retreated to the bedroom closet with both dogs on their leashes, flashlights, phones, radio and TV blaring so we could hear the updates. 


Suddenly our phone rang and it was a friend from long ago.  Bill was the head of the southwestern weather service out of Fort Worth and was calling to say we were in the direct path of the storm and to take cover.  There was no time for chit chat and moments later it hit!  Suddenly we heard wood splitting, glass shattering, walls caving and rain and wind and noises like we had never heard before as treasures collected over a lifetime went crashing to the floor and the roof caved in.  Thankfully, the closet proved to be the safest place in the house. 


And then suddenly it went totally silent!  I asked my husband if he thought it would be safe to open the door and then ever so cautiously I opened it a crack.  It was pitch black as we had lost power.  I shined my flashlight out into the bedroom to see broken glass everywhere, beams and roofing all over the bedroom floor along with fractured memories.  The bedding had been stripped off the mattress and there was what at first looked like sawdust flying in the air but it had a strange smell.  I later determined that it was insulation from the attic that had been treated with boric acid to keep the rats from building a home in our house in lieu of an outside home.  Yes, we are ALL looking for a safe place to call home and though I love all animals, I battled them tooth-and-nail to keep them from calling our home, their home. 


We could hear screams in the neighborhood and soon heard some voices outside.  We called out and waved our flashlight and two fellas stepped... yes, literally stepped into our now wide open house as there were no walls to hinder them and little left of the roof except for over our heads in the closet and assisted us in navigating the debris to leave our home.  My little black pug, Mollie Sue was so frightened and was unable to walk over the rubble and broken glass so one of the fellas gently lifted her into his arms and carried her as he held onto my hand to steady me as we walked through broken memories.  I was in total disbelief as the flashlight only showed more and more devastation as we picked our way to the door.  But the front door was jammed and we were afraid that if we dislodged it, the small amount of roof remaining might come crashing down on our heads.  Two of the walls in the living room were entirely gone but there was too much debris to climb over to get out.  But... there in the rocking chair sat my "special friend" Lucy.  The tornado had blown her wig off but she was intact but definitely speechless. 


We proceeded to the dining room where I saw my mother-in-law's silverplated sugar spoon on the floor amidst rubble.  The hutch had toppled over with all it's glassware and was blocking our path to get out.  The one fella lifted it out of the way and we proceeded to the kitchen and out the back door.  No need to open the door as the glass was gone.  The fence was gone from our tiny backyard and our cars were still intact (miraculously) in the driveway.  I jokingly said that it looked like all my bumperstickers were in place and Mr. Bones sat quietly inside.  (My husband later expressed shock that I would put a humorous spin to it all, but humor has served me well through the years.)


The smell of gas was oppressive and I could hear it hissing from the gas line.  Fire trucks with flashing lights were out front and they were rescuing injured neighbors.  Our neighbor, Diane approached with blood on her shirt from helping the injured and traumatized.  We stood in awe to see what was once "the neighborhood".  The house across the street had no walls standing... just rubble on the ground.  Thankfully only one person at home and he got out safely.  Other homes severely damaged as was ours.  That majestic live oak that towered over our house that I had personally planted and watched grow through the years was now nothing more than a broken stump.  I stood there looking in disbelief.  The smell of gas was strong, there were wires down and our son-in-law, Anthony had arrived in response to our call saying the house was destroyed.  We evacuated the area in fear that there might be a gas explosion and were given safe haven at their home, also in Rowlett.


On the way out of the house, my old digital camera had been sitting on the table with a 50mm lens attached and I grabbed it.  Seemed like a crazy thing to do but I couldn't help myself.  I lifted the camera to my eye but between low light and shaking from the trauma of the event, every quick photo was nothing but a blur... but then again, how appropriate... as that is exactly how my life felt at that moment... all the while looking through a lens that is supposed to depict life as the human eye sees it, however horrible that might be.


We returned the next day in a cold downpour of rain to retrieve a couple personal items and wallets that we had left behind.  It was mind numbing what we saw.   The wall by the fireplace was completely gone but the large green glass jug that I loved so much had toppled over but was still intact.  Two walls of the living room gone and from outside the rubble, the coffee table still sat there with all the decorative items as if nothing had taken place, though the couch was flipped over.  And our glass dining room table with both glass top and glass supports with only little brass brackets that held the glass supports together... that was also intact with no breakage on initial quick inspection.  But out to the side of the house I found my friend Lucy.  Broken at the torso, with an arm missing as she lay in the mud with rain in her face.  There must have been another gust of wind that propelled her there after the initial tornado.  Nature works in strange ways.


In the kitchen, the wind had forced open kitchen drawers and the kitchen table had been picked up and moved and the glass top was now only shards of glass scattered all over.  Our little back privacy fence was totally gone and looking up at the house from behind... the upstairs area where we spent so many happy hours on our computers was obliterated and precariously hanging together but destroyed and unable to get to the area safely to see what might be retrieved, if anything.


And now... the daunting task of where to begin and what happens next?  We emerged from this tragedy with our lives intact and with our pets at our side.  This was definitely not how I planned to downsize in my old age.  It was not until this morning that the reality has struck and the tears have started to flow.  My most precious loss is of my photos that I may well never retrieve except for in my mind.  I had just begun to digitize old slides and negatives and now they are gone... destroyed by wind and rain, never to be seen again. 


I have a friend who would never think of posting a photo of hers on the internet... too public, someone might steal the photo or, worse yet, make money from it.  And granted, that is very wrong and not ethical, but if I had not posted my myriad of photos and memories on the internet, they would be totally gone forever except for in my mind.  I proudly say that I do have a presence in cyberspace and if you google my name, various photo sites will come up.  And now, I can only wish I had posted more and wish I had put photos in the cloud as I have no idea if I will find my hard drives and old DVD's in what is left of life as I knew it.


So today I will revisit the disaster area with camera in hand to take a few photos of what was once my life... a lifetime of collecting, a lifetime of memories.  People say... it is only "stuff" but to some (like me), that stuff held incredible memories.  I was a decorator's nightmare as I loved my "stuff" displayed all over the house.  There was little bare wall space and lots of things to look at.  My stuff was comforting to have around me.  Each item recalled a story or a memory.  This sentimentality began when my mother died without my having a chance to say good-bye or "I love you".  The things she touched in her every day life became treasures to hold onto. 


So over the next weeks I will sift through the rubble, salvaging what I can and parting with some of my remaining treasures.  It is a painful process but it must be done before the bulldozer takes the remains of our house to a landfill.  I am so thankful for all the friends and family who have given their support over these harrowing days and who have offered to help in the process.  You are indeed helping me to "hold it together" and even new found photo friends that I have made on the internet have given support.  You have only made me more passionate for the hobby... if that is even possible.


I will have to be selective as to the photos I take, for I have no computer to post them to and one photo card available at this point.  Sort of reminiscent of film days, don't you think? 


My life at the moment will go on, but my house is gone.  My home is gone.  But... the memories linger.   Where life will take me from here, I do not know.  We do not write the script but live each day as it is given to us.  One day at a time... I learned that from a friend who has battled cancer now for the fourth time in his life... a pillar of strength and positive thinking, and I personally need to muster up as much of that as I possibly can.  For now I will try to remain calm as worrying won't help matters,  and I must be content that I am still here and hopefully things can only get better.    

Quirky is Good

September 28, 2015  •  7 Comments

Have you ever been to a place that speaks to your heart? A simple place? A bit of a quirky place? A place where you feel at home; although, it is nothing like the home you remember? 

And so it was as we entered the main street of Medicine Park, Oklahoma. This was my very first view of Main Street while doing some "drive-by" shooting. Tiny cobblestone buildings painted in a rainbow of bright colors, ducks and geese walking the street, welcoming chairs at the entrance to the shops. No strip malls, no fast food, minimal traffic and a river runs behind it (Medicine Creek)! And just down the road... the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Medicine Park is the epitome of quirky.  On the way into the little town, I had to shoot the huge praying mantis sculpture on the front lawn with a man reading a book near the doorway of his home.  Now that's quirky!  Town consists of a few stores along one side of the street with an assortment of eclectic items for sale... probably none of which anyone truly needs but interesting, none the less.

My friend Mary and I were traveling together and as we came into town, the Plantation Inn where we would be staying, was on our right but we had to go on down to the Plantation Inn Restaurant to check in.  It was a good thing we got our reservations when we did as there was an Art Show in town for the weekend.  Mary requested two keys so that we could both come and go as we wished.  Well... they demanded a $50 cash deposit for the second key which would be returned when the key was returned.  That is crazy but she paid the $50 and then, there was difficulty getting the second key to work in the door anyway.

The Heard Nature Photography Club had planned this outing to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.  I have actually been there previously and had a marvelous time and wanted to return in hopes of shooting more wildlife and some scenic vistas. 

The day was overcast but it felt good to be out of the Texas heat and there was a stiff breeze blowing.  We headed to the top of Mount Scott.  On the way up, we stopped to take some photos and marveled at the biker with legs strong enough to pedal to the top.  We definitely will not be trying that anytime soon!  Here is the view from Mount Scott.

From there, we took a drive through the refuge.  We saw some areas that had been burned previously and did not see as many animals as I had seen on my previous springtime visit.  Everything looked very brown but I was excited when I got this shot of a buffalo.

We met up with some other members of the club and photographed a few of the prairie dogs that are always such fun to watch as they dig furiously and occasionally will give a call of distress to warn the others of possible imminent danger.  And when in danger, they duck into their holes/tunnels for safety.  Some of the prairie dogs looked exceptionally fat, like they might explode at any minute and we laughed as we watched them.

The next morning a group of photogs were going out to shoot sunrise.  I opted to shoot the river instead and to sleep in a bit longer.  Unfortunately, sunrise was a bust as it was clouded over.  I met up with my friend Deanna on the river and we had fun shooting together.  The river runs along the back side of the little stores in town and there is a bit of a rickety bridge for car and pedestrian traffic to cross and in the distance you can see what I dubbed the "Twin Towers"... actually, the Comanche County Rural Water District towers.  These could be seen far off in the distance when we were on the top of Mount Scott.

 We also wandered the Art Festival.  I talked with Brent, a fella who makes Native American flutes.  He was originally studying to be a chemical engineer when his nephew bought him a flute and that prompted him to research it further and then he started making flutes out of various woods and embellishing them as well.  When I went to his website, I was overwhelmed with the sound of the double flute.  To read more of his story...

https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/21635980121/in/photostream/ 

And then there was Reian,  a portrait painter.  His portraits exhibited such emotion and I could not help but be drawn in by the eyes and all the realistic details that he had captured.  He was delightful to talk to and I could feel the intense love that he has for his art.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/21464559398/in/dateposted/ 

And I will never forget the woman who had a food truck at the festival.  She told me she had worked in an Emergency Room as an LVN but when the hospital told her she would have to get her RN to maintain her nursing position, she felt it was too late in life to pursue that goal and not only that but she was fighting breast cancer.  She was working during the week and taking her food truck out on weekends.  It was a big turning point in her life and she was pleased to report that she is doing well following her chemo treatments and I wish her well!  

And then I met a fella who has a little shop that he feels fortunate to have found when he did.  As we were chatting, my back was aching and he offered me his cane.  He reached out and handed it to me, saying he really didn't need it any more and to take it... it was mine.  It seems that he had a back injury about 6 months ago but is now doing much better and not needing that cane.  He said when he was coming into town on weekends to run his shop, that he was sleeping in his car, and because of this, the police had a warrant for his arrest and that pushed him to get a trailer to sleep in.  He was so friendly and I wished we could have talked longer.

A stranger approached me as he saw two cameras around my neck.  His name was Kris.  It seems he loves photography as well but was recuperating from a brain infection which caused him problems in walking and general motor skills as well as his speech.  He credits Chinese herbs for overcoming these disabilities following a hospitalization and he is now able to walk and speak appropriately.  Previously he had loved doing strenuous hikes and worked in places so he could visit the national parks on his off-days.  He loves nature and still shoots film but he has recently started taking digital photos with a small Canon camera.  He pulled it out of his pocket and shared his photos with me and they were excellent!  He said his father was so worried when he was sick as he had already lost a son to a heart attack and another to AIDS.  How sad for that family!

And have you heard the story about the dog that goes into the bar?  Be sure to read Jamie and Sean's story...

https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/21066306493/in/photostream/ 

As I was walking down the steps from our room at the Plantation Inn, a woman spoke out and said hi and asked how I was.  I jokingly said that I would be better if they would put a handrail by the steps.  Following that, we chatted for a bit.  Her name is Kathy and she has a shop in Medicine Park called Kathy's Caravan of Beads.

All the people I met were fun-loving, open, talkative, welcoming and seemed in tune with the simple things in life.  What a magical combination of serendipity!  Is it any wonder that I fell in love with Medicine Park?  And each time I would "disappear", my patient traveling companion, Mary, would immediately know that I was in deep conversation with a stranger.

We had difficulty returning our $50 key as when we were ready to check out Sunday morning, the Plantation Inn Restaurant was locked up and dark inside.  We frittered away some time driving through the refuge in pouring down rain but seeing no animals, we decided to grab some breakfast after making a call to find out that perhaps someone would be available around 10AM to return our key deposit, so, Mary and I went to Cock-Eyed Bob's for breakfast and we no sooner walked in and I heard someone say... "Hi Fay!"  Now who could that be?  And then I realized it was Kathy!  Now honestly... would that ever happen in Dallas?  I very much doubt it.  She invited us to sit at her table and we had a nice chat.

Following breakfast we were attempting to drive to the Plantation Inn Restaurant to return the key but the main street was blocked for the art festival.  One kind vendor pulled aside the barrier in an attempt to help us get to our destination in the torrential rain but before we knew it, a cop appeared and that ended that.  We finally had to park back at the Plantation Inn and fortunately, Mary had a very large umbrella and hoofed-it through town and finally got her $50 back and we were "home free" after that little snafu! 

All in all, it was a fun weekend with photo friends and was made even better thanks to all the wonderful strangers I met along the way!


Just a Big Bully!

August 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


They say summer is winding down but you sure couldn't prove it by me as the Texas heat remains brutal but school is starting this next week in Texas and that definitely marks the end to summer as we know it.  Not only that, but the community pools close down as well.  It has become a tradition, on the last day of pool season, to open the pool to dogs and their humans.  Being an avid dog-lover, there was no way I was about to let this pass me by, so I grabbed my camera and went to the Wet Zone in Rowlett to do some photography.

Pooch Plunge 20015 would take place from 4PM until 7PM.  It cost $10/dog and their humans got in for free.  All dogs had to have proof of rabies vaccination.  When I arrived, the dogs and their humans were lining up waiting to get checked in.

Being a human with no dog (I left mine at home), I moved to the front of the line and had immediate access.  I no sooner arrived and I could feel the sweat beginning to trickle down my face, so I pulled up a chair in the shade of the building and started shooting.

Shooting an event such as this is such a challenge.  Most of the dogs are off-leash and running and playing in and out of the water.  There is no time to plan a shot, you simply grab what you can.  There were way too many butt shots... both dogs and humans and lots of deletes!  I decided to shoot with my 100-400mm lens in an attempt to isolate bits and pieces of the activity. 

Before long I ran into my friend Chris from the Rowlett Photography Club and she was there to shoot as well.

I wandered around the pool area to find a mother and her two children and little dog in the water.  They were in a quiet part of a shallow pool area and I was thinking to myself it would have been fun to see how my little black pug, Mollie Sue, would have responded to being in water and this would have been a good introduction as it was away from the crowded main pool and the frenzy of dogs and people. 

I was getting ready to photograph this family as they were in the water with their little dog when suddenly this big bulldog came diving into the water making a huge splash to the surprise of everyone... his humans as well as those already in the water.  With a quick click of the shutter button, this is what I captured. 

So I caught the mother looking up in amazement, the little boy protecting himself from the splash and the little girl cuddling/protecting her little dog and looking like she might burst into tears as her hand protects them from the water-crazy bulldog!  

In the next frame, I captured the bulldog's human reaching out to pull him out of the water, which was no easy feat as that dog was hefty!  He was probably having the time of his life and I couldn't help but laugh at his antics!  I am definitely partial to any dog with a smooshed looking face and I do love bulldogs. pugs, Bostons and Frenchies!

Little snippets of fun were playing out as I watched the activity.  Every time I saw this poodle, she had this little toy in her mouth.

And then, the bulldog approached her with some words of wisdom...

Most of the dogs were having so much fun you could almost hear them laughing but then I saw this befuddled little dog...

To see more of the fun, check out the slideshow!  All breeds and sizes of dogs playing, swimming and having fun!  Life is good when you're a dog!


"Hey Lady! You Can't Do That!"

August 13, 2015  •  2 Comments

Several years ago I went to Central Market in Dallas for their Hatch Chile Festival.  I pulled into the parking lot and I was in luck... they were roasting the peppers right outside of the door and it smelled wonderful!  I brought my camera along as I was hoping to get a shot of them roasting the peppers.  I could see the flames licking around the roasting peppers and lifted my camera to my eye and suddenly heard someone yell... "Hey Lady!  You can't do that!"  Say what?  I took the camera away from my face to see a hefty security guard getting out of his little vehicle with a flashing light on top, and he looked like he meant business!  HOLY CRAP!  Now what have I done?  I could just see the headlines:  "Woman Jailed for Shooting Hatch Chiles"

He came over to me and explained that "NO PHOTOGRAPHY" is allowed!  OK... so let me get this straight.  I am living in Texas where people can carry guns but I am not allowed to shoot peppers with a camera in a parking lot.  Something is very wrong here!  And no... I did not get the shot and proceeded to leave before he pulled out handcuffs and hauled me away or perhaps, confiscated my camera!

Fast forward to one year later.  I am determined I am going to shoot the peppers and decided to try my luck at the "legal" way to do it, so I called Central Market and told them that I would like to get permission to shoot the roasting of the Hatch chile peppers outside of the store.  The gal was very pleasant and immediately connected me with someone who might help... and help she did!  After explaining my dilemma trying to shoot the peppers the previous year, she said she could definitely help me.  First she wanted a "shot list".  Now, I did explain that I was just an amateur photographer and, by no means, a professional and would not make money from these photos.  So... I played by the rules and sent a shot list showing interest in shooting the roasting of the peppers outside of the store as well as the little display of a yellow truck with boxes of peppers that was also outside the front door, and maybe a close-up shot of the peppers as well.

And the answer to my request... yes, it would be possible but she would have to be with me at the time.  OK... so, no problem.  We arranged a date and time and I showed up at the store with camera in hand and met my contact person.  She stayed with me while I got multiple shots (and no security or flashing lights interrupted the photo shoot!).

And what she said next just blew me away!  She asked if I would like to shoot inside the store as well.  HOLY CRAP!  YES!  You see... I love Central Market!  I love food, I love to cook and yes, I love photography!

We proceeded into the store and she introduced me to the produce manager who was such a pleasant guy.  As she walked me through the store, we chatted and I quickly got some more shots as I did not want to take up her time.  I really did appreciate her allowing me to do this.

So once again, the Hatch Chile Festival is in full swing and I am craving the smell of the roasting peppers and will head off to get some to cook with.  I decided to put together this blog post but what I realized is... that all the photos I had taken were not edited to my liking, so I returned to the editing process, and I guess that is a good thing!  It shows growth and a better understanding of what can be done when editing the raw files.

A special thank you to Central Market for allowing me to photograph the chiles!  This year's festivities will be from August 5-18, 2015.  Head on over there and pick up some Hatch Chiles from New Mexico before they are gone.  Check out:   http://www.centralmarket.com/hatch for more information about Hatch chile peppers and to get some recipes.  

They're everywhere! They're everywhere!

August 09, 2015  •  1 Comment


7/25/2015... It was a lovely weekend morning when I grabbed my camera and headed to Lake Ray Hubbard to photograph the kayakers.  It was hot... after all, this is Texas and we are in the middle of the summer, but I just wanted to get out to shoot something.


After spending about 30 minutes shooting at Paddle Point, I could feel the sweat trickling down my face.  It was at that point that I decided to drive across the road to the other area of the lake to see if there might be a few birds to shoot before heading home to the coolness of the house.

I looked out to the lake where sometimes there are birds but only saw a couple ducks.  Prospects were not good.  I scanned the area for any other possible photo ops when I suddenly saw a huge... like ginormous, humongous spider web right across the road that was enveloping the trees.  This was no ordinary spider web!  This was more like the web I had photographed back in 2007 at Lake Tawakoni except that one was even bigger than this one and had drawn entomologists from all over the country to study it and the spiders that made it. 

The web was so creepy looking that I had to go over and get a better look. 


It went to the tree tops and included many trees.  It was so thick that you could not walk between the trees unless you wanted to become tangled in the web. 

I started taking photos.  A biker came along and saw me shooting the web and remarked that he had been by there just a few days before and never saw the web.  So did they build it that quickly or was he just not paying attention?  A young family gawked from the other side of the road and they were spooked by it, as were the children.  They said it looked like Halloween!  (Agreed!)

At first I did not see the spiders.  I got closer and then I saw them... all sizes!  Some inside of the web and some outside of the web.  They were all busy doing what spiders do and I could see little bugs caught in the web.  A delectable spider dinner, no doubt!  I continued to shoot photos trying to get macro shots of the spiders for an ID.  The most prominent spider appeared to be the same as was at the Tawakoni web... a long jawed spider, possibly a Guatemalan long jawed spider, but there were other spiders too.

Spider Patrol Long Jawed Spider  














At this point I am dripping with sweat and feeling lightheaded and decided to call it a day.  As I turned, there was a large piece of the spider web that had broken free from a branch and was floating in the air and I could feel it hit my face.  For anyone watching from afar it was probably a funny scene to watch me flailing about swatting the web off my face and fluffing my hair with my hands and then dancing around brushing my clothing in hopes that there were no spiders on me.  Definitely time to go home!! 

I arrived home, got out of the car to find a grasshopper on the window screen.  He did not seem one bit afraid of this sweaty human being who had been battling spiders, and I mustered up what strength I had left to get some shots of him before he jumped away.


The next evening I decided to return to the web and try to use my off-camera flash with my macro lens on a tripod to see if I could get a better spider shot.  Well, I failed miserably.  The original hand held shots were actually better.  I became interested in watching a wasp caught in the web and then only about 12 inches from where I was shooting, I saw a cicada caught in the web, upside down and twirling on a strand of the web.  Every once in a while I could see him attempt to get free but without success.  I repositioned my flash and lens to catch the drama taking place.  I was quite sure he was about to become "Thanksgiving dinner" for the spiders.  He had twirled to a bad angle and I gently blew on the bug to get him to turn in better position to shoot.  I fired off a bunch of shots and then tried it again and got a few more shots.  The next time I blew much harder and to my amazement, it was just enough to free him and he went flying off!  Free at last!  I was ecstatic... as was he!  And to think that I almost missed the drama that was only a foot from where I had been shooting.  With that, I called it a day and took my sweaty self home. 

It was not until a couple days later that the bites started to appear.  No... not spider bites but chigger bites!  The chiggers had gotten me!  I never thought to spray myself before entering the weedy area.  The joys of living in Texas!  At least the spiders did not mummify me in their web! 

So much for the Spider Web Caper!

On Death and Dying

July 28, 2015  •  2 Comments

A Strange Way To Celebrate... Or Is It?

No... none of us can get out alive.  This may sound morbid, but it is true.  At some point it will all come to an end.  For some, it happens all too soon and for others, the process of dying can be long, drawn out and painful.  It is something we seldom talk about.  Death is far removed from our everyday life until it strikes a friend or family member.  It is at times such as this that we more seriously contemplate our own mortality and put life in perspective.

The statistics are telling us that we are living longer than ever before.  We now have medications and treatments that were never before possible, but when that time comes... what are your wishes?  Have you discussed your wishes with your family?  Have you filled out an Advanced Directive telling what your wishes are?  Does your doctor know what your wishes are?  And then, what if you change your mind?  (Yes... you always have the right to change your mind.)  These are all important questions to ask, as I truly believe that each of us should have a say as to how our life will end, when possible .

Having worked as a critical care nurse for 45 years at the bedside, I have seen death up close and personal.  I have talked with patients and their families about their wishes.  I have been there to prepare the families as well as when patients have taken their last breath and I have been there to comfort the families.  As a professional, it is important to be objective and non-judgemental.  Never would I impose my own personal beliefs at a time like this but rather, I would be supportive to the beliefs of the patient and family.  This is so very important.

You see, I do not believe in a heaven or hell.  When life is over... it is over; however, I have seen religion comfort families believing their loved one is going to heaven to be with someone else who they loved.  This comforts many families at such a difficult time in their lives.  There are a multitude of cultural implications at the time of death and many ways to handle it.  As a nurse, I was there to comfort the family and to provide pain relief to the terminally ill patient and to respect their wishes and never to interject my own beliefs.

Most of the time, the patient would be put on a morphine drip and the rate of the drip would be titrated to comfort.  I always explained that it may indeed hasten death in that it might drop the blood pressure further or diminish the respirations but it would promote relief of pain and anxiety.  The family would express understanding as they sat at the bedside watching the drug take effect.  This was no doubt a time of reflection, thinking of their loved one in years past as well as reflecting on their own mortality.

Compare a death such as this with one where there is a cardiac arrest and the patient is suddenly unresponsive.   In the hospital, alarms sound and doctors and nurses begin CPR, putting tubes in your throat, and needles in your veins to give emergency medications in an attempt to restore life; however, not all patients would want this.  I think if there is a reasonable chance of survival, most people would want to take that chance but for many, their past history with debilitating illness may cause them not to want this aggressive approach. 

But who makes the decision as to how aggressive treatment should be?  Each individual person needs to make his own decisions, and these decisions can be made long before the time comes in the form of an advanced directive.  This is quite simply, a document (known as an Advanced Directive or Living Will) telling your wishes to both your doctors and your family when you are faced with a terminal condition.  It also lists who you would choose to make these decisions if you were incapable of making them based on the contents of your Advanced Directive.   It does not require a lawyer to fill out but rather two witnesses to your signature who would not benefit in any way from your demise.  No money changes hands when you fill out such a document.  I personally filled one out years ago before having an ablation procedure to my heart. 

The problem comes because few people talk with their families or fill out such a form.  It is not until faced with a critical situation that this may come up and for this reason we are again hearing about physicians talking with patients about their wishes and Medicare is now going to reimburse doctors for their time to do so.  Medical care is very different from years ago.  The human body can be kept alive for extended periods of time thanks to drugs and what we call life support, such as ventilators and dialysis.  Technology is amazing!  

Unfortunately patients do not have a full comprehension of what this may entail.  It may be beneficial to some or it may prolong their misery and pain without quality of life and this is where the doctor must provide guidance as well as information.  To not do that, would be ethically wrong in all due respect to their patients.  Do you want to be resuscitated or do you want to be a "DNR" (do not resuscitate)?  Do you want a feeding tube?  Would you want to be an organ donor and what does that entail?  So many questions! 

I guess the thing that troubles me a bit, is that doctors will be getting paid for this conversation and my understanding is that each time it is brought up, they can charge again and be paid by medicare or the insurance company.  To my mind, it should simply be a part of quality care for the patient.  I do understand that time is money, but somehow it does not seem right to bill for this.  It is quite simply, the ethical and right thing to do.  We will hear much more about this in the coming months.

If I could choose how I would want to die, I would want to be at home in my own bed covered with a special quilt, with my little dog by my side,  and my loved ones in attendance.  I would want drugs to help me pass on as peacefully as possible as opposed to being in a hospital connected to a multitude of tubes and wires with strange noises and alarms in the background.

If the time came when I knew I was terminal and chose to end my life, I would personally want the opportunity to make that decision and choose euthanasia.  Of course, the laws have not yet caught up with this scenario.  I truly believe we all have a tolerance level and it is a very personal decision that only that individual could make for himself/herself. 

In my career I have seen both good deaths and bad deaths... and when I say bad, I refer to those where the patient or the family wanted everything done but in so doing, the dying process was simply prolonged making it so much harder on the patient and family alike.  I have also seen deaths that in spite of being in the hospital, honored that person's wishes and gave the family private time at the bedside. 

There was a teenage son that sat by his mother's bed.  She was dying of cancer and he strummed the guitar softly as she was taking her last breaths.  Or the family that sang hymns together at the bedside.  Or the mother who cuddled her dead toddler in her arms and rocked and sang to her for nearly 30 minutes.     

And then there was the older man who married a younger woman and they had their first baby who was just a few months old.  His dying wish was to hold his baby again.  He knew that his prognosis was not good as he was in cardiogenic shock with many wires and IV's maintaining his life minute to minute.  It was against the policy of the ICU to allow babies in the unit.  I pleaded with my supervisor to allow his wife to bring the baby in.  She conceded.  I put a soft towel over his chest to cover the wires and his wife brought the baby in and laid her on his chest.  He put his arms around her and a few tears moistened his cheeks.  His breathing became a bit less labored and both he and the baby fell asleep.  It was a few hours after his wife took the baby back to the waiting room that he lost his battle to survive but I knew that we had done the right thing.  Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

I suppose the purpose of this blog entry is to say... make your choices wisely knowing that you can change your mind at any time, and then go out and enjoy your life. 

To read more about Advanced Directives/Living Wills: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/advancedirectives.html  Keep your advanced directive in a place at home where your family can find it if needed and each time you enter the hospital, have it with you so a copy can be made.  A new copy should be made with each admission.  This is where I keep mine amongst my collection of cookbooks.

    "May the spirit of nature bring you peace and joy."

Make the most of each day!  Live one day at a time.  Spread happiness to those you meet along the path of life.  Something as simple as a cheerful "hello" and a smile can be uplifting.   We have no idea what that other person might be dealing with in his life on that particular day. 

Today... I celebrate 70 years on planet Earth.  It is certainly the decades that stop you in your tracks and give you pause as to where you have been and where you are going.  I truly believe it is the simple things in life that are most important.  Be thankful for the time you have been given and enjoy something out of every day.  Don't get bogged down in the details.  Live each day like it is your last.  Well... just don't eat ALL the ice cream!


Man's Best Friend

July 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Throughout my lifetime, I have had a dog as my best friend.  Growing up, there was the little Boston Terrier named Chummy and then later in life there was the one-eyed Boston named Mr. Willoughby.  Pugs have been my most recent best friends... POOH, Barnum, Ms. Bailey Bentwhiskers and now Mollie Sue and Digger.  What is it about a dog that I love so much?  Is it their kind gentle manner, their devotion, their inquisitive nature, their playful spirit, their intuitive knowledge of when something is not right?  Quite simply... I cannot imagine going through life without a dog at my side.

And what I find to be so sad is the fact that their lives are never long enough.  The heartbreak of losing a best friend is so painful and then I realize that without them, I would have missed out on some of the happiest times in my life.  Whether it is the riding in the car together, taking a walk by the lake or just hanging out together... all make for special memories.

It makes me particularly sad to see so many animals abused, homeless or unwanted.  The shelters are full of them.  There are far too many humans who are irresponsible pet owners and allow their animals to run loose and breed with no thought of what will happen to the offspring.  And then there are the dogs that are left to live outside in the extreme heat or bitter cold and those that are kept tied or chained.  This is cruel... and the animals deserve so much better.  Some are infected with heartworm, infested with fleas or have some medical issues. 

Another problem are the puppymills.  And that is a whole other story!  My sweet and loving Mollie Sue, the little black pug, was rescued from a puppy mill by DFW Pug Rescue (http://dfwpugs.com/). 

She spent the first two years of her life in a cage and was used for breeding.  When I adopted her, she did not know how to go up and down steps, did not understand what toys or treats were and was frightened of men.  I am thrilled to say she is now a well adjusted little girl with a good life.  I adopted her at a particularly difficult time in my life after losing my 7-year old black pug, Ms. Bailey Bentwhiskers, who had a cardiac arrest and died while having her nails clipped at the vet's.  Needless to say, I could not return to that vet.  I tell Mollie Sue that she saved my life and I saved hers!       

When the dogs come into a shelter, they are bathed, groomed, inoculated, chipped and neutered before being placed for adoption.  Some need to be socialized, they all need to be loved and some need to learn basic obedience training.  With the proper care, they can become loving members of your family.  There should be more humans locked up behind bars for what they do to these innocent animals, in my most humble opinion!

The beginning of June, Nicolette Work from the Rowlett Photography Club said that the Rockwall Animal Adoption Center (http://rockwalladoptions.com/) was in need of some photographers to take photos of the shelter animals.  I was so excited with the possibility of doing this.  When I arrived at the shelter I saw many little faces "behind bars" just waiting for a loving home. 

Some barked, some shied away, and some were just excited as I approached their cages.  They were clean and appeared well cared for.  I read their names, approximate age, their temperament, their history.  I wanted to take them all home, but of course that is not possible, but if I could take a cute photo of them, then maybe they would find a home sooner.

So the gal said... do you want to shoot inside or outside?  Inside is definitely preferable, especially in the Texas heat.  She led me into a room with a backdrop, flooring and a huge softbox to light the staged area.  This was so cool!  I was nervous and excited at the same time.  Was I up to this challenge?

One by one, they brought the dogs in on a leash.  Some were hyperactive and some were frightened.  None were aggressive towards me or the handler.  They would introduce the dog by name and many times would tell me something about the dog's story and how they came to end up at the shelter.  I started shooting trying to get a full body view, sitting, a close-up of the face or whatever the dog would allow.  Sometimes a treat was in order to encourage the dog's behavior.  And the little dogs looked so cute with a flower or kerchief around their neck.  I was ripping through the pixels as I wanted to be sure to get photos they could use.  I took way too many photos but pixels are cheap.

I was there shooting for about 3 hours and photographed 19 dogs... all sizes and breeds and many mixed breeds.  So many cute dogs!  I thanked them for the opportunity to photograph at the shelter and headed home to see what I got. 

Yes... there were lots of deletes but there were also a lot of keepers.  I culled the best and exported them to dropbox and it seemed that in no time they posted the photos of the dogs to their site.  It happened so fast and I was so thankful for that... to know that someone cared enough to expedite the process.

I frequently return to the adoption page on their website to see whose picture has been taken down as they are adopted.  I can only hope these animals find good homes and adapt to their new surroundings.  A thank you to the other photographers who also share in taking photos of the "homeless".  Hopefully we can do our small part in helping to turn these lives around!

Recently I featured a fella and his dog on my 100 Strangers Project on flickr.  His name is Robert and he was taking Morgan, the dog, out for a bike ride around the lake.  Morgan had terminal liver cancer and Robert was giving her some good days before the end of her life.

To read the rest of this touching story: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/18564935644/in/dateposted/

Sadly, just this past week, Morgan died.  I was thankful to have met Robert and Morgan and to have had the opportunity to photograph them.  A special thank you to Apollo Support and Rescue  ( http://apollosupportandrescue.org/ )  for their care of Morgan until a home could be found for her.  From what I understand, she was with them for two years!

Please... if you are looking for a friend... open your heart and go to your local shelter and adopt.

I love this quote on the Rockwall Animal Adoption Center's site:



January (1) February March (1) April May June July (1) August September (1) October (2) November December
January February March April May (1) June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April (1) May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December