Sunday, December 11, 2011
So when I say the eclipse was something to see, there is a caveat, of course. It seems that the real event was happening west of the Mississippi River. And if you happen to live on the west coast, well, then, you were in for a real treat. But here in Wisconsin, the whole thing lasted less than 30 minutes, and the totality phase - the phase when the moon takes on vivid reds and oranges - began nearly an hour after moonset around here. I did manage to capture a shot where the moon is pinkish, and I think this is because the sun was coming up as the moon was setting.
This was taken shortly after the eclipse began as evidenced by the moon's disk beginning to disappear:
This one, taken about 8 minutes later, shows the progressing eclipse and the brightening sky. About 3 minutes later, the moon was below the horizon.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
This was taken in a place called Alabama Hills near the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, west of Lone Pine, CA. These hills are full of rock formations and are a popular location for TV and movie productions (in fact, they were shooting a car/truck commercial while we were there...). Some classic movies have been filmed here, like Bad Day at Black Rock and How the West Was Won and Gunga Din, as well as more modern films, like Tremors and Gladiator and Iron Man.
We were in a little spot called Gunga Din, though I don't know if the movie was actually shot IN this little area or if the area was given this name because the movie was shot nearby. It was VERY cold and VERY windy (elevation is approx. 4600 feet) and I froze! But I ended up with a really cool shot, so I'm not complaining. On subsequent nights I put on everything I'd brought with me to keep warm!
The trails form a circle because I was facing due north. The white dot in the center is Polaris. I didn't realize at the time that I WAS facing due north - I was hoping I'd get some circles (as opposed to lines) but didn't know where the center point would be.
I'm amazed all over again every time I look at this.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
The light was fantastic. And I LOVED the colors on display in this almost forgotten place. Simply gorgeous.
Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background
A lone lamp over a cracked, grass-covered inground pool
Gas at .48 per gallon! Almost 40 years ago...
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Getting up for sunrise photos and then staying out at night for hours on end in the cold makes for an exhausting experience - exhilarating but exhausting. I took the red eye home from Las Vegas (arrived in Milwaukee at 5:15 a.m.) - it was brutal and exacerbated the whole sleep deprivation situation. Slept 14 hours Wednesday night, 12 hours Thursday night. I'm hoping that a nap today will get me all caught up.
I haven't yet had the time to examine the photos I took (over 1000 of them!) and will post some eventually. But, in the mean time, here's a shot I took one night in Death Valley. I was able to stand in the middle of the road because we didn't see a single car during the entire 6 hours we were out there! On the left side of the picture you can detect the beginnings of star trails. I was actually going for a still shot (read: no star trails), and the exposure seems correct for this for the stars in the right half of the shot, anyway, as they appear as distinct points. But the stars on the left are closer to true north and so, as they move (or, more accurately, as the earth rotates), the trails they leave are much closer together, more concentric.
Scotty's Castle Road, just south
of Mesquite Spring.
Friday, October 28, 2011
The last few weeks have been crazy busy and extraordinarily stressful. Normally as I go through the busyness of living -- work, grocery shopping, vacuuming, paying bills -- I have characters and plot points playing in the background of my mind. I've come to realize that this background symphony is what keeps me tethered to the world; it's what allows me to get through the daily minutia, it's the light that beckons when the stress threatens to overwhelm me. But, as I discovered, this light can grow dim. When this happens, the world, for me, becomes quiet, muted, dull. The magic disappears. I know that my detail oriented tendencies exacerbated the level of stress I experienced over the past few weeks: I find it hard to let go. But this same tenacity is what keeps me drawn to the magic of creating characters and plots, of creating my own art.
And speaking of creating art: I'm headed next week to a star trails workshop in California. What are star trails, you ask? They are the captured movement of the stars in the night sky. And they're captured by leaving a camera's shutter open for long periods of time away from all ambient light. I'm making my way to Lone Pine, CA by way of Death Valley. I'm really jazzed about the trip - the scenery in Death Valley is breathtaking and I hope to come back with the best pictures of my life. The caveat, of course, is that I'm still a novice in the picture-taking department, but I'll be with my sister-in-law who's just awesomely talented. I got my first in-depth, on-the-fly, deep in the trenches training with her during our trip to Ireland last year. She's amazingly patient and enthusiastic.
Find your art -- create it, live it.
Monday, October 10, 2011
I've just finished Clifford Garstang's In an Uncharted Country and very much enjoyed it. This is a collection of short stories, filled with warm, honest characters, some of whom make repeat appearances. I took my time with it, reading one story at a time, then setting it aside for a day or a week in order to allow the story/characters time to sit with me. I found that each story was like a small universe unto itself, full of rich details and tremendous depth.
If you haven't already read this collection, put it on your to-read list.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
I went to my first hot air balloon festival back in July, held in Waterford, WI. It was an awesome sight! They were supposedly offering tethered rides, and I wanted to try it, but I couldn't find the spot to sign up. Probably just as well as I'm sure I would've been after the guy at the controls, begging him to hold the balloon still for just a second so I could catch that shot and that shot and...
Here are some pictures I managed to snatch from the ground:
Thursday, September 1, 2011
I've just finished reading Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, and it was amazing and brilliant and poignant and deliciously creative. All of these! I couldn't put it down and, in fact, stayed up until 2 a.m. last night reading, finishing it. Of course, I'm moving slow today, but it was worth it.
My one small caveat to this is that somewhere just shy of the middle, I *did* put it down and even made the comment that it was dragging for me. A friend and my daughter both gave me a strange look and encouraged me to keep at it. Now I know why. Looking back, I think that although there was a point where I was anxious for the story to "get on with it," this slow, purposeful back and forth was necessary; the intent was to lay the foundation.
As a reader: I was engaged with the characters; I enjoyed watching them grow and respond to life. I found the idea of time traveling mesmerizing - the mechanics of it, the possibilities, the ramifications - and how it physically affected Henry. I thought the way the plot unfolded was masterful. That whole business with Henry's feet was terrifically well done - I actually couldn't believe it and had to go back and read it again.
As a writer: I thought the way the timeline revealed itself, the back and forth, the way each trip -- a jump forward or backward -- built meaning was a very impressive feat. I can't imagine how one even begins to build a world like that, how you keep it all straight -- in one's head, on paper, on a chalkboard -- so that it flows seamlessly, with intent. Incredibly amazing.
This deserves a spot on your to-read list.
Monday, August 22, 2011
I'm flattered and humbled. I'm also sporting a pleased-as-punch grin.
My story Pretending appeared in the 2009 Summer Issue of Staccato Fiction.
Friday, August 19, 2011
I've just finished Shellie Zacharia's collection Now Playing. I'd call the collection more simple than not, though I don't mean that in a negative way. I found it refreshing. The characters are honest and straightforward, and there's a recurring theme of guitar players and teachers. There are a lot of stories here (28) comprised of seemingly equal parts flash fiction and short stories.
Several of the stories stood out for me: "Take," "Luckily, Lucy Sims Has No Stamps," "Cyrus Is Spinning," and "Cardboard Ben."
Saturday, July 30, 2011
I've just finished Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter. It was a good read; parts of it were a great read. What stops me from declaring it a "great" read overall, though, is that I almost didn't finish it. At the 37-page point, I was ready to close the book permanently, park it on a shelf, and say not every one is a winner. But I invoked my daughter's rule that you have to give a book 50 pages and kept going. I'm glad I did. It was worth the read.
The opening was slow for me, a little disjointed, a little too much repetition from the protagonist, Ginny. I understand, now, afterward, the need for the repetition. I recognized then, too, though to a lesser degree, that it served a purpose of laying foundation, of informing the character. It was enough of an irritation, though, a distraction, that it stops me from proclaiming it GREAT.
That said, there's something really remarkable about the book. I'm a believer in the idea that we react to any given book based on a lot of things, most notably, what's going on in our lives at that moment, our emotional state. These things, along with our own experiences and baggage, make us more or less receptive to a story, a style of writing, a subject matter. I was moved by this story; somewhere along the way I bought in and found myself inside Ginny's world, invested. She has Asperger's, though she's never been officially labeled as such. I felt Ginny's frustration, her confusion, her desire to fight through all of it; I cheered alongside her with each victory, with each new learning and understanding. What holds it all together for me is the touch of magic, the idea, the possibility... she's able to summon up the ghosts of her relatives by working from their handwritten recipes. There are also a couple of twists weaved in that take the story deeper and kept me reading.
Put this on your summer to-read list.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
It occurs to me that if I lived in a clime where it was warm and sunny year round (or perhaps the majority of the time), I probably wouldn't salivate as I do when summer rolls around. It'd be the same old stuff. But, of course, that's not how it is here and so I look forward to the lazy days of summer, wishing they'd last forever.
Last week it was unbelievable hot here - I'm not complaining, mind you, just stating a fact. We smashed the old record (97, I think) on the way to a new one: 104! But the best news is that the heat index was a whopping 119 degrees. Holy cow, right? It was like how I imagine living in the desert is. It was crazy and fun and gloriously hot. My hubby and I headed down to the lake (Lake Michigan), hoping for a little lake breeze.
Hope your dog days of summer are fabulous, too.
Friday, July 1, 2011
I so thoroughly enjoyed each story, beginning with the opening one, that I was genuinely surprised with each subsequent story as it became my new favorite.
This is the first time I've read anything by Elizabeth Strout and I felt like I was in the hands of an expert, a master. She took her time with each story, with each character - and for this I was thrilled because everyone always says to get to the story, cut all the excess, which I always take to mean no lollygagging. But that's how I felt in each of these stories: lollygagging. In a good way, a way that let me see the surroundings, see the nuances of the characters, feel their emotions, each lollygagging moment building upon the previous moment, each lazy-like detail filling in the edges so that, at the end, a full-bodied masterpiece is realized and I feel as though I know and understand these characters, especially Olive Kitteridge, to such a degree that I'm amazed by it all and definitely, definitely better off, fuller, for having spent time in her world.
This kind of experience is such a treat.
I highly recommend it.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Over the course of this past weekend, I devoured Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. I LOVED the magical realism aspects: they are handled with authority, which, to my mind, goes a long way in making something believable. Loved the homeyness of the main character, Claire; loved, too, that the sister, Sydney, was a direct contrast. The final confrontation, near the end, had me holding my breath, reading quickly to see what happens.
My only small quibble is that I initially thought this might be intended for a YA audience. Not that there's anything wrong with that! No. It's that I don't usually read YA novels. In the end, I decided that wasn't the case.
If you enjoy magical realism, you'll LOVE this. And if you've always wondered what magical realism is, then this is a great introduction.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
First and foremost, the event was spectacularly awesome. The day was storybook perfect with temperatures in the mid 70's and sun shining. After weeks and weeks of rain and cold temps, that the day dawned warm and clear was truly a gift. The whole weekend was perfectly gorgeous to boot. As the saying goes in Wisconsin: if you don't like the weather, wait a day. True to form, in the days since the wedding, it's been unbearably humid and hot (in the mid 90's) and today it's 54. So, truly, the wedding day was plucked from the heavens.
The event itself went off without a hitch, though the stress leading up to it was crippling. There are millions of details for a wedding that must be identified, listed, taken care of, and crossed off. On top of these are the ones you've forgotten, the ones that pop into your awareness in the middle of the night, the ones that you must somehow add to the next day's list that's already too long. Then there's the issue of getting the house ready and in order so that you're not embarrassed when 40 people show up the day after the wedding for the gift opening. And when I say house, I mean inside and out. Dusting, vacuuming, window-washing. Yard work: pulling weeds, mowing grass, hauling mulch. In the 2 weeks prior to the wedding, my husband and I nearly killed ourselves hauling mulch from the driveway into the flowerbeds. And by mulch, I mean 33 yards. For those of you who need a visual, think of an impossibly huge pile of mulch and then triple it. Seriously.
I arrived at the day sunburned, stiff-limbed, and severely sleep deprived. Our house was bustling with activity: all the bridesmaids and mothers were getting our hair and makeup done at our house. My mother-in-law had advised that I should try to let loose with some emotion prior to the BIG DAY, but I had been so busy, so go go go, that I hadn't been able to find a quiet moment to relax. She was right, of course. As were all the others who dispensed sage advice. But what I recognize now is that this is a solitary experience. Even though we may have all married our daughters off, we will each experience it individually.
My daughter is my oldest child, the first one to get married, my only daughter. I am deliriously happy for her and her new husband. They are perfect for each other and love one another fiercely. But I cried many times that day, mostly in unexpected, out-of-nowhere moments. In the shower: I thought, she's not going to be mine any more, she'll no longer be a McMahon. While getting my hair styled: "Dog Days Are Over," a song by Florence + The Machine, came on and I thought of the first time I heard this song - while watching Glee with my daughter - and how, because I'd like the song, she'd bought me the CD. In the moments before I was to be escorted down the aisle: an overwhelming thought, this is real, this is real.
There are no time-honored traditions for moms that allow us to acknowledge our emotions during this life-changing event. Fathers offer a toast before dinner, a minute or five where heartfelt words are spoken, shining a light on the father's love for his daughter. Fathers also have the father/daughter dance in which a song that is meaningful to both dad and daughter is played, and they twirl about the floor, displaying for the room, the world, their love and affection, their honest emotions.
I sat on the sidelines watching them dance to IZ's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," my heart swelling with love and pride while tears ran, unchecked, down my cheeks. In that moment I held my daughter in my heart, remembering words from my sister-in-law:
We raise and care for our children only to let them go when they are capable of caring for themselves; we hold their hands as they learn to walk only to let them go when they learn to run; we teach them to love and care for people so that when they find that love in another, they move away from us and live fully. But ultimately, we hold them in our hearts for all times and from there we never let them go. It is in this place that the joy of loving your child will abide and it is there that you will feel the tug that tells you it is time to pass your child, and all that she has become, to her chosen one.
I'm feeling a little raw, a little lost.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
So I quickly dropped what I was doing and went in search of my camera. I've gotten better about leaving the clip attached that allows the camera to fasten onto the tripod (it takes forever to screw on!), but as I grabbed my gear, I was frantically wracking my brain, trying to remember what settings to use to shoot the moon. I had to be quick: opportunity for the best shots is fleeting as the moon continues to inch upward.
I did remember to use the "bulb" setting, but the f-stop and shutter speed were a little trickier. I clicked off several before I found my groove. The first picture in the series below is a rather bland shot - the moon appears as nothing more than a seemingly smooth, white orb - but I'm posting it because it shows just how much setting changes the shot. Old hat to those of you who are experts at photography, but an interesting reminder to the rest of us!
Focal length = 170mm
f-stop = 5.6
shutter speed = 1/5
Focal length = 300 mm
f-stop = 22
shutter speed = 1/4
Focal length = 300mm
f-stop = 16
shutter speed = 1/25
Focal length = 300mm
f-stop = 36
shutter speed = 1/10
Aren't the differences amazing? Love the detail that comes through on the last three... I was trying to draw a correlation between f-stop and shutter speed (as it relates to the detail), but I can't - the values are all over the map: long, short, fast, faster. I think the 3rd on the list, here, is my favorite. Which do you like better?
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I highly recommend it.
Friday, May 13, 2011
I know a lot of folks roll their eyes at the machine that has become American Idol, but I watch it, initially, for the funny/awkward/just-plain-bad auditions and then, later, as the season progresses, to see new and awesome talent. I get such joy out of listening to these kids hit notes I can only dream of, and there’s nothing better than listening to something and getting goose bumps. I’m not really discriminatory: if you can sing, and sing well, I’m a fan. But I also really dig artistry – making a song your own, reworking it, being genuine. The way David Cook did it. And Adam Lambert. I’ve taken a fair amount of grief over my love of Adam Lambert, season 8 runner up. Some people think he’s too showy, too “out there.” But that’s part of who he is, part of what makes him great. And there’s NO denying that guy can sing! Holy cow, when I re-watch some of his performances from season 8 (yes, I purchased them from iTunes), they leave me feeling gloriously alive – exactly how/what good music and great vocals are supposed to do.
And now this with James Durbin. This guy is so awesomely talented, so comfortable and genuine on stage, it blows my mind that he’s been voted off. So many kinds of wrong. The only thing I can think of is that everyone thought he was safe and so didn’t vote. I mean, really. Scotty is a nice guy, but he’s no American Idol. James Durbin can sing circles around him! The silver lining in this is that James Durbin is now free to do his own thing and won’t be bound to sing those ridiculously sappy-lyric pop songs they make the winner sing.
The American Idol season is done for me.
Rock on James Durbin.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I have been with the Stargate series from the beginning. There is, of course, the original Stargate movie (which I don't think is nearly as good as any of the series, but the spark of greatness has to begin somewhere). From the movie came Stargate SG-1. LOVED this show. How could you not love Richard Dean Anderson?? Loved the show so much that my kids bought me one of the seasons on DVD (which is saying something because I don't like to watch/read anything twice). SG-1 ran for 10 seasons.
Then came Stargate Atlantis. Another great show. Not quite as good as SG-1, initially (to be fair, SG-1 had had my attention for 10 years... big shoes to fill!), but I grew to love the characters and the issues they had to deal with as much as the SG-1 crew. Good, too, that they had characters from SG-1 on the Atlantis show every now and again. This series ran 5 years.
Then came Stargate Universe. Perhaps the best yet. Such an awesome premise, so creative. Similar in concept, yet evolved. LOVED it. Killed it after only 2 seasons.
There's nothing left worth watching on the sci-fi channel. Truly a shame.
I'm in mourning.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
From the XLV issue of Danse Macabre: "Parallax and the Gandy Dancer" by Robert Kaye. I'm not sure there's anyone better at word choice; the imagery just sings. And then there's the way this (can't tell you exactly what I'm talking about because I don't want to spoil it, but after you read it, you'll know and agree!) is handled -- it's just exquisite.
From Issue 13 of Per Contra: "In the Palace of Cortes" by Clifford Garstang. This is sophisticated: from the elevated prose to the dance with a bit of magical realism, it surrounds you, seduces you.
Go on... check 'em out!
Sunday, March 13, 2011
The story begins with a killer (no pun intended) opening first line (*warning: spoiler alert*): "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." I stopped, read the sentence out loud to my husband (we were on a plane), and read it (silently, to myself) again. The opening chapter continues from there, building, rolling, until Helen, the narrator, kills her mother. It's shocking, riveting. The kind of jolt that makes you sit up and take notice.
The next several chapters are about the past. Indeed, the bulk of the story is about the past; we surface for a moment or two of real-time story and then slip back into the past for long stretches of time. But it was in these initial few chapters, back in the past, where I found my interest beginning to wane. And while I realize this recounting of the past is so necessary -- the layers, the foundation, the building and unfolding is needed, crucial; it informs the narrator and the story -- I wished for a smidge more dwelling in the real-time now of the story.
It picked up for me midway through chapter 5 (69 pages in). My daughter's motto is you have to give a book 50 pages. So if you subtract 12 pages from chapter 1 (which don't count for my purposes here because they were terrifically engaging), you're left with 57. Right on target.
The rest of the novel is fast-paced, intense, engaging. The past swirls with the present, grabs the narrator (and the reader) by the throat, and doesn't let go. There's a deepness, a complexity in the narrator's relationship with her mother and father that I found intriguing, sickly fascinating and, ultimately, very moving.
The prose is wonderful: sophisticated, crisp, honest. Worth the read.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I've found that, as a writer, it's hard to read for pleasure, I mean really let go and simply lose myself in the story because there's always a part of my brain on the lookout: analyzing, editing, acknowledging. My brain sent up flares right from the get-go: pay attention, there's some really great stuff going on here!
The format is one chapter in the now, dealing with breast cancer, and one chapter in the past, showing us high school dances, going off to college, getting married. Back and forth we go and, at first, as a reader, I inwardly groaned when the "now" chapter ended because that's where I wanted to stay -- I wanted to keep going with that thread, wanted to see the details of cancer, see the nitty-gritty of it. But my groaning wasn't a full-on groan, more like a sigh, and even then, by the third switch I'd started to welcome the unfolding of the past. The past is important, of course, as it informs the present. And the two are interwoven masterfully here.
If this book isn't already on your to-read list, add it!
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Here's the view from inside our garage:
Outside one of the bedrooms, the snow nearly reaches the eaves:
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
If you haven't read this yet, do. Rent, borrow or buy it: you'll love it.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Ethel Rohan, Cut Through the Bone
William Walsh, Pathologies
Claudia Smith, Put Your Head In My Lap
Matthew Salesses, Our Island of Epidemics
Sean Lovelace, How Some People Like Their Eggs
Rusty Barnes, Breaking it Down
xTx, He Is Talking to the Fat Lady
Molly Gaudry, We Take Me Apart
Peter Schwartz, Old Men, Girls, and Monsters
Issue 2 of Sententia
I don't expect I'll get much writing done in the next little while as I'll have my nose buried in these books. But that's okay. Curling up with a great read (or 10!) is a soul-satisfying way to wile away the snowy days.
Ethel: thank you, thank you.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Here's my 1st attempt at star trails. I realize some folks look at these with a yawn, but I'm simply fascinated with the idea of capturing stars (and the movement of them!) with a camera. There is so much to learn and the conditions have to be just right... I tried on 3 different nights during a recent trip to Florida. I thought: Florida? Warm! Not so. The 1st night it was 32 degrees... my ankle-length pants and sweatshirt weren't nearly warm enough. By the 3rd night of staying up late (airplane traffic dies down considerably after 11 p.m.), I was practicing sleeping while standing up. I know there are lots of things to be improved for my next try, but I'm pleased nonetheless.