crazy busy

 "I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

~ Douglas Adams


The last couple of days I've been playing a serious game of catch-up -- in turns out that a hard drive crash followed by a sick kid followed by a quick trip out of town can cause serious havoc with one's schedule.  As such, I'm heartbreakingly behind, so forgive me while I catch up today.

In the meantime, however:

1.  My playlist for March is liveEnjoy.  I got funky with it this month.

2.  Every month, on the first of the month, I send out a newsletter -- it's very short, but in addition to news about appearances and such, it also contains some cool things I find out and about on the web -- articles, videos that sort of thing.  I am, of course, late in sending it out, but if you'd like to get on the email list, click here.

3.  As of this writing, the new desktop image download isn't live yet -- also hoping to get to that today.  When it's live, it will be here. (Updateit's up!)

4.  And finally, some cool news:  the Own Your Beauty initiative I've been doing on The Beauty of Different blog and on has just been picked up by USA TODAY.  How awesome is that?  Starting this month, you'll also be able to read the posts hereSo exciting.

And with that, I'm going to get my nose back to the grindstone.  Have a great day folks.  More soon.


Image:  Shot with my Nikon D300 and 60mm micro lens.  I was trying for something in the style of Robert Mapplethorpe's orchids.  I need to practice more, methinksPhotographed in mid-afternoon on my kitchen table, aperture 3.2, shutter speed 1/125, ISO 640.


Song: Love of my life worldwide, by Erykah Badu featuring Angie Stone, Bahamadia, Erykah Badu & Queen Latifah


musings from 35,000 feet

Late last week, I had a quick business trip to New Jersey.  Somehow, the flight gods were smiling down on me, because both going and coming, I managed to score an empty row all to myself.  And while I am generally a very nervous flyer and am rather fatigued with the airline business as a whole, getting a little row all to myself (both ways!) felt like a free upgrade to first class.

Once I forget about the possibility of the plane plummeting to a fiery end, I actually quite enjoy the experience of flying, especially when I have the room to spread out a bit.   There's something about the solitude, the drone of the engines, that encourages such introspection, don't you think?  In fact, when I fly, I try to bring things that help make the experience as conducive to creativity and peace as possible:  some roasted almonds, my favourite tea, my journal, pens, pencils, paints, a good book, and of course, my camera.

Always my camera.







Images:  Photographed from seat 44A (and B!) on Continental Flight #106 on Saturday.  All shot with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens, with an aperture of 11, and an ISO of 200.  On the first two, the shutter speed was 1/250.  On the second two, the shutter speed was 1/500.  And the last photo, immediately above, was shot at 1/800.


Song: Big yellow taxi as performed by Counting Crows, featuring Vanessa Carlton

an experiment in podcasting

So for the past few years, I've been toying with the idea of starting an occasional podcast here on the Chookooloonks -- something that's maybe a little different, for those who might want a little auditory added to the visual that we have here on the site.  Over time I've had people ask me why I frame shots the way I do, or why I was inspired to take a particular image, and being a more intuitive photographer (rather than a technical one), I had been thinking that maybe a podcast might be the way to go.

Of course, I know diddly about podcasting.

Still, the time has come for me to give it a try.  So here are some of the ideas that I had in mind for the podcast:

1.  Because I love music as much as I do, and it often inspires some of the shots I take here on Chookooloonks, I wanted the podcast to be a way to feature some emerging artists and musicians that I find occasionally on the web.  I figure that anything that I do that get the word out about another artist practicing their craft would be a good thing.  And for those of you who really aren't into the photography bit, at least you'll get some cool new music to listen to.

2I wanted the podcast to feel like you were actually standing next to me while I shot the photographs.  So while the podcast wouldn't necessarily be too technical (we'll save Occasionally Technical Tuesdays for that subject matter), I wanted it to feel more experiential -- that you would be able to hear the ambient noise and the camera clicks while I was shooting (this took a little technical experimentation and playing with some new equipment on my part).  In theory, I'll be shooting in different settings over time, so you'll be able to get an idea of what I think about in different settings.

3I wanted to be able to embed the player in a post where I would also be able to share the photos I took on the shoot that I was talking about in the audio, so that while the audio was playing and you were hearing my voice, you would also be able to actually see the shots that resulted as I'm talking.

4. And finally, if all goes well, I hope you'll be inspired by the song to take your camera out over the weekend, shoot what you see, and come back and share it here with me in the comments below.






So here it is -- an attempt at my very first podcast.  Note that it's a bit rough:  I was more concerned with getting the technical stuff down (or at the very least, attempted), rather than coming up with something that was totally perfect right off the bat.  If you think this works, I promise the next one will feel more polished.  This one is just under 12 minutes long, and features music from the Portland, Oregon band Derby, who just released their brand new EP, Madeline.  The song is called Don't Believe in You.

Simply click on the triangle below on the right to start playing.

And if you do go out and shoot this weekend with this song in mind, please share a link to your image in the comments below.  Also, if you have any other questions, suggestions for shooting locations, subject matter to shoot, local bands you'd like me to feature, or, heck, even a name for this podcast, I'm all ears.

On that note, have a great weekend, everyone.  (And by the way, thanks much to both Danielle and Mir for both offering technical advice, as well as serving as perfect sounding boards while I bounced ideas around over the last few weeks.)

UPDATE:  You can now subscribe to this podcast on iTunes!  Click here to make the magic happen.

And see an index of all episodes of this podcast here.

the effect of kindness (see also: chookooloonks life list item #56, try 700 different blends of tea)

It was Tuesday afternoon, time to get the mail.  I walked to our front door, and the first thing I saw was a small package.  I'm not expecting a package.  I looked at return address:  it was from my friend, Tea.

I turned the package over.  There was a note on the back, written in black Sharpie:  "Shake first -- can you guess what it is?"

I shook the box.  No clue.

I opened the box, and found three small paper bags.  What in the...?  I read the labels...

...tea!  Tea from Tea! 

A pretty postcard fell out of the box.  "Some tea to warm you up," it said.  "Know that I'm thinking of you."

I went straight to the kitchen, and stood on tiptoes and pulled my special teapot -- one that holds just enough for a couple of cups -- from the topmost cabinet.  I filled the electric kettle with water, and turned it on.

I looked at each packet -- one was labeled "Immunity." Hmm, I thought.  I read the ingredients: cardamom, lemongrass, ginger root, licorice root, black pepper, peppermint.

I ripped open the packet and inhaled the aroma.  Heavenly.

Taking a teaspoon, I scooped the loose tea into the little wire basket in the teapot.  After 7 minutes, I poured the tea in fancy little cup.

Then, I found a sunny spot in my kitchen, and sat down.

I sipped.

I smiled.


Happy Love Thursday, friends.  And thanks, Tea.  You made my week.


Image: Photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/100, ISO 200.  I'm so grateful to my lovely friend for sending these lovely teas to me -- this was such a thoughtful gift, out of the blue.  Also? This counts as number 5 on my life list quest to taste 700 different blends of tea -- only 695 more to go.

I better get crackin'.)


Song: Little bird by Imogen Heap

random thoughts: on signs, coincidences & tulip magnolias

Several doors down, one of our neighbours has a large tulip magnolia tree in the front garden.  Every year around this time, in bursts into bloom.  The flowers only remain in full colour for a couple of days, so I always have to time it just right, to get the photos I want.


(Incidentally, I swear one of these days my neighbours are going to have me arrested for trespassing, what with me constantly crawling all over their front lawns.  I keep telling Marcus to have bail money ready.)



While I was taking the photographs of these flowers yesterday, I couldn't help but be convinced that winter was over in Houston.  I could be totally wrong, of course -- Houston winters tend to be wildly unpredictable -- but the huge explosion of pink just seemed to be a sign from the universe that the occasional cold snaps that we've had over the past few weeks are history, and a message that we should be getting ready for warmer days ahead.

Then I started thinking about signs in general.  I don't know about you, but I constantly find myself looking for signs.  And I'm not talking about deep, metaphysical signs, either; oh no, I'm more of a mundane, random, makes-no-sense sign-looker:

If the cookie is still sitting there on the counter when I return from running my errands, I think, it's a sign that I should eat it.

If I make the next traffic light, I say, it's a sign that I'm going to have a good day.

And don't even start me on coincidences:  the slightest unexpected occurrence, and I work myself up into such an unmitigated tizzy trying figure out its deeper meaning, I put the Double Rainbow Dude to shame.


But the truth is if I step back and think logically for a second, I believe the reason that I'm always looking for a sign is to take the easy way out -- if there's a sign, I don't have to take responsibility for the decisions that follow; after all, it's the universe who led the way.  This isn't to say that random occurrences or strange events don't warrant stopping and taking notice; but I think ultimately, it makes more sense to look inwards for the answers -- not to mention, have a little faith.  I mean, rarely has my intuition led me wrong, and let's face it:  I know whether or not I should eat the cookie.  And chances are, the proper perspective is all that's needed to make it a good day.  


Still ...


... I really think winter is over.


Images:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.  aperture 2.8-3.2, shutter speed 1/500, ISO 200

SongIn your eyes, as performed by Sara Bareilles

your questions answered

Well, friends, you all sent some seriously healing juju up in here -- after almost 5 days of a constant 100-101.5 degree temperature, Alex woke up fever-free yesterday morning, and today she's going back to school (yesterday was a holiday).  So thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers -- they worked!

So now, as promised, to your questions:

From Heather:  "Do you have specific thoughts about parenting an only child? We have one and right now I'm not super motivated to try for #2. My first and only is 1 1/2 yrs old and I'm wondering how parents who are raising only children consider supporting the development of their only child. I know you're not blogging much about parenting since Alex is older now... but I like reading your thoughts as a mom!"

On parenting an only child: unsurprisingly, I'm for it! There was a time when Alex was about the age of your child when Marcus and I considered having a second -- but then a wise friend with a large family advised us that we should only consider having more children if we wanted to have more children, rather than "doing it for Alex."  That pretty much sealed the deal for us.

We try to make sure that Alex sees her cousins (who are near her age) as often as possible -- not particularly easy, since they live in San Francisco and England -- and we have some very close friends whose kids are Alex's age, and they consider each other "cousins" as well.  Ultimately I figure, like most people, Alex will end up creating her own family as she grows and develops relationships.  I don't foresee problems:  she's a very generous, giving kid by nature, and with her, our family feels complete.

From Amanda Susan: "When can we read your next book? I raced through The Beauty Of Different."

I'm glad you enjoyed it!  I do have plans for a second book, but I'm taking a little break from book-writing right now -- I'll probably start it later in the year.  If history is any indicator, it takes around 15 months or so for me to write a book (from me typing the first page to having it in my hot little hands), so I'm thinking end of 2012 or beginning of 2013 at the earliest.  But of course, I'll let you know for sure.

(Incidentally, this seems like a great time to thank all of you who have written me to tell me how much you enjoyed the book, left reviews on, or have even written posts on your own blogs about the book.  I can't tell you how much I've appreciated all of your words.  Really, really.)

From Cameron:  "I saw your pages in Where Women Create today and I looooooved it. So my question, since you have organized your books by color which I think is SO stinkin' cool, is whether it is ever hard for you to find a certain book? Or do you remember them by color? Or do you just not really need to refer to books very often? I LOVE the look of them organized by color, but I'm kind of (cough) detail-oriented about having them organized by type and with authors grouped together (ie a shelf of travel books, a shelf of my favorite fiction, a shelf of "to read," etc)."

Oh, I was EXACTLY the same -- when I was single I had all my books ordered by genre, by topic, by author ALPHABETICALLY.  But now, with two other people living in the house, I found that was a bad idea, because they aren't as anal as I am, and would never put the books back in the right place!  This way, by colour, they're more inclined to put them back in the "right place" (and I'm more likely to see when they don't).  So far, I haven't had too much trouble finding the books -- I'm a pretty visual person anyway, and tend to remember book covers.  Maybe as I acquire more, this will become a problem, though ... hmm ...

From Elz: "how many rum punches can you drink before feeling tipsy?!"

One tall glass.  And then it's usually time for a nap.

From Leisa:  "What do you like about Squarespace & why did you change from Typepad?"

I switched to Squarespace for the purposes of hosting my site when I decided to quit my job and write and shoot full time.  Typepad served me well; however, I find Squarespace far more flexible a tool to create really original sites; in addition, they had a lot of experience in showcasing photographers' work.  Two years later, it remains one of the best business decisions I've made.

From René J:  "Do you print at home? I know you use an apple, (back in one functioning piece!), but do you take your photos to a lab to print or have recommendations on a printer? I'm struggling with printing quality on my own."

I rarely print at home -- I'm too miserly with my ink.  When I need professional-quality prints, I use WHCC -- I think they're the best at making the prints look the way they look on my desktop screen (I think they only cater to professional photographers, so you might want to check on that).  For just snapshots -- I try to print my favourites every two weeks or so -- my only purpose is to stick them in my journal, so I'm less picky about who prints them.  I just use RitzPix -- I order them online, and then pick them up at the brick-and-mortar store near my house.  For those purposes, they're "cheap and cheerful," as Marcus would say.

From Puna:  "I do want to know what "type" of photographer you believe you have become. I don't think you do the standard weddings and senior portraits like other photographer do. Do you find your that you are an exclusive web presence? Or would you shoot for others or perhaps you feel like you are more of an artist that would sell her prints? Just curious."

That's such a great question! My friend Brené calls me a "photoessayist," and to be honest, that's the title that feels the most right. I don't do weddings (except as a gift for close friends, and even then, I insist they hire an official photographer), and most portraits I do for my own purposes, and not for hire (although I do give the subject a copy of the shot).  But for me, it's very strange to photograph without also writing, and vice-versa -- for me, the two are very closely tied.  I love telling stories, and using photography to illustrate them.

And so, I suppose, a photoessayist I shall be.  And with your question, it's officially official.


And with that, thanks so much for asking your questions, friends -- we'll definitely do this again sometime soon.  But for now, I'll return you to your regularly scheduled Chookooloonks.


Image:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 35mm lens.  aperature 2.0, shutter speed 1/2500, ISO 200.


Song:  Starry-eyed surprise by Paul Oakenfold

good news, bad news and open for questions

So the good news since last Friday is that my computer is back, complete with a new, upgraded hard drive, and all my data intact.  I'm breathing a really big sigh of relief that all the evidence of my photography and writing over the past 2 years still exists.

However, the bad news is that we're now on Day 4 of Alex's Great Fever of Mystery and Lethargy.  She has no other symptoms other than a relatively low fever; she's been tested for flu and strep and both came back negative.  She's just feeling puny and has no appetite, and it's rather disheartening to see my usually funny and -- yes, it must be said -- somewhat mischievous child just lying on the couch, fading in and out of consciousness.  So if you have any prayers or kind juju to spare, if you could send it Alex's way, we'd all be really grateful.

In any event, barring any sort of stunning or miraculous turnaround this evening, we'll likely be back at the pediatrician tomorrow.

As a result, I'm afraid I've been pretty single-minded over the last few days, and don't have much to say today; indeed, I might not until we start to see some improvement in Alex. So I thought I'd open up Chookooloonks for questions:  anything you've been burning to ask?  Let me know in the comments below, and over the next few days, I'll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for understanding.


Image:  Alex watching The Last Airbender.  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  aperture 2.5; shutter speed 1/80; ISO 200.


Song:  Because she hasn't been feeling well, I let Alex pick today's song.  She picked the following. 

And no, we're not Jewish.


random thoughts: on unexpectations

So after having launched the redesign of the site on Monday, I had all these fabulous plans for this week:  trying out technology for new projects for the site, putting together press kits, and generally being ridiculously productive.  I was ready, you know?

And then of course, the universe conspired against me, making sure that all my "best-laid" plans went awry:  phone conferences I had forgotten I scheduled that I needed to attend to, my main computer with all of my work for the past two years crashed (gulp!), and finally, Alex came down with a fever, requiring a bit of attentive motherly care.

This is all unfortunate, of course, but you know what has surprised me?  I'm not as upset about all of this as I would have expected to be.  (Okay, I admit I had a few choice curse words for a poor unsuspecting friend I was instant-messaging on my laptop when my desktop suddenly flashed the Grey Screen of Doom, but really, other than that, I've been surprisingly calm.) The computer was under an extended warranty, so I won't have any repair costs; further, we managed to get the computer to boot up at the Apple store -- so a quick purchase of an external hard drive allowed the store clerk to begin an immediate download of all of my work.  My phone conferences actually went really well.  And, bless Alex -- I hate when she's sick, but we've had some pretty concentrated snuggle time as a result.

So, even though it's been a week full of unexpectations, and I didn't get nearly as much done as I would've liked, the truth is I also managed to get a few things done that I didn't expect, too.  And in a lot of ways, the disruptions have forced me to reflect with gratitude about a few things:  thank goodness I bought the extended warranty when I bought the computer.  Thank goodness I really enjoyed connecting with the folks on the other end of those phone conversations.  Thank goodness Alex's fever so far is mild, and thank goodness that I have a more flexible schedule than I did two years ago.

(Still, I'm saying prayers that Alex's fever breaks and the computer comes back home very soon.  I'm only human, after all.)

And on that note, have a great weekend, friends.  May your good unexpectations always outnumber your bad.


Image:  Photographed in my back garden this week, when I actually was on task.   My Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/3200, ISO 200


Song: Faith/Fame Remix, as performed by Limp Bizkit, featuring EverlastOne of the most unexpected remixes ever.


a beautifully different moment: date night

This past weekend, Marcus and I had date night.  It had been a while since we'd gone out, just the two of us, but we've been trying to be frugal.  Still, Valentine's Day was this week, we were looking for some time alone, and so we threw caution to the wind, hired a babysitter, and went out.

Marcus had wanted me to come with him to a restaurant that he'd patronized before, but was new to me.  So he told me that he'd made reservations at El Meson, a Cuban/Spanish restaurant near Rice University.  Spanish food has a special place in our hearts:  the day we got married (the quickie marriage, not the white wedding that happened two months later), we spent the afternoon at a small tapas restaurant in the Chelsea area of London, eating great food and getting vaguely plowed on sangria before heading to the hotel conference room we'd booked to meet the officiant and say our vows.  It's a great memory; this restaurant, therefore, reserved for Saturday, sounded perfect.

So Saturday night, we got dressed up, had a quick glass of wine at Salento Wine Cafe (a very cool coffeehouse/wine bar), and then headed over to El Meson.  It was a lovely, intimate night.




Happy Love Thursday, all.


Images:  So -- get this -- my hard drive crashed.  I know.  And so my main computer is in the Apple hospital (also know as the "Genius Bar") currently getting an emergency backup (that I hope-I hope-I hope will save all of the last 2 years of my work and life!), and a new hard drive.  Unfortunately, the images above were on that crashed drive, so I can't look up and tell you what my settings were when I took them, and I honestly don't remember.  All I can tell you is that they were shot with my Nikon D300 and my 50mm lens.  Sorry I can't provide more info.  Going forward, though, we should be okay. *fingers crossed*


Song: You give me something by Jamiroquai

list #15: 7 things to do when you need to add good to your day

So you know how sometimes you get in really foul mood -- either because something bad actually happened, or you're just feeling a sort of low-grade undercurrent of "y'all better get out my face" malaise pervading every minute of your day? 

You know that feeling?


... just me?

Well, anyway:  the past few days I've been in a bit of a funk.  But luckily, I'm older and wiser than I was, say, 20 years ago, and while I love a good brood, I'm now of the firm opinion that at some point, if your circumstances aren't changing, it's time to take the bull by the horns and change them yourself. 

This is often easier said than done, of course.  Still, I've found that even in the worst situations, when I'm feeling angry or sad or humiliated or any other of a myriad of negative feelings, those are the times when it's imperative that I treat myself as I would a good friend going through similar circumstances.  And while you might not be able to change the cause of the anger or grief, it is almost always possible to add just a little shot of good to your day, for even the tiniest pick-me-up.

And so, without further ado, here are 7 things that I've done when I've needed to add good to my day (and without admitting or denying anything, I may or may not have done a few of these really recently):


1. Buy flowers.  I'm not talking about a fabulous-bouquet-because-by-gum-you-can-be-your-own-romantic-partner kind of a way (although, hey, if that works for you, go for it), but I'm talking about a-shot-of-colour-therapy kind of way.  Flowers are just generally awesome.  And they don't have to be expensive: I'm fond of grocery store flowers, myself.  Or in fact, if you if have some growing handily nearby (and there's no danger of being arrested), pick those.

2.  Then photograph them.  Or sketch them.  Or paint them. Or doodle them.  Or whatever.  Do something with them that makes you stop and focus on the flowers and not whatever has been eating at you, even if only for 5 minutes.


3.  Have a good playlist on hand. This is a must for me -- music can help form my entire outlook.  Make playlists that evoke calm, or happiness, or celebration or whatever.  And make sure to play them as background music or in your headset or whatever for as long as you can during the day (I haven't done one for any particular mood lately, but I find my latest February mix is doing the trick for me these days).

You get bonus points if you turn up your mix at some point and really belt out a tune.

4.  Look at beautiful sites.  God knows the web is full of ugly, but it's also full of really beautiful things as well.  Make sure to add some happy, pretty sites to your feed reader (lately I'm loving this one and this one), to ensure you have something to look at to help lift your mood.  And if you prefer something more dynamic?  This video about how to be alone and this one about embracing your beautiful different (both by the same talented filmmaker) never fail to make me just a little lighter.

5.  Have a cup of tea.  Marcus and I joke that Brits seem to have a profound belief that all ills can be cured by simply having a cup of tea.  But the truth is, I think there's something to that: the act of making a cup of tea -- boiling the water, adding the teabag to steep, watching the colour of the water change -- requires you to slow down and be mindful in a the moment.  And for your patience?  A good, hot comfort drink awaits. 

Yup:  never underestimate the power of tea, honey.


6. Go outside.  Sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders.  If it's cold out, wrap up warmly and take a walk around the block, noticing the wind and the chill.  If it's hot, go sit in the shade and notice the bugs, and feel perspiration start to form.  If it's raining, go listen to the drops.  Just change your perspective.

7.  And finally, breatheFor 10 of the deepest, most concentrated breaths you can muster. 

With that, keep on keepin' on, friends.  I'm pulling for you.

Images:  Inspired by this image, I bought these hydrangeas yesterday, and photographed them with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens -- aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/250, ISO 200.


SongBaby, it's cold outside, as performed by Willie Nelson featuring Norah Jones. Because with voices this sweet, you have to smile.