you are beautiful* (the chookooloonks giveaway)

Since Valentine's Day fast approaches (and as you know, I like to celebrate Valentine's Day as "Love Day," where you show someone you love them, romantic interest or not), I thought we'd do a giveaway here on Chookooloonks.  So leave a comment below to enter to win a signed copy of The Beauty of Different, and I'll pick a commenter at random and announce the winner on Friday's post.

And then, after you leave your comment below, head on over to The Beauty of Different blog, and leave a comment over there, too.

That's right.  Two chances to win a gift, perfect for giving to someone in your life who you know to be beautiful.

Good luck!

(By the way -- if you're so inclined, feel free to embed the video above in your own sites.  The way I see it, we need to spread the word that everyone is beautiful.)

chookooloonks life list update: number 16, photograph 1000 faces (the blissdom 2011 edition)

Last week, after returning from Seattle, I almost immediately turned around and got back on a plane to Nashville, for the Blissdom Conference.  It was a whirlwind trip, and I was back in Houston almost as soon as I got there, but I did manage to meet some lovely people and photograph some beautiful faces, all in furtherance of my life list goal to photograph 1000 faces.

The real reason I went to was to speak on a panel about Integrity and Strategy, and I'm so glad I did, because my co-panelists were all amazing women, and it was an honour to speak with them.  Holly, above, was the moderator -- she's one of the cofounders of BlogFrog, a site which provides tools for bloggers to create community.  The word that most came to mind as I spoke with her was "gentle."  She's funny and lovely and a great leader, and I'm thrilled I was able to meet her.


You know how sometimes you meet someone, and even before you get to know them, you get the feeling that this person is a kindred spirit?  That's how I felt when I met Ria Sharon, above, who is "Practical Mommy" on the site  Ria has this wonderfully kind smile, and we hit it off right away.  And considering that her bio specifically states she "coaches people individually and in groups on how to discover and/or reclaim the essence of themselves — the personal brand — that is truly of incomparable value," I'm pretty sure that this weekend was the start of a very long friendship.  I truly loved meeting her.


Julie, the mind behind Mabel's Labels and The Mabelhood is this wonderful dichotomy:  on one hand, she's this delicate, ethereal beauty, who I strongly suspect is part fairy (I mean, really, just look at her). On the other hand? She's this witty, spunky woman with a northeastern-sounding accent, a razor sharp mind and a keen sense of humour.  She's so open and friendly and overwhelmingly fun.  I seriously hope our paths cross again soon.


The final member of my panel was Katherine, who writes Postpartum Progress, a community dedicated to helping and supporting women through postpartum depression.   I'd never met Katherine before, but I have to tell you, if I were ever going through a tough time, I'd want someone just like Katherine holding my hand.  She seems both strong and gentle, and struck me as a person who is capable of limitless empathy.  She's positively angelic, in a guardian-angel-who'd-never-let-anything-bad-happen-to-you sort of way.  Lovely.


I've actually known Danielle (aka Foodmomiac) for several years now.  Danielle also has of one of my very favourite faces I've ever seen in real life, and I've been dying to photograph her for some time.  I adore her.  She's one of those people with whom you could be sitting in deep, profound conversation, and then suddenly, unexpectedly and without warning, out of her mouth comes the funniest thing you've heard in 6 months -- and you'll have to take a minute to catch yourself, because you'll be thinking, "wait a minute ... that shiz is funny." She so wickedly smart, and I'm so glad to know her.


I met Allison, founder of No Time for Flash Cards, the first morning of the conference -- as I walked past her I cooed over her young daughter she was carrying, and I when I saw her face, I knew I had to photograph it.  Allison is just a deep, soulful beauty, isn't she?  And she has this calm, openness about her, too.  It was great meeting her.


Ah, Ryan.  Ryan is the stunningly creative force behind the website Pacing the Panic Room, and I have to tell you, he has been one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to photography for a very, very long time.  The weekly series he did with his wife when she was pregnant is amazing, and his most recent project combining photography and video blows me away.  I actually met Ryan last year at BlogHer (we had a wonderful lunch together with a few good friends), but like most of us photographers, he hates having his picture taken, so I didn't get to take his portrait the last time we met.  I was therefore quite honoured when he allowed me to take it this time.

Related:  are you kidding me with the colour of those eyes?

Speaking of eyes:  Heather has a pair of the most gorgeous and extraordinary eyes I've ever seen that aren't computer-generated.  I mean, seriously, look at them:  they're incredible.  Heather is the creative mind behind Domestic Extraordinaire, and she's also a photographer.  We'd never met before, and we shared stories of what it's like to be the photographer in your family ("my kids are going to think they were raised by a single dad, if they go by the photographs!").   I found her generous and warm and open.  She's lovely, I hope we meet again soon.


One evening after the sessions were over, I was sitting with a few friends having a glass of wine, when I met Carmen, of Mom to the Screaming Masses. "I'd like you to take my photograph," she said, frankly.  "Okay, we'll do it tomorrow," I immediately responded.

The next morning, she approached me.  "You don't have to take my picture," she said, earnestly.  "I didn't mean to put you on the spot.  Seriously, you don't have to."

Right.  Like I was going to let that face get away.

Carmen is incredibly friendly and outgoing, and within minutes, I felt like I'd known her all my life.  I was thrilled to photograph her -- especially because, obviously, she gives good face.  I'm hoping we meet again soon.


And finally, speaking of giving good face:  Amy.  I have to admit that I came to Blissdom with a single-minded intention of photographing Amy's incredible face.  Amy is the creative mind behind the highly successful wooden toy company, Little Alouette, and the blog Amy Turn Sharp (which is actually her real name, how cool is that?).  Amy is outrageous and unapologetic and a force of nature, and being in her company is like being in the presence of a million brightly-coloured fireworks.  Her entire presence radiates joy and badassery, and every time I'm near her, I leave wanting to be just a little more daring.  I was so happy to finally take her portrait.


With that, thanks to all of the beautiful people who allowed me to capture a glimpse of their spirits to share with everyone here at Chookooloonks. Spending time with you all is exactly why I go to conferences.  I feel so much better knowing that you're all a part of this world.


Images:  Photographed with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens.


SongBohemian Rhapsody, as performed by Jake Shimabukuro.  Knowing my newfound fascination with the ukulele, my sister sent me this while I was away at Blissdom, and I waited until I returned home to listen to it.  I remain blown away.  (Talk about the beauty of different!)

a jug of water was nearby

Tonight we went over to my parents' house to celebrate my dad's birthday.  It was a small get-together, with two other couples -- and it turned out that one of the men who was in attendance shared a birthday with my dad.

Which, you know, was a good thing, 'cause Dad needed all the help he could get to blow out the candles.



I'm not going to tell you how old my dad is, because that would just be rude and disrespectful.

I will tell you, however, that it's entirely possible to fit 71 candles on a single birthday cake.



You know, in the off-chance that kind of information might be handy for you one day.


(Happy birthday, Dad!)

seattle jazz trip: on the jason parker quartet, and what became one of the most beautifully different nights of my life

Finally it was time to head over to Lucid Jazz Lounge for the main event.  The bar is located in the University District of Seattle on a quiet end of University Way.  It is tiny, and dimly lit in glowing red lights, and has exactly the vibe a bar that features live jazz ought to have.

I can't tell you how excited I was about this evening.  Of course, book readings are fun and I love doing them; however, I really love live music and I love jazz, and the thought of putting all three together was a dream come true for me.  And I say this without hyperbole:  when planning how I wanted to promote The Beauty of Different, I knew that I wanted to do something both beautiful and different, and would literally daydream about how I could incorporate music into the readings.  So when Darrah's email came from out of the blue inviting me to read along with her husband's jazz quartet, it was literally as if my prayers were answered.

 Jason, the leader of the band and the trumpet player, is an incredibly kind soul, and as soon as we met it was clear that the vision of the experience we both were hoping to create was exactly the same.  He is wickedly talented and a consummate professional, and even though we didn't rehearse once before the gig, I was confident that the evening would go smoothly.  Jason's bandmates were warm and generous as well, and my favourite part of the evening was watching their faces as they played their instruments together.  These are men who passionately love what they do, and that joy registers on their faces every single minute they're on stage.



Now obviously, I can't presume to speak for how the experience was for those who attended (and gratefully, there are others who very kindly and vividly described their own experiences),  but I will tell you what it was like for me: 

It was breathtaking

Being up on stage with all of these kind faces attentively looking and listening to my words, while the beautiful music created by the talented Jason Parker Quartet swirled around us ... well, I have to tell you, it was beyond anything I could have possible hoped for.  I felt exhilarated for days afterward, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure if I've yet come down from the high.  After the gig, Jason foolishly told me he'd be interested in replicating the experience in a couple of other west coast cities; this was a mistake on his part, because I have every intention of holding him to it.

Photo by Tea.

And finally, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who came out that cold, drizzly, Sunday evening to the tiny little jazz bar that is Lucid.  Your warmth and support and generosity of spirit that evening was really special, and I will be ever grateful to you for making the experience one of the most memorable of my life.

Thank you.

On that note, have a great weekend, everybody.


Images:  Except for as noted, images photographed with the Nikon D700 that Nikon lent me, and my 50mm lens.


SongLove for sale as performed by the Jason Parker Quartet.  This was my favourite song that night.


seattle jazz trip: on sculptures, pikes place and that needle

We weren't allowed to touch the art. But I touched this installation anyway.  I'm outta control, I tell you!

After lunch, Giyen had to return to work, so Darrah and Tea took Vic and me to the Sculpture gardens.  Here's something cool I learned about Seattle:  a certain portion of the city budget every year is earmarked for public art installations -- can you imagine?  They spend money to keep making the city more and more beautiful. 

Take note, Houston.


I couldn't help but notice how amazing the light was -- even though it was overcast, it wasn't raining, so combined with the colours around us, it made for beautiful shots. I said as much to Darrah.

"Oh yeah," she said.  "I do a lot of portrait sessions here."  And then she demonstrated.

Vic & me -- photo by Darrah.


Vic, me & Tea -- photo by Darrah.

So we played around, taking more and more photographs.



And then we started goofing around.


Photo by Darrah.


And then I remembered my propensity for attracting the attention of security guards, so we sobered up and moved on to Pike Place Market.

This place is pretty incredible -- a bustling, multi-level market that reminded me strongly of Covent Garden in London.  Lots of stores and vendors selling art, and jewelry, and interspersed little bars with great views of Puget Sound. 

And this lovely young woman (from Houston, no less!) ...

... gave me a sample of some of the most amazing chocolate-mocha spread, and even though I wasn't planning on spending any money, I bought a jar on the spot (because if there's something my husband loves, it's chocolate and coffee).  I put it in my carry-on bags, and at the airport security a TSA officer promptly pulled me aside.  A little flirting and sweet-talking later, and he went ahead and let me keep it and go on to my gate.

I still got it, baby.  (Actually, he admitted that he just hated the hassle of confiscating items, but I'm choosing to think it was all the power of my feminine wiles. Please do not try to tell me otherwise.)

Anyway, I have to tell you, even if you're not a vegetarian, just walking through the market it will make you strongly consider the lifestyle:


Victoria agreed:  these displays just made us want to do a face-plant into the fruits and vegetables and eat them all.

Finally, it was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the evening.  We didn't even have time to stop at Seattle's most iconic landmark, the Space Needle, but I did manage to capture a shot through Darrah's windshield as we sped by:

Every time I look at this picture, I think of that song "Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs" that they always sang at the end of the television show Frasier.  "Goodnight, Seattle, we love you!"


It was a spectacular day.

Tomorrow?  All that jazz, baby.

Images:  Except as otherwise noticed, all photographs were taken by me with the Nikon D700 that Nikon so generously loaned me, with various lenses.


SongPurple haze by Jimi Hendrix.  Fun fact I learned from Darrah on this day:  Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle!

seattle jazz trip: on coffee, houseboats and nettletown cafe

Trabant Coffee & Chai.

So after our wonderful evening at The Hardware Store on Vashon Island, Jason and Darrah were driving Victoria and I back to our hotel on the mainland when Jason suddenly said, "Oh, by the way, in the morning, if you want coffee, that coffeehouse over there serves really good coffee."  He was pointing to Trabant Coffee and Chai, a streetfront place in a relatively nondescript building across the street.

"Oh," I demurred.  "I mean, we'll probably just get some coffee from the shop in the lobby of our hotel."

Jason parked the car, and he and Darrah both turned to look at us in barely-disguised horror.  "You have come all the way to Seattle," rebuked Jason.  "There is no way in hell we're going to let you go back to Houston without a decent cup of coffee."

I had forgotten -- Seattleites are serious about their coffee.  In fact, coffeehouses in Seattle are what pubs are to London: they are the places in your neighbourhood you go to warm up from the ubiquitous, drizzly chill, the place where you connect with friends, the place where everyone knows your name.  And since it is, after all, the town that gave birth to Starbucks Coffee (a fact that displeases a few hard-core locals -- "they're so corporate," they inevitably sniff), it truly would be a crime against nature to visit Seattle and not patronize one of the local coffee haunts.

So the next morning, Victoria and I got dressed and went over to Trabant.  And honey? These people do. not. play.


We were greeted by a friendly barista, who guided us in the flavours of coffee he had on hand.  He asked where we were from -- a complicated question to answer, so we just simplified our response to "Houston" -- and he became greatly interested.  "I'll be there later this year for the national coffee convention!" he said.  Who knew?

Then he showed considerable consternation that the espresso he had used to make my cappuccino was offgassing...

 ... yeah, I didn't get what the problem was either.

But the coffee? Was delicious.  Of course.


After our coffee, we went back to our hotel, and met Darrah and Tea for a day of photowalking.  The first place they took us was to the little neighbourhood of Eastlake, where we walked around looking at houseboats.

Now, when I said houseboats, many of you probably envisioned those charming flatboats that they have in canals in Amsterdam, didn't you?  Those tiny little vessels?  Yeah?  Not so much.  Because these homes? These homes are really something to behold:  many of them two-storey, no less.  But just as charming, man.




After our walk, Giyen met us for lunch at Nettletown Cafe.  This tiny little restaurant is nestled in the middle of this very nondescript strip centre, but my, what a place.  The atmosphere was so calm, with these lovely soothing blue walls.  And the food here was indescribably delicious. 


Hibiscus & ginger iced tea. Lovely.


Beets with huckleberries.  If that doesn't sound good to you, I'm okay with that. It means there's more for me.

On Tea's recommendation I had the knoepfli, which apparently is Swiss spaetzle, neither of which I'd ever heard before -- but let me tell you, I am bearing a grudge against anyone who ever knew about this stuff and never told me about it.  I would've taken a photograph of it, but I was too busy diving headfirst into the dish. I almost licked the plate.

Once we were sufficiently full, we stood up to give our table away to someone in the now-packed restaurant, and headed out to do some full-on touristy sightseeing. 

But that's a story for tomorrow.


It is, you know.


(P.S.  Today I leave for Nashville to attend the Blissdom Conference.  If you're attending, and you see me, please come over and say hi -- I promise to do the same.)


Images:  The Nikon D700 that Nikon so very kindly lent me, and various lenses.


SongCome as you are by Nirvana -- probably the most famous Seattle band I know.

seattle jazz trip: on ferries, new friendships & charming restaurants on tiny islands

Coming in for a landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Taken from my aisle seat when I should've had all electronics turned off and stowed under the seat in front of me. See?? REBEL!!

I'm back from Seattle and goodness, what a trip.  You wouldn't think that spending less than 48 hours in a city could be filled with so much, but astonishingly, we managed to do it, and do it well.  In fact, even though this was a really whirlwind visit, I have enough stories to last for this entire week, my friend.  So please, go get a cuppa, and settle in.

This trip came about sort of out-of-the-blue:  a lovely woman who has read this site emailed me to suggest that I fly to Seattle to do a book reading along with her husband's jazz quartet.  Now, I don't know about you, but quite long ago time ago I made a promise to myself that if ever a woman emailed me out-of-the-blue to invite me to read from my book while accompanied by a jazz ensemble, I would immediately and unreservedly accept.  So I did.  (And, incidently, so should you, should the opportunity arise.)

We quickly made arrangements, and flight schedules were such that I could arrive on Saturday evening, giving me the entire day on Sunday to myself, before the show on Sunday night.  I would've loved for Marcus and Alex to join me, but since it would've meant pulling Alex out of school on Monday to do it, we decided against it.  I planned to take the trip alone.

Over Christmas, however, I met my good friend Victoria for drinks.  I mentioned my upcoming trip, and on a whim, I asked, "Wanna tag along?"  It was a stupid question, really:  Victoria travels incessantly for her job, and I knew that there was no way her schedule would allow her to come.

"Yes," she said.  I stared at her dumbly.

"I'm sorry?"

"Yes, I'd love to.  I don't think I'm traveling that weekend.  Yes."

Hot dog.

So Vic and I landed in Seattle early Saturday evening.  After we checked into our hotel, we had just enough time before Darrah (the sweet woman who initially invited me Seattle and photographer extraordinaire), her husband Jason (a supremely talented jazz musician) and Tara Austen Weaver (also known as "Tea," a brilliant writer and author of the insightful book on the food industry, The Butcher and the Vegetarian) picked us up to take the ferry to Vashon Island for dinner.  I was filled with anticipation:  while I knew Darrah, Jason and Tea -- I'd met each of them on previous occasions -- they obviously had never met Vic; moreover, Darrah and Jason had never met Tea, even though they live in the same city.  But it turns out that the Vashon ferry is the perfect place for getting to know new faces, and by the end of the 20 minute trip, we were all old friends.

Jason and Darrah.

 Vic and Tea.


I was also beyond excited for where we were going to dinner:  if you're a foodie at all, you've undoubtedly heard of Danny and Shauna Ahern, the husband-and-wife authors of the wildly successful site Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, and their cookbook by the same name (named by the New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of 2010).  Well, it so happens that Danny is the chef at The Hardware Store, an incredibly charming restaurant on Vashon Island.  And since I had always been quite taken with Shauna and her blog, I knew that this was exactly where I wanted to have my first meal in Seattle.

Also, did I mention the restaurant is charming?  I mean, just look at the front door!

As soon as we walked in, Shauna embraced us in this wonderfully warm, welcoming hug, equalled only by the one I received from the fantastic and beautiful Giyen.  Giyen is the creative mind behind the blog Bacon is My Enemy, and although we had worked together virtually on for over a year, we'd never met in person.  Giyen also lives on Vashon Island and I insisted that she meet us all at The Hardware Store for dinner. I'm so glad I did:  Giyen is hysterically funny, wickedly smart, and as much as I admired her online, I adored her instantly in person.

So then we all sat down to dinner.  The food was amazing, the company was even better.

Shauna, Danny & their spirited little girl, Lu.

The evening was just perfect -- full of laughter and stories and confessions and we acted as if we'd all known each other for years and years instead of just a matter of hours.  It was absolutely the most perfect way to start our little weekend away, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to these fantastic people for their warmth.

But that's just the beginning -- I've got so many more images to share.  Tomorrow?  Coffee.


Images:  All photographed with the Nikon D700 that Nikon so generously lent me, with my 50mm lens.  The time fast approaches when I need to return this camera to Nikon, so I thought I'd take it out for one last spin.


SongLearn to fly by Seattle's hometown heros, Foo Fighters


the photographs I took from the sidewalk at a large, outdoor shopping centre ...

... just before a security guard rolled up on his Segway, telling me that I was on "private property," and therefore couldn't take photographs.  Startled, I looked around, but didn't see any signage prohibiting photography.   He explained (very calmly, it must be said) that if I'd had someone with me, and was actually taking a photo of that person standing on the sidewalk, that would've been okay; however, because I was alone and taking a photograph of a plant, my actions was prohibited.

In the seconds that followed I quickly weighed the pros and cons of protesting, and decided against it.  I smiled, put away my camera and left without any further discussion.


And then I came home, promptly processed the images, and uploaded them on my blog.

See?  It's a good thing he stopped me, because I'm a rebel, by gum, with no respect for authority.  Imagine what could've happened if I took more photos!

And on that note, a warning, Seattle:  I'm headed your way, I'm bringing a Nikon with me, and I'm not afraid to use it.

(For those of you who are coming to the meetup, I seriously can't wait to meet you.  To everyone else, I won't be back at my desk until late Monday, so it may be sometime on Tuesday before you see me here again.  But I promise, barring arrest, I'll be back with tons of photos.  In the meantime, though, check out my page on -- this is where I'll be posting lovely bits of photography inspiration I find around the web.)

And finally, have a great weekend, everyone.


Images:  Photographed with a fully-loaded Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.


SongBad to the bone by George Thorogood & The Destroyers

list #13: 10 random thoughts that ran through my head as i wrote this post

1.  I'm really pleased with the way the texture of this flower came out on this photo.  

2.  The commercials on television are horrifying.  This must be why people get TiVo.

3.  I need a manicure.  I should give myself one before I leave for Seattle.

4.  Seattle should be cool.  I'm really excited that I'll have some time to check out the sights.  What should I shoot while I'm there ... there's, like, a needle, I think?  Oh, and .... they throw fish?  Or something?  I should probably do a bit of research on what I should see in the few hours I'm there.

5.  Marcus' salad tonight was delicious.  But really, it's hard to go wrong with shrimps and peanut sauce.

6.  Goodness, my feet are cold.

7.  Speaking of Seattle, I should probably take a raincoat.  Where is that thing? I'm not sure I've worn it since I lived in London.  It's probably full of moths.  Not that I've ever seen a moth eat clothing.  Moths eat clothing, right? Does that really happen?

8.  The list of side effects on the medications they advertise is terrifying.  How bad do you have to feel, to risk taking medicine with "risk of suicide or death"?

9.  Cornell West just said, "Justice is what love looks like in public.  Tenderness is what love feels like in private."  HELL yes.

10.  Time for a cup of tea, I think.

Image:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.

SongRapper's delight by the Sugar Hill Gang