bonus shot: her majesty, princess chookooloonks of the deep blue

A few months ago, I asked Alex:  "Alex?  What would you like to be for Halloween?"

She thought for a moment.  Then she looked at me gravely:

"A hip hop artist.  We're going to need lots of gold chains," she answered, gesturing emphatically around her neck and chest.

Needless to say, this was the beginning of some heated negotiations in our house.  We finally compromised on the mermaid you see above.

I dunno, man.

Remember when she wanted to be an astronaut?

 

Happy Halloween, everyone.  Have fun and stay safe.

bonus shot: rufus

Just popping in to show you His Highness Mr. Rufus A. Pants, posing on his new dog bed.  This bed is from MollyMutt.com, and is pretty ingenious:  you simply fill their mesh bag with your old clothes, pull one of their "duvet" covers over the whole thing, and voila -- instant dog bed, one that smells like comforting you and easily comes apart to wash in the washing machine, filling and all.  Brilliant, I say. 

I bought the bed about a week ago, and when I received it today, there was an invitation to take a photograph of the bed in use, so that Molly could put it on her website.  After a bit of cajoling, Rufus agreed to pose for the shot, above.  Besides, it had been a while since I'd featured a decent Rufus shot here, and Rufus was feeling neglected.

Happy Halloween, everybody.  I suspect another bonus shot of a certain little trick-or-treater in our house will be posted later this weekend, so stay tuned.

on joy, happiness and pleasure

One from the archives: Alex at Discovery Green, July 2009.  Photographed with Nikon D300, 70-200mm lens.

This past Wednesday, I attended the Champions of Literacy Series dinner, hosted by Literacy Advance of Houston, and honouring author Dwight Edwards.  Dwight's new book, A Tale of Three Ships, is published by the same publisher as my upcoming book, and so I was invited to attend.  It was a lovely evening, for a great cause:  Literacy Advance of Houston is an organization that helps functionally illiterate adults learn how to read English. But the best part was Dwight's keynote -- his speech was filled with lovely tidbits that I wholeheartedly believe, and so, if you'll permit me, I thought I'd share them with you here.

He opened his speech by telling an anecdote about Alex Haley, the author of the bestseller Roots.  Apparently, Haley used to have this photograph of a turtle sitting on top of a fence post prominently displayed in his office.  Occasionally, people would ask what was up with the photograph, and Haley would reply, "Well, think about it:  every time you see a turtle on the top of a fence post, you know he had help getting there."  Dwight then thanked the crowd for his award, saying that he never felt more like that turtle.

He began speaking about Joy, which is the primary subject of his book.  He said that Joy shouldn't be confused with Happiness and Pleasure -- in fact, he said, Joy's closest competitors are Happiness and Pleasure.  He went on to explain:

Happiness is a favourable condition caused by an outside circumstance.   You feel Happy when something good happens to you.

Pleasure, he said, is really more of a fulfillment of a corporal desire.  You derive Pleasure from things like a good glass of wine, for example.  Or a delicious rich chocolate.

But Joy, he said, Joy was something entirely different.  He described it as something that can only be understood by experience.  Joy, he believes, is deeper, stronger and cleaner than either Happiness or Pleasure.  He believes true Joy is something which finds us; we don't find Joy.

Nonetheless, he said, there were two ways to make it easier for Joy to find us:

1.  To be joyful, we need to do what we were meant to do.  He describes this as fulfilling the "extraordinary dream."  He believes we were each hardwired to do something in a way that no one else can do it, and that "when we find it, it will absolutely light us up."  He stressed that this didn't necessarily mean that we should all make a living doing this; however, we should definitely carve time to do it as often as possible. 

And the second way:

2.  In referencing Alex Haley's photograph, he believes that there is a unique joy in helping fellow human beings move up the fence post. We are joyful when we can help others succeed.

And finally, one of my favourite parts of his speech:  "Whoever said 'money can't buy happiness' was broke.  Of course it can buy Happiness.  What it can't buy, is Joy."

I hope you have a Joy-full weekend, everyone.


SongSong of the heart by Prince (from the Happy Feet soundtrack)

love thursday: dip di-dip di-dip doo-bop a doo-bee doo

 

Do not ask why, but I was sitting here thinking about that movie, Forrest Gump -- as you do -- and I remembered that one line where Forrest was thinking about his friendship with Jenny:

"Me and Jenny goes together like peas and carrots."

And then I started thinking about relationships in my life, past and present, where we were inseparable -- with Marcus, certainly, but also with Alex, and platonic friendships as well -- where we went together like ...

... cookies and cream ...

... a campfire and marshmallows ...

... jeans and a t-shirt ...

... popcorn and parmesan (dude, don't knock it 'til you try it) ...

... hand and glove ...

... beaches and coconuts ...

... linen and sandals ...

... sunshine and sea breeze ...

... crisp weather and hot chocolate...

... rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong ...

... you get the idea.

Love those relationships.

* * * * * * *

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.  Feel free to leave your stories or links to your words or images of love in the comments below.  Or, in the alternative, think of a great relationship in your life, and tell me what you go together like.

Because I really think your comment and this post will go together like whipped cream and strawberries.

SongBetter together by Jack Johnson

 

Image:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 50mm manual lens

quiet smiles

Even though leaving town last week to get some writing done was a great idea, I find myself still a bit inundated with work.  So this post is just a quick one -- I thought I'd share what's making me smile lately:

1.  This photograph of beautiful women.  It proves what I believe deep down in my soul: we were made to be all different shapes, sizes, colours, races, nationalities because it makes the world a more amazing place.

2.  Random acts of kindness, including the very sweet compliment a total stranger gave me during a recent run, an unexpected gift mailed to Alex for no reason at all, and a gorgeous print  sent to me by a friend and fellow photographer who I've never actually met in person before.  These lovely gestures have seriously kept me going and I'm very grateful.

3.  My new True Love necklace.  I purchased it a few weeks ago, and it arrived this week.  The two pieces of Mati's art that I chose for the pendant are meant to inspire me to use my voice in a strong, kind way, and I love how it turned out.  I can't wait to wear it.

Life is good.  Here's hoping you smile today, too.

 

SongPeople everyday by Arrested Development

 

Image:  Flamingos in Birdland.  Photographed in England last year, Nikon D200, 70-200mm lens.

 

random thoughts: little things

 

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Marcus is a wildly avid cyclist.  He likes mountain biking and trailbiking the best; he owns several bikes, including a couple he's built from scratch.  Needless to say, my complete lack of interest in cycling leaves him profoundly disappointed.

Alex, however, is starting to become pretty keen on cycling, and is in the process of learning how to ride her bike without training wheels.  On weekends, Marcus takes her out in the neighbourhood, running beside her while holding the back of her bike seat.  Occasionally he lets go, and she cycles on her own for a few dozen feet before he needs to grab the bike again.

On Sunday, the three of us were having lunch, after they had enjoyed a particularly successful stint on the bike that morning.  Suddenly, Marcus said, "You know what's cool about her bike?" 

Alex's bike is a pretty ordinary girl's bike purchased from Target, if memory serves, not any fancy make or model.  When we bought it, most of its appeal came from the pink and purple paint job, as well as the sparkly streamers that flow from the handlebars.

"What's that?"

"Her bike seat has grooves under it to make it easy to hold.  It's specifically designed so that an adult's fingers fit perfectly under it.  The bike is totally intended to be the bike a kid learns how to ride.  There's no other reason for those grooves to be there."

I was rather unreasonably impressed by this.  It just seems that these days, everyone is so busy rushing around trying to do their own thing, common courtesy is often hard to come by; far less someone (or, for that matter, an actual company) going out of his/her/their way to make life easier for you.   And in this particular case, how simple was that tiny modification?  Just a few little grooves -- a completely unnecessary adaptation, hidden in a place that would otherwise likely escape your notice; and yet, it was like the bike company just decided to say, "Here, let me get that for you.  There you go.  That should make it a bit easier."

I love that.  Imagine how much nicer a place the world would be if everybody, all of us, just once a day, said, "Here, let me get that for you."

A much nicer place, I'll wager.


SongLittle things by india.arie

finding beauty

 

Yesterday, I saw this short video on renowned fashion photographer Sam Haskins, discussing his amazingly long career in photography.  I particularly loved the part where he said the following:

"I insisted I could never become deeply depressed, because if I go ... if I feel a little bit low and I go into my studio, I make an image with which I'm satisfied, suddenly my spirit is lifted and I ... you know, it's a self-cured thing."

 I so get this.  For me, there's nothing that can get me out of my own head than grabbing my camera and going out to take a photograph; if it results in an image that I love, it can change my entire day.  I'm not sure why this is:  of course, there's an element of a job well done, but I think it's also being able to capture a moment of beauty, coupled with relief that if I'm still able to do that, life can't actually be all that bad.  There are other things I love to do -- reading, writing, listening to music, singing, scuba diving -- but none of them can completely turn my day around like photography.

I think everyone should have something like that -- some activity that can get you out of your own head, lift your spirits, and make you stop taking things too seriously.  If you have something you do to lift your spirits, I'd love if you'd share what it is here.  If you don't, well, permit me to suggest the next time you're feeling down, you take 5 minutes, go outside and find something beautiful to shoot, whether it's a flower, or a beautiful smooth rock, or a city sign you've always been attracted to, or a cloud.  You can do this whether you have an expensive digital SLR camera, a cheap point-and-shoot, or even your camera phone.  For the images that please you the most, keep them in a little "spirit lifter file" to refer to when you need a quick pick-me-up.

Because seriously, sometimes just capturing an image of something beautiful can do wonders.

* * * * * * *

To some business:  According to Random.org, the winners of the three CD's by Elizabeth Irvine are:

Nancy R, who said, "Right at this moment it's candy corn...it's just not the same eating it at other times of the year...and I have to hide it from my peanut allergic kiddo, lol."

Kazari, who said, "Here's my guilty secret: I have many extravagances : )
Hot chocolate, sleep-ins, chocolate sundaes, taking time to do my nails...
But my biggest extravagance lately was getting the gorgeous Goddess Leonie to take photos of me, my husband and my big pregnant belly.
That was a COMPLETE extravagance, but totally worth it."

rebeka, who said "Sleeping in on weekends and going to coffee shops for chai lattes."

Congratulations, all!  I'll contact you each via email to get your addresses.  And thanks to all of you for sharing your comments!

 

Song: Love it all by The Kooks

authentic you interview series: elizabeth irvine (and a very cool giveaway)

It's been far too long since I've done one of these interviews, don't you think?  As I was sitting with Beth at Lake Austin Spa earlier this week, I thought it would be the perfect time to interview her -- using my modified questions from the Proust questionnaire -- and as luck would have it, she was very keen on participating. But that's Beth for you:  always ready to try something new and fun.

I met Beth one day when I was leaving my publisher's offices, and she was walking in.  We only spoke briefly, but that very day, I received an e-mail from her.  Our publisher had showed her Chookooloonks, and she wanted to know if I would be interested in contributing some of the photographs for her book, which is in the process of being republished, Healthy Mother, Healthy Child.  I was happy to agree.

Beth's story is an interesting one:  she lived in England for many years, where she worked as a registered nurse.  While living in London, her son was born with a debilitating skin condition, which required him to be bandaged from head to foot daily.  Because of the stress of her son's illness (and the fact that she was taking care of her three-year-old twin girls as well), she decided to take a weekly yoga class to relax.  She became hooked:  she eventually became a certified yoga instructor, and made huge changes in her home life and her diet, bringing home and cooking whole foods, and creating an atmosphere of peace in her home.  All of these modifications seemed to have a profound effect on her life:  her son, who was never supposed to recover from his condition, was fully cured at the age of 3. 

Beth and I have become fast friends since we met that day earlier this summer.  Healthy Mother, Healthy Child is scheduled to be re-released Spring 2010, as is her second book, A Moment's Peace, all about helping mothers find peace in their hectic worlds.  She leads yoga and guided meditation workshops, and better still, she's recently come out with a new product ...

... well, more about that after her interview.  Without further ado, here's Beth:

* * * * * * *

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Peaceful contentment.  Not having any longing or wanting for anything.  I tend to feel this when I'm meditating, when I'm with my family, when I'm with a good friend.  Like sitting right here, where I'm sitting with a friend, the weather is perfect, my iced tea is right here, I'm longing for nothing.  I'm perfectly happy.

2. What is your greatest fear? Injury to my children.

3. Which living person do you most admire? My mom.

4. What trait do you most deplore in yourself? Sometimes I think I take things too personally.

5. What trait do you most deplore in others? Being fake.

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Trying to be everything to everyone.  It's impossible to do.

7. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My husband.  And my children -- can I choose them as well?

8. Which talent would you most like to have? I would love to play the piano, be a great scuba diver, and be a great photographer!

9. What is your current state of mind? Relaxed and happy!

10. What do you consider your greatest achievement? My children, by books, my message. 

11. What is your most treasured possession? My health.

12. What is your superpower? I think I have a gift in healing others.

13. Who is your favourite hero of fiction? Superman, in the sense that everyone has the ability to be incredible.  But I also love princesses in fairy tales, because I think there's royalty in every one of us.

14. Who are your heroes in real life? Single parents who make ends meet on very little.  People who seemingly have a lack of resources, and rise above that to succeed.

15. What is your motto? See the beauty right before my eyes.

16. What do you most value in your friends? I'm very selective about the people I hang out with, and those people have to be honest, consistent, do what they say they're going to do, and have integrity.  Also, we have to enjoy a good laugh.

17. Which word or phrase do you most overuse?  Probably "serendipity."  Or "sychronicity."  I feel like there's a lot of synchronicity and serendipity in my life!

18. What is your greatest extravagance? Vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce!

19. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Comfort in her own skin.

20. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Respect and honour for others.

21. On what occasion do you feel the most authentic?
  When I'm working.  When I'm with my children and/or my husband.  And when I'm with my close friends.

* * * * * * *

Pretty awesome, isn't she?  But she's even awesomer:  Beth has come out with a CD, entitled "A Moment's Peace:  Sounds of Stillness and a Guided Relaxation" -- about 50 minutes of music and words to help you relax.   And she's giving away THREE of them!  Simply leave a comment below, answering the following question:

What is your greatest extravagance?

And I'll randomly choose three commenters to each win one of Beth's CD's.  I'll leave comments open until midnight, Monday, October 26.  One comment per person, please!

 

Good luck!

 

SongBy thy grace by Snatam Kaur.  This song chosen for you by Beth.

love thursday: the meaning of life

 

I keep going back to the amazing quotations that you all left for me this week -- there are some real nuggets of inspiration there.  One of them in particular, left by Durga, struck me:  

"To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children ... to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition ... to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived:  this is to have succeeded."

~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

It occurs to me that this quote isn't so much about success as it is about living in lovingkindness.  To me, at their core, this is what all the religious tomes, spiritual teachers, parents, ethicists, mentors and true leaders keep trying to tell us. 

This, really, is what it's all about.

* * * * * * *

Happy Love Thursday, all.  Please leave your stories or links to your images and words of love in the comments below.

May you laugh often and much today.

 

SongCrazy little thing called love by Queen

 

Image: Photographed with Nikon D300 and 60mm micro lens

on getting away, and lake austin spa

I'm back from my little two-day getaway from my "undisclosed location" --  Lake Austin Spa (a warning: before you click on that link, please sit down.  Because chances are at some point you're probably going to click on "room and rates," and when that page loads, you are going to faint dead away.  I really don't want to be responsible for you collapsing and hitting your head on some sharp edge of nearby furniture, so again, please, sit somewhere comfortable before looking).

 

 

My friend Beth and I set out early on Sunday morning on the 3-hour trek to the spa, which is located about 25 minutes outside of Austin to the west.  We arrived about midday, just in time for lunch.  Beth's talk wasn't until Monday, so after lunch, we took a quick walk on the grounds, and then I got very comfortable on the patio with my laptop and all of my notes, and she partook of some of the activities around the facility.

 

 

I'm thrilled to say that I got a ton of work done in the two days that I was there -- I wrote several sections for The Beauty of Different, and did some editing as well  (And by the way, thank you SO much for all of your amazing quotation suggestions that you left for me on my post on Monday.  They were so inspiring, and they helped me immensely.  Seriously, thank you).

And, of course, since there was eye candy everywhere, anytime I needed a break, I simply grabbed my camera and walked around looking for images to capture on "film." 

 

 

 

The only exceptions I made from working were to attend Beth's excellent talk/guided relaxation exercise, and I did actually reward myself with a manicure on Monday evening.*

 

 

It was really lovely to get away from my everyday life, and by not having to worry about cooking or cleaning or doing the sort of things that make up my daily routine, I was able to really churn out a ton of work.  I really owe a debt of gratitude to Beth, since if it hadn't been for the fact that the spa had given her free room and board and allowed her to bring a friend, there's no way I would've ever been able to afford to come to a lovely setting like this to work.  I also am so grateful to Marcus and Alex for allowing me to get away to work.   As you can see, it is a beautiful place.

 

One thing, however:  if any of you are actually considering booking some time at Lake Austin Spa, I feel it incumbent upon me to say that unless you really have always dreamed of being there (or you've negotiated a really, really good deal), you might want to consider your decision closely.  While the place is seriously beautiful, and the staff are friendly enough, the service is ... adequate.  Things like consistently long waits for our orders, not always getting them right and some exorbitant costs for the things we were required to purchase* left me thinking that the facilities were very overpriced (of course, I admit that it's entirely possible that since Beth and I didn't pay for our room, they didn't roll out the red carpet).  In any event, I can't help but believe that if they were to tighten up their service quality, coupled with the beautiful setting, the spa might get a lot closer to being worth their prices. 

 

*My manicure was great, but it cost an astonishing $65.  By the time it really dawned on me that I was actually planning on spending $65 for someone to put nail polish on my fingers, it was too late for me to cancel without incurring a -- you guessed it -- $65 cancellation fee.  And so, a manicure I received.  The nail technician did a very good job (and she was positively charming), but honestly, the treatment I received was identical to the service I can get in my neighbourhood for $15.  For this reason, I'm still looking for the Pleasure Button that surely accompanies a $65 manicure.

 

Update:   Just to be absolutely clear, the opinions in this post are mine and mine alone.

 

Song: Make it happy by Lyle Lovett

 

Images: All are outtakes from The Beauty of Different.  Photographed using Nikon D300, various lenses.