love thursday: make love, not perfection (and a giveaway!)

I met Brené through a mutual friend who invited us to the same getaway weekend; however, now that I've known her for a few years, I'm convinced that Brené and I would've ended up meeting and being friends eventually, no matter what.  In some ways, Brené and I are very different:  she's a Texan girl through and through; I, despite having lived a majority of my life in the United States, remain rather stubbornly Trini at my core.   In other ways, though, we're very similar: I believe that everyone is uncommonly beautiful, and desperately wish that every person could see their beautiful Different in themselves; Brené believes that the hustle for an unattainable (and ridiculously subjective) standard of "perfection" keeps people from realizing they are worthy of love and belonging. 

Seems to me that these are two different sides of the same coin.

Brené's new book, The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are is now available, and on Tuesday night, I was so thrilled to attend her official book launch.  Brené is always amazingly inspirational to listen to, and hearing her talk about the stories behind her book (which is touted as a "guide to living a wholehearted life") was as fantastic an experience as I expected it to be.  Brené posits that perfection isn't actually about being the very best at everything or even about self-improvement, as much as it is a form of protection -- from criticism, from not measuring up, from whatever.  My favourite thing that she says about perfection is that "it is a 20-ton shield we lug around that we think will protect us, when really, it's the one thing that keeps us from taking flight."

Amen, amen.

Her book (and her talk) has me thinking, though.  As you know, I talk a lot about the power of love here on the site -- you all help me celebrate Love Thursday every week, proving that love is really all around us;  so many of you participated in the Photobomb (so that it got national attention) -- and I don't think I've made a big secret of the fact that I believe that Love Always Wins.  However, the truth is that I've spent most of my time here talking about loving other people, or loving other things, even loving our lives -- and I've spent far too little of my time talking about how we love ourselves.  And the more I think of it, the more it occurs to me:

If we treated ourselves as if we were someone we really truly loved, the need to be perfect would fly right out the godforsaken window.

I mean, think about it:  do we require perfection out of the people who we really love?  The people who simply light us up -- if they make a mistake or are less than perfect, do we stop loving them, or love them a little less?  I'll strongly wager we don't.  So why don't we do this for ourselves?  Our imperfect, awesome, worthy selves?

So I say we start today:  after all, I believe love isn't just an emotion, it's also a decision.  So today, for Love Thursday, let's decide to show ourselves some real, authentic love:  instead of (or in addition to, if you so desire) leaving links of love in the comments below, I invite you to confess something imperfect about you, and end your confession with "and still, I'm worthy of love."

I'll start.  For example (and this is the God's honest truth):

I cannot keep a shelf or a cupboard straight, even if my life depended on it.  If you came to my house right now, right this second, you would think, 'oh, what a nice house!' but dear God, do NOT open any closet doors.  The avalanche might kill you.

And still, I'm worthy of love.

I'm not going to lie to you:  it might feel weird leaving this type of comment, and it might feel uncomfortable, but dammit, do it anyway.  Because it's true, even if you don't believe it.  Also? You're so amazingly worth it.  Besides, we'd have no problem saying these about the friends we love, so by God, we shouldn't have any problem with saying this about ourselves.  Also, I promise you that Chookooloonks is a safe place to do it.  If you do leave a comment like this below before midnight Thursday night/Friday morning, I'll choose one commenter at random to receive a signed copy of Brené's book.  That's right, personalized especially for you.

You want to leave a comment now, don't you?

Then by all means do, you beautiful human being, you.  (And if you need some inspiration, check out this great post by Joy.  Because, boy howdy, she's awesome.)

I'll announce the winner in tomorrow's post.

And finally, I want to share this quote that Brené has in her book, that pretty much sums up the whole point of this post ... well ... perfectly:

"A moment of self-compassion can change the course of your entire day.  A string of such moments can change the course of your life."

~ Christopher K. Germer

* * * * * * *

Incidentally:  the photograph at the top of this post is in participation of Brené's Perfect Protest.  If you'd like to participate, simply upload a photograph of yourself with a sign somewhere on the web, and share the link at Brené's site.  She'd love to see it.


Images:  Top image, taken with my Photobooth software on my Mac; bottom two images photographed with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens.


SongThank you (falettinme be mice elf agin) by Sly & the Family Stone.  Aw yeah.

chookooloonks life list update: number 80, taste 50 types of rum (sailor jerry & pyrat)

So, while in California, my friends Maggie and Laura were kind enough to make sure that there were a couple of rums on hand, so that I could do a little life-listing.

Women who go out of their way to buy you alcohol, to help you meet a life goal?  Those are true friends, people.

The first rum I tried was Sailor Jerry, shown above.  Now, before I give my opinion on this rum, let me issue the following disclaimer:  I am not a fan of spiced rums.  In general I find them a bit cloying, and to be honest, I normally wouldn't drink a spiced rum any sooner than I'd drink an apple-flavoured wine.  But that's just me.

That said, Sailor Jerry was surprisingly tasty.  Again, I probably wouldn't buy it as a sipping rum, but used as an ingredient in holiday eggnog, or say, Trinidadian ponche de creme?  Oh yeah.  With that rich caramel flavour, I imagine Sailor Jerry would go down real well.

Plus it has that awesome hula girl on the label. 

So using my unscientific scale of 1 being rotgut and 10 being sweet, sweet rummy ambrosia, I'd give Sailor Jerry a solid 7.5. 

Eight, if it's the holidays.

On the next evening, I tried the second rum, Pyrat.  Now: these rum makers are clearly proud of their rum -- the bottle was tiny.  And it was fancy, all done-up with a jaunty little bow.  I have to tell you, I had high expectations for this rum based on the packaging alone.  I eagerly poured myself a shot.

I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed.  In my experience, a really good rum should taste like a fine brandy:  slightly sweet, with just the right around of burn.  While the flavour of this rum was very, very good, I found the burn a bit overwhelming: it felt more like a scotch than a brandy.  Maggie's husband, Bryan, being a scotch drinker, liked it a lot; Maggie and Laura flat couldn't drink it.

Me?  Oh, I definitely drank it.  But it wasn't my favourite.  I'd give it tentative 7.  Perhaps even a 6.5, if I was in a bad mood.

So!  That's rums 12 and 13 down -- only 37 more to go.  But I think I'm going to take a little break ...

... 'cause man, after all that wine and rum, I need to dry out.


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


SongDon't stop by Shurwayne Winchester.  Because Chookooloonks was long overdue for a little Trini soca-chutney flavour.

the redwood forest

On my last full day in California, it rained.

This, however, did not stop a few of us for going for a walk in the redwood forests nearby.

Now, given my father's penchant for road trips, I cannot imagine that I'd never been to the redwoods before. But I don't remember being as impressed as I was on this trip -- maybe because when you're a kid, everything looks tall?  Maybe because my dad never slowed the car down?  Whatever, I was totally impressed this time.   The light in the forest was mindblowing.  The trees were huge -- so huge, in fact, that some of the trees were named, with there statistics like their incredible ages and heights.  And the sounds and the smells -- well, they were spectacular.

Two things that I was disappointed about:  I didn't bring a wide-enough lens (so you could really see how huge these trees are), and I didn't bring a recorder, so you could hear the sounds (like you did with the rain outside my front door).  No matter.  Being in the forest was truly one of the highlights of my trip. And I got some decent shots of the incredible light. 

Really incredible light.








Images:  Photographed with my Nikon D300 and 50mm.


SongStardust, as performed by Willie Nelson.  Because listening to this song feels like what it felt like to be in the woods.

wine! (or, everything you ever wanted to know about wine from someone who doesn't know jack about wine)

So, here's the thing about rum (bear with me, I'll get to wine in a minute):

When I added item number 80 to my life list, "taste 50 types of rum," it wasn't necessarily because I love rum (though it turns out, I do).  I added it because I'm from the Caribbean, and it just seemed to me that someone who is from the Caribbean (particularly an expatriate like myself) should know something about rum.  When I started, I assumed that of course, expensive rums would taste better than cheap rums; however, for the most part, I believed all rums taste the same.

What I can tell you now that I've tasted 13 rums (reviews of numbers 12 and 13 to come later this week) is that each rum tastes entirely different from the last, and while I'm no expert (nor will I likely ever be), I've learned viscerally what makes a good rum, and more importantly, what I like.  I now appreciate rum in a way that I don't think I ever would have, had I not made a concerted effort to study it.

And so it goes with me and wine.  I've drunk wine all my life (my parents used to give my sister and I little shot glasses of wine with Sunday lunch when we were growing up), and I know that wine comes from grapes, but really I don't know much more than that.  I have a vague idea of what I like, so that I know what type of wine to pick when I'm in a restaurant, but as far as knowing the difference between a Napa wine and a Rhône wine -- yeah, I have no idea.  I just know that I tend to like white wine in the summer and red in the winter, and that I generally don't go wrong for myself if, at a restaurant, I order a glass of pinot grigio or a red zinfandel.  At the grocery store, I usually figure a $10-12 bottle won't disappoint, and won't break the bank.  After that ... pass.

So, needless to say, I was sort of looking forward to educating myself a little when visiting the wine country.  I've already mentioned that I had the opportunity to meet Erin the Sommelier, and she was awesome.  She suffered my incessant questions patiently, like what she meant when a wine had a round flavour (it means that it coats your mouth fully when you take a good mouthful), or angular (you get that "gotcha" sensation under your lower jaw in your upper neck, like when you bite into a lemon or have tart limeade), and when I said that I understood when people described wine as having an "oak-y" or "cranberry" taste, but I certainly didn't understand when someone said a wine was "insouciant" or "sexy," she explained what it meant (basically it's men writing wine descriptions for other men, and they like to make the bottle of wine sound like an attractive woman.  Of course). 

One thing I didn't really realize is that since wine is sealed so tightly, it's actually the oxygen in the air that mixes with the wine once opened that helps bring out the flavour, which is why you swirl the wine in your glass, to help mix the air with the wine (I mean, I did know that you should open a bottle of red and let it "breathe" before drinking, but I just thought the swirling thing was all about being pretentious).  So when the sommelier or waiter gives you wine to taste, you swirl the wine, then stick your nose in the glass and inhale the aroma, and then take a good mouthful to taste it:



As far as what you're looking for in the scent and the taste, Erin tells me you're simply looking for a scent and taste that pleases you.  If you want to, you can look for cranberry-ness or oak-y-ness or insouciant-ness, but really, like art, it's just about learning what you like, as opposed to Knowing What You're Supposed to Like.  Once I learned this, it was like a weight lifting from my shoulders -- when tasting wine, you're the expert, not the waiter.

Once I was full of these sorts of tips, it was time to visit a few vineyards to apply my new knowledge.  One of my favourites was visiting the Moshin Vineyards, which apparently are special because they use a "gravity flow" winemaking process -- starting high, and letting the wine flow downward through the winery until it's bottled (therefore, no pumping -- so energy efficient, don't you know).  It turns out the basic method of making wine is as follows:  you pick the grapes, de-stem and crush them, then they are fermented and aged before bottling (clearly there's more to it than that, but those are the basic steps).  As it happened, when we arrived, there were some people working on a conveyor belt, sorting through grapes:

And after further conversation, I learned that I'd met Serena and Alan, the proprietors of local Cartograph Wines, relatively new vintners who have been in business for a little over a year.  Talking with them was fantastic: they each let me take their photographs, and then as I asked them questions, they gushed about how happy they were with their lives, living in such a beautiful area of the world, making wine and following their bliss.  It was difficult not to get caught up in their exuberance.  I'm totally going to keep an eye out for their wine in our local shops.

So!  These, my friends, are pinot noir grapes:

Aren't they cute?


They taste good, too.



And, of course, the resulting wine isn't bad, either.


 In summary, I loved seeing the process by which wine is made, and I have to admit that I have a renewed interest in learning more about wine, one which matches my interest in learning more about rum.  In fact, when I returned to Houston, I gave Erin the Sommelier a call at her employer, Acme Fine Wines, where she's General Manager, and ordered two bottles of red on her recommendation for Marcus' birthday (which was last Friday -- happy birthday, Marcus!), in order to get us started.  In further fact, since we're on the subject, Acme happens to have a few online wine clubs -- where they'll put together custom packages of hard-to-find wines at various price points for you to try.  (They even send descriptions of the wine, and I'm here to testify that I didn't see the word "insouciant" or "sexy" in any of the suggestions Erin gave me.)  I'm thinking this would be a great gift for someone or even for yourself, if you're interested in learning more about the kinds of wine you might or might not like. 

And finally, on a somewhat related note:  after returning to the hotel after the wine tours, the ever-gracious Helen Jane decided to give everyone a demonstration on sabrage -- the art of uncorking (or, really, beheading) a bottle of champagne with a sabre.  Since there weren't any sabres lying around, she used a rather murderous-looking kitchen knife, and in no time took the head off a bottle of champagne with a quick flourish.  Afterwards, she invited other people to try, and Margaret, who rumour had it had never even opened a bottle of wine before, let alone a bottle of champagne, gave it a go.  She shocked herself by being successful her first attempt out of the gate:


Words cannot describe how happy these last two photos make me.  In fact, I get a bit teary with glee each time I look at them.

And on that note, have a great week, everyone -- cheers!


Images:  All photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.

SongDon't know why, by Norah Jones.  "My heart is drenched in wine."  Love that line.

the motherhood project: cyndi

I'm working with Procter & Gamble to help promote their Thank You Mom Contest, a campaign which is refreshingly designed to celebrate motherhood.  When they invited me to work with them, they granted me tons of creative freedom -- so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch The Motherhood Project, featuring written and photographic portraits of women who have adult children, and who have both experienced being a mother and had themselves been well-mothered.  I came up with 9 questions about mothering and motherhood, and every other Friday through November I'll be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you enjoy them.

* * * * * * *

In looking for candidates to feature here on The Motherhood Project, I put a call out on Twitter, asking for volunteers.  A day or so later, my friend Erin responded, asking if she could nominate her mom.  Knowing how kind and generous Erin is (she's the one who granted me all kinds of access to the corpse flower when it was blooming at the Houston Museum of Natural Science), I suspected that her mom would be equally as gracious, so I eagerly said yes, and asked her to introduce me to her mom.

When I finally met Cyndi a week later, I knew I was right.  She approached me with the warmest smile, as if we were old friends.  Cyndi brought Erin and her other daughter Kate with her, and every time she glanced at them, she beamed with pride.  As I photographed her, I kept thinking to myself, "Goodness, I hope I have this kind of relationship with Alex when she's an adult."  I asked her how long she was married, and she answered, "Thirty-one years," and when I asked her how they met, Cyndi's girls confirmed that she'd asked their dad out for their first date!  Cyndi is my kind of woman.

And the following is what she had to say about motherhood.

How old are your adult kids?  Erin is 28 and Katie just turned 21.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?  Outgoing, loyal, nurturing.

What makes you different?  Knowing when to be a parent and knowing when to be a friend to my girls.  They tell me that their dad and I did a good job of balancing those relationships with them.  We preferred the friend role because that was the easiest on all of us.  The parenting role wasn't as easy, but it was the most important as they were growing up.  Now, we trust that what they learned from us, as parents, will carry them through adulthood.  We maintain a great relationship now and enjoy spending time together on a regular basis.  The friendship I have with my daughters is my greatest joy!

I always have strong memories associated with scent.  What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom? My mom was an excellent cook and I looked forward to almost everything she put on the table (except the pig's feet.  Those -- not so much).

Of course, I could tell what was for dinner by the scent that hit me when I walked in the door.  My family always ate meals together at the table and I continued to do so with my husband and daughters.  I love it when my kids come for dinner and comment on how good the house smells.  Some of my best memories as a daughter and a mom were made in a delicious-smelling kitchen!

I cannot see a gladiola today without thinking of my mother.  My parents were excellent gardeners and it's the one thing I can remember that they did together.  Our backyard was a source of pride for them and it was beautiful!  My brother, sister and I all love the sight and smell of flowers and have flowers in and around our homes.

What makes your mother beautiful?  My mom helped a lot of people.  It wasn't uncommon to have a friend or relative stay with us as I was growing up.  I didn't know the reason for the visits, but I saw how she made everyone feel welcome in our home.  I learned when she passed away how many friends appreciated her generosity when they shared stories of how she helped with food, clothes, blankets, etc. when they needed most.  It surprised me a bit that she did so much for so many and I didn't know.  She was a good friend -- a characteristic that is both rare and beautiful.

Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close.  My mom taught me the ultimate life lesson -- how to be independent.

She was a woman of few words -- instead she led by setting an incredible example of hard work and determination to make our lives better.  She worked outside the home and as a result I had more responsibility than most of my friends.  I was resentful as a child, but realized early as an adult how well-prepared I was to face the world.  I had an idea of what being a working wife and mother would be and the transition to marriage, motherhood and my career as a teacher was an easy one to make.  I've always given my mom credit for that!

What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children?  Success is in the details.

My mom hated to hear "that's good enough."  She taught me that giving your best effot and paying attention to the details makes the difference and sets a person apart.

As a mom to Erin and Katie, I paid a lot of attention to the details, which were different for each of them.  Fairness wasn't giving the same things; it was giving each girl what she needed.  This was harder than it sounds and required a lot of explanation, as my kids didn't see it that way.  It was a challenge but it worked out.  I have two incredible daughters!  They are strong, focused and have been successful at just about everything that has mattered to them.  Most importantly, I see them as individuals -- beautiful people inside and out.  I hit the jackpot. Twice!

Your kids are adults now -- and while you, of course, still love and support your kids, your job raising them is complete.  What issues do you see brand new parents facing that you never had to face when you were raising your own?  Managing the ever-changing use of computer technology and the seemingly impossible task of keeping a step ahead of the kids -- for their safety, as well as their social development.  My grandchildren will face issues growing up that we haven't even thought of yet!

What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing?  The relationship you develop with your children begins on the day they are born.

Pay attention.  Be proactive.  Think ahead.

Develop open lines of communication early on.  Don't overreact when you hear things that alarm you!  That will guarantee that the discussion is o-ver.

Learn to discuss and question in your conversations.  You'll get and give needed information in a non-threatening way.  Nobody likes to be lectured and it helps kids figure things out "on their own."  (This is most definitely easier said than done!)

Kids need more of your attention and involvement as they get older -- not less!

Trust, but verify.

Stand back, but be available.  Independence is a gradual release.

And finally, don't criticize the actions and behavior of other kids.  It will save you the embarrassment when your kids do the same thing (or worse)!

* * * * * * *

Thanks so much to Cyndi for sharing her thoughts on motherhood!  Also, special thanks to Procter & Gamble for their generous sponsorship of The Motherhood Project:  to read more stories about motherhood and to share your own, click here for more details on the Thank You Mom campaign, now through the end of November.


And on that note, have a great weekend everyone.  Don't forget to call your mom.


Images:  Cyndi, photographed September 12, 2010 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, Texas.  Nikon D300 with 50mm lens.


SongIn my life, by the Beatles.  Today's song chosen for you today by Cyndi.

love thursday: connection

As much fun as a getaway with girlfriends can be (and far be it from me to complain about having some R&R in the wine country of California), the truth is that there is a large part of me that really, really hates being away from Marcus and Alex, no matter how seemingly fabulous the reason.  I spend a considerable amount of time when I'm by myself in new surroundings thinking things like, "Oh, man, I wish Marcus was here to see this," or "Jeez, Alex would love that."  I love traveling in whatever form, but when I'm away from my family, it's always bittersweet.

I suspect this is probably true for most people who are away from those they love, and while I was in Sonoma last weekend, I secretly loved watching people steal away from the group to give the folks back home a quick call, just to check in and see what was happening in their absence, and feel a little bit a part of it.  It reminded me that sometimes when someone loves someone else, they don't both have to be in your presence to witness it.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.


Image:  Kelly on her iPhone checking in with her man back in Chicago, photographed in the Russian River Valley of California with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens.

SongAin't no sunshine as performed by Gomez.  This is a brilliant version, too.  I've had it on repeat for the past 2 days.

chookooloonks life list update: number 16, photograph 1000 faces (the sonoma edition, part 2)


And now, for the final batch of beautiful faces that I met in Sonoma this past weekend:

I met Erin, above, earlier this year at the ALT Summit, and found her really charming; however, I was able to spend far more time with her this past weekend, and "charming" doesn't even begin to describe her.  This woman is criminally adorable.  She doesn't have an unkind word to say about anybody or anything, and she reminded me of a Disney Princess.  Everyone agreed, too:  we all suspected that if she just sang a few notes, birds and other wildlife would cautiously appear out of the woods surrounding us, entranced by her voice and ready to do her bidding.  And I sincerely say all of this without a trace of irony -- she's that lovely.



I've followed Nicole's blog for some time -- she writes about transforming her lovely bungalow outside of Chicago into something even lovelier.  Since I love home decor and Nicole is a master at design (girlfriend had me at her library -- my heavens, what a lovely place), I expected her to be incredibly stylish.

Needless to say, she was.  But even more than that, the word I'd use to describe Nicole is "classy."  She was always so composed and so gracious.  It was lovely to finally officially meet her in person.



This was the first time I really had an opportunity to sit down with Roxanna, and my goodness, what a treat.  It turns out that we have a lot of similarities -- we're both from Caribbean islands and we're married to European husbands -- so meeting her was almost like reuniting with family. She's friendly and funny and she didn't laugh at me even once when I tried to speak Spanish.  A lovely woman.



Erin is a sommelier who gave us a wine education course before heading off to a vineyard for a wine tasting.  She can explain everything about wines and the wine industry that you ever wanted to know, even using words like "bouquet" and "round" and "angular," and it doesn't feel the least bit pretentious, and you won't feel the least bit stupid.  She's incredibly engaging, and when at the end of a wine tour I asked her to sit down and let me photograph her, she didn't hesitate for a moment.  I'm so glad I asked, too -- because when the light saw her face it did lovely things in my camera lens, and the shot above is one of my favourite portraits I've ever taken.  Thanks so much, Erin.



What can I say -- I just love Cecily.  She's funny, searingly smart, raw and unapologetic.  I've know Cecily for several years, and I don't think I have any clue what this woman looks like when she's not smiling.  I don't even remember when I met Cecily -- she's been a constant at many different blogging conferences -- but every time I see her she's always ready with a warm, kind word.

Also? I secretly totally covet her shocking magenta hair.



If there's one person I'm really sorry I didn't get to know better, that person is Elizabeth -- or "Legs," as she was quickly dubbed, since she has apparently participated in thirty-seven -- that's thirty-seven -- ultramarathons and marathons, and honey, it shows.  (Sidenote: even if the difference in our fitness levels isn't immediately apparent just by glancing -- which, dear God, it is --  it's also obvious in our level of knowledge, for I have no clue what on God's green Earth an "ultramarathon" is. In fact, I suspect I don't want to know.  But I digress.)

What I love about Elizabeth however, is how radiant she is.  At one point over the weekend, my friend Kelly brought Elizabeth to me, and said, "Karen, you have to become friends with Elizabeth -- she's our peeps!" and without hesitation, Elizabeth gave me this huge hug. 

Sadly, that was about the sum total of our conversation over the weekend.  But I suspect that Kelly is right -- Elizabeth is my peeps.



While walking through the redwoods on Sunday, I fell in step with the very lovely Leah, a blogger from the Bay Area.  Two minutes into the conversation it was clearly apparent that this was a woman who fiercely loves her family, and fiercely loves her friends.  When she spoke about her partner, her child, or her best girlfriends, her face positively lit up, and it was so beautiful to watch.  I loved meeting her, and can't wait to keep up with her on her blog.



Liz is one of the first people I met when I arrived at the hotel on Friday evening, and she approached me almost as if she'd seen me just the day before, and even the day before that, as if we were old friends.  At this point, I've hopefully convinced you that everyone I encountered this weekend was warm and friendly; however, Liz still wins the award for being the most approachable, laid-back and easygoing person I met.  She's positively delightful, and I can't wait to get to know her better.

Plus she has that positively sunlit smile.  Can you believe that amazing smile?



And finally, the lone rooster in the hen house, Bryan.  Bryan is actually Maggie Mason's husband, and he was there basically to help ensure that everything ran smoothly. I met Bryan at the beginning of this year, and immediately liked him:  he's wickedly smart and incredibly funny, and I was really flattered when he invited me to join him on his SXSW panel, "8 Ways to Deal with Bastards."  A great guy.

So!  You've now officially seen all the beautiful new faces that I photographed this past weekend. Thanks to all of the wonderful people who let me take their photographs -- I'm so grateful.

Images:  Everyone photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.


SongWhere I'm going by Cut CopyThis song is on their yet-to-be-released album, but if you like it, you can download it for free from their website. I certainly did.

chookooloonks life list update: number 16, photograph 1000 faces (the sonoma edition, part 1)


I'm officially back in Houston, after a pretty amazing getaway in Sonoma County, California.  To be honest, the entire experience was truly sensory overload -- it is such a beautiful place, and from a photographer's standpoint, the light was mindblowingly incredible.  (I'd often heard that different places have different quality light -- it's only because of how often I shoot now that I have really discovered this truth.)  In addition, besides reconnecting with some of my favourite bloggers, I also had the opportunity to meet so many new beautiful people. 

As a result, I'm not ashamed to say that I shot close to 2000 photographs on this trip.

This, of course, means that I'm going to be sharing photographs and thoughts of the people and places that I met and encountered over the next week or so, with your indulgence.  I thought I'd first start with the people and then move on to the places.  And because there were several who I've already featured in my 1000 faces project before, I'll only share with you the beautiful people who I photographed for the first time on this trip.

One of the first people I met was Meg, above -- a vivacious woman from San Francisco.  She was such an interesting person:  she relatively recently converted to Judaism, and I couldn't help watching from a distance as she stole away in a beautiful area of the hotel's gardens for some time in meditation and prayer, in observance of Yom Kippur.  It was so amazing and beautiful to watch.  Later that evening, I admitted to her that I had been spying, and she so generously shared many of the tenets of Judaism and Yom Kippur with me.  Her sharing her faith so kindly and openly was one of the most touching moments of my trip, for which I will forever be grateful.


Zan is a blogger whose work I've admired for a really long time.  She's got an amazing talent with words and an ability to tell a story in such a way that you have to blink a few times to realize that the scene isn't actually happening around you.  But even more wonderful is her "Sunday Zen" posts, which feature photographs without words that have you craving to hear the story behind the image.  So although Zan and I had met briefly in New York at the BlogHer conference this past August, I was really looking forward to getting to know her better in Sonoma.

Zan is as fabulous in person as she is online.  She is relatively reserved, yet at any given moment you glance at her, she is invariably wearing a wicked smile and a twinkle in her eyes.  And while she's very circumspect when she speaks (much like when she writes), you can almost always count on her to say something that causes everyone around her to break into spontaneous laughter.  She is truly a beautiful soul.


Mena (who, incidentally, in my opinion tied with Zan for "Coolest Name of the Weekend") is a woman with incredible style.  She blogs at The Sew Weekly, and handmade every item of clothing she wore over the weekend.  Every time she appeared, she looked like she walked straight out of the 1940's.  When you talk to her, you are immediately struck by how quietly brilliant she is, but then she also has this almost startling sense of humour, so that you almost do a double-take when you realize she just said something uproariously funny.  She was really a pleasure to get to know.


I've mentioned Tea before:  in addition to being a wonderful food/life/photoblogger, she is also the author of one of my favourite books of 2010, The Butcher and the Vegetarian, a serious and journalistic look at the culture behind, of all things, meat.  Tea and I have been online friends for some time, but had never met in person; as such, I was really looking forward to getting to know her in real life.

If I were only allowed one word to describe Tea, that word would indisputably be "gentle."  She is soft-spoken with kind eyes, who has a sweet way of connecting with people with compassion and tenderness.  I'm so glad I finally got to meet her and spend some good quality time with her, and I suspect we'll be friends for a long time.


If you've been reading personal blogs for any length of time, I'm willing to bet I don't have to tell you who Heather is.  Her blog is read by literally millions of people each month, and her frank, funny, outrageous and sometimes raw writing has earned her international recognition.  She's definitely a writer who has revolutionized the personal blogging world.

I actually met Heather over 4 years ago now, and in person, Heather is surprisingly demure.  But if there was only one word that could be used to describe Heather in real life, that word would be "elegant."  She is invariably warm and gracious, with an expressive face and eyes that flash with humour.  My encounters with Heather have always been really lovely, and it was great to see her again.


I met Andrea very briefly at the Evo Conference earlier this year, when I rather rudely interrupted the conversation she was having minutes before she was to deliver a keynote, to tell her how amazing I thought her outfit was.  Instead of looking at me like I fell out of a tree (which truthfully, would've been the most reasonable response), she fixed a gaze on me with those amazing eyes and warm smile and gave me a very sincere thank you.  Those 20 seconds represented the entirety of my relationship with her before Sonoma.

This weekend she surprised me by immediately remembering who I was, and she confirmed my initial impression of her being very warm and genial.  As I watched her move among the group of women we were spending the weekend with, Audrey Hepburn quite often came to mind.  Andrea is truly a gracious person, and I hope I get the opportunity to connect with her again in person.


And finally (for today), Margaret.  While Margaret is clearly a pretty woman, that adjective doesn't even begin to cover what you notice when you're in her presence.  You start thinking about words like "sharp."  "Witty."  "Bright."  "Clever."  And most definitely "hilarious."  She's both laid back and exuberant, if that combination is even possible, and by the time I left California, I surprised myself by being sincerely disappointed that she doesn't live in Houston, so I could call her this week and ask her to connect over tea.  She's open and friendly and outgoing, and I liked her immediately and immensely.

* * * * * * *

I hope you enjoyed the first half of my Sonoma portraits -- part two tomorrow.  In the meantime, I believe we have some unfinished business:  to name the winners of the Modern Bird Studios gift certificate and the Expressive Photography book!  Thank you so much for your participation -- I loved reading your comments while I was away.

So, without further ado:  upon asking to do the honours, our winner is Rebecca, whose comment said, in part, "Also, chocolate does not need enhancements of any kind, but if I'm honest, I do like to mix it up with some ancho chilis from time to time. Around Valentine's Day, we are able to get our fill of that tasty treat. Otherwise....chocolate and fruit = NO; chocolate and nuts = from time to time; really wonderful dark chocolate with espresso nibs = um, well, YES."  Congratulations, Rebecca!  I'll be contacting you via email to get all of your snail mail information. 

Thanks much to Modern Bird Studios for such a generous giveaway!  Also, some good news:  if you didn't win and you want to order some of their modern art, Modern Birds Studios is offering a 15% discount if you use the code "CHOOKOOLOONKS" when you order.  How awesome is that? This offer is good through September 28th, so go quickly and order now!


Images:  All photographed with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens.


Song: California love by 2Pac

homeward bound

Today I'm returning to Houston after a pretty heady trip to the wine country of California.  I have lots to share, and I will; however, I don't get into Houston until late tonight, so my Tuesday post will likely be a bit late.  But in the meantime, don't forget to leave a comment on Friday's post for a chance to win some original art from Modern Bird Studios and a signed copy of Expressive Photography -- today's the last day to do so.

Also, above, a shot taken while driving past the beautiful scenery out to the wine country. Sonoma is a magical, magical place.

See you tomorrow.

while i'm gone for the weekend: a modern bird studios/shutter sisters giveaway!

Today I'm going to meet a bevy of life-list-lovin' bloggers in California, for a quick getaway.  I won't be returning until Tuesday (when I hope to share with you some pictures of distinctly Californian things, like redwood forests and, you know, wine), but while I'm gone, I thought I'd offer one of the best giveaways I've ever done on this site, consisting of, not one, but two ridiculously cool items. 


First: some time ago, I was contacted by Modern Bird Studios, who kindly invited me to be a featured photographer on their site.  Modern Bird Studios does this very cool thing -- you send them a photograph and favourite colour combinations, and they take your shots and turn them into original modern art.  Since I love photography and I love art, I happily agreed.  (You can read my interview here.)

Megan and Gregg are so gracious, in exchange for doing the interview, they offered to turn one of my photographs into one of their cool modern art pieces.  I was really excited, because in addition to Marcus and I collecting art, we've also started collecting art for Alex, so that when she moves out as an adult, she'll have her own collection started for her first place.  For this reason, I thought that I'd choose a photograph that she might think is fun when she's an adult.

So.  Remember this photograph?

Check out the crazy-cool that Modern Bird Studios did with it:

Isn't it awesome?  And this is some substantial art, too -- I was really shocked at the heft and quality of it when it finally arrived.  Really beautiful work, and it's currently in a place of honour in my little home studio, being saved and enjoyed until Alex is ready for it.

Even better, Modern Bird Studios offered a $250 gift certificate (exclusive of shipping) to one of my readers, for one of you to turn one of your own favourite photographs into modern art.  So I have that to give away, which is pretty fantastic. 

But that's not all.

About a week ago, the brand new Shutter Sisters book, Expressive Photography: A Shutter Sisters' Guide to Shooting from the Heart arrived in my mailbox.  And even though I am admittedly one of the contributors, having written one of the chapters (and other chapters were written by some of your favourite online photographers), I have to say:  this is a beautiful book.  Unlike most photography books, this guide isn't just all the technical mumbo-jumbo on how to use your camera:  this book also gives you tips on how to approach your subjects, from everything to photographing children, to nature, to horizons to tables, for goodness' sake.  I'm going to cherish my copy for a long time.

And I have one extra copy.

So!  Here's what we're going to do:  simply leave a comment below before midnight Monday night/Tuesday morning (September 21st), and I'll pick a commenter at random to receive both the $250 gift certificate (shipping costs will apply) for Modern Bird Studios AND a copy of Expressive Photography (which I'll happily sign and ship to you myself).  That's right, both.  You can even keep one bit of fabulousness for yourself, and give one to someone else, making you the best friend ever.  Also? This contest is open to everyone, wherever in the world you may be.  Which is all kinds of awesome.

I arrive back home late on Monday night, so I'll announce the winner in my Tuesday post.  Remember, just leave a comment -- it could about anything, like your favourite colour, what you're planning on doing this weekend, the most disgusting thing you've ever eaten, or even your personal opinion on whether chocolate is actually enhanced by nuts, or if the nuts detract from chocolatey-goodness.  Whatever works. 

I can't wait to read your comments.

And with that, have a great weekend, everyone.  See you when I get back.

SongAmerican Boy by Estelle