Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

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Remember Christmas seasons past? I do, especially the special magic of the children and how that magic came into sharp focus, magnified at Christmas time. The anticipation, the belief, the wonder — all part of the magic of Christmas. I loved Christmas then and still do. Children’s magic is contagious and some of that magic rubs off on adults. Hey, it’s magic after all. But we live in the present moment and there comes the time when Christmas has past and the magic packed away in cardboard boxes for another year.

I never liked New Years because it was the day my parents turned off the magic and hid it away in the dark attic until the next year. And if that wasn’t depressing enough, we had to go back to school the next day after a wonderful week of magic, toys, friends and pure play.

School is the antithesis of magic. So is work and when the adults returned to work the little magic that did rub off was gone, magic lights extinguished as we settled into the long dark winter and the desert of days for months on end until the magic of spring and Easter enlivened us once again. I never understood why the new year begins in the middle of the dark winter. The new year should begin at the spring solstice when life renews.

What if we could call up the magic at will? What if we still knew how to play the way all children do? Play is what makes us human. Play is what makes life worth living. Play can transform life into the delicious creative journey that life is meant to be — but only if we remember how to play.

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I learned clustering years ago from Gabriele Rico’s wonderful “Writing the Natural Way” but I’ve neglected clustering until I came across past clustering and vignettes that revived my interest. Actually I started a new notebook three months ago devoted entirely to clustering. Alas, I only put six clusters / vignettes into that book until today when I clustered on the word / idea “CLUSTER.” But before I share this latest cluster here are a few ideas from the book.

Our design minds (Rico’s term for the right side of the brain) are filled with imaginative ideas and clustering is a sort of brainstorming process that frees these images and makes them visible. Clustering is a journey we begin without knowing or concerning ourselves with outcomes. Clustering only takes a few minutes. At some point during the clustering your mind will suddenly know what to write and then you shift into writing a vignette which only takes a few minutes. Now here’s my attempt at clustering “cluster” — the raw vignette / first draft.


Cluster shifts the view, a dance of messages passing the eye, attracting the eye like clouds in the sky. Pulling together or poles apart repulsed and sent away. Clustering pops ideas, floats ideas ever changing like clouds floating by transforming and dissipating, whisping away — fierce dragon to unformed tendrils waiting for the next breeze to gather together again — always different, bringing the kaleidoscope into another picture of what? The thoughts trapped in your mind. Clustering invites these wordless thoughts to come out to play, to give them voice.

I didn’t time myself as I should have but this entire process only took 5 to 10 minutes. The next thing would be to give the vignette a rest and come back later for additional work (or not).

Here’s a [It’s my turn again] vignette after clustering on TURN from Writing the Natural Way on Oct. 9, 2011.

It’s my turn again where / when I flip over and repeat but am I repeating the same things over and over? My turn is another invitation to return for another look, to see / hear / taste / feel now, to spin on the axis of the moment. Do I remember my last turn? Should I? Each turn is a new chance, an opportunity for now, the again that’s always different than last time. The again that puts last time in proper perspective into the past of has beens that can be no more. My turn is an invitation to new creativity —  now.

I wrote this one [Wonder and the Fragility of Ideas] from Writing the Natural Way, on October 11, 2012

My head bobs up and down anxious, no, eager (because we don’t like worry words and anxious is a worry word). We like words like eager, a puppy aiming to please, a child wondering about his world, living in the moment, the wonder of Now. Wonder sneaks up on me when I sit quietly. No thunder — who needs thunder? Thunder is suspect, drawing attention to itself with noise rather than substance. When I don’t know what to wonder about, wonder tells me. All I need to do is pay attention. PAY ATTENTION! ATTENTION means ATTENTION!

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Been out of circulation for awhile because I ended up in the hospital again. Turned out to be another bout with MERSA pneumonia. Was in for a week until they figured out what was wrong then they sent me home to a safer environment for someone who is immunocompromised like I am. Eight days on Zyvox (probably the most powerful and expensive antibiotic out there). I finished the course with this morning’s dose. Yeah!

Let’s not dwell on sick. How about a delicious smoothie recipe I’ve been working on. I drink two of these a day now, Mid day and evening (about 8 o’clock or so). The late smoothie keeps my hands out of the candy dish.

Super Protein Smoothie

– 8 oz. bottle chocolate Ensure or Boost (vanilla works too but I love choc.)
– 4 oz. plain organic yogurt
– 1 scoop Swanson goat milk whey protein
– 1 t. organic peanut butter
– 1/2 t. (approx.) organic coconut oil
– pinch nutmeg
– splash vanilla extract (the real thing)
– 1/3 to 1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries
– (opt) Barley Grass juice powder (try it, you won’t taste it)

Put all the ingredients into your nutra-bullet or other blender and buzz for about 45 seconds or so. Experiment. The yield is about 16 oz. and will give you about 26 grams of high quality protein and all the good stuff in blueberries. The green drink powder can be a nice bonus but it’s optional. Enjoy.

I’m back and hope to get some writing done and published. The twins were six years old Tuesday and we’re having a birthday party today. I’m taking my camera so wish me luck.

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I wrote this vignette [Wonder and the Fragility of Ideas] after clustering (from Writing the Natural Way, in October, 2012)

My head bobs up and down anxious, no, eager (because we don’t like worry words and anxious is a worry word). We like words like eager, a puppy aiming to please, a child wondering about his world, living in the moment, the wonder of Now.

Wonder sneaks up on me when I sit quietly. No thunder — who needs thunder? Thunder is suspect, drawing attention to itself with noise rather than substance. When I don’t know what to wonder about, wonder tells me. All I need to do is pay attention.


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underwoodOur H.S. biology teacher (Brother Joseph) had a funny sense of humor. He referred to hospitals as horsepistols. So maybe I’m kind of warped myself. I was back to the hospital again last week. I swore I was never going back but circumstances said otherwise.

A routine CT scan ordered my my oncologist showed suspicion of a clot in my leg. We have a family friend who is a top radiologist. I always get a CD of any scans, x-rays, etc. for him to read. He saw the clot and let us know how serious it was. Advice to get to the hospital.

Sue called my oncologist. Sue is my advocate, does all kinds of research and is on good terms with all my caregivers. After Sue told my oncologist about the reading. The question was who would call. Sue said “Rock, paper, scissors, you better call.”

And she (oncologist did) at 10:00 PM on Thursday night. Got to the ER around 11:00 PM, triaged right away then had to wait awhile for an ER bed. They sucked my blood, x-rayed my chest (I had a touch of pneumonia too), and did an ultrasound on my legs which, when they finally get the report to the docs confirmed a DVT in my right leg. Great, just what I needed to hear.

The good part of this hospital stay is that I was there because of the risk, not because I felt sick. Boring!! They gave me shots of Luvenox in my belly twice a day. The plan was to send me home with a script for the stuff. We even had a class on how to stick me. No Luvenox for me. That stuff is ridiculously expensive, almost $500 for generic with my insurance for 11 days!

The next choice was Xarelto, still too expensive but not even close to the other. So once that was settled, they put me on the stuff, wrote the Scripts and sent me home on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday was a real adventure in the hospital. Underwood had merged with Inspira (what a stupid name) and the Underwood computers shut down at midnight Saturday for the transfer. All the work on Sunday was paper. Insanity. We finally got home around 4:30 PM.

So now it’s almost back to normal whatever that is. I have no clues about normal after two years of chemo, etc. Visit my primary tomorrow, get a follow up chest x-ray tomorrow afternoon and finish the course of antibiotics (leviquin is some potent stuff — gives me chemo brain). Then if all is well with the x-ray, back to chemo on Monday.

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Say hello to daughter Sue (on the left) and her good friend Jody. It sure felt good to be out of the house, camera in hand, basking in the warm sunshine for a few hours. We went to watch Sara, Emily and Julia play soccer last Saturday.

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These two photos are from the tail end of a roll of FP4+ B&W film I started in the spring and finished last week at the soccer games. Sue and Jody standing behind me (I was sitting in a folding chair) said “take our picture.” I turned in my chair, pointed the camera and took two shots: One with Jody wearing glasses and one without. Hope you like them.

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I have another good shot from that roll that I’m saving for next week. Hint: Maddy loves having her picture taken.

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I stopped in Wenonah late one Friday afternoon at the end of January looking for an entrance to one of the Wenonah Trails. This was before I had a Wenonah Trail Guide (a sort of map of all the trails) so I had no idea of what I was doing.

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This is a photo taken along Break Back Run, a tributary of the Mantua Creek and the first photo I took in Wenonah. I was on the north side of the main drag and the bridge over Mantua Creek. Even though Mantua Creek flowed under the road, the trail didn’t. Access points for the main parts of the trail are on the south end of Wenonah. I returned the following week and began my exploration, then a few days later I bought a copy of the Wenonah Trail Guide at the town office so now I have a map and a much better idea of where the access points are located.

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Pulled another swamp portrait from my archives.

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It’s funny how one discovery can cause a paradigm shift in our thinking, leading to new insights and creative possibilities. My ‘discovery’ of the DigiKam/showFoto refocus plug-in I wrote about last week is a perfect example. I chose a trio of photographs taken on a wonderfully sunny morning in mid-June, 2010 to illuminate (pun intended) my findings. To get the full impact of the photos below, please click to enlarge each of them in turn.

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This photo (and the others in this series) was taken along the Chestnut Branch inside Ceres Park. This was a day when the light came out to play, celebrate, sparkle on the foliage, reflections in the stream — a dance of light and shadow.

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I simply turned the camera from portrait to landscape to change the feel of this second image, from the vertical reach of the trees to the horizontal sweep of Chestnut Branch as it slips around the curve.

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This last photo was taken further upstream after crossing a homemade bridge christened tongue in cheek as the Commodore Barry Bridge by the mountain bikers who built it. It’s a lovely secluded spot with marvelous lighting.

All of the images were taken hand held with my Nikon N8008s, 35mm AF lens and Neopan 400 film rated at ISO 640. I’m sure I published these photos in the past but this time with improved post processing, I got much better results.

I experimented with curves in DigiKam/showFoto but in the end, I returned to the sheer power of the brightness curve transformation in PWP. If you want to get the best out of your images, you must learn how to work with curves and PWP is the best tool in my arsenal.

Rich, textured shadows and brilliant (but not blown) highlights are important but the real key to good B&W printing is in the mid-tones. I didn’t have to do much with these images because I had decent exposures and good scans. I pulled the mid-tones down and to the right.

I liked the platinum tones I got with DigiKam/showFoto but that’s a no choice one click transformation. PWP has a more sophisticated tint transformation that gives me complete control. All I wanted here was to warm my photos just a bit.

All my original scans are large enough for high quality 4 x 6 prints but too large for web display so the next step is to resize. I’ve standardized on 800 pixels for the long dimension for digital display. Any time you downsize an image, you lose sharpness and you must re-sharpen. The trick is to get your images sharp without introducing crunchy over-sharpening. Here’s where PWP and I part company. After downsizing, I converted the 16 bit image to 8 bit and saved it as a new tiff file and exited PWP.

As I mentioned last week, I ‘discovered’ refocus sharpening in DigiKam/showFoto so I loaded each image into showFoto, ran the refocus sharpening, added my watermark and saved the result as a jpeg file. Photos #1 and #2 were re-sharpened with refocus in showFoto.

I learned that the refocus plug-in used in showFoto was ported from the refocus plug-in in the Gimp. Who knew? So I used the Gimp refocus on the final image.

I think the refocus sharpening is superior for re-sharpening after downsizing for web display. From the manual: “The FIR Wiener filter is frequently better
in restoring small details” which is precisely what I needed here. The images are sharp and don’t exhibit any evidence of over sharpening. The photos have that pop that can be so elusive. You need to enlarge the images to see and appreciate what I’m talking about.

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When I visit Ceres, more often than not I cut off the main trail early and take the ridge trail because I like the perspective of being high above and parallel to the two lakes. The trail is narrow and the footing gets tricky in many places. The trail drops to lake level midway and there is another trail that branches off to cross a section of swamp between the lakes.

Swamp Crossing -- Click to enlarge

I took this photo from the wooden plank bridge that crosses the wettest part of the swamp. This image was taken during the summer. I don’t think I used a tripod here because I don’t like to linger and become a meal for the mosquitoes. The only time you can beat the buggers is when there’s a stiff breeze.

It’s amazing how dark it gets even on the brightest day under the thick forest canopy. When I find a spot like this one where the light is filtered, I like to play with the light and shadows.

Addendum added March 10, 2012 ——————————————————-

Swamp Crossing Addendum -- Click to enlarge

I’m an inveterate experimenter. I always scan 16 bit, then edit in 16 bit mode using Picture Window Pro 5.0 (PWP). PWP is a great photo editor that I’ve been using for something like 10 years now. But — here it comes, PWP is a windows only program and my desktop computer runs with Linux (Mint 9) as my operating system, so I have to use PWP under Wine which works OK but with some compromises.

DigiKam is a KDE (native Linux) image management program that includes a capable image editor that can work with 16 bit files. The editor is available as a stand alone program called showFoto. I created the Swamp Crossing Addendum above using showFoto as an experiment, a successful one in my mind.

I almost always use USM sharpening for local contrast enhancement. ShowFoto has a local contrast plug-in that works even better. ShowFoto also has an interesting sharpening method called “refocus” that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I like the results I’ve been getting from sharpening with refocus and will continue experimenting.

“Refocus is a tool to refocus an image by enhancing the sharpness. It uses the Deconvolution Filter algorithm copyrighted by Ernst Lippe. This tool attempts to “refocus” an image by undoing the defocussing. This is better than just trying to sharpen a photograph. It is employing a technique called FIR Wiener Filtering. The traditional technique for sharpening images is to use unsharp masking. Refocus generally produces better results than Unsharp masking.”  Quoted from the showFoto manual.

I also discovered the B&W tone filters. I used the platinum tone filter that replicates platinum toning done  in the traditional wet darkroom. Platinum toning is done for archival permanence and gives the finished print a lovely tone. I think the addendum version of Swamp Crossing is better in many subtle ways. I will be experimenting more with showFoto with the idea of making showFoto my image editor of choice.

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