Breathe.

I think all the professors, teachers, and students in the USA groaned collectively this morning. No one wants to face Monday after having five to nine days off. Plus, for many of us, Monday begins the intense madness of final papers, final exams, and final grades.

Ugh! The thought of what this week brings makes many of us want to run for cover. But we can’t. We just have to jump in and keep doing until it’s all done.

So breathe…

My Impressionist “Painting” of the Tennessee River at Ditto Landing, Northern Alabama ūüôā

….knowing on the other side of the madness…four glorious weeks of winter break.

Slaying Dragons and Painting Dreams

I captured the image (above) a week or so ago when my hubby, son, and I were exploring downtown. The chair is colorful and worthy of photographing, but I was drawn to the quote.

I dream my painting and then paint my dream. ¬†–Van Gogh

It is perfectly aligned with where my head is at the moment–planning and working toward a few goals.

A few days before encountering the chair, one of my besties and I decided to work toward completing our top three goals and report our progress to each other every week. By the beginning of week one, I was ready to slay in a serious way. By the end, I was whining inwardly that I’d made zero¬†progress on any of my goals.

Thanks to Thanksgiving Break, I’ve had a moment or two of clarity and I’ve concluded that ‚Äúgoal slay‚ÄĚ is as much about slaying the dragons that stand in our way as it is about actually achieving our goals: Dragons of time. Dragons of demands. Dragons of habit. Dragons of neglect. Dragons of doubt and fear.

The reality–life is busy and full, so we often have little time to squeeze in a new thing, goal, activity, even person. We’ve developed some patterns and routines that must change. Even our perceived good habits have to change if we are to accomplish our goals. What’s more daunting? We must sharpen our swords on our own imagined dragons before we can slay the really scary ones.

So although I’ve not checked any of the boxes directly leading to any of my goals, I’ve made significant progress on the process. I have well-defined goals and a solid plan to slay some dragons. That’s something…isn’t it?

Photo Walk: First Day of Autumn Sightings

I’ve been craving time with my camera, so yesterday I arrived at work 30 minutes before conferences with students were scheduled to begin and took a brief walk–camera and iPhone in tow. As expected, there weren’t many signs of autumn, but the walk provided a refreshing start to my day and a clear mind as I headed into the weekend.

My campus walks always start with the trees. The oaks did not disappoint with their gnarly trunks and roots. The fungus attracted my attention here.

Notice the resting ent?

I wonder how he got here from Middle Earth. Or is he a tree troll?

The Dogwoods have so many interesting transformations throughout the year. I’ll have to make a point of charting the changes one year. They’re showing signs of autumn.

Of course, the evergreen deserves admiration all year long.

It wouldn’t be the first day of autumn in Alabama without butterflies and pink.

It’s about to take flight…

A morning walk requires a squirrel.

A couple of bonus photos shot earlier in the week: One provides proof of autumn.

And a tree I encounter (almost) every time I take a campus walk. There’s so much to love and study.

As I’m reviewing these photos, I’m thinking about my older brother, Dennis–a photographer–and feeling a strong connection to him through our mutual love for nature photography. I’m praying him through a medical crisis and sending hugs and deepest love from the Deep South to the West Coast. I love you, big brother!

Time Out and Bad Solar Eclipse Photos

This is extraordinary that humankind has figured out that we live on a big sphere, orbiting another sphere, with a smaller sphere orbiting us, and once in a while, these things line up and we experience totality. –Bill Nye, August 21, 2017

Yes, this is yet another eclipse post.

I looked forward to the eclipse and enjoyed every second of it, not simply because of the amazing spectacle it was but because for once, it seemed, we found something else to talk about. The steady diet of social challenge, politics, and White House shenanigans we’re fed in the USA was interrupted for many glorious hours of focus on the solar eclipse.

A time out we needed.

Like many businesses and schools in the area, the University and K-12 campuses (where I work) shut down for a couple of hours and watched the moon pass between the sun and the earth. Students celebrated a break from classes (Many profs and teachers did too, but shhh…we won’t tell). Families interrupted a busy Monday schedule to enjoy the eclipse together.¬†The University provided snowballs and ice cream to keep us cool in the 91 degree heat.

I did not prepare adequately and completely forgot my solar filter. I was not willing to risk my camera sensor, so I attempted to take pics of the eclipse with my iPhone. Major fail!

These are really bad photos, but I figured, something is better than nothing.

This photo surprised me. It reveals just how powerful the sun is.

Eclipse What?

The sun was about 95% covered at this point (We experienced 97% coverage in Northern Alabama). It is amazing how much light escaped through that sliver. Notice the strange hue of the sky? ¬†I’m not sure you can see it, but the sky was “bluer” before the eclipse.

Watching everyone marvel at the eclipse was just as enjoyable as the eclipse itself.  My son:

My not-so-little one enjoying the eclipse.

I might get in trouble for the next picture, but my colleague’s wife,¬†Jewel, was so engrossed in the eclipse that she didn’t hear my greeting. This is her “punishment” for “ignoring” me.

A “Jewel” enjoying the eclipse.

I think two hours in the heat affected my thinking. It never crossed my mind to photograph the shadows, but thankfully, my friend Meli did! I love the crescent moon-shaped shadows cast by the eclipse! [Click an image for a closer look].

Many people have shared many words of wisdom about the eclipse. There are indeed some profound and valuable lessons, but the eclipse simply provided me with a break–a time out from all the little things that irk and frustrate and a moment to focus on something much grander.

NOTE: Thanks to Dr. Tiffany, one of my former students–now a molecular biologist–for the Bill Nye quote.

“Escape” to the Front Porch

A few days ago, the guys and I left home to hit one of the many nature trails in the area. As usual, I had my camera out ready to capture abandoned homes and scenes from rural life along the way. A couple of minutes into the drive, the gorgeous remains of a tree commanded our attention. I was ready to jump out of the car and snap a shot of the tree, when my hubby said, “I think this is your colleague’s home.” We weren’t sure. As we looked toward the house, which was set some distance from the road, we noticed a couple sitting on the porch. We couldn’t make out the faces, but I thought I recognized the SUV sitting in the driveway. We took our chances and drove up to say hello and ask permission to capture a few shots–even if we were wrong.

It was them! But the biggest surprise was the amazing view right outside their front door.

“Living the Pond Life”

The pond, built by my colleague’s husband, is beautiful and reminds me why I love living outside the city and in a place where a front yard can be a pond. It is well-maintained and serves as home to a lot of marine life–fish, turtles, and the occasional unwelcome water moccasin.

Back in May I accepted Books & Coffee’s¬†challenge to share escape photos within our own cities and towns. I have to make good on my promise to share some of my (far too many) “happy place” photos, but what better way to “escape” life than by simply stepping outside one’s front door?¬†I can’t claim my colleague’s home as my happy place, but it did provide the happy during our brief visit.

It’s clear that my colleague’s husband designed the pond to provide a bit of peace and beauty away from the daily hustle and bustle. ¬†Water–in almost any form–has such a calming effect.¬†Even though it was an unplanned stop along the way, visiting my colleague’s pond just about negated my desire for a nature walk.

As for the tree, I almost forgot about it, but I managed to snap a couple before we drove away. The knots and grooves give the tree such striking appeal! [Click an image for a closer view].

Don’t you think so?

Close…Closer…Closest

Don’t be misled by the title–I won’t be giving a lesson on comparatives and superlatives today. ūüėÄ

Have you ever shot a photograph that thrilled you? ¬†There’s nothing super spectacular about the photo or the scene even, but shooting it gave you all the “good feels?”

That’s how I feel about a few photos I captured with my iPhone¬†late last week.

Mimosa: Close

I’m not sure¬†why this tree claims my attention. There’s something about the combination of pink and green.¬† Or maybe it’s the fine wisps that form the featherlike blossoms.

I first noticed the trees several years ago in New Orleans, but I only saw them when I was on the road.  The same thing happened here in Northern Alabama.  I never saw them in a place I could or wanted to stop. . . until last week.

I finally¬†found an opportunity¬†to get up close and personal with the tree when I¬†dropped by my son’s school last week.¬†I glanced up and there was the tree sitting behind the building up¬†a hill!

You know what happened next…

Mimosa: Closer

Now, I see these trees practically everywhere I turn, and my heart does a happy dance whenever I see them.

Mimosa: Closest

To be honest, I’m not even certain what this tree is called.¬† I read conflicting information about it. ¬†A plant identification app on my phone matched my photo with the¬†Albizia julibrissin, but another website identified the tree as¬†Calliandra surinamensis.¬†The¬†University of Florida’s¬†Gardening Solutions site¬†agreed with the app (Go Gators!).

The tree is commonly called a “mimosa” tree and is native to eastern and southwestern Asia, but flourishes (almost) anywhere it’s planted. ¬†According to UF’s Gardening Solutions site, the mimosa tree is considered an invasive tree and is not recommended for gardening. ¬†The plant that it was mistaken for,¬†Calliandra surinamensis, bears similar blossoms, but is more suited for home gardening.

I’ll continue to appreciate this beautiful tree “from a distance,” photograph them when I can, and play around with the photos in¬†¬†a few apps. ūüėČ

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Have you photographed anything recently that simply thrilled you?

Discovering Spring in a Pretty Purple Pansy

Although we’ve had consistently warmer temperatures for the last week or so, spring has not actually sprung here in Northern Alabama. ¬†I’ve been waiting a bit impatiently for the blossoms to fully appear, but it seems the temperamental winter we’ve had has made our early spring less brilliant than usual.

We’re¬†not the only ones experiencing a delayed spring.

I received a postcard today from my photog pal, Diane, Midteacher on swap-bot, for an A Thousand Words group swap, “Early Spring Photo Postcard.” ¬†She writes that it is still “clearly winter in Michigan. ¬†The freezing cold and bitter wind hasn’t let up.” ¬†As a result, she had to find a little spring at a local nursery’s “Spring Expo.”

Purple Pansy by Diane W.(Midteacher on swap-bot)

Of course, I’m pretty pleased with this gorgeous purple pansy. Not only is the pansy beautiful but the presentation is stunning, so I’m grateful Diane was forced to find spring in another way [Sorry, Diane]. ¬†She writes that the pansy was popular among the attendees and she “enjoyed watching everyone’s faces light up when they saw” the pansy. I wish she’d seen my face light up when I retrieved her postcard¬†after work today!

How appropriate that Diane¬†accented the flower with the word “discover.” I’ve been looking for strong evidence of spring (beyond temperature) for a week now!

Now, I have to figure out which inspiration wall needs this purple pansy most–the one at home or the one at work???

Has spring sprung yet in your region?

Soul Work: Making Art of Loving People

“Purple” Rose, Big Spring Park, Huntsville, Alabama. [Altered Photo]

As promised, here’s the “love post” I sent to family, friends, and swappers this year. ¬†The card features an altered rose and a Van Gogh quote.

I found the rose last December showing off in Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama. It was simply gorgeous and many people were pleasantly surprised to find its unexpected beauty.

Van Gogh offers more than a “quotable quote” here. ¬†Instead of making a pithy statement about art, he uses art to challenge our notions of love. ¬†Moving us beyond ideas¬†of love as feelings and romance, he calls us to love in a way that an artist creates. ¬†And that is anything but romantic or fleeting.

When we¬†experience¬†a finished¬†work of art–visual, written or spoken, performed, musical composition–we respond with admiration or distaste without ever fully considering what the artist pours into the work or how gut-wrenchingly vulnerable it makes one to¬†place¬†the inner life on display.

When we truly love people, we are similarly crafting and creating, unveiling our most intimate self and making ourselves vulnerable to the scrutiny, judgement, and sometimes the disdain of others. ¬†Our love for people doesn’t always mean they will love us back and though our natural inclination is to protect ourselves,¬†we must learn to love them regardless…

This point was driven home for me and my little one last week, as he was present when someone disrespected me in a public forum. ¬†Though angry, my little one emphasized that he “admired [my] restraint” because he knows that many people wouldn’t have taken it so calmly. ¬†On our drive home we talked about where that “restraint” comes from. ¬†I was honest with him. Some¬†base part of me could have humiliated the man and “put him in his place,” perhaps deservedly so, but that this man¬†could behave¬†this way suggests that he needs my prayers,¬†not my tongue. ¬†In an instant during the exchange, I paused long enough to hear from God,¬†check myself, and recognize in the offender¬†the¬†child of God whom I am called to love.

Van Gogh is not speaking of simply loving people in our circles, those with whom we already share a heart connection, or those who are easy to love. ¬†Nor is he simply speaking of a general, abstract love for humanity. ¬†The artistry and mastery of¬†love come as a result of loving through challenge and difficulty and loving people who aren’t loving, even people who can be mean and evil.¬† It comes as a result of seeing them as complex beings who, like a work of art, are more than what we¬†immediately see.

Just as it¬†takes more than a few strokes of the artist’s brush to create a masterpiece, it takes intense¬†soul work and an intimate and constant¬†connection with the Divine to make art of loving people.

Microblog Mondays: He Restores My Soul

My little one is sick for the fourth time this season, so when I woke up this morning, worried and stressed, I¬†needed a simple and familiar scripture to start the¬†day. I opened the Bible App and the “Verse of the Day” provided the first few verses of Psalm 23–just what I needed to help the little one get through the day.

“He Leads Me Beside Peaceful Streams,” Wheeler Lake, Huntsville, Alabama.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
He leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
Psalm 23:1-3a NLT

microblog_mondays

Walk the Tinsel Trail with Me!

Happy Holidays!

When I wrote my last NaBloPoMo 2016 post, I planned to share (soon after) the photos from a post-Thanksgiving walk through the “Tinsel Trail” at Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama.¬† The end-of-semester wrap up, holiday preparations, and sheer exhaustion hindered that effort, but I cannot let the holiday season pass without sharing the photos I captured.

“Tinsel Trail” is a display of Christmas trees in the park, located in Downtown Huntsville.¬† The trees are sponsored by various companies, groups, and even families.

There are a lot of trees and far too many to share in one post.¬† I captured more than 150 photos (not every tree), but I’m sharing only about one-third of them with you.

The trees are decorated in various ways, expressing the personalities of the groups sponsoring them.  Some are traditional with ornaments, bulbs, and ribbon.  [Click one of the collaged images for a closer look]

Some are there simply for company advertisement.

Some promote the arts.

Some education.

Some support parks and recreational areas.

Some raise awareness about mental illness.

Some are full of sugary dreams of childhood.

There are trucks.

And trains serving childhood fantasies of the North Pole.

Of course, Santa is there.

And other characters familiar to kids (and adults).

There are superheroes.

And favored villains.

There are reminders that some of us go through the holidays carrying grief.

There is a cute owl tree I can’t wait to share with a little friend who loves them.

00012s

Some represent universities.

And (for my many Alpha Kappa Alpha friends), at least one sorority.

Some are patriotic.

And, of course, many are religious, reminding us of the “reason for the season,” with messages of love and offers of hope in the Messiah.

Sometimes, I took in as much as I could of the whole image.

Sometimes, I focused on the details.

All in all, this was a wonderful visual feast and I hope you had a pleasurable walk with me.  Most of the photos were captured during late afternoon just before sunset, but we plan to go back before the trail vanishes to enjoy it in its evening glory.

For now, have a joyous Christmas season!