Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The ubiquitous Holiday Family Newsletter

Last year I did a "tongue-in-cheek" family Holiday Newsletter, mainly as a commentary on the practice of many folk to give an account of their family's events.  Since both Lorrie and I are on Facebook, and post regularly, there really seems no need to do one, even if it WAS to be tongue-in-cheek.  However, I did do a legitimate one last year, so it only seems fitting to do another legitimate one THIS year!

Audrey is now 13, in 8th grade, still doing online school via the California Virtual Academy, and seems to be getting taller by the day!  She is now in Confirmation classes at our church, still sings in the youth choir as well, but is no longer taking piano lessons. She excels at annoying her two big brothers, but still loves to call me "daddy" and give me hugs.  Her favorite activities are drawing (which she does constantly), or dancing to music videos she finds on YouTube.  Our house is constantly "thumping" to the sounds of her dancing in her room.  

Colin is 14 now, in 9th grade, and like Audrey, still in online schooling.  He finished confirmation this fall, and still is active in our church as an acolyte (the young person who lights and extinguishes the candles before and after the church service), and in the youth choir.  He is quite a social bug online, with friends that he plays online games with.  He, too, is getting taller, and I'm sure that he'll eventually get to 6' or more in height!

Justin, after several months working and living in Reno, returned to us in early August, and found a job by October, working at the Los Alamitos Air Base.  He takes the bus to and from work, and likes his job and the people he works with.  We missed not having him for Christmas last year, and missed his 20th birthday as well.  He will turn 21 this coming year, so we have some celebrating to do and to catch up on!

Lorrie's photography business was still busy, although she is thinking of changing it from being a portrait photographer to more of a mentor, or instructor.  She has found great enjoyment in singing karaoke, something that I join in with her on occasion.  We had a getaway day to downtown Los Angeles to celebrate her birthday and our 15th wedding anniversary, and she was dressed to the 9's for that! 

After 3 months of unemployment I landed at a family-owned printing company in Tustin, which is half the distance I used to drive.  I sold my Toyota Tacoma and got a more "sales" type of car - a Toyota Camry.  It's interesting to still be in the printing industry, but in sales now.  But I find it exciting to go into work and think of what challenges or calls or self-promotional steps I can do.  I've had a good year for someone who'd never done sales, with a handful of very happy and loyal clients, and I feel that 2015 will be a breakout year for me.

We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Worship in the stable

When it comes to Christmas Eve worship, I find that I am a living paradox.

Part of me loves the grandeur of a large place of worship, filled with lights, Christmas trees and other decorations.  I love seeing a large pipe organ at the end of the sanctuary, and hear the joyous music echo through the massive building. I love seeing a choir of 60 or so voices, singing glorious Christmas music with the organ accompaniment or maybe even a small orchestra. Yes, to me, that is a festive and celebratory Christmas Eve.

Then there's another part of me - the part that sees Christmas Eve as a quiet and reflective time. A time for us to think about the humble origins of the Christ Child.  It is a time of a few singers and guitar, just as it was for Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber, when they collaborated to bring to life the most cherished of all Christmas hymns, "Silent Night".  It's a time for holding a candle and singing a capella in a small chapel set in the woods.  And, to me, this is our way of worshipping the poor child born in poverty in a stable.

Merry Christmas.....

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Essential Christmas Albums

I'm sure every one of us has specific Christmas albums that the like to listen to.  You know, ones that get you "into the Holiday Spirit".  Perhaps these are albums from your early family Christmas memories.  Maybe they're more recent ones, shared with you by a friend or spouse.  But no matter where these favorite albums came from, every year you queue them up while you're decorating, shopping, or driving - just to get you "in the mood".  

I confess that I have a few, and over they years they've meant different things to me.  There are a few that are "must listen to" in order to get me into the Christmas Spirit.  There are some that I was introduced to by my wife, or by friends, or discovered completely on my own.  So, here are what I call my "Christmas Essentials" - the albums I listen to in order to feel "Christmas-y".

"Christmas Portrait", The Carpenters

My wife introduced me to this one, and with its wonderful arrangements by Richard Carpenter, and the soft and melodious vocals by both Richard and Karen Carpenter, this quickly became one of my "Must listen to".  I have a "mix" on my MP3 player that starts with this.  They cover the gamut of both sacred and secular, and do so with class and without it seeming over-produced. Of course, the fact that my mother-in-law was a backup singer for The Carpenters, and one of my wife's earliest memories was climbing onstage during a rehearsal, makes me just a bit biased.  But even if my wife had no connection to this, the music is wonderful, and it really gets you "into the Spirit". 

"A Charlie Brown Christmas", Vince Guaraldi Trio

I grew up in the 60's and the 70's, during the heyday of the "Christmas Specials" on CBS, NBC and ABC.  I have a memory of having dinner at an IHOP in Glendale, California (where I grew up), and then rushing home to catch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".  But like most people, it's the first of the "Peanuts" television specials that still delights me and makes me giggle.  And the brilliance of having the jazz trio led by Vince Guaraldi, with all the wonderful compositions, like "Linus and Lucy", and "Christmastime is here", goes far to creating a light and joyous soundtrack, and brings us back to that simple message that Linus gives on the stage.

 "Une nuit de Noel a Notre-Dame de Paris", choirs of Notre Dame Catheral, Paris, France, Pierre Cochereau on the Grand Organ of Notre Dame

This album was given to me over 30 years ago by the baritone soloist at the church I was singing in a the time.  At first I was not that enthused about the gift.  But as I listened to the clear sounds of the boys singing in that vast cathedral, accompanied by the massive organ, I became transfixed.  "Silent Night" opens the album, sung first in German, then English, and finally in French. When they recorded the album the must have had the microphones elsewhere in the cathedral, but not in front of the choir.  The voices are clear, distant, mysterious.  And the reverberation which lasts for several seconds, only enhances the very mystery of the Virgin Birth and God coming to us incarnate as a baby born in a stable.

"Christmas Songs", Diana Krall

From the moment the jazz guitar and double-bass start with the rif for "Jingle Bells", you're hooked. Diana Krall, the Canadian singer and piano player, gives you a wonderful assortment of Christmas standards and classics, mostly jazz-infused and sung as if you were in some upscale lounge at the Biltmore in downtown L.A.  Krall doesn't throw in any sappy sentimentality into any of these - she's purely singing with that delicious smokey voice of hers, injecting humor into some of the songs, and touches of longing on others. It's worth getting the album for her "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" alone!

"Angels on High - a Robert Shaw Christmas", Robert Shaw Chamber Singers

 I have been a choral singer for decades, but it was when I started listening to the choral music directed by the late Robert Shaw that I truly became a choral musician.  During his long career as a choral director, Shaw released several albums of Christmas music, but this one stands out.  With his own select Chamber Singers he released an album of various carols and anthems, done with his usual meticulous and precise choral musicianship.  But it is his interpretation of the Britten "Ceremony of Carols" that stands out.  The women are superb, the harpist up to the task of the difficult accompanying part, and his dedication to using Medieval English, takes this recording of the "Ceremony of Carols" to a level I'd never heard before - or since.  

"White Christmas", Bing Crosby

Now, what would Christmas be without Bing Crosby, and the song he made famous in two movies, "White Christmas"?  I have other Bing Crosby Christmas albums, and this one is more of what you'd call a "favorites", because it takes selections from those other albums.  But on here you get not only the the title track, but his famous "I'll be Home for Christmas", as well as the rousing version of "Jingle Bells" with the Andrews Sisters.  For any of you watch the classic "Christmas Story" when TBS plays it for 24 hours straight, you'll appreciate that several of the songs that we hear being played from the radio in that movie are from this album.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful", King's College Choir

I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the British for the more modern way of celebrating Christmas. After all, it was Charles Dickens and his "Christmas Carol" that reinvigorated the Christmas traditions that had been dormant in England under the Puritans, and it was the magnificent choirs of the stately and majestic British churches that gave us many of our most beloved Christmas carols. The grandest choir of all is King's College, which is in Cambridge. Every year they do a wonderful service of Lessons and Carols, sung by a choir made of boy sopranos, and men singing alto, tenor and bass.  They always start the service with a boy singing "Once in Royal David's City" from the far end of the chapel, and that's how this CD starts.  The wonderful arrangements, the clear, soaring tone, and the magnificent organ, make this a "must have" if you appreciate the English tradition.  

"Rocky Mountain Christmas", John Denver

John Denver was known for his smooth vocals, and on this album, he had wonderful help by the great arranger, Lee Holdridge.  His "Christmas Song" (AKA "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"), "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and a fun song called "Please, Daddy...." are all enjoyable.  But his interpretation of "O, Holy Night" accompanied by a string quartet and piano, still gives me chills. It is both grand, yet simple and elegant.  And when he plays "Silent Night" with only the guitar, just as it was first performed, you truly feel like you've slowed down a bit, and are in the Christmas Spirit.  This album was based on his 1976 Christmas special.  

"Hodie", Ralph Vaughan Williams

Years ago I sat mesmerized while watching the wonderful St. Olaf Choirs singing "Ring Out Ye Crystal Spheres", which came from the Christmas oratorio, "Hodie", by the British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams.  I found the CD, which also had on it one of his other large choral and orchestral works for Christmas, "Fantasia on Christmas Carols".  Both of these large-scale choral works are on my "must listen" to list, but also, someday, I hope to sing them as well.  They show Vaughan Williams' wonderful orchestrations, his use of carols and folk-tunes, supporting his brilliant choral writing, and his sense of the mystery of the Nativity.  Ironic that he was an agnostic.

Illustration credit copyright 2014, Jennifer Broderick

I invite you to share with me, in the comments, some of your favorite Christmas albums, and why they mean something to you.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas - it's not just about retail, you know.

I know I'm not the only person who finds the commercial nature of Christmas to be, well, a little pushy. For example, I walked into a Big Lots store in early October (or maybe it was late September), and the Christmas decorations were already up!  And I've been hearing Christmas music at retail locations, and saw that the Main Place shopping mall in Santa Ana already has Santa there, and you can get your photograph taken with him.  And you know what, those things only mildly bothered me. What does really bother me, though, is that last year, Big Lots, amongst other retailers, were shutting down Christmas decorations and other holiday-themed items, and had Valentine's Day cards and other related displays up - EVEN BEFORE DECEMBER 25TH!  For retailers, Christmas is a shopping season that now starts in late September and ends BEFORE Christmas Day!

I know I'm not alone in feeling that Christmas has become too commercial.  And I think that it has even become part of our culture to joke about it.  50 years ago even Charles Schultz and his famous comic strip characters Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy, were trying to figure out what Christmas was all about.  

For me, and my family, I think we have figured it out, and we celebrate it as two different and distinct seasons. First, there's Advent - the time of preparation.  This is usually marked by the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day, and will start Sunday the 30th of November - the Sunday following Thanksgiving.  In most churches, they observe the First Sunday of Advent by lighting the first candle of the Advent Wreath. We do that too here at home, plus the weekend of Thanksgiving is when we commence decorating. At our house, that means I get the outdoor decorations up, and we retrieve the boxes and boxes and boxes of household decorations from storage.  We also set up the nativity scene, but we follow a tradition of ONLY setting up specific pieces each Sunday of Advent.  The Baby Jesus comes out on Christmas Eve, and then the Three Wise Men are put out.  But with them, there's a tradition as well.  

For you see, traditionally, Christmas actually STARTED on Christmas Day, and continued for 12 days until Epiphany, on January 6th, which is the date when the Three Wise Men are to have appeared to Mary and the Christ Child.  So, each of our Three Wise Men are placed in distant corners of our house, and daily are moved closer to our Nativity scene, until they "arrive" on Epiphany.  And that is when we are "done" with Christmas.  After Epiphany, I shut down the outdoor lights and we begin the long process of de-decorating.

As much as retail would love us to celebrate Christmas starting when the kids go back to school, but stop celebrating even BEFORE Christmas Day, we chose to celebrate it as the two distinct seasons - and we enjoy it more because of that.  

Here's to you and your family, a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A lot to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving.

There are a few of you who follow this blog that know that I have a LOT to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Last year, I came back to work on the Monday following Thanksgiving, and was called into the president's office.  I thought we were going to discuss the marketing plan for 2014 - how we were going to use social media, blog posts, etc. I had submitted the plan a few weeks before, so I went in there with my notepad and a copy of the marketing plan, ready to take notes.  He asked me to close the door.
But when I was told that I was being let go after over 30 years with the company, I must say that I was in a state of disbelief.  I had always thought that I'd either die while at my desk, or retire from there.  It was surreal.  And as I spent the day walking around and packing up my desk and saying goodbye to people I'd known and worked with for decades, many of them were in tears and a state of disbelief as well.
In hindsight, though, it was actually a good thing for me.  For one thing, I was only unemployed for 3 months, which was a time I used to spend time searching for work, hanging out with my kids, and having dates with my wife - something we really needed to do. I got to have a relaxing Christmas. And by mid-January, I had offers, one of which I took.
But that time off also gave me the time to start a print-related blog, which has become both a challenge and a joy for me.  That blog has been picked up and shared by print industry leaders, both individual and corporate, which has given me an almost international reputation.  I became more active in social media, establishing relationships with other print people all over the country, and even overseas.  And while I do not recommend unemployment for everyone, I spent the time wisely, and fruitfully.
So THIS Thanksgiving I am thankful for being let go, for the print friends I've made, and the place where I am able to take my creative print ideas to my clients.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's sometimes difficult to truly express what I am thinking....

A couple of months back I wrote a post that received a few comments.  In that post I questioned the nature of worshipping Christ, and even had a somewhat irreverent title to it, which was intentional. As I proceed on this spiritual journey, and as I take you along, I will say things that may concern those who have a strong faith, and I may say things that will actually encourage debate about faith, and allow those who read it to think about their own relationship to God, just as I am now. 

I received one comment from a friend, and it was a comment based on that person's concern for me, and concern that I might be misunderstanding the very nature of Jesus.  I wish to state, unequivocally, that my intent was NEVER to suggest that Jesus was and is anything different than portrayed in the Gospels narratives, or expounded upon by the Apostolic Epistles. A few of you know about my past, when I dated a woman who'd been a former Muslim, and was at that time into metaphysics and New Age Depak Chopra spiritualism.  It put into focus for me a very simple core truth: that Jesus is and was exactly who he said he is and was.  Notice that I use BOTH present and past tense, for you see, to me, Jesus, and therefore, God, are outside of all space and time.  Jesus IS and WAS.  This core truth is what I hold on to today.  And it always will be.  
There is a beauty that I love about being in a Liturgical church, in that the Liturgy is there to remind us, in a very poetic way, about these core truths.  The Liturgy has been there for decades, centuries, and is repetitive.  Some may find that boring or uninteresting.  C.S. Lewis found Liturgy to be alive and vital, as do I.  So, every Sunday, when we recite the Apostles Creed, I say the words with confidence and sincerity, and believe them to be absolutely and utterly true:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
       and life everlasting. Amen.  

I believe in the Triune God, and so therefore, while my statements seemed to indicate that I placed Jesus and the worship of Jesus below the worship of God, that was not my intent.  My intent, though, was to comment on the focused and almost exclusive worship of Jesus, to the point where God is not the focus.  Yes, for some, it's theological semantics: God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is God incarnate, God in the form of Man, who came to us as a tiny, helpless baby, to provide for us the Means of Grace to become one with God again, something that The Law could not do, and Man's self-righteousness could not do. Therefore, my statements may have created a belief that I held Jesus as lower than God, as NOT God, and, as my friend stated, I put Him at a level of Angels and Prophets, which was certainly NOT my intent. And Jesus does give statements that, if we do not understand the nature of the Trinity, could be confusing.  "I and the Father are one" can seem to conflict with "No one comes to the Father but through (or by) me".  If one is not theologically sound, one can read those and misunderstand what Jesus said.  I do not.  

And the few comments that I received that were admonishments for the statements I made were themselves made in a spirit of brotherhood and love, and I appreciate that.  But as I take this Journey of Faith I am seeking a simple goal, and it really is one that I've already grasped.  It's just that as I am taking this Journey of Faith I am questioning and doubting some of the stops that I've made in the past, and some of the stops I am making now. I have LOADS of questions about things that would make my evangelical Christian friends cringe, and possibly, even question my faith (which it is MY faith, not theirs).  

But always, to me, is that Core Truth - that Jesus IS and WAS who He said He IS and WAS.  That is what I hold onto with every fiber of my being.

Soli Deo Gloria  

Friday, November 07, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Wow.  Today would have been my dad's 94th birthday.  

He's been gone since June of 2004, a little over ten years.  I have missed him, mostly because he had become (in the last few years of our relationship) more of a friend, mentor, and counselor.  And as I have tried to be a good husband and father, I often wish I could still have one more talk, one more chat, about how I could be better at those aspects of life.

My dad was good at coaching me on work issues, simply because he'd gone from working on the outdoor P-38 assembly line at Lockheed in 1942, to manager of the graphic arts department when he retired in January of 1976.  He was known, liked, and highly respected by his subordinates, peers and superiors, and he would often impart to me lessons that he'd learned during that long career at Lockheed.  One time, just after I'd been promoted to a more "middle-management" decision-making position, he wrote me a letter, saying that he'd expected this all along: that my employers were grooming me into a management position of some kind.  While I never got into the more senior management levels with that company (and eventually was let go after 30 years), the lessons he gave me flavored the things I did then, and still do to this day.  Lessons of being very clear in communicating expectations, being honest, and taking responsibility for your actions - basically being ethical - were life lessons he taught me by watching his behavior.  

One of our more interesting conversations occurred when my dad was in ICU for psittacosis that he was suffering from in the late 1980's.  He said something to me that all these years later I cannot forget:

"I'm sorry I haven't been much of a good father."  

I was not expecting that: it was a confession that I never would have thought my dad would have said.  But it was just he and I in the ICU at the time - my other family members were not there.  I think my dad felt that there were activities and events that he and I never took part in, like the Scouts, or camping trips like he'd done with my older brothers.  Perhaps he was feeling a sense of guilt for not doing those things with me, and laying in ICU, one tends to allow those deep, recessed feelings to be expressed.  It was a moment between my dad and I that I will never forget.

But I shared with him that I could not have disagreed more.  Granted, he and I had experienced a long and tough relationship as I went through my teen years, not because I was a rebellious kid, but because I was not into school or education, which were things he held as very dear and important.  He saw me then as a lazy kid, not working to my full potential - wasted talent.  It strained our relationship.  It really wasn't until I started to work a full time job and then a part time job on top of that, AND in areas that were of interest in him (print and photography) that we began to actually have conversations.  Finally, there were the years we traveled together, seeing the glorious Southwest and California that he knew so well, photographing it and sharing the unique visions that we had - that was when our relationship changed from father/son to friends.

Dad, you WERE a great father.  I was a pain-in-the-ass son.  I was the one that didn't allow you to be the dad you wanted to be.  And when I finally did, I was rewarded with getting to know a man of high intelligence, great modesty, wicked sense of humor and wit, and a genuine love that was not expressed in words or affection, but by the quiet deeds that spoke loudly.  

So, dad, on your 94th birthday, I just wanna say, you were an AWESOME dad!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Something about the rain......

We had our first rain early this morning - the first rain in a long time.  It came through quickly, and showered the area in badly needed water.  Unfortunately, it was not enough rain to really do any good - we still are in a major drought.  And all it did was to slick up the freeways and highways so that the not-so-good drivers who still do 80 on a wet roadway become even MORE dangerous.  

I have a love-hate relationship with the rain.  I love it because it makes everything look fresh. I hate it because it wakes me up at night and while some folk find it peaceful and helpful for sleep, it keeps me awake.  I love it because it means I don't have to water, and my now brown lawns might get a slight sheen of green.  I hate it because 6 years ago we were in an accident that totalled my wife's Yukon and broke her wrist, all because a careless driver hit us and pushed us into the concrete median.  
Rain evokes such strong memories for me as well. Pleasant ones of sitting in my dad's studio at the end of my parent's San Clemente house, a fire in the Swedish fireplace, and listening to the rain on the roof. Unpleasant ones of looking out the front of our Glendale house and seeing the street out front several inches deep with muddy water, and some of it going down our driveway and into our backyard.  I was probably just a preschooler then, but I still remember seeing my mom and my brother Donald working in the backyard to keep the water from the house.  

Rain also is one of the "triggers" I have to slow down and enjoy it.  As much as I like to be outdoors, out in nature, when it rains, that's my signal to light a fire and find a book.  That was something ingrained in me by my parents, because that's what they'd do.  Our Glendale house had a huge Palos Verdes rock fireplace in the family room, and my mom would keep a fire going in there and read there.  My dad's studio was a place to be on a rainy day.  And now, with a nice big fireplace in our living room, having a fire in here and enjoying a book while it's raining (and no one's awake yet) is pure bliss for me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My journey continues: What would Jesus do?

I just read a post on Facebook, shared by a Lutheran pastor friend of mine.  It was titled "What Would Jesus Do?".  The post was actually a very tongue-in-cheek rebuke of those who CLAIM to follow Christ, and yet do not.  Without spoiling the post, I won't give the details.  For those of you who wish to read it, click here.

Jesus clearing the Temple - booksellers, coffee mugs, etc.
Even before I read the short article, I really made the conscious decision NOT to be a Christian anymore.  I have shared in other posts that I no longer like to be called a "Christian", because I find so many that use that name as a label for themselves, but like the mother in the humorous story, live lives that are sanctimonious, hypocritical, and judgemental.  Yes, that last sentence fits into that very definition as well.  I am being judgemental about others, and I should not be.  

Let's face it, to follow Jesus, to REALLY follow him, requires a lot.  I remember 20 or so years ago writing a letter to my pastor, saying that I questioned my faith, and was concerned that I was "lukewarm", in reference to Revelation 3:15-16, when Christ is telling members of a specific church that they were neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, and he's going to "spit them out of" his mouth. Granted, I also believe, along with many Biblical scholars, that Revelation is to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, and there have been some suggestions that John (the book is attributed to the Apostle John as he was in exile on some Mediterranean island) was drunk, or crazy.  Revelation almost did NOT make the Bible as it was being "assembled" hundreds of years ago.  But beside all that, the idea of being a "lukewarm" Christian has always bothered me.  And today, as I just LOOKED at the title of the post, I felt that I no longer wanted to follow Christ. 

Jesus and the prostitute "He who is without sin..."
That does not mean I'm going to toss away decades of church going, the relationships that I've had with teachers, youth leaders, pastors and friends - all of which have helped form my faith.  In fact, I still believe in God as stated in the Apostles Creed.  I still believe in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels.  It's just that to actually DO what Jesus would do means taking me so far out of my comfort zone, that I don't think I can do it.  Maybe if I was single, with no family responsibilities, I could step out more.  There are so many easy reasons to say why I cannot do it, that I would rather make the statement that I CANNOT do what Jesus did, and so I'd rather be a cold Christian, still living in the Gift of Grace, still loving God, still being a dad and trying to raise a family, still wishing to search for the Truth.  

Conversely, I know that there are things I CAN do, things that Jesus WOULD do, or at least I can help others do things Jesus would do.  And in a small way, I am doing some things that Jesus would do.  I will not share those, since those are between me and God - which is as it should be, in my opinion.  But today, I just decided that I cannot "do what Jesus would do", because it's just so damned hard!  I will be cold, but believe.  Can you do that?
Jesus healing the leper

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Well, I did it....

No sooner had I posted that I was scared of digital photography than I put my 4x5" camera up for sale on Craigslist, and sold it.  

So, now I'm committed.  

I'm actually going to borrow Lorrie's Canon 7D and start "learning" photography again.  I am seriously tempted to take a long weekend and go up the 395, photographing in the Eastern Sierra, maybe as far up as Bridgeport and Walker, where Lorrie's grandparents used to live.

Part of me is sad to see an "old friend" gone.  That camera became an extension of my art.  I had gotten to know its idiosyncrasies, how to make the adjustments to achieve the images I pre-visualized.  Yet I also felt that my "old friend" held me back.  Film was getting harder to find and was more expensive.  I no longer had the darkroom access that allowed me to do the black & white work that I loved.  We no longer had the software for the scanner, which would have allowed me to scan my transparencies and negatives. Even with that, the scanner wasn't really that good.  
I also have shifted the reason for why I was wishing to do photography with the 4x5" camera.  When I first bought that camera in 1997, my goal was to create large wall images - 24 x 30" or larger.  I knew I could accomplish that with a 4x5" camera.  Digital photography was not really around then, and certainly not of the quality that it is today.  One of the greatest landscape photographers, known for his large format images, now shoots Nikon digital.  And as I've seen Lorrie's photographic work mature, seen the tonal quality of her black & white work, and the saturation of her color work, I find that I am more open to digital capture.  

Plus, I had to do a self evaluation of WHAT my reasons were to do photography now.  What was my goal.  I've seen images shared on websites that are stunning.  With the relative ease of working on post-capture manipulation, and with do-it-yourself websites, sharing and possibly selling my images is a great possibility.  Plus, where I work has large format imaging devices that I could use to create and sell my images.  

So, now is a time of renewed self-discovery, capturing images such as this one below (credit unknown), and finding a voice again.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Digital photography scares me!

There.  I've said it. 

It's ironic for me to say that, considering that the kind of photography I love to do, using the camera I do, can be for many photographers just as scary. After all, my camera shoots a single sheet of 4x5" film at a time.  The exposure has to be calculated using a spot meter.  And if I'm shooting in black & white, I have to read both the shadows and the highlights, determine which "zones" they fall in, calculate both my exposure AND my development time, even before I put my film holder in the back of the camera!  And as you can see by this image here, there are knobs and levers, which allow the photographer to adjust the distance between his or her film plane (in the back) and the lens plane in the front, allowing for razor sharp focus throughout the entire image.  And, in the back, is not a viewfinder like film or digital SLR cameras have, but a sheet of glass that has a ground surface, allowing you to focus the image.  However, that image is upside-down and backwards.  Now, to me, all of this is simple, but that's because I've studied it, read about it, and almost mastered it.  Post production is done in a darkroom, developing the sheets of film, making prints using techniques that are decades old.  And in reading this, you may ask "then, why the hell does digital photography scare you?"

Digital photography can be as easy as simply buying a camera that captures images, and from there you can learn the basics.  Maybe you move on to a simple DSLR, and then eventually into a more complex and even professional level DSLR.  I think what daunts me is that I am trying to apply the ideas of film photography - maybe translate is a better term - into digital.  I understand metering, exposure, depth of field, etc.  But things like white balance, or ramping up your ISO still confound me.  The irony is that as simple as digital photography can be, I want to use it at a level similar to what I currently do with film photography: I want to know how to control the image IN the camera and at the time of exposure, so I don't have to do too much manipulation in post-production.  And yet, in film photography, darkroom work is really doing photo manipulation in analog format.  Ansel Adams heavily manipulated his work in the darkroom.  He would burn or dodge the prints, and then use selective bleaching to further whiten his "whites".  So, to take an image from a DSLR and do some work on it in PhotoShop or Lightroom is no different.

I think that there is one other element of film photography that I enjoy over the idea of having a DSLR, and that is the requirement to work slowly.  Yes, you can spend time pre-visualizing your images with a DSLR, and determine optimum exposure and camera settings.  But it's also "easy" with a DSLR to point 'n' shoot.  A 4x5" camera requires more time and more discipline, and that might be why I hesitate to jump to digital.  I like that time.  I like that discipline. It's part of the entire creative process.  It's part of the entire emotional experience of being someplace and trying to distill into a single image that very same emotion.  

So, maybe it's not that I'm afraid of digital photography.  Maybe it's that I'm trying to keep something in my life that requires slowness and discipline, and that makes me be part of where I am as I shoot.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The road is calling me.....

There's a Gordon Lightfoot song that best describes my mood today:

Carefree highway, let me slip away on you
Carefree highway, you seen better days
The morning after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away, slip away on you

This time of year, the first week of October, is usually when I'd pack up my Jeep with food and film, and head out for a week or more of photographic exploration. When I took these trips with my dad, we'd plan the route and the hotels carefully. But by the time I was exploring on my own (before I started to date my wife), I'd have a general idea where I'd want to go, and then just let the days take me as the did.  I'd often pick a single location for 2-3 nights so I could explore the entire area. And yes, I miss those days.

One trip that I took in 1995 really sticks out to me, because it was one I took with other photographers.  But on this trip we went off the beaten track a bit, and found the roads less traveled. One of them is Utah highway 14, which heads west from highway 89, north of Mt. Carmel Junction, and then continues past Cedar Breaks National Monument, through the Brianhead ski area, and then down to Cedar City.  It is a lonely 2-lane road, but it is filled with the natural beauty that abounds in south central Utah.  

One place in particular sticks in my mind.  A spot of aspens just next to the road, with a stream and series of beaver ponds.  As the group stopped there, we spent a wonderful hour or so photographing in that area.  It makes me miss not just being on the road, but discovering the beauty of nature with other photographers who seek the same thing.  

I miss the open road, and with all the other goals (both the necessary and the inspired), I don't know when I'll return.  But I will.  That road keeps calling me.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Who ya gonna worship?

I have to admit that I have a problem in worshipping Jesus.  

There.  I've said it.  And let me say it again. I have a problem in worshipping Jesus.

Now, many of my Christian friends may find this statement odd, since I have been involved in church since I was a child.  And I have a few friends who are what I'd call "Pentecostal", in that their form of worship service is heavy on praise songs and prayer, which does have a tendency to rely heavily upon repeated use of the name of Jesus, with the repeated phrases "Praise you, Jesus", or "Praise Jesus", or "We love you, Jesus".  As I have expressed before, I do not feel comfortable in that worship environment, so you'll forgive me if I find those kind of services simple and too emotional.  Now, I am not saying that they are wrong or of no value: in fact, I will argue that they DO have value, in that they often bring the "unchurched" to an understanding of Jesus and the gift of Grace He provides by our acceptance of that gift.

But the point of my first line is to say that I find that the worship of Jesus to be, well, a bit misguided. You see, in my reading of the Gospels, Jesus often refers to himself via metaphor as a means to get to God.  For example, John 4:6, ".....No one comes to the Father except through me."  Again in John, 10:9, "I am the gate (some translations say 'door'); whoever enters through me will be saved." To me, clearly, Jesus saw that He was (and is) the intercessor, the door or gate in which we can find salvation.  Jesus is the path to God.  He preached and taught about God, and God's love.  That God "sent down his only son, so that anyone who believes in him, will be saved."

You see? Now, how can I put this, using metaphor?  OK.  When you buy a house, you work with a realtor.  They get you into the property, and then into escrow.  But once you're in the house, you don't still work with the realtor. You don't call them to ask them about the plumbing, or how to run the washing machine, or what color to paint the kid's bedroom.  The realtor's work is done (OK, some realtors are smart and realize that many clients of theirs become return clients).  But in this analogy, once you use the realtor's services, you are done.  And in a sense, Jesus - the manifested Son of God, part of the Triune God - is your entry, the gate, the door, to get TO God.  And once IN there, we then are free to worship God. God is to be worshipped, in my point of view.  Not Jesus.  Granted, if you do follow the mystery of the Trinity, God is Jesus, Jesus is God, yada-yada, so you might find my argument to be one of semantics.  And perhaps it is.  

But truthfully, I just feel that we are to worship God.  Jesus is to be praised in that he's the Son of God, and in that it is through his sacrifice that we are able - at all - to truly worship God.  Perhaps it really makes no difference at all.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day....

Today is Labor Day, and for many, we think of this as the "official" end to summer. Many colleges and K-12 schools have already started, and some start up this week (my kids start tomorrow). But I'm looking at THIS particular Labor Day, and thinking of how labor and the labor movement did so much for us today.  

As much as I am a history buff, I will confess that I am not that knowledgeable about the labor movement here in the United States.  But I do have enough knowledge to know that organized labor, in particular, has had a dramatic impact on our society:  the hours we work are 8 hours a day; overtime laws (which vary state-by-state and even federally); standards of conduct in hiring and firing. All of these can be attributed to the labor movement and organized labor - unions.

But it is that final point I wish to discuss: unions.  While I have family and friends that are involved in various unions (my brother, Jim, for example, is a teacher and in the teacher's union), and I appreciate their efforts to insure that the workers they represent and lobby for are taken care of, I must say that as an outside observer, I wonder how much longer they can last.

The irony is that many unions, in lobbying for better work standards, hours, pay, etc., and seeing those enacted into federal or state legislation, have actually created a paradox: they got what they wanted, now how relevant are they? Look at the various grocery worker strikes that seem to do little to benefit the workers; the once vaunted and powerful Teamsters, which still has sway, but certainly not the swagger it did 40-50 years ago under Jimmy Hoffa. And in my own personal experience, sitting in rehearsal with the Pacific Chorale, and John Alexander was just finishing up something when the union rep for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra started to pack up his double-bass, signaling for the rest of the orchestra to do the same. Most did, but a few stayed at their music stands to listen to John and note what he was asking. But I can tell you that there was more than one disgruntled chorale member who felt that John was really just about done - maybe a few seconds more - and then he was done, and that the orchestra showed little class or respect to John and to the overall goal: creating music.  

So, on this Labor Day, while I applaud what unions have done in the past and how they've altered the working landscape for us all who continue to work, even if we are not technically "on the clock", I wonder how relevant unions still are, how altruistic to their members they are, and how much longer the working people will really "need" them.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The roads less traveled....

One of the biggest enjoyments that I've had while taking my photographic trips, was discovering the highways that took me to the places that I photographed.  Often, the highways themselves became the highlights of the trip.  And since many of the trips I took were with my dad, who had traveled those highways himself with his parents and with our family, several of these highways and roads carried with them wonderful stories.  For example, the road going north out of Grants, New Mexico up to Cortez, Colorado - highway 491 - was the road his parents took in 1922, coming from Colorado to California.  My dad told us stories of how his father, driving their Ford Model T, had to back up one particularly steep hill, since, in the Model T, reverse had better torque than 1st gear.  And sure enough, as my dad and I drove up that road 70 years later, he pointed that very hill out to me.  

There were other stories associated with other roads, and as I have traveled, I too have found roads to evoke memories and emotional responses.  And often, both in my memory and visually, I "return" to these roads, because they are either roads that elicit a sense of peace, or they are roads that bring back my own fond memories.  And so here are my "Top 5" roads (and these are in no specific order):

Jalama Beach Road, Santa Barbara County, California - I "discovered" this road on one of my yearly Central California Coast drives, and every time I go up there (which has been a while), I make sure I take this road.  It's 20 or so miles of 2-lane paved road that takes you to Jalama Beach, a wonderful, open stretch of beach where you can surf, fish, and camp.  But it's the drive through the ranch land, with the open pastures and California oaks that make this drive so pleasant. Recently I found a YouTube video of some motorcyclists taking the road from the beach to Highway 1, and I just sat there, transfixed, as the pastures and the oaks whizzed by.  Of all the roads on my list, this one is closest to home and easiest to get to.  

Coastal Drive, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Klamath, California - this was a road that my dad and I "discovered" on a trip that we took all around California in 1989. As we were heading up towards Crescent City at the Oregon/California border, we found this drive, and immediately were greeted by old oaks dripping with Spanish moss.  Eventually you end up on road that drives along the edge of the cliffs over the beaches.  This road takes you through stands of alders and oaks, with pine trees mixed in.  I returned to this road in 1998, and photographed the image that I have here, taken just after the setting sun peeked out from under some clouds.   

Million Dollar Highway, from Cortez, Colorado, to Telluride, Colorado - this road in particular has strong memories for me, since my dad was born in the small town of Dolores, which is along the highway and about 20 miles north of Cortez.  The last time I was there in 1997, the cabin where my dad was born was still there.  As you head north from Cortez you're greeted by several high peaks - the "14's" as they are called, because many peaks are over 14,000 feet in elevation.  But for me, the road was where dad and I discovered a small stand of aspen trees that still had their leaves on them, even after a recent snow had knocked all other aspen trees leaves to the ground.  We called this one spot "the Magic Place", and I plan to return there soon to disperse some of my dad's ashes.  

Highway 128, from Highway 70, Utah, to Moab, Utah - this road was another "discovered"
by my dad and I on our last full trip together in 1994.  We had come from Colorado, having stayed overnight in Grand Junction, and were coming down highway 128 to head towards Moab.  The beauty of this road is that it hugs the Colorado River for a ways, and you find yourself in these wonderful valleys carved by that ever-flowing river. We stopped along there as the afternoon waned, and took some photographs before heading into Moab for our hotel.  Often I return to this road because it is not traveled by the tourists, but by the local ranchers and others who are heading to the magnificent Cathedral Valley.  

Santa Rosa Creek Road, from Cambria, California, to highway 41 - this road, more than any other, has a draw for me, and any time I am on the Central Coast of California, I MUST take this road.  Back in 1969, my family rented a motorhome, and we drove this road through the beautiful ranching country that it services.  This is not a highway, but a road - in some cases it's single lane, rough pavement.  But it takes you up to the crest of the Santa Lucia range behind Cambria and then back to highway 41, which can take you back to Highway 1 to the west, or Paso Robles to the east.  I have taken this road again with my dad, and by myself.  But it was on this road that I proposed to my wife, on an area carved out by a switchback. You can see that switchback here, on the right side of the image.

There are so many other roads that I have traveled, many with my dad, and many on my own.  I think of the road through Santa Margarita, just north of San Luis Obispo, that takes you east to the vast Carrizo Plains.  Or the wonderful highway 12, going from Bryce Canyon National Park east through the Escalante Wilderness area, Boulder, and then over towards Capital Reef National Park in Utah.  There's the wonderful stretch of highway 89 from Shasta, California, all the way down through Carson Pass and Monitor Pass, where you eventually come out on highway 395 north of Walker, California.  All these roads mean so much to me both personally and photographically.  And I must return to them, not only in my memory, but in reality.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why slow is good....

I am a believer that sometimes, slow is good.  Now, that might run into some people's perception of me, that I tend to like to do things quickly.  But I am more drawn to things that are slow, like a meal cooked in a slow cooker, or a movie or TV show that has a long and well-constructed storyline.  I don't need that instant gratification all the time.  And when it comes to two things in my life, slow is particularly sought out.  
One of the "slow" areas of my life is photography. For many photographers in the digital age, the advent of digital SLRs, with small screens on the camera back to help you see what you just took, and all the capabilities of post-production image manipulation, allow for quickness in taking and disseminating images. And while that can be attractive, for me, photography was always a slow process.  It's not quick for me. 

This past week I attended a meeting of other landscape photographers. Other than the host/instructor, I was the only "film" person there, and he took advantage of me being there to have me explain why I shoot film, and why I shoot with a large-format camera.  And while I felt slightly out of place among all digital photographers (save the instructor), I now feel the urge to take that camera of mine and return to the field, and start doing that imagery again.  

One of the reasons why I like to shoot large format is that it is slow and deliberate work, and has to be thought out and planned.  You don't just raise the camera to your face and "snap" the image, or look at the back of your DSLR and say you don't like it, and delete it.  Large format photography is the art and skill of taking a strong emotional response to the subject - be it a landscape, or a city scene, or a still life, or a person modeling for you - and trying to take ALL of what you see and feel and distill it to a 4x5" negative or transparency.  There are steps that have to be taken to get that one shot: pre visualizing either by mentally composing the scene in your mind or having a card with a rectangular opening to so you can see how that image will look; setting up the camera, selecting the lens, and maybe adding a filter to the lens to enhance the scene; checking and rechecking the exposure with a spot light meter; focusing under the dark cloth (or focusing cloth) against the ground glass image, which is upside-down and inverted; finally, after all that, you mentally go "does this image capture what I am feeling?" Often you say no, and you break the camera down, without taking the photograph.  That is the discipline of this art: trying to capture something big onto something small and still retain the emotion.  It is a slow process, but in being slow, it requires you to think, to be contemplative and thoughtful, not just random.  And that I why I love it so much.

It's kind of like fishing, which is a slow process, particularly if you fly-fish, and have to select a fly that mimics the catch.  Fishing takes time, takes patience, takes skill, takes selective gear and tackle, but in the end is rewarding. And it's slow: if you're fishing with bait from the shore, you can wait a very long time for a bite. Even fishing from a boat requires patience.  But as with the photography, it is very rewarding.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I have my doubts....

I can say that I am going through a period of doubts. Now, I'm not doubting myself or my work - in fact, I feel good about what I'm doing at work, and feel that I'm making progress.  If I had any self-doubt, it would be with my ability to get other singers to understand my vision in creating a choir that would do the kind of sacred classics that I love and want to do for a small church that has no choir

No, my doubts go deep.  For you see, they are doubts about my faith.  Growing up in a faith-centered home, I was "fed" scripture, believing it to be all true: the Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve; the Great Flood; Tower of Babel.  I had no doubt in my mind back then, and even up to my college years, in the validity of stories in the Bible - specifically the Old Testament stories. But then a couple of decades ago I realized that the story of Creation and therefore Adam and Eve were myth, and most recently, I have begun to doubt the validity of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt, and therefore, their escape from Egypt.  I have questioned why were the Hebrews the "Chosen People"?  Why did Jesus come to THEM?  And if I doubt the validity of Genesis, feeling it is mythological, then how do I account for sin?  And therefore, why did Jesus come to save us from sin?  

Now, recently I posted that I believe Jesus was and is who he said he was and is: the Son of God, and in the broader sense of the Trinity, God.  I believe that Jesus was a historical person, and the evidence of the fledgling church indicates that not only was he historical, he was EXACTLY as he said and preached.  Dying on the cross, and being resurrected were fact, not fiction.  There's too much historical evidence of an early church, plus when you evaluate human behavioral evidence, it is too strong to deny that those early Christians believed strongly in a resurrected Christ, and were willing to die and be tortured for that belief.  For them, the resurrection was not the event on Sunday morning, but the entire time Jesus continued to be with them. There may be those who discount those occurrences and try to logically explain those events as hallucinations, or psychotic episodes, which fly in the face of known psychological patterns.  You can't have 500 people hallucinating about the exact same thing at the same time.  

But even with that core truth, it's like having a building that is collapsing.  I feel as if I'm in the elevator shaft or stairwell, while the rest of the facade and floors crumble around me.  

And yet, this morning, in church, I came to the realization that all these questions really are not relevant to the Truth that I do believe in: God is, well, God.  I cannot explain him.  I cannot fathom the depths of his being. And all these questions are really dealing on trivia or peripheral items that really have little to do with God. They are all about man and his attempt to explain God, or anthropomorphize God (turning him into a more human god and therefore, more understandable).  Perhaps the authors of the Old Testament were attempting to explain something the could not. And frankly, we still can't.  And, to be honest, I PREFER a God that is mysterious, that has not revealed himself to us.  

But I still have my doubts, and still feel the need to ask and to probe.  So, I hope that those of you who read my blog will maybe join me in this journey.  Maybe we'll discover something wonderful together.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The world stopped laughing.....

Tonight, social media is abuzz with the news of Robin Williams' death, which has been preliminarily reported as being a suicide.  I've seen many posts on Facebook from my friends, many of whom are in shock and tears that he was not only gone, but gone by his own choice.  The words depression and substance abuse are being tossed around, which to me, is so unnecessary and cruel, since we really don't know what his mind or his psyche was like at the time.  All we know is that he's gone.  
I too am sad.  I didn't really watch "Mork & Mindy" that much, but began to enjoy Williams' frenetic and improvisational comedy with an album that came out in the mid-80's called "Reality, what a concept".  It was vulgar, rude, rapid-paced, and highly intelligent.  And that's what I liked about Williams' comedy: he referenced social topics, religious topics, historical fact, current events, celebrities - nothing was immune as fodder for his creative mind.  And he could change topics quickly, and you could SEE how his mind worked and shifted gears.  During his taping of a show in San Francisco, he took a small red hand towel and wiped down his face, and made a comment about it being a bull-fighting cape that someone had tossed into the dryer.  All of a sudden he changed, sounding like an irate Spanish matador, yelling "what happened to the fucking cape!  You put in the dryer!  I told you not to put the fucking cape in the dryer.  If I use it now the bull will just look at it and go 'no way, Jose.'"  To see him shift from doing one thing to coming up with a hilarious bit was like watching someone take a jet aircraft moving at 200 mph in one direction, and, without making a wide turn, head back into the other direction.  He was brilliant.

And I enjoyed him as a dramatic actor, in such films as "Fisher King", "Awakenings", and "Dead Poet's Society".  I felt he was a much better dramatic actor than a comedian.  His comedies, and even his standup, seemed to be forced sometimes.  

But as I sit here writing this, I find myself thinking of suicide.  I've known a few folk that have chosen to take their lives.  I've known some very close friends who lost more than one loved one to that choice.  And it is a choice.  Granted, there are those who take their lives because their mind is so unbalanced, so messed up, that it isn't a choice as much as there are voices convincing them to do it.  But there are those to whom there IS another way, and yet they feel that the only choice - the only ANSWER - is to end it.  

And here's where I find it difficult to comprehend suicide.  Now, what I am about to say may sound extremely naive, since I do not battle the type of depression or moodiness that many do.  I do not have voices in my head that are trying to get me to do something to harm myself.  So, really, I do not come to this as an authority.  And yet, I believe there IS someone who is the ultimate authority.  And when I think of how He walked among those whom today we would categorize as schizoid, or paranoid, or both, or bipolar, or sociopaths, or whatever form of mental illness that can push people to end their lives.  He walked among them, loved them, and healed them.  It sounds so simple, and yet I know it isn't.  It isn't just as simple as saying the simple words "you know, take Jesus into your heart, and he will heal your mental illness."  That truly IS naive.  But if someone truly wishes to find a way out of their hole, their despair, their fears and loneliness, I truly believe that seeking help from someone who is qualified, but also does the help with the thoughtfulness and love of God, can help people get out of that hole they're in.  Again, this may sound very naive, but I believe it.  

Goodbye, Robin.  We will miss you very, very much.