Trying to catch up from a couple of weekends away and getting ready for an upcoming vacation. Lots of photos but no time for words!
Well, here’s the 12th in the series of abstract wallpaper, and the last for 2014. I hope everyone has enjoyed these as much as I have enjoyed sharing them. I don’t have any way to tell how many people actually take the time to download these, but I sure would appreciate your letting me know via comment or e-mail. I’m thinking about trying something different for 2015, but if I get a lot (any?) requests to keep them just the way they are I’m open.
I hope everyone has a joyful and happy holiday of your choice, and we’ll welcome in the new year very soon!
There’s a sign in front of a church that I pass by that is advertising for an upcoming “financial planning” seminar. The sign has a picture of some snake oil salesman-looking guy holding a bundle of cash and says “Normal is Broke, BE WEIRD!” I’m not sure what kind of financial planning seminar would be held in a church but I hope it doesn’t involve praying for more money.
Right after I pass that church I get to the Walmart, which seems to be a much more popular place for people to spend their time and money, because Walmart is always packed and I only see people at the church on Sunday. Maybe the church needs to take marketing advice from Walmart and attract people there by having sales.
I guess it’s the whole “SALE!” thing that is on my mind, mostly. But it ties into the idea of financial planning because the two ideas seem to be diametrically opposed.
Because I don’t watch television, don’t listen to commercial radio, have Ad Blocker on my browser and stopped subscribing to the local “junk mail disguised as yesterday’s news” newspaper I am mostly insulated from all of the “it’s on sale” mentality that gets people all excited about Black Friday. But I hear people at work all the time making plans to go shopping on Friday because “they’re (whoever “they’re” is) is having a sale on (INSERT NAME OF ITEM HERE).
Kathy & I just don’t buy stuff. Other than trips to Lowe’s to buy the few things we have needed for our house, we buy food, wine and gasoline for the car. I will admit to making a few trips to Best Buy while I was rounding out my Sonos system, but that’s it. We went to Target a few weeks ago and bought a few things that we needed, and realized that was the first time we had been there since January. And it’s not because we shop somewhere else – I haven’t been inside a Walmart in probably 5 years!
Just for fun I pulled up Walmart’s (and this is not a slam at Walmart, they just make a convenient example) Black Friday ad and looked through it. In a 39-page ad, there isn’t a single thing I would buy now. It’s not that there isn’t anything I would have, but generally if there is something I need I already have it, and if I need to replace something I have, I usually can’t wait until it’s on sale!
Admittedly, some of the sales are pretty good. If you just happened to be in the market for Beats wireless headphones ($280 – really?) $149 is a pretty good price. I liked the idea of Skullcandy earbuds for $9, but if I needed a set I would already have some that I paid $18 for and wouldn’t be laying up extras “just in case.” About three quarters of the pages are for clothes and junk toys that I wouldn’t buy for anyone’s kid. And best of all, if you don’t have the money for all this stuff, they have special financing available! Take 24 months to pay for this year’s crap! What a deal!
I’ll admit that the excuse that a lot of people use is that they are buying Christmas gifts, and to a certain extent that is probably true. But I’m not as concerned about who the stuff is for as I am that people feel like they have to buy stuff at all, for them or for someone else.
Anyway, I’m really not judging. Really! Some people enjoy the thrill of the chase, some have money to burn and shop just for fun. I choose to do otherwise. So do what you want, buy what you need and remember to share some of your good fortune with others less fortunate than you. What am I doing for Black Friday? I usually go to work on that day since I often figure it’s a lousy day to waste a vacation day on. This year though we’ve decided to do something a little different on Black Friday. We’re going to the beach for the weekend. Have fun!
Several discussions have been swirling around lately on the various blogs I follow about the relative suitability of ones location in terms of climate, activities, culture, economy, etc. And not coincidentally, Kathy & I have been having similar discussions as we ponder our own futures and plan our eventual withdrawal from the corporate meat grinder. Interestingly, I find a wide divergence of opinion on the role that location plays in one’s outlook, from the overall quality of life to intangibles like access to healthcare, a reasonable sized airport, and proximity to important things like the beach, the mountains, and an ABC store.
For the longest time, Kathy & I regarded Charlotte as a place to live until our “real lives” began. We saw it as a good place to raise the kids, it had and still has a good economy with reasonable prospects for employment, and we have much better weather here than we faced in northeast Ohio in the years prior to our move. Now that we’ve been here for a while – in December we will have lived in North Carolina for 20 years – we find that we really like it here. We absolutely love our new house, and as we work to put the finishing touches on making it our “dream home” we find that it’s easier and easier to think about it as a place we don’t need to leave. But ultimately it’s just a house and a place to store our stuff. It’s our outlook and our state of mind that makes a place our home. For us, whether we are in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina or Fort Collins, Colorado, I think home is wherever Kathy & I happen to find ourselves, not necessarily where our house is located. Although Jost Van Dyke holds some appeal….
As we travel we wonder about other towns as possible places to move to, but for whatever reason we always come back to our current home as the place we look forward to getting back to. And we’ve pretty much felt that way about wherever we have lived. It’s not that we wouldn’t or couldn’t make a new home somewhere else, but that we are comfortable with ourselves and are happy to make the best of where we are, wherever that is.
One of the many life lessons that I have learned from my photography is that there are an endless number of places that I could be at a given time. If I’m sitting at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway socked in with fog and rain, someone else is at Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies witnessing a spectacular sunrise or sunset. I’ve seen people racing up and down the Parkway trying to find the perfect conditions, but I’ve made some of my favorite photographs from places where I have stuck around to see what happened and ended up making the best of the conditions I was handed where I was.
The key for me is to live my life and spend my time enjoying where I am and making the best of it, rather than spending a lot of energy worrying about where I’m not. And I realize that doesn’t work for everybody, but as I think about how I prefer to plan my days, I don’t worry about where I live, I just want to be sure that I do live, and that I make the best of wherever it is that I happen to be.
Kathy and I love to travel, of course, and while we aren’t the “world travelers” that some have made us out to be, we’ve seen our share of the world and we spend a lot of time talking about what kind of travel we want to do. We have our lists of places we “should” go, and all of those have varying levels of interest and priority. And of course there are places that we would love to go but probably never will. Some of our favorite memories are from places where most people would never bother to go. Of all the places we’ve been, a trip to Kentucky a few years ago still comes to mind as one of our favorite experiences. Who’da thunk?
Like a lot of things, what we do and what we enjoy has to come from within. We need to be able to take the time to figure out what means the most to us. What are our priorities, rather than a heavily cliché-ed “bucket list” developed by some magazine publisher to sell more advertising. Who we are and how we feel is a product of our own existence and our own experiences. Comfort level has a lot to do with what we are willing to try. Not everyone has that voice that tells us to step out of our comfort zones. But for those of us who do, we definitely need to listen.
Like a lot of people, I’m often tempted by the idea of “if I knew then what I know now.” But I try to keep a lid on those thoughts, because ultimately I didn’t know then what I know now, and my entire life’s experience ultimately contributes to where and who I am today. I can’t change the past, so the best approach for me is to look ahead, because that’s the only thing I have any degree of influence on – to make the best of what I have and who I am.
In many ways, this idea of comfort zone has parallels with the way we see the world. For those of us who are observers, we see things that other people don’t see, and sometimes others see things we don’t see. And we travel the same way. When I first started doing photography seriously I would sometimes get up in the middle of dinner, afraid that I was going to “miss” sunset. I’ve since learned that I’m always missing something, and that helps me reconcile the idea that I’m not going to get to “do” everything.
Kathy & I are very close to the point where we can decide to walk away from our corporate lives. Quite often we find ourselves feeling that that day can’t come soon enough. There are other days when things seem to go along fairly well and it feels like collecting a few more paychecks won’t be all that difficult. The difficult thing is going to be determining when the right time might be to call it quits. We have established many checkpoints that will tell we’re on the path. Some of those we have met, many we’re close on, but a few major ones have yet to be realized. But we have a plan and hope that when the time comes we’ll have the guts to say, “NOW.”
For me, my primary goal for what I want to do in retirement is to stay retired! If I end up doing some kind of work I’d like it to be for personal satisfaction rather than to pay the bills. The good thing is that there are a lot of rewarding things we can do that don’t cost an enormous amount of money. While they may not check other peoples’ boxes for fulfillment, they might be just fine if that was the alternative.
We’ve never paid a lot of attention to the “if money were no object” scenarios because it was always our intention for that not to be an issue. Not that we expect to never have to think about money, but the idea all along has been to have provided for a level of financial security that would allow us to continue living the life we have become comfortable with. And if that doesn’t work out, I suspect we’ll figure out how to travel and buy wine with whatever we do have! So for now, we hope to hold on to the jobs we’ve got for as long as we can, and every paycheck is a victory of sorts. Murphy’s Law would suggest that as soon as we decide for one of us to stay home, the remaining job we’d be counting on would go away.
For a lot of people, their biggest fear with retirement is that they won’t have anything to do. That is the thing that I worry about the least! Whenever we decide to walk out of that corporate world, I know that there is a whole lot of world out there to explore. And while I don’t have a chance of ever seeing it all, Kathy & I both plan to make a point of enjoying whatever we do see as much as we possibly can. That doesn’t take a list, and it doesn’t take a lot of planning, but I think it is a pretty good goal.
One of my favorite destinations for photography is Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge, on the coast of Virginia. We visited there a few years ago for several years in a row, specifically to photograph the Snow Geese and Tundra Swans that migrate through there in late fall. We’re overdue for a return, and I’d love to get a visit there on the calendar for next year. Hopefully I can get my buddy Don Brown on the mend long enough to plan an adventure there with me!
Chincoteague is one of these places that never lacks for something to shoot. Even if the birds don’t show up at the time you happen to be there, there is a beach, woods, ponds and lots of other wildlife to make it a special experience no matter what.
One technique that I’ve found works well for abstracts is to put my lens into manual and deliberately throw it out of focus. It’s funny, but as much as I love shooting abstracts I often forget to try that. When I was looking for an abstract for this month’s wallpaper, I wanted something that was about fall color. I came across a lot of shots, but then I remembered these. I only did a few of them but need to do them more often. I love the effect, as it is a lot like the results I get when I shoot moving water. But instead of the moving water making the patterns they come from the shades and tones in the scene.
Fall seems to be coming a little early around here. The weather in general has been very strange the last month or two. I hope everyone is able to enjoy fall wherever you are, or spring for those who are “upside down” on this earth .
We live in an age of absolutes. We have political parties who won’t support another party’s position just because it isn’t theirs, even when it is right. If we choose to not support a given cause then we are considered to be against it, even though we might be generous contributors to some other cause. When we drive it seems we are either rushing down the road like we’re on our way to a fire, or sitting at a traffic light checking the messages on our phones that came since the last red light.
Our Subaru came with a gauge on the dashboard that gives a visual reference as to whether we are “using gas” or “saving gas.” “Using gas” goes all the way to the 6:00, or “minus” position, while “saving gas” goes to the 12:00 or “plus position. When I am driving down a level road at a reasonable speed, the needle is horizontal at the 9:00 position, which in goldilocks terms means “just right” territory. But the scale between all the way “plus” and all the way “minus” is a continuum. When we first bought the car I became fixated on that gauge, mostly because I was surprised at how often it was pegged to the “minus” position and how seldom it hovered in “plus” territory. Sometimes the gauge just has to go into the Minus zone, like when pulling away from a traffic light, merging onto a freeway or going up a hill. But other than that, I have adjusted how I use the accelerator in order to keep that needle from “hitting bottom” any more than necessary.
This will sound silly, but in many ways that gauge has literally changed my life. That visual reference has taught me that the gas pedal is a control, and not an on/off switch.
My son Kevin has a term for people who pay attention to things and people around us. He calls us “observers.” I like that term because it is descriptive but not a label. Being an observer is both a blessing and a curse. Being an observer lets us experience things around us that other people overlook, for all the various reasons that people overlook things. Being an observer also makes us see all the things that people do that make us angry. One of the things I observe is how often people appear to live their lives either “off” or “on.” And for me that often manifests itself in how people drive.
I see that little needle as an analogy for the way I live my life, and I guess I project it on others as I imagine them running around with their personal needles pegged on Minus. This feeling is especially prevalent on my drive to work in the morning, as we move from one stop light to the next, all of us ending up in the same place, just in a somewhat different order. Some people race to get to the light sooner, and just have to wait longer for it to change. Others roll up to the light just as it is getting ready to change, but it’s the same cars each time. I guess in many ways I’m playing the role of the tortoise vs. the hare, but I learned long ago that no one gives out prizes for being the first person into the office in the morning. And they don’t serve cocktails to those who are still in the office at 6:00. When I leave for the day, I do so with the confidence that it will be there when I get back. Right where I left it the day before. It’s funny how that works.
So where did the title come from? I was thinking about the fact that people seem to know only two settings on their cars – “go” and “stop.” I was thinking about the fact that I can choose how hard to press the gas pedal – that it is a control that allows me to add gas gradually instead of just mashing it to the floor, instead of an off/on switch with only two settings. And I choose to live my life somewhere between the Plus and Minus settings. Sometimes it’s OK to peg the needle one way or the other, but things seem to run more smoothly when I keep the needle in the middle. And I guess I just find myself happier when my personal needle spends more time on the Plus side of the scale than the Minus.
One of the many non-photography blogs I follow is Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker. I found these quotes especially appropriate given some of our recent discussions.
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” —Malcolm S. Forbes
“Focus is often a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” —John Carmack
Stop trying to impress others with the things that you own and begin inspiring them by the way that you live.
“Money is a poor indicator of success.” —Joshua Becker
Kathy & I headed to Charleston, SC over the Labor Day weekend to attend the Lowcountry Jazz Festival there. When I was packing up my photo gear I didn’t know if I would be permitted to take a camera to the concerts, so at the last minute I pulled out my Fuji X-10 and decided to toss it in the bag.
I hadn’t been using the Fuji in a while, in fact I’ve been on a “use the best camera all the time” kick and haven’t been carrying a point & shoot camera at all. And I have never been happy with the way Lightroom processes the RAW files I’ve gotten out of the Fuji, so I had sort of abandoned it.
I have read a lot of comments about how good Fuji’s JPEG processing is, so I set the camera up to shoot high quality JPEGs. And although I could have taken the “big camera” to the concerts I decided to just take the Fuji. In fact that was the only camera I used all weekend. We went out and did some touristy stuff and the X-10 did the job.
It did a pretty good job all in all, especially considering that it is several years old. The concert photos were taken at ISO 1600 or 3200 and came out pretty good for a small sensor. I decided to post these with no processing at all. A few are a little on the dark side, but that is mostly due to the fact that I was using negative exposure compensation at the concerts and kept forgetting to reset it when I went outside!
I’m pretty impressed with the results from this camera. In fact, based on a lot of things I have been reading lately, I’ve just about decided to try out one of their newer offerings as a possible eventual replacement for the full frame beast that I’ve been carrying. It’s tough to beat the files I’m getting from the 5D, but with results like these from a several-year-old point & shoot, I think I owe it to myself to at least rent a newer model and see how I like it. No surprise that we have some upcoming travel plans , so I may need to check out the options.