Whew! I have to say that 2013 was a wild one for the Dills family! We sold two houses, observed the construction of a new house, moved twice, took a couple of great vacations and just generally had a lot of fun. But I’m just about worn out! Kathy & I are really looking forward to a little quieter year in 2014, with some time to recharge our batteries, catch our breath and enjoy life with just a little less “excitement.”
In keeping with the “quiet” theme I decided to go with a beach scene for this month. This is another from the archives – all the way back to 2007. Taken on the beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, this photo reflects the peace and calm I feel at the beach, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. One of our very favorite getaway locations, the beach is high on our list of places to return to in 2014.
We have a little more settling in to do in our new place, but we’ve got things just about to the point where I can start thinking about photography again. I sort of hit the big “Pause Button” this past year, since I just wasn’t able to give it the time and attention I like to devote to my photography. I’m looking forward to settling in and really wrapping my brain around it again. Stay tuned!
This post has been rolling around in my head for some time, but Thanksgiving and all the Black Friday hoopla seems to be an appropriate time to gather these thoughts and put them out on the blog.
On our recent journey to Charleston, I remember at one point commenting about the number of car dealerships clustered around a particular interchange. I think it was somewhere around Columbia, SC but it could be anywhere in the US big enough to have car dealerships. As much as I love and appreciate nice cars, the automobile business has always served to me as a prime representation of marketing-driven consumption. If I wanted to be negative I could say “greed and excess” here, but it wouldn’t serve my point. So we’ll call it marketing-driven consumption. Black Friday is another prime example of marketing-driven consumption to the max.
I specifically remember, shortly after buying a new car several years ago, someone told me “congratulations!” as if to imply that purchasing a new car was some kind of heroic achievement. But that’s how cars have always been marketed, as symbols of success and status. When I was growing up, each September my brother & I would start sneaking into the storage lots behind the local car dealerships to get a peek at the new models to be introduced in the fall. Back in that day, models tended to really change between model years, rather than just another homogenized ToyHoNisOlet, because the manufacturers relied more on the cars to sell themselves. And they all had somewhat distinctive features, from styling to performance.
Today, many cars, at least those the regular folks can afford, all look pretty much alike. So it takes marketing to make us want one over another. And that marketing is usually aimed at making someone feel young, attractive, successful, more interesting or some attribute only accomplished by purchasing a particular product. Because it’s been hammered into our heads for so long, whenever someone sees a friend driving a new car, there is often a tinge of envy (or worse) and at least a little bit of “must be nice.” I usually look at it and think of what I could do with the payment. But that’s just me.
Anyway, the comment that I made when I saw all of these car dealerships was that if there was some way we could be identified and ranked (because after all this is all about judging and ranking – a subject for another post) not by how fancy our car is or the neighborhood we live in, but by the size of our 401(k) our IRA or our savings account, would there be investment offices at all of these interchanges instead of car dealerships? Would we make different decisions if they were based on mindful reasoning instead of marketing? And how would those decisions be reflected in our personal wellbeing if they didn’t involve spending huge sums of money or committing to an endless stream of payments?
In that same vein, why do so many people tend to judge how serious someone is about photography based on the type of equipment they own or the subject matter that they photograph? Have we been convinced by marketing and promotion by the camera manufacturers and retailers that the only way to take meaningful photographs is to have the latest and greatest camera and lens? Perhaps. But I prefer to appreciate a photographer’s work based on the quality of their photographs, and when possible the stories behind the photographs. THAT is what photography means to me, not what brand of camera someone has, or which lens or how big their sensor is. Or even whether they are using a digital camera or film. But that’s hard, just like resisting the temptation brought on by advertising and marketing is hard.
As someone who doesn’t own a television or listen to commercial radio (I usually say that “I don’t watch TV” because saying “I don’t own a TV” makes some people uncomfortable) I’m not bombarded by all of the marketing messages that drive consumer spending. Kathy & I just don’t buy a lot of stuff, and when we do, we buy it because we need or want it. Being on sale isn’t generally a factor in our buying decision, although once we make a decision to purchase something we will often wait on a sale to buy it if we aren’t in a rush. But I still find myself attracted by the “Sale” or “Limited Time Only” mentality, and sometimes have to work hard to curb that feeling I get when something looks attractive because I’m afraid that I might not be able to have it.
As Kathy & I prepare to move into our “downsized” new home, and after having lived for the last 6 months in a rented apartment with just our most essential belongings, we have come to realize that all of the things we have been storing since May are things that aren’t really necessary for our daily lives. And while we did a really good job of paring down the things that we deemed “disposable” before we moved, we now think that maybe we didn’t go far enough. Many of things we have been storing are things that we’re going to have to think really hard about, in order to decide how much of it we even need or want to keep.
So what does this all have to do with anything? In the last few days, like many of us I’ve been bombarded by e-mails from every merchant I’ve ever done business with promoting their Black Friday “Doorbusters.” I don’t know about everyone else, but I haven’t yet seen a “deal” on anything I’d actually buy. I don’t think of camera equipment as something that is an impulse purchase. Most people only buy a camera when they need one, after weeks or sometimes months of analysis or research. I’ve enjoyed several recent exchanges on the blogs of some of my photo friends, discussing things like the aesthetics of a particular camera. Talking about how a camera feels to hold versus another, the ease of use or feel of the controls. Discussions around the mindfulness of talking photographs and cutting out the noise and chatter that distracts us from the pursuit of activities that make us happy. Things that matter to those of us who actually use a camera to take photographs, not just collect equipment or are constantly chasing after the next great thing. But that isn’t stuff you can buy at the mall or Best Buy.
Monte has demonstrated that you don’t need to necessarily buy the latest version of a camera, that the introduction of a new model can mean a good deal on the previous one. That makes the older model a good value, because it will do exactly what he needs it to do for a fraction of the cost of when it was new, or of the cost of the new model.
Chris has spent some time comparing the relative qualities of several mirrorless compact camera models, and has formed an opinion that seems to be contrary to the popular opinion. But if a particular camera meets your needs, then it is the right tool for you. Whether or not something is on sale doesn’t make it a good deal if it isn’t what you want. And I guess that is my point.
And Cedric wrote a similar post about how the ergonomics and feel of a camera means more to him than megapixels and dynamic range. His story about an exchange with a photography professor about the “feel” of a camera was a good one.
Mindfulness is a theme I have been pursuing lately. Decisions made in a calculated fashion, not driven by a marketing frenzy. Just being on sale isn’t a reason to buy anything we don’t want or need. Not buying something means you have saved the entire price, not just a percentage. And not needing a place to store all of our accumulated junk means we have room and resources for things that do matter to us. A purchasing decision made mindfully is a good one regardless of the price of the item being purchased.
I’m looking forward to living even more mindfully in 2014. We’ll see how that actually plays out. But first I’m going to have to sort through all the stuff that the movers are going to deliver in a couple of weeks! I’ll probably decide to start planning a vacation…that’s a lot more fun than a car payment.
Kathy & I spent some time in Charleston, SC a few weekends ago. I took a few photos, and these are a few that show my take on Charleston, although perhaps not what most tourists take photos of. I got a few of those, too. That will be the topic for some future posts. For now, here are a few of my “non-typical” Charleston photos.
It’s hard to believe it was just a month ago that we spent the Labor Day weekend at the beach in Hilton Head. I wish I was still there.
Kathy spent a nice quiet weekend at home this weekend, so I had a chance to process a few more of my selects from our weekend.
I upgraded part of my computer setup this past week. My aging iMac was starting to show it’s impending obsolescence, and I had a newer MacBook Pro sitting here being used for little more than running our banking program and the occasional web surfing session. So I picked up a new monitor, keyboard and mouse and decided to give the laptop a try. I’m not seeing quite the performance improvement I was hoping for, but it is noticeably faster in most things.
The biggest improvement is with the monitor! While the screen on the iMac was quite nice when it was new, there has been a pretty big leap in monitor quality over the past few years, as evidenced by the improvement in the new one, a 24″ ASUS ProArt PA249. Pretty nice stuff, no yellow bars like I was seeing on the old monitor. And no more high-gloss mirror-like Apple screen. Yay! 🙂
As soon as I save a few more pennies I’m planning to build a new machine, so the purchase of a few peripherals gets me an interim performance bump until I can go the rest of the way. I was just about there until a fire at one of the factories that makes memory added about $300 to the price of the items on my NewEgg wish list. Hopefully in another month or two those prices will recover and I’ll be ready to forge ahead, just in time to outfit the office in our new place. We hope to be in by the end of November. Hopefully November 2013. It’s been a long process!
I’m still working on Nova Scotia photos too, so there will be more of those coming as well.
When Kathy & I want to really get away and relax, our favorite destination is the beach. And when we want to go to the beach, our favorite beach is Hilton Head Island, SC. We spent Labor Day Weekend there. With our house project rapidly nearing completion, and all the stuff that goes along with that, we knew that this would probably be the Last Hurrah for us for this year. I’ve used up just about all of my vacation time, and we’ve used up just about all of our vacation money, and what little we have left will probably be earmarked for furniture and stuff. It’s amazing how a new house tends to make all of your furniture obsolete!
I’ve taken some of my favorite photographs at Hilton Head, but after a while it gets a little tough to do something new. So I mostly stick to the tried and true and hope for some inspiration along the way. I typically like to shoot when the tide is out, as I can frequently find some sand textures and pools that add some interest. This time, it seemed that sunrise and sunset generally coincided with high tide, so I was left with fewer options. That, combined with an overriding need for sleep kept me in the bed for all mornings but one. And I did manage to get out one evening, which was a nice departure, as we usually head out for dinner just about the time the light is getting nice. So, with one sunrise and one sunset to work with, I don’t think I got anything I’ll be hanging on the wall, but it felt good to get out when I did.
I’m still putting the old 5D through its paces, and am convinced that it is working just fine. I just wanted to be as sure as I could be before I put it back in the pack in a backup role. The biggest surprise for me was how quickly I got dust on the sensor! With the automagical dust removal system of the newer Mark III I never have to worry about dust. But the combination of small apertures and no sensor cleaning means I’ll need to pay a little more attention.
I’m still working on Nova Scotia photos, too. So I’ll have a few things to post about coming up, even though my adventures may be on hiatus for a little while!
This photo is one of my all-time favorites, and one of my best-selling prints. I don’t think I’ve used it before as a wallpaper, and if I have used it before I will cheerfully refund your money!
Whether you call it living in the past or sticking to a theme, this is another one from the archives. I shot this back in 2006. I have no idea where this tree came from, but it was laying on the beach for the whole week we were there. I photographed it a few times, but on this morning the combination of timing and conditions came together for the scene I had been looking for. Unlike some of the over-cliched “tree in the water” photos we see, this was a fleeting moment in the passage of time by the sea. A slice of time to be captured and enjoyed while we were able to see it.
Kathy & I got moved over the last week and are just about settled in our new place. I’ve got some pent-up words that I may need to throw on the blog over the next few days and weeks as we get things sorted out and get back to a life without moving preparations and boxes!
In the comments to my last post, Paul gently chided me about the fact that, in a post about our visit to Charleston that I didn’t talk about the food. Sorry! It was one of the most important things we did that weekend, but frankly I had been planning to write more than one post about our weekend, and one of them – this one, in fact – would be to talk about the food.
Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale
Our visit to this place was rather a fluke, as the day we arrived it was pouring rain, the town was full of people attending the Southeastern Wildlife Expo, which we knew was happening but had no idea it was such a big deal. It’s a big deal.
Anyway, the bellman at our hotel told us that we needed to go to a place called Bubba Slyes Deli, located right around the corner on King Street. So off we went, only to find that Bubba had called it quits just the day before and the place is now closed. Practically next door to Bubba’s is a place called Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale, which sounded like an impossibly interesting name. They didn’t have a wait, so we went in. Overall it was decent faux southwestern food, but it hit the spot and the beer was cold, so mission accomplished.
Hall’s Chop House
This was the real reason we ventured to Charleston in the first place. Long-time food & wine buddy Stefan Stanton, formerly a manager at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte – our favorite hometown restaurant – is now a full-time surfer dude and occasional waiter at Hall’s Chop House, reputed to be one of Charleston’s top restaurants. And what a place! It was partly due to the anticipation of seeing Stefan again (it had been a year since he left Dressler’s), but from the moment we walked in the door, the people at Hall’s – including it seemed most of the Hall family – made a point of welcoming us, introducing themselves and basically making us feel like the most important people who had ever showed up at their place for dinner. And what a nice feeling after too many less-than-enthusiastic chain restaurant experiences.
The service from everyone from the bartender to the bus boys – and most especially our waiter – was superb. Stefan introduced us to their sommelier, who recommended a couple of excellent wines, making it easy to choose from their enormous and outstanding selection. Hall’s specialty is dry-aged beef, and while I have had it before, I have never had dry-aged beef like THAT before! It is fairly rare to find a restaurant that dry-ages their own beef, knows how to pick it and – most importantly – knows how to cook it. I had a dry-aged Ribeye that was easily the best restaurant steak I’ve ever had. Kathy had a filet that she could have cut with her fork, and it was delicious. And the dessert – let’s just say that you can’t go wrong with any of the desserts!
Stefan is clearly loving life, and it was great to connect with him and experience Hall’s. He seems right at home there, and I swear that if I could find a way to marry into the family he might just have a job for life! Overall, Kathy & I agree that our dinner there was probably the best restaurant experience ever. We don’t have the resume for that to mean very much, but we’ve been around enough to know what’s good, and Hall’s Chop House is beyond good. It was truly fabulous.
Caviar & Bananas
Another unlikely-sounding place, this is officially a gourmet market and café, and is located just a little out of the way from the tourist traffic, near the College of Charleston. We went there for a late breakfast on Sunday, which explains why I don’t write about my Sunday lunch – we didn’t have any! Their signature dessert – which I did not have but should have – is Caviar & Bananas. It’s described on their menu as “Bruleed Bananas, Sweet Tapioca, Local Honey, Brown Sugar, Marscapone & Almond Tuile. Yummy!
Recommended by our buddy Jon Dressler, we visited Basil, a Thai restaurant just up King Street from Hall’s, for dinner on Sunday night. Believe it or not, neither Kathy nor I had ever eaten Thai food before. So, trusting Dressler, we went. It was great! I know that I am probably very inaccurate to say that it is a lot like Chinese, but I thought it was a lot like Chinese, with some different spices and flavors. The wait – even on a Sunday night – was over an hour, which we passed across the street in the bar at The MacIntosh, which looks like a nice restaurant itself. Next time!
There is a Basil restaurant in Charlotte, also. We’re going to have to ‘give Thai another try.’ We really did like it!
Practically next door to Caviar & Bananas on George Street, is this Monday-Friday, breakfast-lunch only place called Jack’s Café. It’s nothing fancy, but Jack himself has been running the grill for nearly 40 years. Good, fast diner food, served with a smile at a reasonable price, it’s sometimes just the ticket. The cheeseburgers are supposed to be excellent, so we’ll probably need to go back for lunch. Next time!
So there are the highlights of our Tour de Food in Charleston. Every person who goes as their favorite places, and we now have a few more of our own. The next time we go, we’ll definitely make room for a return visit to Hall’s. And some day (Paul) I’ll get to Hyman Seafood! 🙂
I’ve been away, but I haven’t gone far. We’ve had a few things going on over the last couple of months that disrupted the little bit of posting momentum that I had back in January. I forced myself to spend a little time on the computer to process a few photos and throw a few words onto the blog so everyone knows I still love them!
A few weeks ago – seems like months – Kathy & I visited Charleston, SC for a weekend. February probably isn’t the ideal time to visit Charleston, and the particular weekend that we went was cold and windy. We spent a lot of time dashing from shop to shop, looking for shelter from the cold, and even dodged a little rain & snow on the first day there.
Charleston is a photogenic town whenever you visit. I did some photographing while we were there, and while I certainly didn’t capture the “classic” Charleston, I feel like I captured what I saw and felt while we were there. Add some color from a few flowers and trees, a little warmer weather and the results would be totally different.
One of the things that has kept me off the computer is a little “reading project” that I got myself into. When we took our cruise in January, I decided that I wanted to read the Harry Potter series. I had never read any of the books, never saw the movies, and our kids were too old by the time the books became popular for them to bring “Potter-itis” into our home. So I got the first volume as an e-book from the library before we left, started in on it, and I got hooked. I quickly finished the first book while onboard, and quickly downloaded the second volume. I just finished #5 of 7 and decided it was time for a little break. It’s great reading, but it sucked me in and wouldn’t let go!
We’re headed to “The Other Charleston” this coming weekend – Charleston, West Virginia. We’re meeting Bill & Cathy, our friends from Ohio, there to make some travel plans for this coming summer. I’ll definitely have a camera with me and hope to have some time to wander around, so I’ll be interested to see what that Charleston has to offer.
It’s been sort of an unofficial and undeclared project of mine to take photographs of people taking photographs, aka Pictures Of People Taking Pictures. ‘Unofficial’ because I don’t “set out” looking for such photos, I just happen upon them. ‘Undeclared’ because I haven’t published or printed any groups of them. I just have a growing number of “P.O.P.T.P.s” in my collection and sort of figured that one day there would be enough decent ones to make up a series.
I was on the beach at Hilton Head a few weeks ago taking photos at sunrise. Most people see the tripod and walk behind me. A few of them are so oblivious to my presence that they walk right in front of the camera. Occasionally they stop.
This woman was with a group of 4 people walking by. I was set up for my shot and had Live View activated, so I was able to watch the scene in case they “posed” for me. One of the hidden advantages of Live View is perhaps the ability to take pictures when it doesn’t look like you are taking pictures? I was able to watch as they walked into my scene. I thought they were going to keep walking, but at the very last moment this woman stopped and took several shots. While she was standing still I was able to click off a few frames of my own.
This is a way off-topic blog post but I thought some of my readers would find it interesting:
The work I do for money sometimes involves tracking down customers who, other than the fact that we receive their payments every month, we never hear from them. It’s pretty rare, but we can go for years without needing to know their current phone number or address. I came across such a customer this morning. This guy, an intellectual property attorney from another state, owns an investment property in North Carolina that he bought 7 years ago. His loan is coming due, so I needed to contact him about renewing it. The only phone number I had took me to what I expected was his office, but when I called I was told that “he was no longer with the firm.” Oops.
Now I realize that in this day and age there are lots of tools available to assist in the search for missing attorneys. But of course I turned to Google in hopes that I could turn up something that would lead me to his current position. I came across dozens of dead ends, articles that referenced his name and some kind of presentation or case, but they all referred to his former employer.
Somewhere in all my searching I came across this guy’s LinkedIn page. And it showed who he worked for but no contact information. I thought about sending him a note through LinkedIn, but figured that wouldn’t be terribly professional and saved it for a last resort. I Googled the company, but their headquarters is in another state. No good. But then, I went back to LinkedIn and noticed that a lot of his contacts were co-workers at his current firm. I looked through his contacts, Googled them and finally found a phone number. Not for my guy, but for his boss. Ah-ha!
Figuring that there is no way a direct call for an attorney is going to go through to him, and if it did I could easily explain myself, I called the number. Got a voicemail system, and after a few “Press #,” “Press 1,” etc. I got to where I could search a department directory using the first 3 letters of my customer’s last name. Call goes straight through and he answers it. Yep, he’s my guy!
I know what I did wasn’t anything really special, but I was amazed at how I was able to solve the puzzle. It was fun, he was very helpful and we’re going to do his deal. Not a bad way to start a Monday!