Monday, June 23, 2014

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.

I stood in the bathroom of our small, rented house in Hawaii and stared at the details of the picture hanging on the wall.  I'd already stared at it the previous day, and I knew I would stare at it again on the following.  Something about it was captivating to me.  It was much too small for the wall it was hanging on, it tilted a little too far counter-clockwise, and relatively important parts of the print itself were cut off because it was slightly too big for the frame.  But all of these things, that generally would have driven me crazy, gave the picture an ironic flavor that was impossible to ignore... because the print inside read:

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.

And there I was, looking at all of these imperfections and seeing something beautiful - right there in the meaning of that quote.  I briefly wondered if the owner had purposefully been sloppy just to drive home a point.

In the days that have followed, this quote has become a favorite of mine, drifting in and out of my mind in wisps and fragments.  I think it will go down in the archives of my mind as a truth I hope to pass along to my children. Timely, too...

I suspect that much of the beauty I find in Vegas will be of the kind that I see, and less of the kind that I look at, and this intimidates the photographer side of me.  As photography has become more and more of a passion of mine, and since I've had my eye focused on beauty this year, I have learned that, without work, the camera simply captures what I look at.  It cannot add feelings or emotions or meanings-of-quotes - it cannot add the past stories or present hopes and dreams that might make the scene beautiful to me.  It simply records light.  And dark.  And colors. It's up to me then, as the photographer, to create the emotion behind it. I hope I will find as much joy in photography if I have to work so hard to create it.

But, photography aside, I'm feeling more and more confident that I will see lots of beauty in Vegas. And, I'm even feeling a measure of excitement as Brian soars through his very last two weeks as a student... ever... (wait, what?), and as we catapult ourselves into this new life of Real Job.

When I get there I'm going to try not to spend much time looking for beauty.
I'm just going to try to see it.

Friday, June 20, 2014


The sun is hot in the Miami sky.  I suppose the sun is hot everywhere because, it's the sun... but my body seems to think that the sun is hotter in Miami than in any other place I've been.

Well... hold on... I do have one memory as a teenager when my family visited Las Vegas (go figure - remember how I'm moving there?).  We climbed out of the car on our arrival and I was immediately shocked at the intensity of the heat on my skin. As I stepped up onto the curb next to our parked car I lifted my head to make sure there were other humans walking around.  There were, and so I concluded that I would survive under those conditions.

But the heat in Miami is different.  It's not really a hot-on-your-skin type of heat so much as a heat that seeps inside of you and wraps your insides in its grip, a heat that makes your mind swim through it and your muscles work against it, a heat that dips into your core and elbows its way around and pushes out the comfort that used to reside there. And then, with the heat living in your insides, the moisture in the air surrounds you and holds the external heat close, wrapping you in a hot, soggy blanket. Don't worry, you can breathe through the blanket even though it seems that you can't.  Just look around... you'll see other humans doing it. If we're being completely honest, most of the time I actually love that blanket, but sometimes I'd like nothing more than to kick it off to one side of the bed.

Which brings us to the present moment. We are walking to the library, and as sweat drips from my forearm I recognize this moment as a Wish I Could Kick It Off one. I raise an eyebrow because I didn't even know my forearms could sweat so much to be dripping.  But dripping they are. Looking at me from the outside, you wouldn't really know I am feeling so uncomfortable.  There is still a bounce in my step and a smile across my face as I push the heavy stroller through the sand. It's beautiful here, you see.  And it's hard not to be happy when you're walking through a postcard. 

I can just make out the figures of my three older children, pedaling like mad through the sand. They're dripping, too. Of course, I can't see it, but I know it.  Carson will look like he's jumped into a swimming pool by the time I catch up to him - at some point I should probably apologize to him for passing along the DNA for my over-active sweat glands.  But not today.  Today he doesn't care.  Today he's focused on that bike of his, on pedaling as fast as he can to reach the swings at the park far enough before me to be able to play for a while before we continue on our journey to the library.  I have most of the library books with me in the bottom of the stroller, but I'm impressed that the kids can pedal so fast with the weight from the extra books hanging from the backpacks on their shoulders.

The podcast in my ears is interesting - it always is - because whether I'm in the mood for stimulating thoughts (TED radio hour), interesting stories (This American Life or The Moth), or humor (Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me), I have something to love.

I welcome the transition from sand to pavement once I get to the park, and passing the trees is one of my favorite things about the whole journey.  They offer little shade (and the shade offers little relief from the heat anyway), but the twisted trunks and waxy leaves are beautiful and interesting to look at.  As I come up to the play structure, I see the three children jumping from the swings and rushing to the slide to get in one last drop before joining me along the last leg of our journey.  I don't even have to slow down... they know the drill.  "Time to get moving!" I call over my shoulder.  Within a minute, they pedal past me again - this time keeping closer as we travel through the rest of the park and then along the paved beach path that leads us right to the library.

I take a few deep breaths of the clean beach air before stepping closer to the brick building.  I'm sure the brick was beautiful once.  The whole building must have been beautiful once.  But time has long since stolen that and now the smell of stale urine is almost overpowering as we get near.  Why the homeless people have chosen the parking lot as their place of relief when there is a beach, and several wide open spaces so near is a mystery to me.   

"I knew you were coming back!" the librarian said as we stepped, sweaty and dripping, into the air conditioned building.  I imagine entering into heaven might feel something like that someday.
"Yeah?" I questioned.
"Yep." She pointed to the rows of books along the top shelf of the holding area and continued, "Your shelf started filling up again." 

I don't like to spend much time in the library because it's small, and dark, and I have four children which for some reason makes the security guard uncomfortable enough to tail us.  I personally think he should tail the homeless people in the parking lot and invite them to come inside to use the actual toilet... but apparently he'd rather watch us.  So, in order to minimize time in the library, I've made a habit of putting all of our books on hold from the comfort of my own living room.  That way I can just step in, grab all 25 titles, check out, and be on my way.

I notice the mixture of good and bad in the air as we leave the library grounds.  It feels good to breathe air that is void of unpleasant smells, but I also have to accept the soggy blanket as it wraps itself around me once again.  The walk back is admittedly harder because we're tired from the mile and a half we've already come, but it's still wonderful because, postcard.  The children ride ahead again, this time loaded down with fresh books, to make it to the park before me and catch some time to read on the bench before I get there. I take my time on the way home. Breathing. Smelling. Listening. Feeling.

And as I finally approach their bench and see them lost in their stories, this is the moment that I find the most beautiful. 

Three sweaty kids sit reading in a park, surrounded by discarded backpacks and forgotten bikes. The scene shines a beam of light into a story of real adventure... one filled with bike rides through the sand, swinging through the air on a big, black swing, and being followed by a security guard in an old, run-down library.  But looking past that layer we see another one, one of borrowed adventure -  through the pages of a mystery, a comic, a fairy tale...

I hope they live lives that stories can be made from.  They will.  They are.  A life is a story.  But I hope they also make room for good books to enrich them, and that they always remember how they felt as they sat on a park bench, huffing from exercise, dripping in sweat, entirely absorbed in a story very different from the wonderful one they are living.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bright Perspective

It didn't even make the first cut, this picture.  It was marked for deletion seconds after my eye scanned it.  Of course, 99% of this photo is beautiful - glistening water, baby blue sky - but even though the background is breathtaking, the subject is lifeless.  Dark and lacking any detail, the sailboat in the picture disappointed me because I remembered it looking much more beautiful to my eye. 

Maybe it didn't.  Maybe it was always dark, and the miracle that is my mind filled in the missing light and allowed me to see the sails in their milky-white glory even though the signal sent from my eyes was dull. This is probably true.  Cameras tell truths we don't see sometimes.

Delete these 83 master pictures from disk, or just remove them from Lightroom? the prompt asked after I finished my initial run-through of the new photos. The answer is always 'Delete from disk' -- no sense making the decision more than once.  But as my mouse hovered over the button this time, one selected picture stood apart from the rest; a dark sailboat surrounded by beautiful water grabbed my attention and asked me to think about it. I hesitated. Then, in an instant, I clicked 'Cancel', removed the delete mark from the one picture, and tried again.

Delete these 82 master pictures from disk, or just remove them from Lightroom?
Delete from disk.


My heart felt happy as my eyes opened on June 11th this year.  So many years I've woken to this date with a physical ache in my chest and a nauseous feeling in my stomach.  It's been a heartbreakingly lonely day in years past... a day in which the barriers in my mind that control the pain lose their powers and allow the memories of our little stillborn son - both good and bad - to invade every crevice of my soul and body (my toes hurt, I remember thinking one year).

But this year was different.

Instead of the pain, there was beauty.  Happiness and joy.  A reverent respect for the lessons we've learned from Jess, and a humbling-to-my-knees gratitude for my faith and knowledge in the powerful and eternal miracle that we have been sealed together as a family in the temple of the Lord. This year, Brian and I gathered our children together on a blanket in front of the temple and, for the first time, I opened my journal and read excerpts out loud to them about those life-changing weeks that broke me nine years ago.  And as I read, I was able to discern that, though those weeks did break me for years, so much grander was the fact that they had, indeed, built me most of all.


If the pain of the past could have been painted in a picture, it might look to my eye like a dark, lifeless sailboat.  Regardless of the beauty surrounding it, it might seem to me unworthy of keeping, and so marked for deletion from my life.  But the master artist, my loving Heavenly Father, saw something in the picture of my pain - all those years ago - that was worth keeping.  Worth crafting, in fact.  He knew that, as the sun moved across the sky and lit the sailboat from the other side, I would have all the elements necessary to create a truly breathtaking scene. 

No matter how many pictures I took of that first sailboat, I never could have made it pop with light. Of course, it wasn't the fault of the sailboat, for it was always white and beautiful.  The sun was simply in the wrong place.  All I could do was wait. 


Wait for earth to turn.

Wait for the darkness to become light.

Wait for the pain to become beautiful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

May Harvest

1 - This thing.  Is this not one of the most beautiful sea creatures ever?  So delicate.  I want to pet it.

2 - That's the underside of a painted turtle statue anchoring down to the ground.  The different colors in the coral and then the sun coming through the water got me.
3 - Fan Leaves
4 - See that storm back in the horizon?  I had to crop the picture to fit it in here, but the dark cloud above it formed a giant bell that looked as if it were just dumping its watery contents into the ocean.   Beautiful.
5 - Tangled trees
6 - Precision and symmetry.
7 - I know, this one is weird... but the way the milk and oil bubbled up in this pancake batter made me smile and take a breath.  You have to admit that those bubbles are beautiful.
8 - Amazing flight
9 - Light in the clouds
10 - Mother's Day Roses

11 - Crevice at the pier.  And turquoise water.

12 - Sunlight in the water
13 - Happy Leaf
14 - My beautiful sister and her boyfriend.  They have fun together, and seeing her happy and in love was a beautiful thing.  (Uh.  I suppose I don't actually know if she classifies herself as in love... but it looked that way to me, so... amiright or amiright, Michelle? *wink, wink*)
15 - Just this.  I get to look at this every day and it's still amazing to me.
16 - Carson spotted these interesting flowers on a walk one day.  There's no scale in the picture, but these things were tiny... about the size of a dime.  I went back to get a better picture another day and they had all fallen to the ground.  Happy to have this one.
17 - Fun, waxy leaves.
18 - Delicate and detailed glass in the temple windows.
19 - The color contrast in this leaf snagged me.
20 - A perfect tree.

21 - Kenz, Brian and I all got to go to the new Ft. Lauderdale temple for the dedication... it was incredible.  In a word: beautiful.

22 - Soft pink, dark pink, white and black... this bird is probably the envy of all the other birds.
23 - Pelican dive - so graceful and perfect.
24 - On a boat out to snorkel.  Look at the perfect-ness of that water!
25 - Everglades.  It's the dry season, so the water level is almost nothing right now.  I still find it beautiful (as long as I plug my nose against the swampy smell).
26 - Pebble rock art
27 - Giant rooty tree
28 - Miles's curls silhouetted against that amazing blue color... sigh.
29 - Tall grasses
30 - Delicate grasses swinging from the tree branches

31 - A pelican... So perfect.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Weddings are fun. Weddings in Hawaii are more fun. Part 3

There have only been a handful of times in my life where I feel small and helpless against the power of nature.  I'm sure if I were a tornado chaser, or a deep sea fisherman I'd have those sorts of feelings all the time.  But I'm not, and as such, I'm not quite used to the feeling.  The final full day we had in Hawaii was a Sunday, and after hitting a morning church (where they actually had the congregation sing Aloha 'Oe [Farewell to Thee] to a family who was moving - it was incredibly touching and left me in tears because it was different and I've come to love different over the past years - but that's another blog post), we spent the rest of the morning awed by the power of the waves on the far side of Shark's Cove. 

Shark's Cove is a beautiful place... a cove surrounded on all sides by jagged rocks and filled with crystal clear water.  We actually went back at sunset on this particular Sunday because I anticipated that the sunset over the cove would be breathtaking.  The clouds were a little too thick for what I was really hoping for, and my lens wasn't wide enough to catch the whole thing, but I'll share a picture from that hour anyway just so you can see what the cove actually looks like. 

So back to morning.  We crawled and climbed and jumped along those rocks until we reached the far outer rim.  Most of us were wearing tennis shoes (we had planned to go hiking instead, but those plans fell through at the last minute), so we were trying to avoid walking through the water, but after Brian's little brother Dave jumped and slipped into the water anyway, I ended up taking off my tennis shoes and walking through the water the rest of the way (it was safer to already be in the water than to fall in the water with my camera, I figured).  Climbing up onto the far jagged rocks and seeing the power of the water on the other side was incredible. 

I kept my camera out and snapped shot after shot after shot to try to capture the magnificence of it, but each picture fell embarrassingly flat.  It took my breath away and we all commented on the sure death that would await any of us were we to slip and fall into the currents below. 

Too soon it was time for us to head back home and meet the rest of the family for our afternoon excursion to Pearl Harbor.

We toured the USS Missouri where the Empire of Japan formally surrendered, thus ending World War II.  Our tour guide was knowledgeable and passionate and full of interesting facts that helped bring that day back in 1945 to life.  Most impressive to me, however, was the sheer power of that battleship. 

Do you see those guns?!  They can shoot 2700 lbs of shells TWENTY miles!  Maybe that's not so impressive for people who know about war ships... but to me, it's incredible. 

As I mentioned, we stopped back at Shark's Cove to watch the sunset that night and I was sorry to see the thick clouds blocking most of the color.  But even so, there's something tranquilizing about sunsets, don't you think?

That night we, once again, slept hard.

The following morning we didn't have much time to play as our flight left mid-morning.  So Brian and I spent the rest of our hours there driving the 'long way' to the airport, around the coast and stopped whenever we felt like it.  We spent a half an hour or so looking for the house I lived in all those years ago and I was absolutely delighted to find the bench in our backyard that my wonderful roommate, Becky, and I shared countless half-gallons of ice cream on.  All the talks we had - all the calories we ingested - all the laughter and memories we shared on that bench came back to me and I felt lucky, once again, to have been blessed with such terrific friends all the way through my life. 

It gave me hope that there will be more friends waiting for me in Vegas, too.   

But if not, Brian and I will just have to head to Hawaii every year to make up for it.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Weddings are fun. Weddings in Hawaii are more fun. Part 2

It was one of those mornings where you stare at the sky and hold your breath for the beauty of it.  I wasn't sure if I wanted the gradient clouds to open their curtains and pour down their rain from the sky, or if I wanted them to stay. right. there, looking like that, breathtaking and beautiful, all day long.  Brian and I awoke early (I love it when the time change works in your favor that way) and drove over to the temple to try to get a good picture of it for Heidi and Adam.  In walking the grounds, we found an old cemetery.  Even though I believe that the spirits of those people buried in that hill are not really residing in that hill, I still can't help but feel happy for them that their bodies have such a nice and happy place to rest. 

After tromping around and admiring the weather-worn headstones, we drove back to the house to help the bride get ready for her big day.

It was interesting how watching Heidi get ready for her wedding stirred up so many memories of my own.  One of my cleanest memories is of applying my own mascara on my wedding day.  Which is a strange thing to remember because of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times before and since that I have done that exact same thing.  You would think that Getting Into My Wedding Dress would be a little more of a standout memory because, you know, that's kind of unique thing.  But, nope.  In a way, it does make sense, though.  Eyes are our windows to the soul, right?  So being close to a mirror, staring into my own eyes on my wedding day stood out as a very special thing.  My soul was happy - I knew that because I could feel it - and during those few seconds of applying mascara, I was able to actually see it, too.

Anyway, originally, Heidi had asked me to take the wedding pictures as well as the engagement photos, but I was relieved to find out that her co-workers chipped in and bought her one hour with a professional right after the ceremony.   Engagement photos are one thing because it's possible to do a re-shoot if they don't turn out right.  Wedding pictures, however... you have one chance... I was happy to stay in the shadows and take behind-the-scenes pictures.  It left me free to explore the details and not stress about getting that One Shot that will be framed in their home.

Details like how sweet it was to watch him play with the buttons on the back of her dress...

And hold her shoes through the sand...

We spent about 30 minutes around the temple grounds.

And then another 30 minutes down on the beach.

You know how sometimes in a quiet moment, like just as you're falling asleep or waking up, you realize that one of your recent memories is swelling inside you and taking up more space in your heart and mind than it should?  Following Heidi and Adam around that afternoon, watching them interact with each other and the photographer is one of those memories for me.  It took me a couple of days to figure out why it touched me so much, but I think it's for two reasons.  1) It was inspiring for me to see a professional photographer at work, and 2) I realized that afternoon just how much I love Heidi.  And Adam, too.  And how happy I am to see them so happy together.  I think I won't forget the way I felt that day.

After pictures, we went to the wedding luncheon.  And then, in a flash, Heidi and Adam waved goodbye and left the rest of us to enjoy our last day and a half on the island without them.

We wasted no time and (after changing out of our Attend The Wedding clothes) drove straight to the Polynesian Cultural Center where we sat at the Island Buffet and talked and laughed and ate together.  I really lucked-out with my in-laws.  Over the years they've each woven their way into my heart and I love them. 

We went straight from the buffet to a show that included big men throwing fire.  Photography was not allowed, so you'll have to take my word for it.

That night we all slept well. Day 2 of our trip was finished... Heidi and Adam were married... and we had one day left to enjoy the island before returning home to kiss our kids.