Friday, December 31, 2010

Start Close In

A new year, a new beginning. What castles do you want to reach this year? I have my own castles, dreams that float in my heart and my head. Dreams that require plans and effort. I could set resolutions, or choose a word of the year to move toward them, but this year I decided to choose a poem.

I wrote recently about my journey, and taking the step I can see in front of me. I plan to continue with that idea in 2011, and here is the poem to inspire me along the way. It is by David Whyte from his book River Flow.


Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people's questions,
don't let them
smother something

To find
another's voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don't follow
someone else's
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don't mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don't take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.

Happy New Year! Today ends 9 Muses Musing with RESOLUTION. I hope you've enjoyed the party! Come by, link in, and see what others are planning for their year.

Time Travel

Someone once told me that human beings are the only animals that time travel. We move forward and backward in time unceasingly in our heads. Dwelling on the past or dreaming of the future, we barely glimpse the present moment.

This time of year is big for time travel. Reviewing our accomplishments of 2010, we are astonished that another year has passed. We look to 2011 as if it is something shiny and new, a package waiting to be unwrapped. Really, 2011 will be another collection of moments, strung together in time, just like 2010 has been. There is nothing special about these days at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, they are only numbers on paper. A way to mark time.

Where have you been time traveling these last few days? What have you seen in your past and your future? I hope for today you spend some time celebrating the present moment. Because that's all we really have, when you get down to it. Our ability to time travel is just an illusion.

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is CELEBRATE. Tomorrow's prompt wraps up 9 Muses Musing with RESOLUTION. See you then!

Photographic PS - The "time travel" image above was created by setting my camera to a 1 second exposure, and then zooming from max to min focal length during the exposure. You can see it was handheld because of the wiggly lines, if I had been using a tripod they would be straight. I got this idea from my friend Barbara's post on lights, but when experimenting I found I really liked the effect with people. Below is a normal shot of the same place, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Which do you like better?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Morning Sparkles

I'm having such a busy week, I almost forgot to post today! I captured this beautiful morning frost sparkling in the sun on Monday, in Parco di Monza. This was captured with my little point-and-shoot, as are many of my shots in the park. Just a little reminder that you don't need a fancy camera to capture the sparkles in life.

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is SPARKLING. Tomorrow's prompt is CELEBRATE. See you then!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Greetings

We used to send handmade Christmas cards. Around the end of November I would start with the cutting, stamping, and assembling to make approximately 80 of them. My husband then handled signing, addressing and sending. It was our little tradition.

Last year we sent an email to family and friends, with a family picture, letting them know how things were for us in Italy.

This year I created this image for our holiday greeting. I didn't print it out and send it by snail mail. I didn't even send it via email. I completely forgot.

Am I pathetic, that a holiday greeting on my blog is all I manage? So much for tradition...

The 9 Muses Musing prompt today is TRADITION. Tomorrow is SPARKLING. Only 3 more days left!

Monday, December 27, 2010

If it could talk...

Last week, as I walked through the gate of our apartment building, the portinaia (doorkeeper) flagged me down to give me this package. It was the most interesting package, covered in all sorts of stamps from the UK, addressed to my husband.

"Oh wow," he said when I brought it into the apartment, "I didn't think that would ever come!" Turns out he had ordered some mosaic tiles from a shop in England, five weeks earlier. I asked him to save the package for me, so that I could photograph it. I was intrigued by this wrinkled envelope, covered in colorful stamps.

What stories would this package tell, if it could talk?  Could it tell me the story of why it had such a diverse set of stamps? Maybe someone had cleaned out their desk, and they were trying to use all of the old stamps that were left over when postage increased.

What about its journey? What would it tell me? How did it get to be so crumpled and rumpled, with the stamps peeling off? Why did it take so long? Maybe it was waylaid, because it needed to be hand cancelled. Or possibly it got stuck in some sorting machine. Likely the delay was due to Poste Italiane, famous for its inefficiency, but I like the fanciful stories better.

After photographing the package for a while, I decided to soak the stamps off and save them, for some craft project in the future. When a treasure trove of textured imagery comes your way, you have to take advantage of it. Reaching back into my brain archives, to a time in my childhood when I was a junior stamp collector, I taught Brandon how to remove the stamps without damaging them.

It wasn't until I had removed the stamps that I realized all of the stories they collectively carried with them. There was the College of Arms Quincentenary, World Hockey Cup London 1986, and Royal Mail 350 Years of Service. The Most Ancient & Most Noble Order of the Thistle Tencentenary of the Revival, The Domesday Book 1086 and The Queens Award for Technological Achievement 25th Anniversary can be added to the list. Some celebrate artists as well: Sea Pictures by Edward Elgay, a photograph of Alfred Hitchcock by Howard Coster, and a vase by Hans Coper. A total of 24 stories are held in the stamps on this one little package.

Normally we don't stop and notice the stamps on our mail. We don't stop to think of the story they are representing. In fact, it's becoming rarer to actually have stamps on our mail, with the decline of people sending personal mail and the increase in use of electronic postage. What luck then, to receive a package like this. It's a treasure trove of culture and history and art.

If any of my UK readers can fill me in on the story behind this colorful stamp with the yellow house and the green robot looking guy, I would love to hear it!

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is STORIES. I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying these prompts. They are inspiring me to tell stories I wouldn't have told otherwise. Tomorrow's prompt is TRADITION.

The Spiral of Creativity

This photo of Parco di Monza in summer has been coming up in my mind lately, which means I need to share it. I loved the cloud formations on that day, the spirals I saw. I didn't see the clouds as spiraling inward, but moving outward. I saw in the clouds a spiral of creativity, where ideas are born at the center and then gain momentum as they spin toward the outside. The ideas eventually break free and are sent off into the world at high speed, flung with the creative energy they attained through the spiral. All that, read in the clouds on a summer day.

I can see why this image has popped into my head, because the whole idea of the spiral of creativity fits perfectly with some reflection I've been doing. As I work hard on finishing my Find Your Eye class, I've realized that I have moved to a dramatically different place in the creativity spiral. The place where the ideas are about to completely break free, and move off into the world.

I decided today I would share these fresh thoughts on the creativity spiral. These are the different places or phases I've experienced, so far. I'm curious to know, is this how you have experienced it too? Where are you in the spiral?

The first phase of the spiral is Absorbing. Opening yourself up to all of the creative ideas that exist in our world, and absorbing them into our creative center through reading, observing, learning. This is an active step, because you have to seek the ideas out and expend energy into taking them in to yourself. This may also be the absolute center of the spiral, like the eye of a hurricane, the place where there is calm. You need peace and quiet to absorb.

Processing is the second phase. I think the phrase I like to use, "I have all of these ideas swirling around in my head," fits perfectly here. This is where the ideas you absorbed begin to be transformed. You think about them, write about them. You are seeking where they fit in with your life, your experience, your philosophy. You are in the spiral proper now, beginning to really move.

After Processing comes Practicing. You begin playing around with your creative ideas. You give your creative self a playground, a safe place to explore and practice. You delight in the discoveries you make. It is through this practice and play that new connections are made in the ideas you've been absorbing and processing. Brand new ideas are born.

At some point, Practicing transitions into Acting. Some of the ideas that are born during play will become ready for action. Things are really moving now in the spiral. Dreaming of how to bring the idea to fruition becomes doing. You begin to take the next steps, to make the ideas real and get them ready to release into the world.

Finishing comes next, very close to the outside of the spiral. You are moving quickly, putting the work into completing the remaining actions to send the idea into the world. This, in some ways, is the hard part, because it's not all swirly fun and play. It's the nuts and bolts of getting things done. There are deadlines and external requirements at times. The excitement is still there, but it is different, tempered with effort. In this phase, your commitment is tested. Will you really launch the idea into the world? Or will you let it sink back into the spiral?

I find myself in the Finishing phase of the spiral right now, with my Find Your Eye class. It is interesting to discover, even with the effort it is taking, that my commitment is stronger than ever. Each time I work on the class, no matter how much I still have yet to do or how much I see that I need to improve, I find myself saying, "This is good stuff. I need to get this out to people." This one idea, of the many that are born in my spiral of creativity, will be launched into the world.

What comes next in the spiral of creativity? I don't know yet. I can only see the parts of the spiral I have been through so far. I don't know what happens when the creative idea is launched into the world, but soon I will. Have you launched your creative idea? What has come next for you? I would love for you to share your experiences with me, to let me know what phase comes next in the creative spiral.

While I don't yet personally know what comes next, there is one thing I do know:  In order to work, the spiral must always be kept in motion. In order to keep the momentum, even for one idea to launch, I have to be Absorbing and Processing and Practicing too. Without that continual creative energy fueling the movement, the spiral will die. Like clouds on a sunny day, it would will eventually blow away, disappear into the sky. So I keep reading and journaling and writing here, sharing my little insights with you all, so that my spiral of creativity continues.

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is SHARING. This is the post I needed to write today, regardless of the prompt, and I'm surprised that it even is remotely related.  Tomorrow's prompt is STORIES. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shiny Light

Patrick came home with this candle last week as a gift from the second graders he reads with at school. Brandon was dying to light it but I made him wait until I could take some pictures. He had to wait several days, because at the time I was sick and didn't have the energy to do much more than sleep. When I was ready, he was happy to be my photographer's assistant.

So here it is, a bright and shiny candle today, brought to you by me and my trusty assistant. Can you make out our apartment, in reflection?

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is SHINY. Tomorrow's is SHARING. I hope all of your Christmas wishes came true yesterday!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Buon Natale

I don't have a lot of requirements for Christmas. I don't need a lot of presents, and I have no attachment to the food once I get past Thanksgiving. All I need is a tree, and ornaments that mean something to me.

You see, I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas. I was 27 years old and 4 years married the first time I participated in this holiday; the first time I had a tree in my home. My husband and I made our sojourn to Hobby Lobby, buying a small tree and some coordinating ornaments. It was pretty, but it didn't have any meaning to me, regardless of my beliefs about the holiday.

The next year my husband excitedly pulled out the Christmas decorations, and discovered I had no enthusiasm. He was a bit disappointed but didn't let it phase him. He enjoyed setting everything up, adding lights as well. I helped, but only when prodded.

This went on for several years, until something magical happened. Patrick cajoled me into coming to help set up the tree one year. As we unwrapped the ornaments, I began to see the stories they held. One had been given to us by Patrick's parents. Another had been purchased on a trip. They were no longer just pretty baubles, they began to have meaning to me. For the first time, I had an excitement about decorating for Christmas. I had an emotional connection, found in the history of the ornaments. I now had a tradition.

That tradition has continued, through the years. Our son was born and we added "Baby's first year" ornaments. My husband completed a bicycle trip down the Oregon coast, and I made him an ornament to commemorate. We've picked up ornaments in places we've visited or they've been given to us as gifts from special people in our lives. Each one is a memory, something special to be revisited, as we set up the tree and admire them through the month of December. It is now a special family tradition the weekend after Thanksgiving, to turn on the Christmas music and set up the tree together. We carefully unwrap the ornaments, taking a walk down memory lane. My son loves it too.

So for me, all Christmas needs is a tree filled with ornaments that carry memories. The perfectly decorated and color coordinated trees can stay in the department stores, in my opinion. They are beautiful, I love to photograph them, but they hold no true meaning for me.

During our time in Italy, we've added quite a number of ornaments to our collection. In fact, we didn't bring any Christmas decorations with us, having the goal of gathering new ornaments on our travels. We now have a tree full of memories to take home with us. Here we are, by our tree of European memories, wishing you a wonderful, happy Christmas. Or, in Italian...

Buon Natale!

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is ORNAMENT. Today is my day to giveaway one of my favorite handmade glass ornaments from Murano. Please come by Mortal Muses and leave a comment or link in to enter the giveaway, I'd love to see it go to one of my faithful readers!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paws-ing to Remember

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care..."

I've never hung stockings by a chimney; I've never had one in my house. Not only that, but this year no Christmas stockings are hung because they are all in storage, back in the US. We decided to live without our Christmas decorations for a couple of years during our time in Italy. Maybe it was the picture chosen for today's 9 Muses Musing prompt of STOCKING, but I couldn't help think of those stockings in storage, and of the stocking that would be empty this year, for our sweet dog Tasha. She passed away this summer, at nearly 14 years old.

Since Brandon's birth, we've always hung four stockings with care - one each for Patrick, Brandon and me, plus one "paw" stocking for Tasha. I dug in my archives to find a picture of it, this was the best I could do from Christmas 2006. You can see the paw stocking there, balancing out the odd three for the humans in the family to an even four.

We would always put a couple of Christmas morning treats in there for Tasha - maybe pig's ears or a new toy. We had to be careful not to fill the stocking too early, or the smell of the treats hanging there would drive her crazy. Being the good dog she was though, she never tried to get at them. She would just sit there and stare at the stocking, like a kid stares at all of the presents under the tree. When Christmas morning arrived, Tasha would happily dig in to her treats as we opened our gifts. A Christmas tradition in our house.

So this year, the STOCKING prompt made me pause, remembering our sweet dog Tasha and Christmas stockings past. Give your furry family members a little extra hug for me, and maybe a treat on Christmas morning, in memory of Tasha.

Tomorrow's 9 Muses Musing prompt is ORNAMENT. Tomorrow is my day to muse again, and I have a fabulous giveaway for you, from one of my favorite places in all of Italy. I know it's Christmas Day tomorrow, but don't forget to stop by Mortal Muses to enter.

And by the way, I'm feeling much, much better today - back to normal. Thanks for all of the well wishes yesterday. Enjoy your Christmas Eve!

Snowflake Math

Snowflake + snowflake + snowflake + .... + snowflake = SNOW.

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is SNOWFLAKE, but I've been sick and in bed the last couple of days, and have not come up with a snowflake photo. So I'm trying to make one of my favorites from our little trip into Monza last weekend work for this prompt. What do you think? Are you buying it?

I loved this photo because it shows how bicycles are just a part of life here. A mode of transportation, regardless of the weather. I was a bike commuter back in Oregon, but I have to admit I would not ride in snow. I think many people have that opinion here too, but look - there were enough bikes to fill up a bike rack on a Saturday night in Monza. Only one of them had snow on the seat, and the tire tracks indicate most of these had been used recently.

Impressive. It should inspire me, but I still don't think I want to ride in the snow.

Tomorrow's 9 Muses Musing prompt is STOCKING. I'd better get creative...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

By Candlelight

One of the things that I love about Italy is how restaurants look. It's completely normal to have tablecloths, wine glasses, cloth napkins and candles on the table. It's just the way things are done. Any self-respecting sit down restaurant will have a nice table presentation, like this one on a back street in Venice, inviting customers to stay.

It makes meals here in Italy feel special for me, since growing up the only time I saw these things on the table were either going out to a really fancy restaurant (where we were dressed up and had to be on our BEST behavior) or a very special dinner at home. Mom's china, my grandmother's silver, cloth napkins and candlelight. Those are the things that dress up a table to me.

When is the last time you ate by candlelight? Just that one little thing, a candle burning on the table, can make a normal meal a little bit magical. Try it out and see.

Today's prompt for 9 Muses Musing is CANDLE. Tomorrow's is SNOWFLAKE. Have you been playing along?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Star Light, Star Bright

On Saturday night, after a wonderful, cozy day in the house, we got ourselves out to go into Monza - I wanted to capture the lights. I must be honest, I wasn't feeling too inspired by them. I know, shocking, but even with me sometimes that happens. So I played around with creating some intentional bokeh by shooting out of focus. It wasn't until I got home and saw the two images  side-by-side in the computer, out of focus and in focus, that I really got excited. Sometimes something new just hits you out of the blue - I wondered if I could combine them for an interesting effect. What you see above is the result, and I love it.

Here's how I did it...I started with the "out of focus" bokeh photo in Photoshop Elements, this one:
Then I pulled the "in focus" one in, this one, as a layer above the "out of focus" photo:
I combined them by using a blending mode of soft light, at 75%. Finally, I stretched and tilted and adjusted the "in focus" photo until the stars closely overlayed the "out of focus" ones. These were taken handheld, so while they were taken from the same location and angle with the same zoom, they are slightly different compositions and needed to be matched up. If I had used a tripod (heaven forbid!), I would not have needed this last step.

I tried lots of different blending modes and opacities, they all came out slightly different - the one I'm sharing today is the one I liked best. Let me know what you think!

I interrupt my regularly scheduled participation in 9 Muses Musing because I wanted to share this photo for Sweet Shot Tuesday and Touch Up Tuesday. And, to be honest, I also didn't have anything specific in mind for today's prompt of FAMILY. :) Be sure to stop by and see all the other shared stories on FAMILY  at Mortal Muses though! Tomorrow's prompt is CANDLE.

Sweet and Tangy, with a Kick

Ah, Limoncello. The wonderfully sweet and tangy after dinner drink found in Italy originated around Sorrento, where we stayed on our recent trip. All along the Amalfi Coast you find shops boasting their own Limoncello production, offering you a taste. Mmmmm... Be warned though, this drink is strong, 30 to 40% alcohol. You only need a tiny bit! I discovered this liqueur on my very first business trip to Italy in 2008, and fell in love with it.

Lemons and other citrus are grown in this region, and have two crops a year - around May-June and November-December. It was very neat to see the groves of trees with the fruit on them, even the trees along the streets in the towns are citrus. The lemon is the symbol of the region - everything had lemons on it! We enjoyed walking along, popping into the different stores for a sample. We also discovered Limoncello Crema - the white-ish Limoncello made with milk instead of water - and love that even more.

Limoncello is easy to make, you just need lemon peel, 100-190 proof alcohol, water, sugar, and time. I found a good, detailed description of the process here. I've never made it, but I want to try someday. It will be a sweet taste of Italy I can make wherevery I live.

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is SWEETS. Tomorrow's is FAMILY. Come on over and see what sweet treats are shared today!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It Takes a Village

Welcome to Legano. Located in the north of Italy, in my son's bedroom. Legano is a Lego town, the name inspired by our visit to the town of Lugano, Switzerland, right after Christmas last year. Brandon came home from that day trip and started building this village with his Christmas Legos.

He hasn't stopped since. A year later, the town is thriving, if different. It changes every day. Some days, it's only a small detail added. Other days, it's a complete overhaul. Every day, it is part of him processing our adventure here in Italy, dealing with it from the perspective of a 9 year old.

It started early in the year as we built the different buildings that every town needs. A commune (town hall), gelateria, pizzeria, school, hospital, police station, fire station. Sometimes I would help him build the buildings (I like building the buildings - the police station is my proudest accomplishment), and sometimes he would work on his own. The town changes and grows as he does.

After we visited Rome in the spring, an entire section of Roman ruins cropped up. (Good thing for those Indiana Jones sets!)
As I was studying for my Italian driver's license, street signs and signals began to appear all over town, in abundance.
Friends houses have appeared and disappeared, as his friendships grew and changed - old friends moving away and new friends moving in.
There have been piazzas with umbrella covered tables in the summer. Airports with security and international destinations. Trains and trams and funiculars and buses.
There's even me, with a camera in my hand.

If I ever wondered about the value of play time for children, that wondering for me, is over. When I see piles of trash heaped up in the streets (a la Naples, our latest trip) or have my son explain that the little Lego statue he's showing me is The Discus Thrower, I know that this play is not just childhood fancy. This is where he processes and integrates all of these new things he sees all of the time, things that used to be outside of his experience. Legano provides, for him, what my photography and my blog provide for me.

Have you heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child?" I think, for the child, it is the a village of their own creation, where they raise themself and grow up whole.

The prompt for 9 Muses Musing today is VILLAGE. Tomorrow is SWEETS. I hope you'll come join us!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Into the Unknown

There is a place on my normal walking route in Parco di Monza, were I sometimes find myself in the middle of nowhere. On foggy mornings, all I can see is the path I am on and the empty field around it. I am suspended in a place where nothing else seems to exist.

Our journey through life can be like this too. We can find ourselves on a path, where all we can see is just a little bit right in front of us. The rest is utterly, completely unknown. The only thing to do, is to take one step forward, and then another, on the path that we can see clearly. We have to trust that the path that opens up before us will lead us to good things. Take the steps in faith.

I've been revisiting part of my creative journey recently, as I prepare the material for my Find Your Eye course. It has been an enlightening exercise. By looking back at my journey, I can see that each little step into the unknown was leading me exactly to this place, where I am today. I can see every action, leap of faith, "aha" moment clearly in retrospect. It all fits together, what was unknown is now known. The fog has cleared.

Do you know what I've learned, more than anything else, by retracing my steps along this journey? That whenever I find myself in the unknown - that place where I can't see the end of the path - I need to just take the steps. Put one foot in front of the other, along the stretch that I can see in front of me. I can trust that all will be revealed in time, and it will be good.

Today the 9 Muses Musing prompt is JOURNEY. Tomorrow's prompt is VILLAGE. Come by and share your journey, or visit the links to see those that are shared today.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Le Campane

Le campane, or bells, are an everyday part of Italian life. Every where you turn, you see the bell towers or campanile. You hear the bells tolling regularly throughout the day. Every day. I hear them on my walk in the park in the morning, I hear them as I drive to work, I hear them everywhere, as we travel around Italy. And, on special occasions like Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, you can hear them clanging joyously from every direction, all at the same time. 

It's not really the sound of the bells that are unique in Italy, it's what the campanile symbolize: Community, home town. Each little town, or even sections within a city, have a strong pride in their little slice of the world. This sense of community pride is called campanilismo, which has no direct translation in English. It's a sense of belonging to this place in the world, that this place is theirs, and it is the best there is. It is stronger than any sort of regional or national identity here in Italy. I found a great little summary of what it means and where it comes from here.

I've personally observed it, in my time here. When we talk to Italians in our travels, you get the sense of pride and belonging. Italy is not a mobile society, like we are in the US. Most people grow up and then live their entire adult lives in the same town or region, and it's hard for them to fathom moving as much as we do in the US, much less moving abroad. My Italian colleagues here are on the more mobile side, they are from all over Italy and some have lived abroad as well. But still, when you get to talking about places to visit, beautiful places in Italy, food, wine - the campanilismo shows up. Their town is the most beautiful place in the world. Their food is the best food that you could ever taste. The rivalries between them are joking and in fun, but underlying it is the same strong sense of community that has persisted for hundreds of years.

Yesterday morning I went out to capture the closest bell tower, in our town of Vedano al Lambro. Just before this the bells were ringing their little hearts out. It was hard to get a good pictures, since it's tucked along a tiny street, probably originally from medieval times, and there was construction scaffolding right in front of it. At this angle though, I was struck by the contrast of the roof adornments. The simple crosses on the church as compared to the antennae on the roof next door. A commentary on how society has changed through the years. And through it all, the campanile have stood, as a symbol of place like no other. 

Today's 9 Muses Musing prompt is BELLS. Tomorrow's prompt is JOURNEY. I hope you will join in! 

Loving the Lights

I am so loving the lights around me! How about you? The reflection of all of the lights in this wineglass caught my eye, that's what I was trying to capture in this restaurant in Sorrento. The background light bokeh, self-portrait in reflection and the memory of delicious wine were just bonuses that came along for the ride.

The 9 Muses Musing theme today is LIGHTS. It's my day as muse, and I'm sponsoring a space in my class, Find Your Eye: A photo course with heart and soul, as the giveaway. I hope you will come by and link in or comment today for a chance to win the space.

Tomorrow's theme is BELLS. See you then!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Yesterday my fellow muse Suki asked a question to the Mortal Muses, "If you did a 365, what did you learn this year by doing it?" Initially, I dismissed the question because I didn't do a 365. (For those of you who don't know, a "365" is where you take a photo every day, for an entire year.) But then I realized that I do my own sort of daily photography practice, if a bit different.

A little over a year ago, in November 2009, I started posting a photo a day here on the blog. Up to that point my blogging had been sporadic, and I didn't have much focus. I had all of these great pictures from our travels, but it was so overwhelming to think of editing and posting many of them to tell the stories. I wasn't interested in writing about our daily lives or travels. Sorting through, editing and picking one favorite photo a day, however, was doable. I decided to try that.

This simple little decision has had a profound impact on me. Today I found myself journaling this in answer to Suki's question, on what this simple daily practice has given me:

  • The discovery that photography is art. And I am an artist. I've been able to claim that title, grow confident in myself as an artist. Along with seeing myself as an artist, I see my work as art.
  • Finding my "eye," the portrayal of the world around me that is all my own. I can see it, own it as mine. There is huge confidence and satisfaction that comes with that. 
  • The discovery that photography is a passion for me. I love being in the moment. Finding the evidence of life - beauty, joy, love, happiness, even imperfection - all around me in the smallest of things.
  • I've become deeply aware of my art and creativity as an extension of my soul. It links to something at the core of my being, unlike anything else I've ever experienced.
  • The discovery that I can share this passion, this confidence and wonderful self-awareness I've gained, with others through writing on my blog and now with my Find Your Eye course. My "corporate world" skills are not completely unrelated to my passion, they can directly translate into great things in my creative, artistic life.
  • I've found that I'm a writer. I enjoy writing, like communicating ideas via words, having a conversation with others online. Combining words with photos has been an incredible source of creativity for me.
  • I've learned that following my heart - whether it's in taking a photo, writing a blog post, taking a course of action - is never, ever wrong. It has always led to good things, even if everyone around me is not immediately happy about it. Following your heart is not about making other people happy. 
  • I've found an amazing community of people here on the internet - through the blogs I read, the people who read mine and comment, Mortal Muses, other groups and challenges I've participated in. I've found people who have similar interests and passions and challenge me in such positive ways. Those connections are incredible. I look forward to forming more of them, more interaction, more friendships as I continue on.

It's good to take a moment, look back and see all of the gifts I've been given through this one step. I don't think it matters whether you specifically do a 365 or post a photo a day or write three pages every morning or whatever it might be. I don't think it even matters that it is every single day (I certainly haven't done that here!). What matters is that you find a regular practice that you learn and grow from, and you stick to it long enough to see the benefits.

I can't stop doing this now, posting a photo and some words most days on my blog. I would lose some important, integral piece of myself. This practice, for me, is a gift that keeps on giving.

Today's 9 Muses Musing challenge is GIVING. Stop by and leave a comment or link up to win the giveaway.
Tomorrow is my challenge day for 9 Muses Musing, and it's LIGHTS. I know, big surprise! Get those holiday light photos tonight if you can - I have a great giveaway you won't want to miss!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Fiats Retire

Through the whole region around the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, we were amazed at the number of old Fiats that were still driving around. They are only seen rarely in the north of Italy, but here they were everywhere! We decided that this is where Fiats go to retire - southern Italy. Kind of like VW bugs in Mexico.

The Fiat 500 or Cinquecento (pronounced chink-quah-chen-toh) pictured above is the most common version, and it holds a special place in the hearts of Italians because it was so prevalent years ago. The less-commonly-spotted Fiat 600 or Seicento (say-chen-toh) holds a special place in our hearts, because we have one waiting for us in the US. It's a 1960 Fiat 600 "Convertible" and it needs some work to be driveable. It will be our little piece of Italy when we get home, thanks to our good friend Jack.

The top photo of the Fiat 500 in Sorrento just seemed to need a bit of vintage treatment. Here are the details of what I did in Photoshop Elements:
1. Pioneer Woman "Seventies" Action (these are free actions, available here)
2. Levels layer to brighten and increase contrast
3. Hue/Saturation layer with saturation set to +11 to boost the color of the car, and make it stand out a bit more against the more neutral background.

One final reminder, don't miss out on the Mortal Muses 9 Muses Musing holiday celebration, starting tomorrow through January 1! Each day, on the Mortal Muses blog, we will be announcing a special holiday prompt word as your daily photo/creativity assignment, along with a giveaway. Just link up your blog or a Flickr photo for that day's assignment to be entered to win. A fun, free, no pressure way to stay creative during the holiday season! I hope to see you there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Into the Sunset

We returned late last night from our trip to the Bay of Naples and Amalfi Coast area of Italy. My head is a-jumble with all sorts of images and experiences that will take some time to sort out, not to mention the gazillions of photos I took that will need to be sorted through. For today though, this image stuck out in my mind to share. I knew I would love it from the moment I saw it in the viewfinder and it didn't disappoint. This is from our day on the Amalfi Coast, we were coming down the hillside from the small town of Ravello at the perfect time for an evening sunset silhouette.

I am happy to be back and getting into the routine again. Vacations are wonderful but "normal" is wonderful too. So glad to be back here with you all! If you've taken any holiday lights photos, don't forget to head over and Share Your View. My linky is looking a little bit lonely... :) I would love to see the lights in your part of the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Share Your View: Holiday Lights

What fun, holiday lights! This is the holiday streetcar in Milan, where for the price of a transit ticket you can take a ride and get your picture taken with Santa. What a fun holiday tradition, and such festive lights!

Now it's time to Share Your View. Link in your recent or archive image of holiday lights below to share and then visit the other links to see what others have found. Share what you've learned in the process, and any tips or tricks you figured out - either in the comments here or on your blog, we would all love to learn from you too.

Link will stay open for 30 days, so feel free to come back any time you have a great capture of holiday lights. I can't wait to see your view - thanks for participating!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Story in Glass

These are my absolute, hands down, favorite ornaments in the world. Every time I go to Murano now, I pick one up. Come see more of the story behind them in my Mortal Muses triptych post today.

Have a great day!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Next Destination

You never know what you are going to find, as you wander around a city. This photo is from Turin, and is one that is hanging on my living room wall. At the time I was looking for photos I could do a "spot of red" processing to match my decor scheme, so that's what I saw. Today I look at it and find it more humorous... these stately buildings and this proud statue, looking down on the red plastic chairs and umbrella. What must his stone lordship think, to have these plastic things mucking up his piazza? The blend of modern and historic in one place provides plenty of opportunity for these types of photographs here in Europe.

We are off to visit a new destination, for the next week, and I will be absent here. We are travelling further south in Italy, to Naples and Sorrento. We plan to visit the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and hopefully, if it hasn't all collapsed yet, Pompeii. That is quite the scandal here, what is happening with the ruins in Pompeii.

I'll see you in a week or so, with photos from a new area. In the meantime, I have a couple of posts scheduled for you, including the Share Your View on Holiday Lights. Please come by and link in, I can't wait to come visit all of your photos when I get home. Have a great week!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Exploring with a Camera: Holiday Lights

I love this time of year. The nights are long, but they are full of beautiful, bright holiday lights! It makes this month, where you often go to work and come home in the dark, so much more enjoyable. This time, for Exploring with a Camera, we are going to look at different ways to capture these wonderful holiday lights.

City Lights

Here in Italy, every little town has their own holiday lights twinkling above streets and walkways. The central shopping zones are a festive place to visit and photograph.  Via Dante in Milan is one of the main thoroughfares, and the lights are beautiful. The lead-in photo above portrays the calm and quiet after the shops and restaurants are closed on a cold winter's night, with most people tucked into their warm houses. The photo below, of a street in Turin city center, is the opposite. I love the energy and movement conveyed in the photo, you can tell it's a bustling place, and the lights only add to the mood - you know it's a festive time of year.

Most towns will have a big Christmas tree in a central location, which can be fun to capture.Try getting back and capturing a scene, to show the tree in the context of location. The tree below in Milan's Piazza del Duomo would be just another big tree with white lights, but with the Duomo behind, it becomes more interesting and impressive.

Don't forget to capture the buildings and monuments around, with their pretty dressing for the season. This is Milan's castle, Castello Sforzesco, which even has a Disney-esque light show to music to show off it's millions of tiny lights.

Brush up on your night photography tips from the past Exploring with a Camera post and head out into your town to capture the lights of the season.

Light Bokeh

Holiday lights are a classic time to capture light bokeh! You get bokeh when you have: A shallow depth of field (from a wide open aperture or low f-number), a subject or focal distance that is close and distant point light sources.  This year I played around with capturing bokeh for this Murano glass ornament photo below. Let me tell you, this was harder than it looks!

A few tips, after my experience with capturing this photo:

1. You can't have the ambient light too bright, because it washes out the lights behind and you want that light bokeh! I turned off the room lights and moved a reading light, which was much dimmer, to point at the ornament to get enough light to illuminate it without washing out the lights on the tree behind.

2. While a wider open aperture will give bigger and rounder circles of light bokeh (you can see the flat sides on the bokeh in my photo), it also didn't allow for enough of the ornament to be in focus to be appealing. I had to experiment with different settings and found f/2.0 was about the best compromise to have most of the ornament in focus and nice light bokeh, for this photo.

3. You will probably need a tripod or your camera on a steady surface for this work. Even with a wide open aperture and bumping up the ISO somewhat (I didn't want to go above 800), the light was really low and the shutter speeds were much to long to hand hold without camera shake. I could have bumped up the ISO more and handheld, but I was at home and had the tripod available, so I figured why not use it.

4. Play around with the distance of your subject from the lights. Too far and the lights are just tiny dots, if you can even see them. Too close, and you don't get much of the "bokeh" effect. Also, varying the distance of your camera too the subject can change things. It takes some playing around, I discovered!

Here's another ornament photo with some light bokeh on the tree. You can see that not all of the lights are bokeh circles, because they are in the same focal plane as the ornament. They need to be out of the focal plane, to get the bokeh. This one was handheld. In fact, do you see me reflected in the ornament?

If you are using a point and shoot camera without manual control of aperture, try setting the camera to "Portrait" or "Macro" mode and turning the flash off. The camera will then choose the lowest f-number it can to blur the background, which is how you'll be able to get some light bokeh.

 Twinkle Lights

Another fun thing to try when you are capturing holiday lights is making them "twinkle" - you know, when the lights look like little stars?  This is done by the opposite aperture setting - closed down aperture or a high f-number. You will definitely need a tripod for this work, because as you close down the aperture you limit the amount of light that gets into the camera, and you have to compensate with longer shutter speeds than are possible to hand hold. 

Here is a picture of the tree in our home in Oregon, several years ago, using this technique. The aperture was set at f/22 with a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds. You can't hand hold that! My son was sitting really still for this photo, by the way. Click on the photo to see it larger, if you can't see the twinkle at this size.

Here's another, of some the gifts under the tree, with the same settings. I also adjusted the color cast on these two photos in Photoshop Elements, out of the camera they had the usual yellow tone of incandescent lights.

With a point and shoot, use the "landscape" setting, which should set the aperture to the highest possible f-number for the camera, and turn the flash off.

Reflections and Shadows

Where there is light, there are usually shadows too. As we set up our holiday decorations this year, I noticed that the candle we had near this little wooden tree was casting a very cool shadow. I played around with different angles, moving both the candle and the tree as well as the changing my composition with the camera. This one was my favorite, and I ran the Pioneer Woman "Seventies" Action on it to give a vintage feel.

In this photo, another older one from our home in Oregon, I liked the reflection of light on the blinds, it created interesting lines.

Trees and lights are often placed by windows, which give wonderful light reflections at night, and create a nice compositional effect. Do you see the "light echoes" in this photo, above the window and tree? Those were not there in reality and have been annoying to me at times as I worked on night photography. I recently learned these were coming from the filter on my lens. Remove the filter if you find you are getting these, and you will likely eliminate them. 

Are you ready to capture the holiday lights now? I am! I want to capture as many as I can, in my last holiday season in Italy. I hope you will return next Thursday, to Share Your View and link in with your holiday lights photos. You have a week to review your archive or take some new pictures to share with us all, plenty of time!

By the way, did you notice the new Exploring with a Camera blog button on the sidebar? You can get the code on the Exploring with a Camera page, if you want to put one on your blog too. 

Thank you for exploring with me!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Yesterday morning it was c-o-l-d and frosty on my walk in the park. The puddles were iced over, with these beautiful shapes and patterns. So I captured a few, for posterity, and then....

C R U N C H !

There is something so satisfying to crunching a thin layer of ice, don't you think? I don't know, maybe it's just me, but it's one of winter's little pleasures in my book.

Don't worry, I left a few of the puddles unbroken, in case a kid came along. I didn't want to hog all of the fun.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Today I am feeling a bit deflated... things are in transition. I had so much fun in the quest for Thanksgiving, and now the day is in the past. The Mortal Muse blog hop is over, and my postcard drawing is done. I always love the anticipation of seeing who will win them! I think I'm addicted to giveaways. My big announcement of the Find Your Eye e-course is out in the world, with all of the initial excitement that brings.

What's next? Oh yeah, the hard work. I'm not done with the work on my projects by a long shot. Transition from excitement to real life. My November goal of KaNoJoMo was a big success in terms of keeping me focused on what needed to get done and not playing around. Time for round two... *sigh*

So today, here are some pretty flowers from Bath, to sit and enjoy. Because flowers always make me happier, and I feel lighter just looking at them. I hope you will too!

And the winner of the postcards is...
Cate of Moments of Whimsy, all the way in New Zealand! Thanks so much for coming by my blog Cate, I hope you enjoy the postcards.

And guess what... for everyone else... you are winners too because I'll send you a postcard from Italy if you email me your snail mail address! I did this once before and it was so nice to connect with people. I promise I will send the postcard and delete your address, just like last time, so there are no worries about your personal information in my hands. Email me: kat -at-

Hey, that made me feel lighter too. Funny thing, there are always things to lighten the load, if we just take a deep breath and look around. Flowers and sending postcards for me today, what is it for you?

Are you ready to Find Your Eye?

(For info on how I processed this photo, see end of post.)
I am so, so excited to tell you that registration for my Find Your Eye: A photo course with heart and soul is up on!  You can read the description of the course and get the registration details here. Instead of repeating the course description, today I want to share with you the story of what's behind this course, where it came from, and why I'm doing it now.

For those of you who have read my blog for a while, you know what an amazing creative journey I have had during my time in Italy. (If you're new here, you can get a sense of it from my About Me page.) I have come in to my creative, artistic self through my photography and experiences, and I've chronicled each little step and realization along with way here. Being able to say my mantra has taken a lot of personal work: I am an artist, my medium is photography, and I have a unique vision to show the world.

Along the way of realizing this truth for myself, I've realized that this is true for everyone. We all have a  unique vision to show the world. Every one of us, whether we realize it or not. Whether we are able to see it and own it, or not. With that realization, came the growing feeling that I might have a way to help others interested in photography learn to see their unique vision, by tapping in to my experiences. I could help others to gain the confidence and freedom that has come for me, as I have found my eye.

This feeling started to grow on me, and I would jot down notes here and there. Ideas would come randomly during my walks or the shower - you know how creative ideas happen when you least expect them. I started to carry notebooks every where with me to capture these ideas so that they would leave me alone. After a while those ideas started to build themselves into a framework for the class. But not now, I would say to myself, I'll wait until I move back home, to Oregon. 

The ideas didn't leave me alone. I call it my "creative nag." All of the excuses I would come up with for not doing this now, my creative nag would slowly dispel them. Until finally, I relented. Six months ago, I sent an email to Mindy at wishstudio with this crazy idea of doing a photo course that was not like most photo courses out there, from a completely unknown quantity (me), and donating the proceeds to charity. Surprise of all surprises, Mindy was interested and even excited to see the proposal. You can see the result, it's all coming together now...

I have been given a gift, with this experience of mine in Italy. I have been given a gift, by seeing how I can help others find their eye too. It is time to give that gift back to the world, and that is what the course is about. It's not the usual digital photography course. Yes, there will be some on aperture and shutter speed and things like that - more to ensure that everyone has a foundation than to teach these in depth. That's not what I really want to share with you.  The core of the course is giving you tools and exercises that help you learn to develop, recognize and find your eye. Gain confidence in your unique vision of the world, the way you express your heart and soul in photography.

Are you ready to Find Your Eye? I hope so, because the world needs your unique vision too.

+ + + + + + + + 

Many thanks to Liv Lane of Choosing Beauty for featuring me as one of her Monday Mavens today with the announcement of my e-course! Stop by and say hi to Liv for me, and look around her wonderful, inspiring site.

Today is the last day to enter the giveaway I have going on for the Burano Color postcard set! All you have to do is leave a comment on last Thursday's post to enter. I will randomly draw the winner and announce here tomorrow morning.

And on today's photo... it is from one of my favorite places - Burano of course!  You've seen a lot of this tiny, colorful island recently. I wanted to share a bit about the processing on this photo, since it's not a straight color photo with minimal editing like mine usually are. I really wanted that blue to pop amidst the colors of the other buildings so I started by using a "color bleach" action in Photoshop Elements to desaturate the colors. I didn't want to go completely black and white with the image, I wanted the pink hues to come through on the other buildings. Then, I carefully erased the effects of the action over the blue of the building using a layer mask, so the original bright blue color would show through. It's a fun effect, and makes for a unique image. 

There are many, many different ways to do selective processing like this. Search "layer masks" or "selective processing" for your photo editing software to find some tutorials on the web.

Oh, and Happy Monday to you all! :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Improvising Thanksgiving in Italy

Yesterday we had a wonderful "Thanksgiving Day" here in Italy, only a couple of days late as compared to all of our family and friends back home. With 10 people in our apartment, we pulled out the kitchen table to the dining room and every chair in the house was put to use. What a fun time it was! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, along with Fourth of July, and is uniquely American. A holiday that is all about getting together with family and friends, enjoying the company and focusing on the good things that we have in life. The reminder to be thankful that goes bone deep for our culture, if only for a day.

Not only was the day a great time, the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were a lot of fun too. Putting on Thanksgiving in Italy is a challenge. It takes a lot of advance planning and quite a bit of last minute improvisation. Finding all of the ingredients, as well as making a lot more of the food from scratch, takes advance legwork but the result of a successful day make it so well worth it. And because it's so rare, and took so much effort, we value it a lot more than if we ran down to the store to pick everything up the day before.

Here's a little bit of the challenges and improvisation that we deal with here...

Turkey - You can't just run to the grocery store and buy a frozen turkey. At most you'll find a turkey breast in the butcher's case. Last year on our first Thanksgiving quest we learned that the only way to get a whole turkey was to order it from the local macelleria (butcher shop). This year we ordered the Turkey a couple of weeks in advance and picked it up Friday, freshly butchered for us (although a few pin feathers had to be removed - ever done that before?). The smallest one they could get was 6.5kg - about 14.3lbs. We couldn't have fit a bigger one in our small oven!

Cranberries - Cranberry sauce made from fresh berries is an important part of Thanksgiving dinner, a must have for me. Last year we discovered that cranberries don't exist in Italy - there isn't even an Italian word for them! Try describing a cranberry to someone who has never even seen or tasted one. Good luck with that. We've had them "imported" by visitors in November the last two years. We lucked out in the timing and the fact that we remembered to ask them to bring them for us in advance. So fresh cranberry sauce and cranberry relish was available this day.

Stuffing - A basic staple, this is one of the easier things to find ingredients for. A couple of twists were thrown in though... I put "sage" on the grocery list for the stuffing recipe I use and my husband bought fresh sage. Great, except the recipe called for dried sage. An internet search later, and I had a stuffing recipe with fresh sage and parsley. A quick run to the store for the parsley, and I was in business. (Thank goodness for the Internet, and that it wasn't a holiday in Italy - the store was open!) As I was making the stuffing I realized the bread cubes, instead of being unseasoned, were flavored with olive oil and salt. OK then, just a bit more Italian flavor. The stuffing came out great, rave reviews especially from my son... I want to use fresh sage every time now!

Mashed Potatoes - Yes, there are lots of potatoes in Italy. But not a lot of sour cream. Our friend Mike was making the potatoes this year and wanted some sour cream for the recipe he was making (not a low calorie feast here!). Here in Italy, not every store has the same things. You might find sour cream in one store out of ten. And that store may not have it in all locations, or all the time. It's crazy to us Americans! But my husband has found a good, consistent source of sour cream, so he bought some and delivered it to Mike a few days before Thanksgiving. It takes a village to make a Thanksgiving dinner.

Pumpkin Pie - I usually don't like pumpkin pie but this year I got it in my head that we needed to add this traditional dish. Pumpkin is not a hugely popular food here, you can't find canned pumpkin in the grocery store nor are fresh pumpkins readily available. I had a coworker who travelled here for work in November bring a few cans of pumpkin puree for me. So pumpkin in hand, I needed to make a pie.

OK - first off, crust. Hmmm, I could make crust from scratch but where to find shortening here? Is there such a thing as a pre-made crust? My husband sleuthed around at several stores, asked moms at school, and discovered a pre-made crust but it wasn't frozen and didn't come in pie tins. Our pie tins are in storage in the US, so we had to buy a couple of pans. The closest he could find were torta pans, which are sort of pie shaped, more like a cross between a shallow cake and a pie, and were bigger - 11 inches in diameter vs. the normal 9 inches.

Second, the pie filling itself. The recipe on the can said evaporated milk. Yeah, that was going to be impossible. So searching on the internet I found you could substitute regular milk with no problems. I was set. I started to make the pies Friday night. Cinnamon, check. Nutmeg, check. Ginger... no ginger. Hmmm, well I had Allspice. I figured a teaspoon of that wouldn't hurt. So by the time I was done I had two huge pumpkin pies (it took the filling recipe for three pies to fill these babies) that didn't really follow a recipe. After about 1.5 hours of baking (two very large pies in a very small oven = longer time), our house was filled with the delicious smell of pumpkin pies.

For whipped cream, we had to buy heavy cream and actually whip it ourselves. That was an experience too! I must admit, they turned out very tasty. Much better than a storebought pie, I think I actually like pumpkin pie now. And it only took one giant pie to feed our 10 people, so now I have to figure out what to do with this second giant pie... to work I think! My Italians colleagues could use exposure to this American treat.

In addition to all of that food, we had a yummy spinach casserole, brownies and blondies, salsa and guacamole, hummus and pita... all brought by our guests. And the perfect complement was the Italian prosecco (like champagne) and red wine we enjoyed. I think that tradition of Italian beverages must go home with us.

Our second and last Thanksgiving in Italy was a success. It was a truly authentic, American feast with great friends. The only thing missing was the long weekend....

Where ever you are in the world, however you celebrate being thankful, I wish you the same feeling of gratitude and togetherness that Thanksgiving brings to me. Happy Thanksgiving from Italy.

(Don't miss the "We are Thankful" blog hop and my postcard giveaway - both are still going on! And I'm musing on "Down Low" over at Mortal Muses today. Come by and say hi if you have a chance.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Random Radishes

This morning I came to the blog... and had no idea what to write. So I just looked through my photos and picked this one of radishes. Kind of random, but I love radishes. Both the taste (the stronger the better) and the pop of color they provide. This bunch was spotted outside a fruit and vegetable market in Bologna. There is something so wonderful about a storefront lined with boxes of fruits and veggies. As if there is so much abundance it has to spill out onto the street and get in the way of passers-by.

I hope everyone has a great weekend! There is still time to join the giveaway and blog hop that started yesterday. Come on by!