Tuesday, October 22, 2019

New Camera Fun~

I recently took the plunge and bought a "fancy" camera: a Canon EOS 80D. Not the most expensive out there, but probably the best I've ever owned. I spent all summer learning how to use my Canon Powershot and now I have to learn this one. It's is a whole different animal!

I'm not sure when or how I decided I'd like to see Mount Borah. I just thought it would be neat to photograph after the snow storm that was forecast on Saturday. I didn't realize how many other gorgeous mountains there are along the way! Borah is the tallest mountain in Idaho, located between the towns of Challis and Mackay, Idaho, and only about a 2 hour drive from my house. So I got up early and boy, was it worth it.

I made the panorama above from two or three photos, taken just east of Mackay Reservoir. I think this one is Mt. Brietenbach – fifth highest in Idaho at 12,140 ft. – fourth highest in the Lost River Range according to Wikipedia. I just know it's astounding. 

But I should back up a moment. Here's the first peak I photographed: Mt. McCaleb. I thought at first it must be White Knob, but I was mistaken. Look at the tiny little ranch at the base. This peak is a monster and it sits just east of Mackay, Idaho.

A little further up the highway, you come to Mt. Brietenbach and Leatherman Peak. Leatherman is second highest in Idaho at 12,228ft. It was the only mountain here with a roadside sign, as far as I can tell.

After Leatherman comes Borah, the granddaddy of them all at 12,662 ft. It's not the most stunning shaped peak, but it's massive.

I'll have to go back another day to get pictures of the very top. It was socked in most of the day. Along the base of Borah is the Chilly Slough wetland, managed by the Nature Conservancy. I definitely want to spend some time birding there when the temperatures are warmer.

This old cabin was right along the highway, but I'm sure there are many more tucked away around the valley. I'm already scheming to go back next summer and spend more time exploring this part of Idaho. Maybe I'll hit Stanley and Challis and then swing back through Trail Creek toward Sun Valley. I especially want to get some sunrise and sunset pics, which is hard to do in only a day trip. Anybody want to join me?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England

One of the highlights of our trip to London was a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral. Truth be told, the only reason I even knew about St. Paul's was because I watched Mary Poppins many times as a kid. "Feed the Birds" was one of my all time favorite musical numbers and I sang it more times than I care to remember. (I sang a lot of My Fair Lady songs too.) 

Anyway, St. Paul's has a magical place in my memories so it was a natural spot to visit. I had no idea when it was built or why or really anything else about it. I also didn't know they would let you climb the spiraling staircases all the way to the top of the dome. There's a narrow, circular balcony you might be able to make out in the first picture, between the top of the dome and the base of the structure on top.

The entire structure is pretty massive and I had a hard time getting a picture of the entire thing from the street. Here's the front.

You enter the door behind the small, white tent on the left. The giant door in the center weighs a ton and has a special mechanism to operate it. They only open it on special occasions, like royal weddings. We just barely missed the last tour for awhile when we got there, so some of the docents-in-training took us on a tour to practice on us. I think there were three or four of them, which was fun, but also a little crazy because they were all throwing out interesting facts and tid bits about the church. 

One of the most amazing stories that stuck with me was how civilians were stationed on the roof during the air raids in WW II to put out fires so the whole structure didn't go up in flames. There's also a chapel in the end of the church dedicated to the Americans that gave their lives in WW II. The British definitely haven't forgotten those terrible days.

The current cathedral is the last of four constructed on this site, which dates from 604 AD. The one before burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The docents told us about how the Anglican church was purposefully designed without a lot of colors, so that it stood out from the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. Christopher Wren's plans were accepted in 1675 and construction lasted until 1710. The colors inside the dome were added years later. It's apparently the second largest dome in the world.

The docents are also told us about the staircase to the top of the dome. The famous "whispering gallery" was closed, but visitors are still allowed to climb the stairs and look out over the city. It's 530 steps up there. The stairs start off OK, fairly wide and solid concrete, but the further you go, the narrower and narrower it gets. And then you get to the metal spiral staircases. The kind with holes in the steps so you can see through just how high up you are. I lost count how many of those we did: staircase, landing, staircase, landing. Finally you make it to the very top and step outside. The view on the very clear day we were there was spectacular.

 Looking down on St. Paul's matching bell towers and the Thames River

We could have spent a lot more time at St. Paul's and I wish we could have, but we were off to see the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels that afternoon. There's way too much to see in London and it would probably take you an entire lifetime to see it all. So glad we got to see it on this trip~

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Be warned...Bugs!

I've always loved taking close up pictures of flowers, so I thought it would be fun to try a macro lens. It's a little tricky to get focused, but boy! is it worth the effort! Take a look at the beauty and the beasties in my garden~

Monday, August 5, 2019

A different creative pursuit~

Seems a little silly to write a blog to say I'm still not writing fiction. I wish that I could, but I'll have to be patient a bit longer. I've had dry spells longer than this one and I'm sure it will pass. Certain life changes have made writing seem less important than it was, like an innocence I once had that has been lost. My garden, flush with flowers early in the summer, has dried and been overtaken by weeds. There will be no tomatoes this year.

I have taken up a new creative hobby though- photography. It gets me out of the house and thinking creatively. I should probably post more photos here instead of Facebook, where folks are probably getting tired of seeing them all. I'm just teaching myself via Google and making things up as I go that look good to me. I'm looking for challenges. So far, I've done portraits, landscapes, birds, night sky, and waterfalls, with varying levels of success. I'd really like to try capturing lightning, but we just haven't had that much around here this summer. My camera isn't capable of the super long exposure times (25-30 seconds) for night sky stars, so I guess that will have to wait for a more expensive camera. It does great sunrises, sunsets, and full moons, but that's because it likes the light.
My favorite subject at the moment is birds. The fact that it's summer makes them relatively easy to find.

I've seen more birds than I've been able to catch, but it sure is fun trying. The ones that got away - a Belted kingfisher and a Great Blue Heron. Snapping a picture sure makes it easy to look up the bird later in the ID book.

The challenge giving me fits right now is waterfalls. I'm trying to learn the technique for making that soft, flowy looking water. I've only managed it once and it was kind of an accident.

The trick is you need low light and a long shutter speed. The long shutter speed lets in too much light if it's a sunny day and washes the whole thing out. I'm going to try a polarizing lens and see if that helps me get more consistent results. Luckily, there's lots of waterfalls around here to practice on. Peace~

Friday, January 18, 2019

With the Bitter comes the Sweet~

It's been awhile since I've written anything. 2018 wasn't kind to any of us. My writing hiatus that started in 2016 just kept going and going. And now, finally having made it to 2019, I'm a furloughed government employee. Nothing I do for my day job is life altering, so I'm considered non-essential, sitting at home. It hasn't been too bad for me. I have savings and I'll get by, but I do worry about the new employees that just barely started their careers. I worry about the contract janitor, who's probably had to get a new job by now. I worry about my friends who were set to retire on Dec. 30. Their retirement is not getting processed. And I worry about insurance coverage continuing. I suppose we'll all muddle through somehow.

I had a slightly ominous feeling all through the holidays that things in my personal life were changing and would not be the same for much longer. Now I feel the same way about my professional life. This shutdown, the longest in history, changes things. If there's one thing I've learned in 25 years of federal service, you never know what's just around the corner.

One bright spot has been a private Facebook group set up by federal employees to share how they spent the furlough. I couldn't tell you how many agencies are represented, but I think it's a lot of the land management types, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management. I've often said our agency is like a family: you don't get to pick who you spend your career life with and you have to figure out how to get along with them all. At the end of the day, we support each other. The Federal employees I know are some of the most amazing people you'll ever meet. 

The Facebook group is strangely like a family too. Many of us are spending our days cleaning out the dark recesses of our closets or completing those long overdue household tasks, like painting the doors or the bathroom. Others are taking on bigger projects like landscaping or home renovation. Some are working on their art, painting, stained glass, baking. We've experienced births and deaths over this furlough and had oh so valuable time to spend with loved ones. That's one unexpected blessing to come out of this: time. With the bitter always comes the sweet.

No one becomes a federal employee just for the money. The jobs can pay well, but there are thousands of entry-level support positions that don't pay that great. I think people stay in federal employment because they feel valued, like what they do matters. They provide a service to the American people, even when those people speak ill of them. It's called civil service for a reason. When an employee doesn't feel that calling, they usually don't stay. Most of the federal employees I know are loyal public servants and they love what they do. Peace~

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Gratitude Always~

There are many people to thank and I haven't yet found the time to do it, but I don't want you to think I've forgotten all the kindness shown to us these past months. The flowers, cards, photos, texts and calls are all greatly appreciated and we really were touched to hear how much you cared. In fact, all of this has taught me how important it is to let people know how you feel about them. Which is why I want to write the thank you cards, but I also don't. Writing my gratitude down stirs up emotions that are hard to feel and hard to explain. But I'll get it done. I promise.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tips for Friends and Family of Cancer Patients

Cancer has barged into our lives again, I'm sad to say. Yet another family member has been diagnosed. Understandably, friends and family are concerned. They want to know what's going on and they want to help, but if you haven't been through it, it's hard to know what's helpful. Every person is different and so is every cancer patient. Some people are very private and others share every detail on social media with the world. Having been through cancer treatment myself and now facing chemotherapy with a loved one, there are a few things that come to mind that would be more helpful than others.

Stay Positive. First and foremost, and this is a hard one, try not to overreact. A cancer diagnosis is not an automatic death sentence these days. After the initial shock of my diagnosis, I realized that I didn't want to mope around like I was already dead and I didn't want others to treat me that way. People can live with cancer for a long time. Like all things in life, it's a marathon, not a sprint. The other thing I've realized is doctors don't know everything. I've heard far too many stories of doctors getting life expectancy terribly wrong. Again, every patient is different and nothing is certain. We just have to take it a day at a time and be the best patient we can be. Please stay positive and help your patient friend stay positive too. Humor is a great alternative to gloom and doom.

I also know you want to help with every suggestion you can think of, but these click-bait articles you find on the internet with miracle cures are not helpful. There is so much garbage about cancer out there you can't believe it! Just try to be supportive and let your patient friend decide what kind of care they want in consultation with their doctors. Unless, of course, you are a doctor yourself. Then feel free to pipe up.

Cooking. There's a tendency to want to cook for the patient and their family. At our house, the patient is not eating large, heavy meals right now and my kids aren't crazy about casseroles, so the only one to eat such things is me. I'm afraid, no matter how well intentioned, food will be wasted. What helps more than food itself is gift cards to buy the special foods that the patient can tolerate. When you're sick, you know how you eat, right? Right now we're eating small meals with high protein if possible. Nothing too spicy, sweet, or fatty. A chemo patient may lose their taste for something they've always enjoyed and their tastes can change from day to day. What sounds delicious one day may sound terrible on another day. You can imagine the grocery bill from trying to accomodate all the changes. Drinks like Boost or Ensure are great; be sure to get the highest protein/highest calorie ones you can find. But ask first if the patient even wants those and what flavors they like. Again, gift cards or money may be the best way to help with food.

Visiting. I think visiting a person when they are ill is a great way to support them, but there are several things to keep in mind. You shouldn't visit if you are sick. Chemotherapy patients have weakened immunity to germs of all kinds. Even if you just have a little cold, skip a visit and text instead. Call before you come and make sure the time you want to visit is OK. Call a day or two ahead to give the patient enough time to be ready for your visit. If you were laying around your house in your underwear, you wouldn't want to be surprised by visitors, right? And once you've set a time, try to be on time. You don't need to stay for a long time unless the patient asks you to. Visit length will all depend upon how long a patient feels comfortable and it's up to you to recognize maybe when it's time to go. Probably shorter is better than longer if they aren't up to talking much.

Helping. I've had lots of offers to help around the house and I truly appreciate those offers. At the moment, I don't need a whole lot of help, but it is reassuring to know that I only have to ask if I need help. And I probably will at some point. I'm lucky to have the flexibility in my job to take leave for all the medical appointments we've had and will be having. I can't imagine doing this with a job that didn't have that flexibility. If your friend or family member with cancer needs help with traveling to appointments, by all means, offer to do that if you can. Offer child care or pet care if they need that. If they have no way to clean their house, do laundry or dishes, offer that. More than anything, we want our lives to feel normal. If your household is falling apart around you, that's not a great way to feel normal.

To this day, I think of that movie scene in Oh God! with John Denver and George Burns as God. God has appeared in John Denver's bathroom to tell him he has a plan for him and John Denver is freaking out. God tells him to shave. "Sometimes when you don't feel normal, doing a normal  thing makes you feel normal," God says. Of course, God is right. We need to maintain an even keel and keep things as normal as we can to stay positive. Thinking too far ahead will drive you crazy.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who's reached out and visited and supported us. It makes this a little easier to bear. Our chemo journey is just starting. It will be hard, but we will get through it. If I forget to thank you for a card or a gift, please know that it is appreciated and I love you.