Monthly Archives: June 2014

Finding Beauty in the Ordinary: July’s Wabi Sabi Photo-a-Day Challenge

Summer is about the ordinary, it’s often the time we rediscover our playful selfs as we encourage children (and maybe ourselves) to run through the lawn sprinklers, lick popsicles from the ice cream truck, and spit watermelon seeds as we sit on the front porch.  We roll up our sleeves, walk barefoot, and sip glass after glass of iced tea in tall frosted glasses that drip, almost crying with the pleasing coolness on a hot, summer day.

I first heard of Wabi Sabi from my friend Susan a few years ago when she asked her students to focus on the ordinary in research projects they were doing in her middle school English class.  I remember how excited she was that they were discovering the beauty in the “old school”—typewriters, rotary dial phones, handwriting…and so much more than I can’t even begin to remember now.  

Wikipedia offers us this definition:

Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

My photography has heightened my awareness of the complexities of beauty in the ordinary as I have learned to tune my eye to seek out the familiar in new ways.  So when Margit gifted me with the picture book, Wabi Sabi by Mark Weibstein, I found myself thinking about the Wabi Sabi around me.  Weibstein pairs his story of a cat named Wabi Sabi with Haiku, following the Americanized three-line, 5-7-5 syllable pattern, that helps the definition-seeking cat understand its name…and adds this definition, for us slower to understand folks, as well:

Wabi Sabi: a way of seeing the world. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. It can be a little dark, but it is also warm and comfortable. It may best be understood as a feeling rather than as an idea. 

The more I have been thinking about this concept of Wabi Sabi, the more I want to explore it more intentionally through my lens.  

Here’s a few of my ideas…along with a Haiku attempt with each.  Each of these represents my interpretation of Wabi Sabi, an appreciation of the imperfect, often fleeting beauty I find through my lens.  Letting 17 syllables speak for me is a challenge, but an interesting one, creating another layer of Wabi Sabi for me.

Lizard_wabi sabi

A flurry and munch!

Time for posing and sunning

Scaly modeling

Mountains from Iron Mountain

Purple mountains stand

Off in the distance watching

Both desert and beach

broken sculpture ucsd

It’s a hard knock life

Reflecting privilege’s promise

Strong enough to thrive


Kegs and art mingle

Chatting on a street corner

Exchanging cultural news

And to stretch my exploration (and yours too) I have come up with a list of potential prompts or categories to consider.  (I notice that I tend toward nature for my photographic exploration of beauty–these prompts are meant to push my thinking and seeing in new ways.)

1.  On the corner

2.  Nature

3.  People

4.  Celebrate

5.  Inside

6.  Under

7.  Home

8.  Outside

9.  Places

10.  Animals

11.  Food

12.  Personal

13.  Things

14.  Mood

15.  Looking up

16.  Sitting down

17.  Looking down

18.  Early

19.  Growing

20.  Morning

21.  Sound

22.  Growing

23.  Feeling

24.  Places

25.  Night

26.  Light

27.  Hot

28.  Early

28.  Travel

29.  Between

30.  Smell

31.  Icy

So now it’s your turn.  Explore what Wabi Sabi means to you as you examine the ordinary in your life this summer.  After you shoot, post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts. Try your hand at an accompanying Haiku and explore how it expands, defines, or changes the meaning of the image you share. You are invited to create a pingback by linking to this url or post your blog address in the comment section. It’s fun for me to see what others are doing with the same prompts I am using!

With summer in full swing, it’s the perfect time for some playfulness and experimentation…look for beauty and the unexpected in the ordinary–let it surprise and delight you!  You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life. You can play this game by posting your pictures in the order of the prompts or post the one you find on the day you find it.  You get to make your own rules!  Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!






Beach Contrasts

Beach walks are full of surprises…if you are looking for them.  Summer Saturdays are jam-packed with people…families, birthday parties, couples, teenagers, and so many more. Parking is a challenge and a beach walk means dodging paddle ball games, frisbees, sand castle builders, surfers, toddling just-beyond-babies, footballs…

And today’s surprise was all the flowers strewn on the beach.  My husband loves to pick up trash as we walk and we noticed the petals immediately.  They weren’t trash, but they were quite a contrast to what we usually see on the beach.  At first we wondered if there had been a memorial service–not so unusual in the surfing community.  But the flowers and petals continued as we walked and walked.

rose on the beach

Was it a wedding?  There were many different kinds of flowers…purples and whites, yellows and oranges.  White roses, red roses, yellow roses…  Like a trail of bread crumbs leading to a story not yet told.

yellow roses in the kelp

I imagined a flower truck overturning and dumping its load into the ocean…a flower festival on a boat offshore where flowers were thrown into the surf as part of a ceremony…a flower field for fish that washes onto the shore when the growing season ends…my imagination took over creating more and more scenarios.

sunflower on the beach

By then my mind was tuned for contrasts and I began to notice others, like the pair of surfers with their boards on their heads…one in a full wetsuit, the other in a bikini.

surfer girls

And the patch of nasturtiums growing along the cliffs instead of the usually bare sandstone.

nasturtiums on the beach

And then there was the colorful seawall…someone whose property extends all the way to the beach.  This stretch always reminds me of that Kevin Costner movie, Waterworld, with the floating buildings made of seaworn wood, metal, and whatever could be salvaged…this seawall has that quality.

beach wall

And there was more…light and shadow, age and youth, affluence and poverty.  The beach is full of contrasts, when you take the time to look and notice.


More than a Game

Today we played Monopoly.  We played in our Summer Institute…a leadership development program for teachers of writing.  And as you might imagine, this play had more than one purpose!

monopoly box

There is something wonderful about giving a group of dedicated educators a Monopoly box and asking them to play a game during an intensive professional development experience.  In our 4th day of a four week institute, we have already begun to bond, building trust and opening up, willing to be vulnerable even when faced with difficult topics and challenging situations.

The group seemed almost giddy about the thought of playing…even though based on the previous three and a half days, they knew this was not simply a board game break.  They started by forming groups of five or six and then selecting a writing utensil from a plate on their table.  A colored pencil, a smelly marker, a highlighter, an SDAWP pencil, and either one or two Crayola markers were mystery icons of the game to come.  After spending time as a group reviewing the written rules of the game and setting up to begin, the significance of the choice of the writing utensil became apparent.

Figuring out how to play

Those holding the Crayola markers were asked to begin playing…the others at the table were only allowed to watch.  In my role as observer I got watch as some started to play with trepidation while others raced forward with delight…”Hurry, let’s get what we can while we can!”  After the first player or players had played for five or ten minutes, the second group of players were invited in.  At indeterminate intervals and not knowing which category would be called next, the players who waited and watched seemed to withdraw and lose interest in the game.

playing monopoly

This version of Monopoly, which immerses players in an experience where everyone plays by the same rules…but the game is still not fair, is adapted from an article by Jost and Jost.  Our goal is to get our participants to think about equity beyond what is experienced by individuals and consider the systemic influences of poverty and racism.

As the game continued we saw our participants behave in some interesting ways.  Those that entered the game early seemed to play either with zeal…or with the weight of guilt on their shoulders.  They frequently assumed the role of helper…often moving the pieces for their late starting peers or even acting with seeming generosity, offering “get out of jail free” cards or waiving some small rents due to them.  The late starters either become apathetic about the game or downright devious…sneaking money from the bank or even wishing to land in jail so they wouldn’t have to pay fees that they saw coming as their money dwindled with each turn.

We saw early players become rule sticklers…at one point carefully explaining the rules to a late starter.

checking the rules

When time was called on the game, players were asked to take note of the results and then sent off to reflect on their experience.  What did they notice about themselves, their peers, the experience?  What implications does this experience have for them as educators, parents, human beings?

Our discussion was rich and layered…and sometimes downright contentious.  This experience opened up space for talking about systems: economic, social, educational…and the differences in access and equity that are often dismissed or not considered with our more typical focus on individuals.  And we’re not finished with these discussions…because although there are some who might ask, “What does equity have to do with the teaching of writing?”, we know that equity plays a crucial role in who has access to high quality teaching and learning…and who can see themselves as successful learners.  This game “hack” is just a beginning for us…we have much more in store in our next three weeks!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer

Do you speak in images? Enjoy taking photos to document your experiences or just to express what you notice in the world? Love to share them with others? Welcome to the weekly photo challenge! I post a new challenge each week…check in regularly and join the fun!

Summer officially arrived last week, with the longest day of our year.  Coincidentally, it is also the same day as my wedding anniversary…and this year we celebrated by heading off to a “secret” speakeasy downtown.  It was fun to dress up and spend time exploring my own city–and slip into this hidden specialty bar tucked in behind a wall of kegs that is actually a door to another world.  Inside, glass topped tables reflected the interesting photos on the ceiling and bartenders created magical libations that I might not otherwise try.

light on the table

Summer also means time on the beach.  Living close to the coast, I spend time on the beach all year round, but the summer brings out different dimensions.  There are lots more people on our beaches in the summer…last week, when the tide was low, we came across this group of people enjoying the tidepools.  And it seems that someone created a still life arrangement…with the green bucket carefully arranged atop the pile of kelp.  A little app magic turned it into a beautiful painting.

still life on beach

Summer also means a lot more activity.  More walks and more runs, playing in the water and on the sand.  It seems that the same holds true for the egrets too.  I caught this guy in midstride as he played in the surf.

tiptoeing egret

And the beginning of summer also announces the start of our SDAWP Invitational Summer Institute.  We spend 4 weeks together on the UCSD campus…writing and reading and thinking and talking…with some making and playing thrown in too!  With only 3 days under our belts we are already making connections and taking risks, sharing and learning with each other. There’s no better way to spend a chunk of the summer!  The Geisel library is an iconic image of UCSD and always conjures the intense days of writing and learning with a community of dedicated educators.UCSD-summer

So this week’s challenge is all about summer.  What evokes summer for you?  How will you represent the carefree days, the warm weather fun, or even your summer learning and work? It can be travel, staying at home, time with family and friends…start capturing those images of summer in your world!  I know that summer is a busy time for me…but there’s always time for a photo or two or three…

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #summer for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Let’s see summer in all its glory…through your lens!



To Meme or Not to Meme

I learned about memes a few years ago…and kind of take them for granted now as commonplace, especially in places like Facebook and other social media platforms.  And I never use them…or at least I don’t think I do!

But this week, the “make” for CLMOOC is a meme.  In fact, the same person that I learned about memes from is part of the team that is inviting memes this week.  So I started out the week actively resisting participating in meme-making…why would I want to take someone else’s image, put some words on it and publish it as commentary on teaching or summer or some aspect of popular culture?

It was Anna who drew me back in with her post today:

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 6.02.15 PM

A comment on that thread from Scott sent me off to the PBS Idea Channel, adding to my understanding of memes.

And questions from both Terry and Scott, “What about photography?”  “Images without text?” got me thinking and wondering…  I headed over to Peter and Kim’s invitation and then clicked on James Gleick’s article, What Defines a Meme? and came across this passage in the text:

Images. In Isaac Newton’s lifetime, no more than a few thousand people had any idea what he looked like, even though he was one of England’s most famous men. Yet now millions of people have quite a clear idea—based on replicas of copies of rather poorly painted portraits. Even more pervasive and indelible are the smile of Mona Lisa, The Scream of Edvard Munch and the silhouettes of various fictional extraterrestrials. These are memes, living a life of their own, independent of any physical reality. “This may not be what George Washington looked like then,” a tour guide was overheard saying of the Gilbert Stuart portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “but this is what he looks like now.” Exactly.

And I admit, I haven’t yet read the entire article…because this got me thinking about a photo I took not too long ago at my nephew’s wedding.  I included the photo in a post back then…and will include it again here.  Is this a version of a meme?  Does it require text?  Does it only resonate with a certain audience of art lovers?

american gothic selfie

What do you think?  What caption might you include?

In the Spaces Between

Between the ocean waves and the shear drop of the cliffs is a stretch of beach…at least when the tide is low.  This was the perfect setting for a walking, photo taking, trash picking up meeting today.

There’s something wonderful about between-ness.  Meeting between activities we love and see as rewarding, walking this stretch between water and road, noticing the sun between the clouds, feeling the sand between our toes.

And today’s walking meeting ended with a wonderful, playful find…sand castles decorating the spaces along the cliff wall, tucked into small caverns, some close together, some standing tall and separate from the others.  This felt like performance art as I spied a couple, almost hidden, sitting up above this temporary work of art.  Were they the artists?  Perhaps…but either way, they enjoyed our delight in the sand castle find.

castles on the cliff

cliff castles

close up castle

castle on green

Play and Games

This first week of CLMOOC has reminded me again of the power of connected learning. Don’t get me wrong…I am a connected learner all year long, but there is something about the intensity and playfulness of the CLMOOC that amplifies the effect.  Earlier this week I had the opportunity to serve as a coach for an upcoming make, and when I learned the topic would be games I wondered just how much help I would be.  In online spaces when someone says games, I immediately think of Minecraft and Halo and other video games.

Instead, our conversation went to stories about games from our childhood…games we made up, unstructured time when we were left to our own devices and “forced” to entertain ourselves.  Terry brought up some research about the lack of games in children lives and I wondered how that could be true–aren’t people complaining that kids are too obsessed with gaming?  That’s when our conversation got really interesting…when we realized that game had different connotations in different contexts.  What we all worry about is how little time children seem to have that is unsupervised and free for imaginative play, exploration, making, and doing…not pre-structured by adults. (Many thanks for a rich, thought-provoking conversation Terry, Joe, Christina, and Michael!)

Here’s a link to the talk Terry had referred to:

My husband took today off from work and after we treated ourselves to breakfast out, we headed to the beach for a leisurely low tide walk.  It was warm and sunny, but not too hot, perfect beach weather.  And as we started walking I realized that my husband and I often make up our own games to keep our beach walks interesting.  Our latest “game” has been to search for beach glass as we walk.  It’s like a scavenger hunt, eyes tuned for the gleam of the glass worn by the tides.  We have very little glass on our beaches–probably in large part because glass has been banned on our beaches for a decade.  But when we started playing this game a few weeks ago, each find has become a treasure.  Here’s today’s haul.

beach glass

And Christina reminded me that my photography is a game.  And it’s become even more so managing both #sdawpphotovoices–a monthly photo a day challenge and a weekly photo challenge that I post on my blog and for the NWP iAnthology.  This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is #two…and I couldn’t resist snapping this photo of my husband fitting our flip flops in his pockets so we don’t have to carry them on our walk.  He puts one of each of our shoes in the pocket since mine are smaller (two of his shoes won’t fit in one pocket!).

two shoes

I also took some photos that I knew I would use to play around with filters and effects. This “still life” seemed perfect for trying out a new app (thanks Bonnie for pointing to it) called painteresque.  I love the effect!

beach stifflife paintereque

And then today I added yet another game to my photographic repertoire.  I’ve been wanting to take photos of “found alphabet” letters.  My rule (self-imposed) is that I have to photograph it as it is, I don’t get to arrange it.  Here’s a couple I found at the beach today.

Here’s a Y from kelp:

Y seaweed

An M I found in the cliffs:

m beach cliff

An O formed by a sea anenome:

o sea anenome

And who can resist the i made of bird poop!  (And it was washed away by a wave right after I snapped it!)

i bird poop

And part of the fun of these games is playing them with others.  It’s fun to search for beach glass with my husband, celebrating each find.  And taking photos is even more fun when others play along and we can share with each other and learn from each other.

I’m hoping that others will join me in the found alphabet fun.  I’m thinking I have two different “sets” I am searching for: found in nature and found on the beach.

What I love best about the CLMOOC is the spirit of playfulness and the ways we build on each others’ ideas and makes.  We are free to explore, to play, and to hack the structures presented. The connections are essential because they motivate and encourage and urge us on to try one more thing.  And thanks Terry, Joe, Christina, and Michael and the rest of you CLMOOC-ers for reminding me that I do know about games. Now I can’t wait for the game-focused make cycle! I’m already making up new games!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Two

Do you speak in images? Enjoy taking photos to document your experiences or just to express what you notice in the world? Love to share them with others? Welcome to the weekly photo challenge! I post a new challenge each week…check in regularly and join the fun!

This weekend is the summer equinox, the first day of summer…and it is my wedding anniversary.  I’ve been married a long time, but it seems like just yesterday that I stood in that white dress on a beautiful first day of summer afternoon and vowed to join my life with my husband’s.  So this week I’ve been thinking about the number two and all its connotations.  I’ve often heard marriage described as two lives becoming one, but that doesn’t seem true to me. It seems more like a braiding of lives…or maybe even a weaving or tapestry–becoming inextricably linked, yet still each maintaining their unique features and substance.

So I started to look for photos that represent two…and some were easy and quite literal. There’s my two cats.  They spend lots and lots of time together…but check out their facial expressions here.  They take turns being the one who begs…obviously it’s Jack’s turn here.


And then there are these two up in handstands…showing off their balance and strength. They just happen to be my teaching partner and one of our students when we were at the rock climbing gym a week ago.


Here’s a less obvious two.  This is actually two separate photos I took and then combined using the app union.  It was interesting to figure out what to put in the background and then what to put in the foreground and what to mask…much more complex than I thought when I began. (It’s a picture of a piece of driftwood and an LED light, both shot with my macro lens)  I did add some filter effects as well to create the unusual coloring.

2 photos

And here are a couple of bikes nuzzled up to each other while parked at the bike racks.

two bikes

And I better add a picture from nature…here’s a double blossom taken with my macro lens during a walk last weekend.

two blossoms

So this week’s challenge is to represent two…two of something, twice as much, double the fun, two of your favorites (like my cats and kids and blossoms)…you get to interpret two in ways you find interesting.

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #two for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

It’s time to document the twos in your life…can’t wait to see them through your lens!