Monthly Archives: December 2014

Zooming In: Reflecting on One Little Word

Early in 2014 I decided that the word “play” would be my One Little Word (OLW) for the year…my muse, reminding me to make time to play and to plan for fun in my life and in my work. And I have loved my word.

And play I have.  I have spent an extraordinary amount of time at the beach this year and learned to see it in ways I wouldn’t have considered possible.  Photography has helped me play this year, encouraging my exploration, taking me outdoors, making me more observant, stoking my curiosity.

I mentioned the new camera in my life in this post, a Sony a6000, and with a new zoom lens, we set out for the beach yesterday.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my iPhone and have gotten quite comfortable with its photographic capabilities over the last couple of years.  So heading out with our new camera is a challenge.  So each trip feels like a playground filled with unfamiliar equipment.  I’m still mostly in the automatic mode, and with the zoom lens, trying to figure out the boundaries of focus…what is too close, what is too far, how to get a crisp image…

So zooming in, here’s a seagull in the light.

gull in light

I like the way the background is blurred while the one bird is crisp in the foreground.  And you can almost feel the warmth of the sun in this shot.

This guy, in contrast, is silhouetted against the water.  I like that you can see that he is wading in the surf, you can even see where his foot is displacing the water.

seagull silhouette

I was also playing around with action.  This particular camera is known for its quick focus, allowing me to focus and capture motion that I might otherwise miss.  I caught this gull gliding right into the edge of my frame as I looked out toward the horizon.

gull gliding

And this surfer almost surfed his way into my line of sight.  I love the energy of the shot even though he didn’t quite make it all the way into the frame.

surfing action

The last few days when I have been at the beach I have noticed seagulls flocking, gathering and swooping through the air.  Through my lens yesterday I was able to capture some of that energy and the numbers of gulls.


And in contrast to all of this energy, I also captured this moment of solitude as I zoomed in on this hiker with a full pack pausing to notice something in the rocks.  I’m not sure where he came from or where he was going, it is not usual to see backpackers on the beach.


There’s so much that I see when I am out taking photos that I am not able to capture in my digital images.  As the sun was setting last night, I was able to watch gray whales frolicking offshore as they migrated south.  We could see the spray from the blowholes in the distance as they surfaced and then the dark of their bodies as they breached, leaping up out of the water. It was like they also were inspired by my one little word!

And the sunset was beautiful in oranges and reds as the bird flew through.  (All of the photos in this post are unedited.)

colorful sunset

I’m still contemplating my word for 2015, searching for one that will inspire me all year.  I’m looking for a word that is active, encouraging exploration and possibility and that will work in both my personal and work life.  I’m open to suggestions if something occurs to you!

Overcoming the Familiar: January 2015 Photo-a-Day Challenge

The New Year arrives soon…and with it, often a list of things we plan to do to improve our health, appearance, productivity, attitude, and more.  And, if you’re like me, you are still striving to improve your photography, paying attention the details that take ordinary photographs and make them something special.  Sometimes I lament that I don’t travel to exotic places where I could try my hand at perfect snowflake photos or capture the colorful beauty of an outdoor market in Asia.  And while travel remains on my to-do list, this month’s challenge is about seeing the familiar as though you were a stranger—seeing everything as new or at least with new eyes.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I spend lots of time at the beach.  And sometimes it starts to look so familiar that I can’t even imagine finding something new to focus my lens on.  But just last week as I walked near the shore at high tide, I tried framing a shot of the empty lifeguard tower in some new ways.  And as I was shooting, I noticed that I could see surfers in the shot.  I tried some different ways of shooting and came up with this one with the surfer visible to the left of the tower.

surfer and tower

I found this locked box on another day.  And it took a few shots to figure out how to see the detail (notice the raised letters), but in my opinion, it is the seagull that I caught in the background that makes this shot interesting.

locked box and seagull

That same evening, we had stayed out for the sunset.  And I took a number of shots with the silhouette of the lifeguard tower in the background, or a palm tree, or another tree.  But this construction crane caught my attention and I loved the juxtaposition of it with the tree with the sunset in the background—the sunset not as exclusively nature’s beauty, but also a backdrop for construction equipment.

crane and tree

Sometimes my own front lawn turns from the ordinary grass into a fairy land.  These little mushrooms almost look like a couple in love as they snuggle in the grass. 

mushrooms in the grass

And if you keep your eyes open (or in this case, start searching for your missing cat), you might overcome the familiar.  This shot was actually taken by my husband with his iPhone…and I love the image of our cat, Phil, nestled among the Christmas presents.

Phil under the tree

Sometimes a walk is just the inspiration I need to look with fresh eyes.  I’m always trying to catch interesting photos of the train that runs through town…and I nearly always miss it.  This time, as I was out walking, I caught not only the train, but also this runner going in the opposite direction.

chasing the train

As i walked through our local botanical garden, I noticed this fig tree…with no leaves, but with figs in abundance.  I couldn’t resist this shot looking up into the blue sky.

figs on a bare tree

And even the succulents that are so prevalent around here can look interesting depending on the photograph.  For this one, I leaned in closely and played around with the rule of thirds.  I love the color in this unedited shot.


So your #sdawpphotovoices challenge for January 2015 is to overcome the familiar in your life to find great photos wherever you happen to be.  Here’s some prompt possibilities to help you vary your view:

1. inside

2. outside

3. home

4. neighborhood

5. work

6. pets

7. signs

8. transportation

9. light

10. people

11. plants

12. animals

13. place

14. buildings

15. kitchen

16. weather

17. night

18. day

19. hands

20. eyes

21. apparel

22. reflection

23. surprise

24. feet

25. fences

26. machine

27. technology

28. everyday

29. unexpected

30. interior

31. exterior

So start the new year by overcoming the familiar and challenge yourself to see your everyday life in new ways.  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. If you would like to expand your exploration, write the story that the photo tells, compose a blog post about a photo, a week’s worth of photos, write a photo essay, or make a video or slideshow. 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!

The new year doesn’t have to be about lofty goals, you can start the year out right by simply vowing to see the world around you anew!  You can capture your view in a single photo or in a series. You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life. You can post 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…after all, this is your opportunity to overcome the familiar!  Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!

So go out and start looking!  How will you overcome the familiar in your photographs? I’m looking forward to seeing the world in new ways through your lens!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Winter Warmth

I’ve been looking longingly at all the winter snow photos this last week or so–those gorgeous scenes of glistening whiteness.  I can imagine the hush and the magical quality only snow can bring.  (I know, there is always a downside…the cold, the shoveling, the need to bundle to go outdoors…)

Winter, in these parts means no snow…ever.  Some will quickly contradict me and recount the snowfall of ’68 or the one in ’96.  But honestly, a few rogue snowflakes that melt upon contact don’t really count as a snowfall, they were just teasers of what might be…

So, for me, winter comes in distinctive San Diego style.  Most Christmases are sunny and reasonably warm.  Temperatures in the 60s are usual during the day…it cools off quickly when the sun sets.  On the first day of winter, I caught this glimpse of the warmth in a black and white reflection of the sun on the beach at low tide.

sun reflection in black and white

And at sunset, a little further up the road, I caught the warmth of the sun behind the pelicans as they soared along the air currents before darkness enveloped this longest night.

sunset with 3 pelicansAnd I got a new camera for Christmas, actually my husband and I got it for each other, after years of taking all of my photos with my iPhone.  (The two photos above were taken with my iPhone.)  So today, we headed out to experiment with this new toy.  Of course the beach is one of my favorite places to go for photo inspiration.  Because it was high tide, we didn’t get to walk the beach, but I did catch this seagull in flight.  I love the brilliant blues of the unedited shot–you can see a glimpse of the warmth of the sun on the wings of the bird.

seagull in flight

And playing around as I was climbing back up the wooden stairway access to the beach, I happened to catch my husband in a game of peekaboo as I snapped a shot looking up toward the warmth of the sun through the wooden structure.

peekabooUsing the macro end of the zoom lens, I took some shots of flowers I found near the beach.  I love the way this daisy glows in the warmth of the sun.  The play of sun and shadow seems just right with these colors.


And my husband pointed out yesterday that he managed to keep one of the potted poinsettias we bought last year alive all year…and sure enough, there it was, still in the pot in our backyard with its bracts turning red!  Poinsettias grow well here–in fact, Encinitas is known for the Ecke Poinsettias that produce the majority of poinsettias that are sold each year.  We’re always planning to to plant them in the yard after the holidays…maybe this year, after this success, we will!  I grew up not far from here with a large poinsettia plant in our backyard that grew as tall as our garage before my mom hacked them back down each year after the blooming season.

poinsettia in the wild

So this week I am borrowing the weekly photo challenge prompt from the Daily Post and inviting folks at the NWP iAnthology and and those who follow my blog to share their images of winter warmth.

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 #warmth for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Where do you find the warmth in the winter?  On the glistening of sunshine on snow?  The crackling warmth of a roaring fire?  Hands cupped around a warm mug of coffee?  A hug of a loved one?  Go out and snap those images of winter warmth…can’t wait to see the warmth through your lens!









Unexpected Yellow

After a warm summer that lasted almost all the way to the solstice, temperatures have cooled, we’ve had several rainy days in the last couple of weeks, and the sun is having a hard time making its way through the thick clouds along the coast.  So while yellow is expected at the beach in the summertime, it is much harder to find on a gray, almost winter day.

With a nice low tide this afternoon, we couldn’t wait to get to the beach to explore and walk. Since we were north of our usual beach running some holiday errands, we decided to walk at a beach different from our usual place.  Near a jetty, this beach is rockier than the one where we usually walk.  So we practiced our usual beachwalk pasttimes–taking photos, picking up trash, and searching for sea glass…and what a bonanza we found!

Sadly, there was abundant trash on the beach, especially small pieces of plastic.  And there was a bit of yellow…this packet of mustard tucked in the rocks.  And as good Litterati, we took the photo, picked up the trash, and disposed of it properly.

yellow-litterati mustard

With my eyes tuned for yellow, I started to notice yellow all around me.  Not bright, summer sunshine yellow, but earthy sandstone yellow.  (And if you look closely, you can catch a glimpse of the piece of green sea glass that I picked up too!)

yellow reef

Looking into the distance, you can see the ripply texture of the low-tide reef and its yellow hue.

yellow low tide

As I watched the seabirds and listened to the music of the waves crash along the shore, I could feel the stresses of the weeks leading up to my winter break wash away and the muscles in my back and shoulders begin to unknot.

yellow-ocean music

The rhythms of the rocks rolling with the tide added a spring to my step and energized me. I began to notice the colors of the rocks, the browns and greens and yellows…

yellow rubble

And as we left, heading off for a few more of those holiday errands, a strip of yellow opened on the horizon just beyond the empty lifeguard tower.

Yellow sky behind tower

Unexpected and welcome yellow at the beach.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Celebrate

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!

As teachers know, the week leading up to winter break is a busy one.  There’s so much more to teaching than reading and writing and math!  Kids heads are filled with the wonder and all the iconic imagery of the holidays, and we have to work hard to make learning relevant and engaging during this week.  And while there was plenty conspiring against us, there was a lot of great learning to celebrate.  Early in the week, kids put finishing touches on gifts they had made for their family and wrapped them up to take home.  I can’t give away what’s inside…there’s still a few days until Christmas!  There’s a lot of learning contained in these festive packages…from the creation to the presentation, each step is a learning opportunity that we, as adults, often take for granted!

packagesWe were also surprised this week with a package from author/illustrator Lizi Boyd.  After reading Flashlight earlier this school year, our students had created Flashlight-inspired art and wrote stories based on Lizi Boyd’s wordless picture book.  When my teaching partner emailed her to share how much we loved her work…and sent some of our student products to her, she responded enthusiastically and sent our students beautiful blank notebooks, inspiring bookmarks, and encouragement to write, draw, and imagine.  She also sent a copy of her new book, Inside Outside, that we cannot wait to read and work with.  And the wrapping was a celebration in itself!

book from lizi boydAnd today, the last day before the break, we did our best to keep students focused on learning. We had a spectacular science lesson on buoyancy with our science teacher…and after working on claim, evidence, and reasoning for a little over a week with relation to buoyancy, students did some outstanding science writing today!  (More on that in another post)  We also continued our study of geometry by asking students to create a holiday or winter scene made up of geometric shapes.  There were some pretty clever geometric scenes to celebrate!

Geometry winter scene

And in my life outside of school there were also indications of celebration.  At my meeting at the local science museum on Saturday, even the dinosaur fossil was getting in the holiday spirit and adding to the celebration by sporting a santa hat!

Dino with hat

And we’ve had rain!  Yes, it’s annoying when trying to drive on freeways with people who don’t know a thing about driving in the rain.  Roads flood, traffic crawls, students are cooped up inside all day, everything is soggy…and we are celebrating.  We desperately need each and every drop right now.  And honestly, the cloudy skies are such a novelty that I can’t resist taking shot after shot.  I fell in love with this seagull enjoying the unusually moist air shortly before sunset.

seagull on a pole

And although my husband brought a tree home on Sunday, it is still sitting bare in the living room waiting for celebratory decorations.  It’s a beautiful tree and I had some fun taking photos and playing with the focus of the foreground and background as I snapped a few photos of my cat, Phil through the branches.

Phil through the tree

What are you celebrating right now?  It might be Hanukkah or Christmas or rain…or even a two week break from your usual routine.  Snap a few shots and share celebrate through your images.

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 #celebrate for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

It’s time to celebrate!  What says celebration to you?  Can’t wait to see your version of celebrate as you share your world through your lens.





The Gift of Words

Inspired by a blog post on Edutopia by a colleague of mine from the UCLA Writing Project, our class began to explore the idea of gifts.  This is a hard time for young students, this season seems to make them want everything!  There is talk of what Santa will bring, what antics and gifts the elf carries, along with lots of decorating and baking and performances and outings…

So last week we began by reading a beautiful picture book that my teaching partner found at Powell’s books in Portland called Immi’s Gift by Karin Littlewood.  This gorgeous book about an Inuit girl is perfect for setting the stage for expanding the idea of gifts beyond what can be purchased.  And honestly, our students, even before reading the book had many ideas about those “priceless” gifts…of time, nature, acts of kindness…  And this simple book is filled with beautiful language, ideas, and images.

And then we gave the students the invitation to become word-sleuths…to be on the lookout for words, phrases, sentences..that were worthy of gift status.  Words that were special to them in some way.  They collected these words on yellow stickies and then carefully wrote them on some pretty pieces of paper to hang on the “My Gift of Words” board in our classroom.

My Gift of Words

The collections are growing–and students are not only finding words others wrote, they are writing their own too!  This third grader came in on Tuesday with this line that she had written in her notebook on her way to school.  (And I suspect also influenced by another book we read, What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky.)

peace like salt water

Here’s a glimpse at some of the other word gifts hanging on our board.

And suddenly, not only are my students noticing and appreciating words everywhere, but so am I!  At a meeting at school on Monday, one of my colleagues used this Michelangelo quote to call us all to action and urge us to dream big.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

A word fairy has been leaving inspirational quotes in our mailboxes at school this week…and a friend of mine just gave me this beautiful necklace with a quote from Albert Einstein on it.  (I love the sentiment!)


And the cherry on top of all these words is that at The Writing Thief MOOC our most recent make is a scavenger hunt for mentor texts!  It feels like I have been bathed in words this week, they are falling like raindrops, gathering in puddles, splashing ideas and inspiration into my thinking and writing and living.

And I see it with my students too.  They are tuned into words, catching them in their nets, and sharing them with each other, their families, and with us.  In this season of giving, the gift of words has been spectacular…and a tradition that I hope carries on into the New Year!

What words are inspiring you this holiday season?  What words have you given and received as gifts?  What are your favorite mentor texts?  And feel free to join us over at The Writing Thief MOOC and share some of your favorite words, phrases, sentences, and books…you’re all welcome.  Come join the fun!