Tag Archives: reflection

Waiting

We do it every day in lots of ways.  In the line at the grocery store or as the barista prepares that perfect latte.  In the dentist’s office or in that line of cars on the metered freeway onramp.  For the ladies room during that oh-so-short recess break or that important phone call you were expecting half an hour ago.  Waiting…

As I walked the beach the other day I noticed a bunch of surfers out on their boards on the waves…waiting.  Or were they?  Does it only count as waiting if it feels like time is slipping away?  That you could be doing something more important or more productive (or more fun)?  As I’ve watched surfers over the years, I notice that surfing involves spending quite a bit of time sitting on the board, watching the waves develop, visiting with other surfers, perhaps even enjoying the sun (or rain or fog or even cold) in the time between actually paddling into a wave and standing up.  Do surfers see that time as waiting?

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When I know I am going to wait, I come prepared.  I carry my book or some work I need to get done, I pull out my phone, flip through social media, news, photos.  If it’s a long wait–like an airplane ride, I bring an assortment of activities and hope for access to a movie or TV shows to help pass the time.  The worst waiting for me is the kind of waiting when you can’t do anything but wait–like sitting in rush hour traffic.  My only options then are to listen to the radio or maybe squeeze in a phone call (hands free, of course!).  But sometimes, waiting leaves you with only you to spend time with.  Time for thinking and reflection…alone with your own thoughts.

So maybe waiting is about your frame of mind.  When it is part of an activity you enjoy–like surfing, waiting isn’t waiting, it’s just what you do.  So what about those lines at the grocery store? Can we make them more enjoyable, time spent in thought, perusing tabloid papers, visiting with the stranger in line in front or behind you?  Maybe we need names for the different kinds of waiting–like the names for snow in those really cold places–to express the nuanced differences between them.  I’ll be thinking about that as I sit in traffic tomorrow…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Best of 2016

The year is winding down, we can count the hours until the ball drops and 2017 enters.  That also makes it a perfect time for reflection…and a bit of curation of this year’s photos. Instagram is helping folks out this year…creating a #2016bestnine collection based on the number of likes your photos got.  Interestingly, my best nine according to Instagram did not make my best five I had culled to share here.  Don’t get me wrong, I like these photos and I’m excited that they are not all beach photos!  There are two images from UCSD, one from Atlanta and one from Tucson…and even one that I stopped my car and took a photo on a street near my neighborhood.

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I actually picked these photos for another reason…as my contribution to Bonnie’s annual year end video compilation (I’ll add the link once she publishes it on her blog).  She asked for photos and captions to represent myself.  I have found tremendous peace in nature this year, noticing the beauty and experiencing the wonders of the natural world.  I love this moss covered branch that I spotted on a walk around the reservoir when visiting my grandsons in the Bay Area earlier this fall.

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“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir

Many of my photos evoke connections to my precious grandsons…three 10 month old boys, sons of my two sons.  (You can read about my anticipation of their births here.) I take many photos of them, but none will appear on social media because of my sons’ request that I not post.  But I carry them in my mind and heart constantly.  When I saw this “found heart” on a prickly pear cactus, I loved the idea of the spines protecting the heart from danger.  I’m not sure I have those prickly spines protecting my heart–but I know that I will do anything to protect those sweet boys!  (I had them in my arms this week–and am already missing them terribly!)

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I love the ordinariness and simplicity of the dandelion.  I’ve taken many photos and written many posts focused on them.  This particular dandelion caught my attention as I walked out my front door to head to work one morning.  Instead of seeing them as weeds, I think of dandelions as wishes–and possibility.  They seem to be an icon of childhood, a symbol of nature’s playfulness.

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And it wouldn’t be a best of collection for me without a beach photo…or three!  I love the beach all the time, but it is special in the fall and winter when the crowds fall away and the sun’s angles change with shorter days and longer nights.  There is a sense of silence amongst the sounds of crashing waves, gusting winds, and calls of birds.

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“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Ansel Adams

And there is nothing like a photographic mentor.  Studying Adams’ photos helped me figure out how to create the contrast needed for this black and white view of a walk I take regularly.  I like the way the lack of color creates a mood just right for the concept of silence.

I do find myself looking at the sky as I walk the beach.  There is something about the clouds and the birds that draw my attention.  It’s hard to get good photos of birds in flight with my iPhone and even with my Sony since I seldom have the zoom lens on (too limiting for everyday).  I do love the crispness of this pelican–even at a distance as it swoops over the waves.  It also reminds me of all the photos I am not able to take, which helps me realize that there is more to photography than the photos I take.  I see so much more when I’m walking with my camera.

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But there is nothing quite as special as the beach at sunset.  This image is from Halloween–my husband’s birthday–and the romantic and peaceful walk we took before heading out to dinner to celebrate him.  The colors were spectacular as the sun sunk into the Pacific…and the reflection on the wet sand creates the perfect mirror image.  Ahhhh…

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So, take a little time and find your best of 2016 images.  You might look back through the whole year…or just the past few months.  If you haven’t taken many photos this year, you might just head out with your camera and take a best of today to get yourself started!

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 #bestof2016 for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Share your favorite images this week and create your own #bestof2016.  I look forward to seeing the best of 2016 through your lens!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Light

During these short days, light becomes a focus.  And many of the winter holidays include light as an aspect of celebration.  There’s something about light that brings out the reflective qualities–those caused by the light, and those internal reflections provoked by the magic of light.  As a photographer, light has become an obsession for me.  I notice it, but don’t always master all I need to know and do to create the shots I envision.

We’ve had stormy weather here this past week, bringing some much needed rain to our parched earth.  I love the period after the storm (or between storm cells) when the sunlight peeks through the dark clouds creating a magical sky view.

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Sometimes light becomes quite literal.  I noticed these industrial lights when we were at Home Depot picking a Christmas tree.  Even though it was mid-day, the light was on.  I couldn’t help noticing the brilliant green of the leaves behind it and the bright blue sky.

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With the tree home, we set to work decorating.  Sorting out the string of lights is just the kind of job the cats love to help with (Jack is just outside this shot).  I like the way the lights glow and reflect on the wood floor.

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It was nice to take a break from the cleaning and decorating and shopping for a dinner out with my hubby.  As we waited for our pizza at a local brewery, I noticed the lights reflecting off the window.  I like the way the inside and outside come together–it was a perfect way to spend a rainy evening.

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With a short reprieve before the next rain storm hits later tonight, I squeezed a quick walk on the beach into my schedule.  It was as empty on the beach as the roads and stores were full today.  I appreciated the quiet of the rush of the waves and the wind in my face as the light played with the clouds and water.  This is where I come to think–and to not think.

If you look closely, you can see the pelican.  It was soaring and diving, obviously enjoying a pre-storm lunch.

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So, take a look for light in your life.  You might find it in holiday celebrations, in nature, or maybe just in a quiet moment of reflection.

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

Share the light in your life this week–literal or metaphoric–I know I am looking forward to light through your eyes, and your lens!

Stories in Glass: Reflections on Making and Learning

Intense heat and human breath give shape to these vessels. Twirling, pinching, another breath, back into the fire, working and reworking until art emerges from what was once sand and rock. Is this what makes us human? The ability, the desire, the necessity to make…to create from the materials around us?

Evidence abounds, from cave paintings to stained glass creations, super-sized cloth installations that line valleys and islands and spray-painted graphics on the sides of railroad trestles and freeway overpasses. They all suggest a need to make and mark our world.

A visit to the Chihuly glass museum in Seattle served to pique my interest in this question of making and art. I love an art museum and had heard from others that this was a museum worth visiting. I had seen photos of glass art and had already visited a glass studio, just down the street from our favorite donut shop in Seattle. Yet, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, to see beautiful bowls and other vessels, delicate blown glass creations too pricey for my budget.

Instead, I walked into the first display and was mesmerized. My eyes were drawn to the white: shiny glass lighting up a dark room. Long stalks of lighted glass protruding like shoots from irregularly shaped bulbs. As in nature, the irregularities were an essential part of the beauty as this stalk curved, that bulb leaned. It was impossible to see where one piece ended and the reflection from the shiny black floor began, creating a sense of infinity that stretched the exhibit well beyond its actual size. This wasn’t a piece of blown glass that I was enticed to purchase, this was an installation of many glass pieces arranged and lit to create an effect. I was drawn to the description “…created by simultaneously blowing and pouring molten glass from a stepladder to the floor below…electrically charged by argon and mercury…” I stopped to take a picture or two, knowing that I would want to look at it and think about it again and again.

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I moved from space to space, now intensely curious about what each turn would offer. In one room an enormous sculpture twisted and curled to the ceiling; fish, octopi, and other sea creatures nestled within it. In another, the room was bare…until I looked up and found a glass ceiling filled with individual pieces that together created a stained-glass effect of intense color and variation. When did glass bowls and balls morph into something more: stories in glass, sweat, heat and breath?

I find myself thinking not just about the exhibits and sculptures, but about the maker and making behind the art. I’m a maker too. As a writer and blogger I use words to pull ideas closer so that I can think about them, poke and prod at them, turn them over and look under them, and invite others to look along with me. As a photographer, light becomes my medium to inscribe meaning through my camera lens. And I know that ideas in my head often don’t come out through my words or my lens in the ways I intend. But that, for me, is part of the allure…the seduction of making. I surprise myself with new understandings born from moving my fingers on the keyboard or ducking under the bench to get closer to the weed growing along the crack in the sidewalk.

I’m reminded of Seymore Papert and his theory of constructionism. In this theory, different from constructivism, learning happens when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of their head that makes the learning real and shareable. The activity could be making something tangible like a robot, a puppet, or a model bridge—or it can be something less concrete like a poem, a conversation, or a new hypothesis. What’s important is that the making come from the learner rather than being strictly imposed and directed from the outside (from a teacher or an employer). This element of choice and ownership often propels the maker to tinker and improve their make to meet their own criteria for better, allowing for reflection and reworking based on that reflection. This self-directed making can be a challenge in the classroom.

Traditionally it is teachers who direct and make decisions about student learning. So it’s important to create spaces that allow students to see possibilities beyond their own experiences, yet still offer choice and opportunity for experimentation and iteration. Chihuly’s first experience with glass blowing came from a college classroom assignment that required him to incorporate a nontraditional, non fabric material into a weaving. He wasn’t directed to use glass, but may not have experimented with glass without the constraints and possibilities of the assignment.

Making is about transformation. Transformation of materials, like glass or words, or images through a lens. It is also about transformation of thinking and ideas. And it begins in playfulness. Mitch Resnick of the MIT media lab describes a cycle of learning (and making) based on his observation of young children. Beginning with imagination and spiraling out to creating, children make and learn based on their ideas. As they play with their creations and share the ideas and creations with others, they have opportunities for iteration and reflection on their experiences, which leads them back again to imagine new ideas and new projects to work on or ways to improve their original idea.

I could see this in Chihuly’s glass creations. Elements of one sculpture showed up in new ways in another, chandeliers hanging from ceilings in one display turned into bigger and more elaborate free standing sculptural elements in another. And yet, each also showed new thinking—about color, about translucence and light, about placement and size, about cultural references and interactions with the larger world. I watched a few videos that included Chihuly’s reflection on his work where he talked about how his experience with a particular exhibit gives him vision for the next. I was particularly interested in the garden beneath the Space Needle in Seattle and its origins. I learned that this space, formerly a parking lot, was a blank canvas for Chihuly, something he—in collaboration with the landscape architect—could transform to allow others to see the beauty of his hometown in new ways, to expand their experience beyond the glass into the fairyland where light and glass and flowers and bees play with the backdrop of Mount Ranier and the Space Needle. Chihuly’s reflective videos helped me see and understand the spiral of experience and design and how it propeled him to new ideas and new thinking about his chosen media.

Photography is like that for me. I find myself looking at my world through the lens of my camera, and instead of limiting my view, the lens draws my attention to details of light and shadow. I see the variation of blues in the ocean waves and the foamy white of the lacey breakwaters. The white head of the bald eagle catches my attention and I watch, rapt, as it dives and swoops and then soars into the trees. I have many photos that are not taken, where I’ve missed the moment because I moved too slowly, had the wrong lens in place, or simply had to stop and wait and watch. But those missed photos become inspiration and information for tomorrow’s attempts. As I imagine, make, share and reflect, new thinking emerges and my understandings transform.

I want this for my students too. Opportunities to make and create new understandings, to transform the world as we know it. Learning, like blowing glass, needs to nestle close to the flame—the flame of needing and wanting to know and understand—and then the learner takes a breath and blows out and maybe even includes the breath of another to add dimension, depth, and diversity. Learning needs to be shaped by the learner, to expand beyond basic facts and figures and matter in the world, and in the world of the learner. Learning needs space for reflection and nudging from co-learners and outsiders—and teachers and employers—to expand the realm of the possible. Maybe we need a museum for visitors so they can walk through the breathtaking beauty of learning at the hands of those who learn best: children.

Rather than pushing children to think more like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them. –Seymore Papert

Watch Them Soar

I can watch them for hours as they coast on the air currents high above my head. They seem to play with each other…follow the leader, tag, red rover red rover won’t you come over… Some arrange themselves in perfect formation, vees of aerodynamic perfection performing intricate maneuvers in mid flight. Others fly solo, seemingly free from the attachments of family or community.

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Birds are hard to photograph.  Maybe that’s the draw for me.  They don’t sit still and the slightest movement sends them to the sky.  They seem spare and compact, unlimited by the constraints of time and space.

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”

Robert Lynd

Birds require patience and silence.  I have to sharpen my senses, still my heart, and settle into the landscape to have a chance to watch them in action.  And when I pay close attention I learn a lot about the unique qualities of the birds I am watching–and maybe something about myself too.

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Watching birds is a lot like teaching.  The most important part of my work is getting to know my students.  I have to recognize the subtleties of their behavior, knowing when to let them grapple productively and when to step in and offer support–a place to perch until their wings are ready for the next flight.  I have to remember to be still and let the learning come rather than force my pace. Patience and silence are important here too.

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Like students, birds often seek cover, blending in with their surroundings rather than risk standing out in the open, exposed and vulnerable.  But when the space is safe enough and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear their song.  And with time you recognize those voices, even when you don’t see them.

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When the light is right for a mirror-perfect reflection, I realize that I love birds in the wild but resist the idea of caging these creatures. Yeah, they’re easier to get close to and photograph in a cage–but something essential is missing.

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But mostly, birds and students give me hope.

In the words of Emily Dickenson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Watching birds reminds me to expand my self-imposed limits and to give my dreams flight–to take to the metaphorical skies and soar.  And that’s what I want for my students too.  Their lives are awash in possibility. I hope that my small breath under their wings helps lift them to pursue their interests and passions.

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So they can soar.

The Path Not Taken

Sometimes I find myself in a rut–stuck in the mud, sinking lower and lower so that it seems that all I see are shoe tops.  Instead of appreciating the beauty around me, I get mired in the minutia of everyday–dishes and laundry, report cards and meetings, and traffic!

When I’m in that rut I don’t always see the possibilities.  I find myself traveling the same paths, butting up against the same barriers…and even thinking the same not-so-inspiring thoughts!

And I know that I am lucky.  I enjoy my work–most of the time–and all it entails.  My students are a source of energy, my colleagues keep me learning and growing, and the end of the school year means my work will change–adding variety and new stimulation to the mix.  But…there’s that rut…and at this time of the year lots of others are in it too.

Yesterday, after a long work day I was heading to a planning meeting with some colleagues.  And instead of the provocative thinking I knew I would experience when I got there, my mind was on the traffic and the frustration of the snail’s pace I would experience as I got on the freeway.

So I ventured out in another direction.  There was some traffic as I set off, but as I crossed the intersection that could have taken me to the freeway, I headed into the hills. The road was narrow and steep as it curved through neighborhoods with breathtaking views.  As I reached the top I pulled off into a park–well known in these parts.  A place I had been before, but never think to visit.  It’s off the usual path, less direct, with a lower speed limit.

And this path not taken led me to wonder and inspiration…and jubilation!

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I was treated to amazing views of my city.  I could look north to La Jolla shores and the Scripps pier, east toward the mountains and the communities between.  As I looked south I saw the iconic structures of our downtown and the bays and ocean that frame it.

I felt like I could touch the clouds from this place on the hill.  And in spite of the clouds I could see forever in all directions.  The sky was clear and the sun peeked through, brightening my outlook and my attitude.

I don’t have to stay in the rut, mired by routine and overwhelmed by the demands of the end of the school year.  But I do have to find the spaces of inspiration, make time for moments of vacation and renewal even when time is in short supply.

This is one of those lessons that I need to remind myself of over and over again.  It’s easy to stay in the rut, to do the same thing, travel the same roads, talk to the same people, see the same sights.  I’m already thinking about other ways I can shake up my ordinary and pull myself out of the rut…the view is so much better here!

A Love Story

Last Tuesday morning I fell in love.  Head over heels, irrevocably, intensely, impossibly, and wonderfully in love.  I expected it…and yet, the depth and utter wonder was unexpected and emotional.

I felt my heart expand when I laid eyes on him.  I looked closely and realized I knew him, maybe I’ve always known him. It was truly love at first sight.

How could this tiny being have so much power over me? And all of the those feelings were magnified this weekend when I met him in person.

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I am a grandma and I want to shout from the rooftops!  My baby boy now has a baby boy of his own…a tiny little boy who takes me back in time to when his father was a baby. But…it’s also so different. I get the delight of cuddling that sweet baby, smelling that incredible newborn baby smell, but I also get to hand him back to his capable mom and dad when he needs to be fed and I get to sleep when he is fussy in the middle of the night. I get to be helpful (I hope) and supportive, but the big decisions are not mine.  I can worry–but he has parents to worry for him too.

It was hard to say goodbye and go home last night, leaving that beautiful boy and his amazing parents to their new lives together as we returned home to our everyday lives. But everything has changed too, enriched by a new life and new possibility.  The world is just a bit better with that little guy in it and my world has expanded–just like my heart, and I have new things to think about, learn about, and plan for.  (And yes, the next trip to see him is already planned!)

And this is just the beginning…I will be a grandma again in the next week or so when my other son also becomes a dad.  There’s plenty of room in my heart and in my world–and I am sure that I will be falling in love again and again.  I am a grandma, it’s an incredible state of mind!