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When A Picture Isn’t Worth a Thousand Words

As I was brewing my coffee this morning, a rich peppermint mocha blend that isn’t “in season” but that I was in the mood for, I found myself wishing that I could take a picture of how it smells. I don’t have the words to describe how delectable the aroma filling my kitchen was.

That’s where I struggle the most as a writer. I want to be able to describe the scene so the reader feels as if they were there. The smells, the sounds, the feel of the breeze or the sun or the rain on your skin. I can take pictures with my camera, but they don’t tell you the whole story. Good writers draw a picture with their words. And I want to get better at that. To do that, I think a person has to experience it and then write about it. 

Yesterday my friend and I went to the lake to look at the sailboats. She had never been, I had been once before. I had taken pictures once before. When we got out of the car, it felt like I was experiencing it for the first time. I had forgotten the sounds at the marina. You can’t hear them in photographs. If you had been around sailboats or marinas I suppose you could draw on your memories, but for those of us who haven’t had a lot of exposure, the sounds and smells are just as wonderful as the sights. The geese squawking. The bell clanging. The water lapping the shore. A fish jumping in the distance.

You can’t feel the stillness of the heron perched for it’s catch. Or the deer grazing in the meadow, never taking his eyes off you. 

It’s true, video can help you experience those things. But what about the smells? I don’t even know how to begin to describe the smell of the lake. Or the clean air in the middle of nowhere. 

What about the feel of the sprinkles hitting your nose? Or the crisp, cool breeze chilling your skin?

How do you experience all of that in a photograph?

The truth is, you can’t, unless you allow yourself to pull from memories you might have stored. But if you don’t have those memories, it’s hard to fully know the experience. It’s not the same as being there. Cliche, but true. All the photos and the words in the world can’t replace experiencing something first-hand. 

By all means, continue to read books, look at photos, watch videos, take “virtual tours”, but most of all, get out there and experience it for yourself! Adventure awaits! And take a friend along to share it with!

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Connections

It’s been a good weekend. Saturday morning I finished a book and then got busy getting things ready for Father’s Day today. 

I received a text from a friend asking if I wanted to do lunch, so I went. The food was good and the restaurant was quiet. We sat and lingered over Dr. Pepper and conversation long after the food was finished and the plates had been taken. Connection.

After lunch I joined Mike at my in-law’s house. We started looking through old photos and the next thing we knew it was 7pm. A quick break for dinner, and then we opened another box of photos. We sat and looked and listened to stories from the past. Connection. 

Looking through all those photos got me thinking that this is something that my children and grandchildren will probably never do. Everything is digitized now. People don’t have hard copy photos in boxes and those photo albums with the clingy protector sheets. We have zip drives and the cloud and social media. It’s just not the same as holding history in your hands. The same history that your parents and grandparents held in their hands. Your fingerprints merge with theirs on the paper. The oils on your hands, the scent…you just don’t get that connection with the cloud.

I brought home some old photos to restore. Yes, I will have a digital copy, but I will also preserve the original and the stories that go with them to pass down to the next generation. Connection.

Today the boys came and grilled and we celebrated Mike on Father’s Day. Of course, Mike and I were so tired from being out late the night before that we weren’t very good hosts, but it was good to have the boys here. Connection.

Tomorrow an old friend and I are going on a photo venture to Stockton Lake Marina to see some sailboats and look around a bit. Then another stop at Hulston Mill Historical Park. We’ve packed our lunches and are ready for exploring just like we used to do on Saturday mornings when we were kids. It’s great to have friends who have your history. Old friends who are as comfy as your old college sweatshirt. Connections that are as old as life itself. 

The older I get, the more I want quality connections over quantity. Lingering over Dr. Peppers in the corner of a quiet restaurant. Looking through photos and listening to the stories. Sharing those photos and stories with the next generation. My adult children coming for Sunday lunches. Road trips with childhood friends. Those are the kinds of connections I crave. Those are the kinds of connections I will seek. 

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Current Mood

I sure know how that guy feels right now–staring out the window wishing he could go.

A little backstory. This is Copper. Copper is “grounded” because he didn’t come in the night before when it was time for bed. He loves the outdoors, but since we live in the middle of the woods and he’s white, he’s prime coyote bait. Or bear. Or whatever else lurks around out there after dark.

But I totally get the gazing out the window, wanting to go somewhere look in his eye. I’ve had it before. I have it now.

I need some adventure. Not drama. Drama and adventure are two different things. I like the predictable-ness of my life. I love the safe space that I have where I spend most of my time.

Sometimes, though, I just want to get away for a bit. Take the camera and go for a drive. Pack up the camper and spend a couple days by the water. Try out a new coffee shop. Spend the day rummaging through flea markets.

Days like that are good for the soul.

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Things We Did Before Our First Camping Trip of the Season

We’re going camping in a week and I am so ready! This has been the longest year of my teaching career up to this point. I’m not sure why that is, but I need to get away to the forest and decompress. 

Just because I am ready, doesn’t mean the camper is, however. 

We have a small popup camper, so we don’t have to worry about a lot of holding tanks and water lines. So if you’re looking for a post about those things, I can’t help you there. 

I did have some very specific things that I wanted to do in my popup before next weekend. I just had to wait until it stopped raining so that I could crank it up and get in there to work.

  1. Fresh Coat

The first thing we did was give the outside a bath and put a fresh coat of paint on. I loved the vintage look that the faded paint gave the camper, and didn’t really want to paint it, but the husband had other plans. I’m ok with how it turned out. Eventually I would like to paint the whole thing, but that will be later on.

Before
After
  1. A Good Cleaning

When I was finally able to get the camper popped up, I took everything out and cleaned. The camper was folded up tightly all winter, and things just needed some freshening. It smells lemony-fresh in there now.

  1. New Gear

All winter I have been collecting things to add to the camper. Not a lot, because it is a small popup, but I added some things and took out a few things.

I took out the carpet squares that had been thrown down on the floor. They collect dirt and dust from our feet, but I didn’t like them. They are harder to clean than just simply sweeping the linoleum. Eventually I would like to put some vinyl floor planks down and get rid of the linoleum. 

I found a couple of welcome mats at the Dollar Tree that we will use this year. One on the outside at the step and one right inside the door. Other than that, we are going bare floor this year.

I covered the bench cushions. I’d been seeing a hack of how to cover the cushions without sewing. Since I don’t sew, this spoke to my soul. 

I bought bedding to be used specifically in the camper. Pretty much the only thing we don’t like about the popup is that you still have to load up A LOT of stuff to take with you every time you go camping. Hauling around bulky bedding was the worst last year, so this year we have bedding that can be loaded into the camper before the departure day, saving us some room in the backseat of the pickup for other things.

I added an electric skillet to my camp kitchen. The camper has a propane stove that can be used inside or outside and it works great, but when we stay where there is electric, I can save fuel and use the electric skillet instead. 

I also added a coffee maker. What’s camping without a cup of coffee in the peaceful morning air? Last year we used a stainless steel percolator on the propane cook stove. It makes good coffee, but it takes a long time. The coffee maker will be much simpler and I can make more coffee. You can never have too much!

Something else I’ve added to the camper this year is a small popup privacy tent. Most of the places we go have bathroom facilities, and that’s great. We won’t need the privacy tent that often, but we’ve scouted out some primitive camping sites that won’t afford us the luxury of flushing toilets, electricity, or running water. Those are the kind of spots I like to go camping…remote and peaceful. The privacy tent can be popped up and the port-a-potty set inside for a place to go to the bathroom. 

The last thing we added were rope lights. This was my husband’s contribution. He loves rope lights! I’m not sure why, but he does, so I let him. They do look really cool and light up the outside of the camper so you can see when returning from the bathroom or a night of fishing down at the lake.

  1. Lights!

Another thing to check before heading to the campsite is the lights on the camper. When you plug the camper into the vehicle you are towing it with, make sure that all the lights and signals work properly. 

Now we just have to throw our clothes and hygiene items in a bag and put the groceries in the cooler and we are ready to go! It’s too bad I have to work four days before we can leave. 

Happy Camping!

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I Went Camping

I really should have taken along my big camera instead of just my cell phone this weekend, but I didn’t. I thought about it because it is fall and the leaves are so pretty right now, but I knew that where we were going was notorious for wind and the weather was calling for cold and rain. We missed out on the rain, but man was it cold! The little pop-up did good, though! It has a furnace, but instead of using our propane, we run a small electric heater and it stayed nice and toasty the whole time.

Most of the weekend was spent sitting as close to the campfire as I could get without getting a lung full of smoke. Some of the guys we were camping with decided to throw up some tarps between the trees for a windbreak, and that did help with the cold, but we needed a smoke stack to divert the smoke from our eyes. Or an oxygen tank. Just sayin’.

All in all it was a great weekend with some great people! And the campground wasn’t bad. There were some negatives, like no showers and a flushing toilet for those of us who were not in a big camper with a bathroom. The trek to the bathroom was short, but filled with sticker bushes. I spent 30 minutes after using the restroom just picking stickers off my pant legs. After the first trip I just decided to drive the Jeep around the long way to avoid the headache.

It was a beautiful campground, though. Crabtree Cove on Stockton Lake is a peninsula with a view of the Stockton Dam on one side and a quiet cove on the other. The campsites were big and spread out to give ample room. We camped with three other campers and our group was 13 people. We had plenty of room to sit around the campfire and “chill”.

Of course, no camping trip would be complete without cooking over an open fire, right? Most of the time the cooking was done in electric skillets outside. No one really wants to cook in the fancy camper kitchens. This pot of green beans and bacon made it to the fire, though. It was a special request of my brother for his birthday dinner at the campground.

Tomorrow is a Monday and I will head back to work, but I did have a great weekend after a long, stressful week in the classroom. There is just nothing better than spending time with those you love, making memories and enjoying the fresh air. The camping season for us is over, and that makes me sad, but there are lots of things to do around the farm before the snow starts flying. Next weekend we are cutting wood. I’m already tired just thinking about it.

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Dreaming

I’m up early today. Not as early as I should have been because I wanted to get some writing done this morning, but I did manage to get around at a pretty good clip, so that helped. Then when I was grabbing my flash drive to save to (I always do this just in case I want to write where there is no wifi—I like the peaceful country setting) I saw my mom’s flash drive setting on the table and remembered that I was supposed to download some pictures on there for her. I did that, and now my fingers don’t seem to want to type as fast as I’d like them to.

Another “perk” from cancer treatment is that sometimes now I can’t spell to save my life. That’s huge for me because I used to be amazing at spelling, and now I’m not. And sometimes I lose my words. I know what I want to say, but can’t think of the word I need. I’d say that chemo brain and what it does to you has been the hardest struggle of this whole journey for me.

Anyway, I wanted to write this morning. I had an urge to do it last night, but not until I laid down in bed and I knew that if I got out of bed and started it last night, I would never go to sleep and it would be impossible to get up for work this morning. So I told myself I would make time for it in the morning and I went to sleep instead.

I don’t know what I want to write about. Something. Everything. That’s the pull on a writer’s soul. You want to write about absolutely everything. Big things. Small things. A writer can write a whole chapter on the tiniest of details. Not me…I can’t do that yet. I’d like to do that, but my brain doesn’t analyze like that quite yet. I’m rolling an idea over in my head this morning of taking a creative writing course. I hate homework, though, so that’s what is holding me back at present. I love to write, but I love to write what I want and not what someone tells me I need to write. And certainly not on someone else’s timeframe. I work a full-time job as a preschool teacher…some days I don’t have any words left by the time I get home. I don’t want to be graded on that.

But surely there is something out there that I could do to hone my skills at creative writing. A “club” or something online…

There goes my alarm telling me that it’s time to feed the animals and get my butt in gear. I dream of the day when I can sit here as long as I want, crafting a story that people can’t wait to be released, much like the new John Grisham novel that just showed up in my Kindle library this morning…

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The Five-Year Mark

It’s not October yet, but as the month approaches I always look back to the event that changed my life. This year I will reach the five-year mark, and I want to share my story with you in hopes that you will see how important early detection and yearly mammograms are.

Five years ago I discovered a lump in my left breast. I had just turned 41 six months earlier. Eight months earlier I’d had my first mammogram at 40 years-old. Just like I was supposed to. The mammogram was clear and I was relieved to be done for the year. I gave it no more thought until I found the lump.

Upon my discovery I promptly scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about, but I also knew not to put it off. It was late October before the doctor could see me. He ordered some labs, which all came back normal; and a diagnostic mammogram.

It would be late November, the day before Thanksgiving before the mammogram could be scheduled. Gotta love healthcare in the US. I went for the appointment and after the mammogram the radiologist wanted to do an ultrasound for a closer look. He gave it a BI RAD score of 4C and then scheduled me for a biopsy.

The biopsy didn’t happen for another couple of weeks. Once again, no one really seemed to be in a hurry. But as the days and weeks kept passing, I was growing more and more frustrated with the timetable.

At the time of the biopsy, the results were found to be invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) about the size of a marble. That was early December. My doctor then scheduled me to see a surgeon. When the surgeon’s office called me, however, they told me that I couldn’t see that particular surgeon until January 31, 2016. I had a redheaded meltdown right there on the phone in my office at work. I told them while everyone was just dragging their feet like it was no big deal, I had something growing inside of me and I wanted it out immediately. I demanded the first available appointment with the first available surgeon in that office. The woman on the phone told me she would have to clear it with my doctor since his orders were for a different surgeon. I told her my doctor was an idiot (he was…after ordering the diagnostic mammogram and returning to him for the results, he asked me why I was in his office that day…don’t get me started). Anyway, I told the lady on the phone that it was my body and I had a right to request another surgeon. She gave me the next available appointment with the next available surgeon, but that was still two weeks out.

I had the surgeon consult mid-December and returned for surgery on December 26. At the time of the surgery the lump had grown to the size of a bouncy ball you get in one of those quarter machines. In four weeks the cancer had doubled in size.

Four weeks isn’t a long time when you are waiting on a vacation, or for school to get out, or for your wedding day. Four weeks is an eternity when you are waiting on surgery to remove cancer from your body. Had I waited to get the lump looked at; had I accepted the timeline for the surgeon; things could have had a much different outcome. I caught it early. It seemed like the lump popped up overnight. My cancer was highly aggressive, but because of early detection the prognosis was good. I still had a very long journey…lumpectomy and lymph node dissection, six rounds of a four-drug chemotherapy cocktail (the first dose took 6.5 hours), two hospital stays (one in ICU after almost dying on my son’s graduation day), 36 radiation treatments, 16 doses of a maintenance drug, and recommended 10 years of tamoxifen (I did one year and ended up with a pulmonary embolism).

Even today, five years after I discovered the lump that changed my life, I still deal with long-term side effects of chemo and radiation. I forget what word I want to say sometimes. I can’t remember anything without writing it down. I still have to go to the oncologist every six months. I still get nervous before every mammogram. I am super-sensitive to changes in my body and there are days when I have to fight the urge to wonder if the cancer has returned. It would be so easy to live there, but I don’t want to. I refuse to let it have anymore of my life than what it’s already stolen.

I am not telling you this so you will feel sorry for me. I’m telling you this so you know how important early detection and yearly mammograms are. It could be the difference between life or death. I know mammograms are uncomfortable, but they sure beat having your port accessed every three weeks or having a sunburn from radiation. And they don’t hurt nearly as bad as radiation fibrosis in your shoulder four years after treatment.

Schedule your mammogram. Make time for self-care. Listen to me. Self-care isn’t selfish. Use your personal days for something that brings you joy. Go get a massage. Get your nails done. Take a weekend by yourself. Do it! You are beautiful and you are worth it.

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Summer Nights

Can you believe that I don’t have one single picture from the 4th of July? Normally, I do. Historically I have taken so many 4th of July fireworks pictures that it is crazy. They all look the same from year to year, and I end up missing the real fireworks because I’m watching the camera or phone screen. So this year I didn’t even take my camera. Legit, as we’re walking out the door to go to our friends’ house, my husband asks in disbelief, “You’re not taking your camera?” No. I practiced being present this year and enjoyed watching the fireworks with my husband. Choice well made.

I do have a couple new pictures to share, however.

I cannot be sure that the little light streaking through the northwestern sky is the comet Neowise, but it could be. Even so, I liked the colors in the sunset sky.
I tried my hand at catching the stars. It was not a clear night, and in fact, there was lightening off to the north. I tried to catch a bolt or two for about an hour before I gave up and used my remote shutter release to shoot some stars.

Summer nights in the country are the best! As I was standing out t here in the field with my camera gear, I was reminded of so, so many nights under the stars as a kid–catching lightning bug (or fireflies, if you prefer) and sleeping in the tree house or a tent in the yard. Those were the best nights, and still are!

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Just a Girl and Her Camera

This isn’t me; it’s a stock image.

I’ve found myself taking a lot of photos lately. I always take a lot, but being home and not able to go to many places amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken more. In reality, I think it’s been because I am so sick of hearing all the negative in the world right now so I’ve turned off the TV and social media, picked up my camera, and looked for something positive to share.

My interest in photography goes all the way back to when I was a kid and my grandpa would bring his camera down to the farm every time they came for lunch. That was long before digital cameras, of course, and he had this big bag that carried the camera body and a lens or two, a light meter, a flash, and his notebook and pen. I knew that I loved his camera. It was big and shiny and heavy. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to pick it up, but I did because I needed to feel it in my hands. I was hooked from that moment. Every time he came down, we had to pose for a picture, and it took FOREVER to get the camera set up. I had no idea at the time what was taking so long. I had never heard of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I just knew I was tired of standing there. As we posed, Grandpa would take a picture, make a note in his notebook, and the adjust some settings for round two. I don’t know if he took photos of other things because most of the pictures I saw were of us and our cars.

Grandpa had a dark room off his garage that I went into one time. I thought that was the coolest thing that he could develop his own pictures and didn’t have to take them to Walmart and wait for days to see the results of his photo shoot.

Another influence for me was Linda, our babysitter when we were young. She had a much simpler set-up than my Grandpa and would snap random pictures as we played or celebrated birthdays and everyday things. There was no posing. Her shots were 100% candid…life photos. Her camera was a pocket 110. The long, skinny camera with a flash cube that went on top that spun around as you took a picture. I thought that camera was so cool.

I loved that camera so much that when I was old enough to get my own, that is what I wanted. I used it for many years, along with a Vivitar point and shoot.

 When I was older and out of high school, I got a Minolta 35mm with a zoom lens. It was still a film camera, but that zoom lens made me so happy. I took so many pictures with it that the flash quick working and the camera was no good anymore. I purchased another 35mm with a zoom lens, I believe that one was a Bell and Howell.

I didn’t use it for too long until the digital age opened new horizons.

My first digital camera was a Kodak 3.4MP with no zoom. I drove everyone crazy with the all the pictures I took with that thing.

One day I got a notification in my mailbox that I had a package at the post office to pick up. The only information on the card was that it was from a Michigan zip code. My Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ken (and several cousins) live in Michigan and regularly mailed packages to the kids, but it wasn’t anyone’s birthday or anniversary. The package was addressed to me and I opened it right there in the parking lot of the post office. Inside was a Canon PowerShot digital camera!

It was an upgrade to 4.3MP and a zoom! The note inside said that they had upgraded to a new camera and wanted me to have their old one and to keep taking pictures. And that I did! A few years later I upgraded to a Kodak 10MP, 10X Zoom and passed the Canon on to my nephew who was interested in photography.

From there I went to a Fuji 16.9MP, 40X zoom and wow! I took that thing with me everywhere. I even took it on a float trip, and it ended up in the river. Thankfully it was sealed in a waterproof bag! I absolutely loved that camera. It looked like a small version of a DSLR and was capable of shooting in manual mode, if I so chose to do. I did not. The settings were still very confusing to me. But I had wanted and couldn’t afford a DSLR for so long and I loved the way this one felt in my hands. When I got that camera, I gifted the Kodak 10MP, 10X zoom to an aspiring photographer friend in need of a camera.

This is me with my Fuji several years ago.

One summer day I was in the pawn shop in my hometown when I happened to walk down the camera aisle. I wasn’t in there looking for a camera. I was looking for a guitar stuff as I was in the process of learning to play. I looked on the shelf and there sat a Nikon D3100 body, two lenses, and a camera bag. I didn’t know anything about the camera, so I took out my phone and did a search. I looked at the price tag, knowing there was no way I could afford this camera kit. I almost fell over when I saw that it was only priced at $150. And the store did layaway! I quickly called my husband and told him that I wanted it—I had wanted it for years—and this was a REALLY good deal. I didn’t put it on layaway. I knew that there was no way that I could wait to use this camera if I bought it, so I paid for it in full and took it home that day. I don’t remember what the picture count was on that camera when I upgraded to my D3400, but I know that I probably used that camera daily.

I’ve had the D3400 for a couple years now and I love it, of course, but I don’t know that I will ever not want another camera. I expect it’s like any car guy or gun collector. You simply must have it.

Over the years I’ve taken pictures of just about everything. Clouds, cars, flowers, birds, sunrises, and sunsets. Landscapes, city-scapes; pets, wildlife; babies, seniors; ballgames, concerts, tractor pulls, races; birthdays, holidays, fireworks; and everything in between. I love photographing it all and I want to share my photos.

~Sondra