#Make30Photos Challenge

Thanks to Emma of Emma Davies Photography for sparking my photo bug with her 30 Day Photo Challenge #Make30Photos. It's not quite what you may expect, as the challenge isn't about a picture a day. Rather, it is about making (not simply taking) 30 pictures, each with a specific criteria, over the course of as many days as needed.

For me this meant taking the 30 pictures (okay, I took way more than that and then had to winnow them down) over the course of my 17 day December vacation. I did not make my photos in numerical sequence, so you'll have to take my word for it that my visual eye improved over time. And I am publishing this post today because tomorrow begins Emma's free online class A Year With My Camera! (Yes, of course I am participating!)

Clicking on any photo set will display the images in a larger format. There is no way to display thumbnails in Posthaven so my work-around is to upload images into a Google Doc and then screen shot a row or two at a time. Tedious, but I prefer the smaller images to the super large ones that Posthaven would otherwise display. (See some of my early blog posts to get a sense of the difference.) 

[UPDATE January 16, 2016: I've posted all photos to Facebook and the full fledged images can be viewed in my #Make30Photos album.]

Intro to Ballet Workshop @ The Ailey Extension

What a way to usher in the New Year – as a student in the wondrous Dawn Hillen's 4-hour Intro to Ballet Workshop on January 2nd at The Ailey Extension in New York City! 

The opportunity to take a ballet class that was explicitly billed for those with "No prior dance experience necessary" and to work on "building a solid foundation of good posture, proper muscle use, correct body alignment and flexibility", while also learning and (re)learning ballet, grace and coordination – well, it was an easy decision to register!

What made this workshop so invigorating and satisfying was Dawn's teaching. She is a master teacher. Through demonstrations, humor, words of description and encouragement, and stories, Dawn taught some 40 of us the basic steps of ballet, including traveling and jumps. A master at teaching how to move our bodies through space, Dawn also explained ballet class etiquette, provided tips and tricks for achieving more fluidity and control over our movement, and left me wishing I lived in the city so I could take advantage of her other ballet offerings. On top of this, we were accompanied by Michael Kingon's live piano playing – the kind of music you hear at the ballet and, if you are like me when I was a child, imagined yourself dancing to. You can learn more about Dawn via her Facebook page.

After Dawn's introduction, which included her telling the story of how she got started in ballet, she led us through an hour of Zena Rommett Floor Barre exercise, followed by the first of two healthy snack breaks. Curiously, I was not hungry and not once during the workshop did I think of or miss my usual noon lunch. The break was followed by 75 minutes of Ballet Barre Essentials. This was both my first experience at the barre and observing myself in the long full-wall-spanning mirror. The mirror proved a helpful tool in observing how Dawn did a movement and in being able to see if I was doing it properly. As she noted, we would become so engaged in our own process that we would not see others in the mirror, just ourselves. 

After the second break, our final 75 minutes prior to the tips and tricks was Center Floor Fundamentals. Oh my! We danced across the studio horizontally in rows then diagonally in triplets. We were doing ballet, and it felt lovely and luscious and glorious!  During the tips and tricks portion one of the resources Dawn suggested is the American Ballet Theatre's Online Ballet Dictionary, a visual dictionary of dance.

I took several pictures of the studio but in a burst of overzealousness this morning, while deleting some untitled folders on my laptop, guess what also got deleted. (There is a lesson there…) Wanting to give you a sense of the workshop, I've screen shot an image from the workshop page (that's Dawn front and center) plus included my self-portrait for a #Make30Photos challenge taken at the mirror at the conclusion of the workshop.

What's the big deal about dancing, anyway? 

Dancing is stimulus for the soul. Dancing with someone else, as a partner or in a chorus line or small group, causes the brain to build synapses as it riffes on social connections to focus on following footsteps and acknowledging co-dancers. Dancing, on your own or with a partner or group, releases endorphins as part of the "feel good" nature of dancing; add music and the brain goes wild with endorphin abandon. The movement of dance, especially particular sequences, builds strength, improves balance and coordination, and adds to overall physical dexterity. And dance is an excellent way to nourish the aging brain or help a person with Parkinson's better able to manage their movement. Indeed, researchers see potential role for dance in treating neurodegenerative disorders.

Christmas Bird Count 2015

This first-ever Christmas Bird Count would make our next-door-neighbor Bob proud of us. He and his friend Vern are avid bird watchers, known as The Bird Guys. But this isn't about them; it's about my husband's and my first participation in the Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count, this being the 92nd year of such counts.

Having recently read two books by Erma Fisk, A Cape Cod Journal (her last) and The Peacocks of Baboquivari (her first), birding is much on my mind. It helps that we have a bird feeder positioned just outside our marsh-facing kitchen window. My most vivid memory of bird watching is twenty-five years ago, sitting at the kitchen table looking out this same window (different bird feeder) and seeing a red-bellied woodpecker stop by for a meal, day after day after day. I had plenty of time on my hands that January and February, having been ordered to bed rest in the last five weeks of pregnancy. Woodpecker and I became fast acquaintances, but it was only today that I discovered it was a male! [Heads up: clicking any image will open a larger view.]

The male red-bellied woodpecker (in my opinion, misnamed, because it's head is a striking red, but apparently another woodpecker with a dramatically full red head, face, and neck garnered the name first) has red running from its beak to the top of its head to the back of its neck; the female has a red spot just above its beak and along the back of its neck, but in between lies a white crown. The female has been busy feeding these past weeks and it is only this morning that I also saw the male. My husband suggested that the male has been around, just not when I've been watching. Very amenable of the male to show up in time for the Christmas Bird Count!

Turns out that besides participating in an outdoor field count, those of us with home feeders can do a count from the comfort of our homes. Since this is my first time, a home feeder count seemed the best way to start. (Perhaps if Bob is in town for next year's, my husband and I can join him in the field.) The idea is to record the maximum number of any given bird that we observe at the same time; this is not a cumulative count but a "how many at one time" count. Since we have been home all last week on vacation I could almost have predicted the birds we would see and how many of each.

The luxury of forced observing is that with binoculars at hand we took the time to double check the species. Delightfully, this yielded an American Goldfinch and the distinction that our finches are House Finches. By mid-morning these were joined by two Tufted Titmice and a Purple Finch. The full list is posted just below the next photo. The birds are active in the morning, shortly after sunrise (7:18 this morning) and usually take a break mid-morning before returning in time for lunch, the busiest time at the feeder. The largest contingent we have seen is a group of House Finches, probably numbering around 11; it's difficult to be precise because during the lunch time feeding frenzy there are many finches coming, going, and vying for a feeding perch. 

The birds definitely have a pecking order! The finches bicker among themselves for spots at the feeder, and the larger birds – particularly the Red-bellied Woodpeckers – dissuade the smaller birds. Finally, while we have one view seated at the kitchen counter, standing at the window and peering out and down makes accessible the many birds waiting in the wings for their turn at the feeder.

Our bird count as of 1:00 this afternoon final tally:

  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker (we saw a male and a female, but never at the same time)
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker (binoculars determined it was not a Hairy)
  • 3 Blue Jays (arrived mid-morning)
  • 1 Black-capped Chickadee
  • 2 Tufted Titmice (arrived mid-morning)
  • 2 White-breasted Nuthatches
  • 1 American Robin
  • 2 House Sparrows
  • 2 Northern Cardinals (one male and one female, they dine together)
  • 1 American Goldfinch
  • 11 House Finches
  • 1 Purple Finch (arrived mid-morning)
  • 2 Mallards (in the creek)
  • 1 Great Blue Heron (flying SW to NE across the marsh)
  • 6 Canadian Geese (in the creek)
  • 10 Black Ducks (in the creek)

[UPDATED January 13, 2016: Here are the results for the Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count based upon all 109 participants.]

You may wonder how it is that I can type this post while bird watching. Well, I am sitting at our kitchen counter, laptop on the counter and bird feeder just beyond, in plain sight. Conveniently, I learned to touch type in 9th grade, so my fingers are working while my eyes are observing. (Okay, so that wasn't the case for photographing and inserting the images, but luckily my husband was watching the feeder!)


Ever since I was old enough to read to myself I have loved to read. Some 25 or so years ago I started keeping a typed journal filled with my reviews of and responses to the books I read. The journal began in ClarisWorks. Never heard of it, huh? Well, it was a long ago Apple computer program and, when Apple discontinued support – combined with my at-the-time poor document management skills – my journal went kaput. 

At Thanksgiving 2008 my older son gifted me a Book Lust Journal made of paper, and for almost two years I continued journaling. Now I keep my journal in Goodreads where there is a new feature that displays the year in books.

The book with the missing cover art is The Inevitable Guest: A Survival Guide to Being Company and Having Company on Cape Cod. No idea why the cover art does not appear in Goodreads, but I shall remedy that right now. Here, in all it's glory, is the cover!

Christmas Eve Morning Kayak

Scores of eastern U.S. cities to shatter Christmas Eve warm weather records. Here in Mamaroneck, some 20 plus miles northeast of Manhattan, we set a new record for yesterday's temperature at 64 degrees Fahrenheit/17.8 degrees Celsius. While it is easy to wonder about the reasons for and effects of this weather anomaly, there is only one way to deal with it – and that's to make the most of it!

Our house abuts a salt marsh and tidal creek, making it possible for us to kayak from our backyard pending the tide conditions. We went out this morning on the rising side of a 10:22 a.m. high tide, one that was slated to reach 8.4 feet/2.6 meters. Heading out well before 9:00 a.m., the tide was high enough that we could enter our kayaks from the house-end of the dock.

That's me at the start, already feeling overdressed in a cotton sweater with a long-sleeve kayaking shirt underneath, and flannel lined jeans. Entering Mamaroneck Harbor from Otter Creek, we toasted our Christmas Eve morning with hot tea and honey in the best water bottles I've ever found (they really do not spill!) 

The harbor is dotted with buoys as it makes its way out into Long Island Sound, and we often make one our destination (this morning we went beyond). That's my husband on our return, meandering home through the serpentine of the creek. Could not resist these final pictures of reflections welcoming us from both sides of the creek as we headed out on our kayak.

It's a Wrap! (December)

I know, December hasn't ended yet, but school has – it's vacation! This makes it the perfect time to wrap up outfits for this month. I didn't feel compelled to record each day's outfit, as some were purely jeans oriented.

Harboring a cold for almost two weeks of the month, I opted for comfort on most days. My black LLBean Signature corduroys and burnt sienna (a favorite Crayola crayon color) Gap straight leg corduroys got a lot of wear. The addition of a statement necklace and red belt does much to improve the fuchsia dress from its November outing. And the black/gray dress had been around a long time, so much so that the top was rather bedraggled. I cut off the sleeves to accommodate wearing a denim shirt over the top (or next time likely a sweater) and give it a second life, ideas that came from Kasmira Kit's blog.

The statement necklace, orange yoga pendant, and earrings displayed in November all were made by my husband, who is a 3D designer and artist. More about that in a future post! He also kindly took all the pictures. Yup, some are blurry. Am sure it's a combination of my moving, or my husband moving, or the lighting. That's one reason I signed up for Emma Davies' free online photography course A Year With My Camera, to begin this January. Meanwhile I'm taking pictures for her 30 Day Photo Challenge – #Make30Photos. More about that when I've finished the full set (8 taken, 22 to go!)

Vacation Begins and The Force Awakens

How I Spent My First Day of Winter Vacation

Our 31 year old son treated the three of us to The Force Awakens, and on top of it all, my husband and I were eligible for the senior priced tickets! Over many, many years we have made a bit of a tradition of attending opening day or night, or fairly close to that, for The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and Star Wars movies with one or both of our sons. One year we even saw a Harry Potter movie in Paris with both our sons and our older son's girlfriend, who is now his spouse. And one year we saw another Harry Potter movie in the summer, not long after my father died, hoping the movie would provide some solace. Alas, it was the Harry Potter movie I liked the least! (Perhaps influenced by my general mood?)

Had to smile for today's movie – my husband (then my boyfriend) and I saw the very first Star Wars, what is now known as Episode 4, in 1977 when we were students in college. The Force Awakens was every bit as entertaining and fun as the original Star Wars, and far superior to Episodes 1, 2 and 3. Not saying a peep more lest I give away a spoiler. Just go see it, sit back, and enjoy!

First image: my picture of today's ticket; second image; third image

Addendum: My husband shared this succinct Star Wars Summary - Episodes 1-6 Explained in 9 Minutes. 

ON My Hair

I love my hair. Always have. Curly. Red. Hygrometer. Long. Link to my Dad's father and my Mother's aunts. 

When I was somewhere under the age of 10 my Dad's mother told me – in no uncertain terms – that I would grow up to appreciate my hair. What she didn't know is I appreciated it from the very start. However, that doesn't mean I always knew what to do with it or how to wear it in a way that best suited my face. 

As a child it seemed all hair lengths looked fine on me. As an adult, I have savored my long hair, only to look back at pictures and realize that a shorter length might have been more becoming while also helping my hair to be more healthy. In high school (1968-1972) it seemed that only the counter-culture kids had long, curly hair, the brainy kids had short curly hair, and everyone else had straight hair. I didn't define myself by the first two categories so therefore opted for the third.

Creating straightness from luscious curls meant a two and a half hour ordeal. 

  • wash and cream rinse hair
  • comb out wet hair
  • at the top of my head wrap some hair around a jumbo roller and secure with a long hair clip (imagine a "hat" consisting of a roller with hair wrapped around it)
  • slowly take remaining wet hair and wrap it around my head's contours making a circle around the top roller, and secure the hair in multiple locations using long hair clips (imagine four or five metal braces spaced out vertically around my head)
  • sit under a bonnet-style hairdryer for 90 minutes till hair was dry 

Since my hair is a hygrometer, on humid days it would frizz or curl up. Ah, the foibles of teenager-hood – once (just once!) I left school during a study hall to go home and redry my hair so it would be straight again instead of displaying the humidity-inspired curls. If I only know then that as an adult I would bemoan the dry New York winters when my hair appears more straight than curly…

Hair has always been an expression of me. When my weight was off, due to pregnancy, health or poor eating habits, my hair was the physical trait that redeemed my self-image. Over the years sunshine, chlorinated pools and age have lightened the deep red. I still consider myself a redhead and wince when someone refers to me as a blonde. Strawberry-blonde, yes, but simply a blonde, no way!

I have read that red hair turns gray more slowly than other hair colors. A close inspection of my hair would tell you that what appears as the blonder highlights is actually red hair slowly turning gray. I am embracing this metamorphosis. 

This post was inspired by a handsome young man I know who just last night shared his almost shaved head, having first grown his locks to about shoulder length. 

Redheaded statistics (from 100 Trillion Good Bacteria Living in the Human Body by Paul Rockett):

Approximately 1% of the world's population are redheads. 

Redheads have an average of 86,000 hair strands. (An average of 100,000 strands of hair are on a human head, and redheads have the fewest strands.)

ABOUT the Learning Lab

Eileen Fisher is a designer of women's clothing. She is also a passionate learner, continually looking at life through new sets of lenses. She works to share that passion within her company and with the larger world. To that end, she conceived The Learning Lab as a place to create "positive change" within yourself and, ultimately, within the world.

Thanks to Deb, my first yoga teacher, for forwarding the email announcing the Learning Lab's Fall's offerings. The Lab hosts five talk-workshop combos, and an ongoing series of hands-on crafting workshops. All of the workshops are out of my budget range, however each of the talk-workshop combos includes a free Friday evening talk the evening prior to the paid Saturday workshop, and I've attended two of these Friday talks. After attending the first talk in the series, and then writing my Welcome post for this blog… 

…I decided the evening would be part of the mantra for my future. Someone who gets Out and About.

I am an avid practitioner of yoga (since March 2005) and have taken numerous workshops geared to teaching seated yoga, seated dance, and Dance for Parkinson's. Throughout my years of practicing many of my teachers have read Danna Faulds poetry to begin or conclude a class. The opportunity to hear Danna read her poetry in person was too great to resist, so off Deb and I went to the first Friday evening talk Realization Within Reach - Yoga As A  Doorway

Danna read her poetry as accompaniment to Richard's (her husband) talk. Together they invited us into their vision of yoga. Their gentle approach included part talk, part interactive exercises with the person sitting next to each of us, and part group contemplation. Their collaborative sharing was part of my inspiration for getting this blog up and running, and for renewing my home personal yoga practice. (Am delighted to say I've been practicing every weekday morning for the past seven weeks!)

Last night I attended my second Friday evening talk, Neuromovement for a Virbant Life with Anat Baniel. I was intrigued to learn more about "the cutting edge of neuroscience and the mind-body connection" as these two topics have interested me since 2007, when I first began writing about the brain at Neurons Firing

As Anat launched into her presentation my understanding of neuroscience was refreshed by hearing familiar words and concepts that I had read and blogged about. However, as the evening progressed something started to feel off to me. Perhaps it was the way in which Anat guided us through some movement explorations or the way she responded to audience questions or the way she seemed to be "hawking" her approach; I will have to mull this over and try to determine what it was that did not sit well. Meanwhile, if you are interested in the content of her talk, I've written about it at Neurons Firing.

Despite this, the evening was well worth my heading out on a dark Friday evening. It was proof that I can get Out and About! And there was the added gift of running into four friends at the talk, none of us expecting the others but none of us surprised that we were each there. After all, we all have movement thru yoga in common!

It's a Wrap! (November)

There is no doubt that being photographed in my (mostly) work outfits helps me think more about how I put them together. My hope is by starting now I will form a habit that – come January, February and early March – will keep me more balanced (i.e. having fun!) through the winter. I live in the northeast of the US where there is plenty of winter sunshine, but light arrives late and dark comes early, thus making it difficult to get enough sunny outdoor time during the workweek. I was determined to wear my summer dresses through Thanksgiving, and for the most part the weather made this comfortably possible.

Among other photography improvements, I need to learn to stay still and not laugh during picture taking! All pictures taken with my iPhone 4S; home photos by Fred (my husband) and school photos by Jeremy (my office mate).

1 – Have always been a fan of men's wear for women. Only "men's" item is my husband's tie, all of which he stopped wearing 20+ years ago. Gap pants and button down; Land's End sweater; Boots an unknown non-leather brand purchased about 15 years ago for $35 (helps to have a shoe repair shop in the neighborhood!); Earrings by my husband.

2 & 3 – I love summer dresses! This is my office at the school where I teach. Gap dress, tee and blazer; French leggings; Belgian Hush Puppy shoes (Why don't they market their European styles in the US?); Earrings by my husband.

4 – Not so sure I like this dress anymore – it needs a statement necklace and perhaps a belt. Will try those next time and see if my mind is changed. Athleta dress; Gap sweater.

5 – Jeans. Enough said. :-) (More in a future post about jeans and me coming of age around the same time.) Talbot's jeans; Ann Taylor sweater; Necklace prototype by my husband; Giraffe a gift from my Aunt to our grandchildren.

6 – Another summer dress! Gap dress and sweater; Necklace by my husband.

7 – It was chilly so the over sweater became the under sweater.

8 – Not a work outfit but I smiled to wear classic outer wear on the weekend instead of my typical fleece jacket.

9 & 10 – Birthday celebration outfit, with close up of pattern.

11 & 12 – My other pair of jeans. LL Bean jeans; Gap sweater; Tunic cut down from a below-the-knee dress purchased in Olympia, WA; Earrings by my husband.

13, 14, 15 & 16 – Yet another summer dress, pattern mixed with straight leg light-weight jeans. Dress H&M; Gap jeans purchased for $10 approximately 20 years ago; Land's End cardigan; Belgian Hush Puppy shoes (super comfortable, easy for hours on end of walking or standing).

17 – Pants purchased when I filled them out more fully. Not sure I like how they now look. Gap pants; Belgian scarf; J.Jill sweater.

18 – Trying out the wearing of two scarves (idea from whatiwore2day). LL Bean jeans; Talbot's top; Gap scarves; Uniqlo ultra light down jacket (draped on the bed).

19 – Going for comfort the last day before Thanksgiving break! Land's End sweater; LL Bean pajama top (just arrived in the mail - I needed new bottoms but had to buy as a set - comfortable and nice enough to make this my first wearing, plus it was the pop of color this outfit needed!); Super comfortable chevron striped bamboo skirt by Yala, purchased at Shift eco-boutique in Orleans, MA this past August; Earrings from Quito, Ecuador, gift from my daughter-in-law.

20 – Ha, last day before Thanksgiving break I wore one pajama top and first day back (you can just see the top of the red pattern peeking out) the other pajama top! Garnet Hill dress; LL Bean pajama top (underneath); Gap sweater; H&M tights; same boots noted in first outfit; story teller earrings.