Friday, October 29, 2010

TRICK OR TREAT! Spooooky Black Flower Photo Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed. The winner will be contacted!

Warning: I'm in the mood for puns. The last half of the Rangers' game last night was A Monumental Disaster. The person I desperately hoped wouldn't win Project Runway, won. The dogs did not come when we walked around the neighborhood calling and wafting bacon (which I ate on the way home). So be warned: Halloween puns will abound, no bones about it.

In many places around the world, the line between the physical and the spiritual realm is...thin. Blurred. One could even say, ghostly. Some tribes in Africa still feed poison to chickens to see if a woman is guilty of an accused crime (if the chicken lives, she's innocent. Go figure.). Food is left for ancestors to come eat in Japan, a traditional practice that survives in the tech-heavy culture. The Day of the Dead continues to reign in Mexico. 

Have you ever seen a ghost, or have you just been creeped out by campfire stories? There's the skeptics' take: "Haunted Hotels' Ghost Stories Good for Business," and there's the "oooh, fun, creepy!" take: "World's Most Haunted Castles."

Some churchgoers tell stories of loved ones seeing the departed come to retrieve them at the moment of death. And there's the strange Bible tale of the witch of Endor summoning the spirit of Samuel from the "abode of the dead," subject of a brilliant Halloween sermon I heard once (refresh your memory here.)

But the classic locale for ghosts and ghouls is The Castle. The haunt of many tourists, castles are mysterious, shrouded in murky history and tales of far-off revenge, torture, and intrigue. Just the sheer number of centuries they've stood, darkened stone passageways and shadowy dungeons, begs the imagination to run wild. I love memories of visiting Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Warwick Castle, and Dunvegan Castle. Did I see any ghosts? No...but then, I was there during the day...and the castles certainly were mysterious and awe-inspiring. I loved Warwick Castle, but my heart belongs to Scotland, and it is Scottish castles that continue to hold me spellbound.

What better treat this Halloween than to present you with a stunning photo of wild, untamed, Scottish landscape? You're welcome to picture gaunt, forlorn ghosts roaming the valleys, or to keep your mind firmly in the empirical, analyzing the meteorological conditions in the photograph. (Doesn't life always come down to choosing Kirk or Spock?)

Here is Amanda, giving us a glimpse of her photographer life. Whether she was in costume when she shared these answers, I have no idea. But I bet her camera, Betsy, was. Cheeky camera. P.S: Someday I, too, shall name a pet Smooshzilla. Who wouldn't?!?!

I think more people would get into photography if they all had cameras named Betsy. Your camera is named Betsy. How did you get into photography?

I got into photography when I was 4 or 5. Mom, who was forever taking photos of my sister and me, gave me one of her old Kodak Instamatics and that was that! I remember just being awed that I could take this little device, point it at something I thought was interesting, and be able to hold onto that memory forever. Mom’s mom – my grandmother – was also into photography, but whereas Mom primarily photographed people, Nana Kay primarily photographed everything but people – the fog rolling over cornfields in the Missouri Valley, her cats playing, Grampa’s hands as he played piano – so between the two of them, I learned quite a bit about serious amateur photography. It was also through observing them that I learned that cameras have personalities (there really is no other word for it). Mom shot with a newer Instamatic and Nana Kay shot with a Nikon, and they both produced very different types of photos. When I received Betsy (a Nikon) as a wedding present, it took me a while to learn her personality and how best to work with her. As crazy as it sounds, Betsy and I have a pretty great relationships – she’s full of attitude, and is far more adventurous than I. She also is good about getting me to slow down and see what’s beneath the surface, which I think is evident in the black-and-white flower photos.

 Do you think that digital cameras, easy access to Photoshop, and photo-happy sites like Facebook have "bettered" the art of photography, or flattened it?

 I love this question about the democratization of photography! Let me answer it this way: I love, love, love that people are using photography in ways that just weren’t possible before now – even 15 years ago, photo-sharing had to be done via hard-copy, cameras were still pretty expensive, and other types of technology (e.g., phones and music players) did not have to have a camera appended to them to be considered worthwhile. I think something very profound happens when we humans are able to preserve a slice of our experience. However, I do take issue with folks wanting to recreate one specific type of photograph instead of capturing their own experiences. I’m thinking in particular of the rise of those yellowed-out 70s-nostalgic photos that are so easily created through slapping on a few filters from an iPhone app and uploaded to Facebook or Tumblr. Can those photos be interesting? Sometimes, yes. But do those photos do what I think photography should do (which is to capture one’s unique experience)? Absolutely not.

Of all the photos you've taken, what's your favorite?

 There are a few of which I’m quite fond – not because they are fantastic photographs, but because they remind me of a specific place and time and emotion. This photo of my cat, Smooshzilla, reminds me of a gorgeous fall day in Illinois when the wind was chilly but the sun was warm. Smoosh woke up from a nap (and in so doing, woke me up from the same nap!), stretched, and began to clean herself. I’m sure I appreciated that little moment given the praying mantis I’d found on the sidewalk the day before. He was huge and very stately looking – but he was also quite dead. It reminded me of how fleeting life can be.

How do you get a picture to tell a story?

 To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. I think series of photos can tell a story, but getting one photo alone to tell a story is a tricky proposition because it lacks the context of the surrounding moments in time. I’ve talked with Mom about this quite a bit – in the black-and-white flower photos (the peony especially), she sees something entirely different than I. Of course we both see the same flower, but she cried when she saw it because she said it was so delicate that it released something and she couldn’t help but have a good, satisfying cry. I see it as very shy, just poking its head out into the light to see the world – it’s meek and it’s unsure of how it will be received. Instead of imposing a story or questioning this process that each viewer – like each camera – brings to a photo, I’ve become interested in why each person sees what s/he does.

What's one thing you haven't photographed that you really, really want to?

This is going to sound awful, but I have to answer truthfully: my husband! I’ve known that man going on five years and I couldn’t take a good photo of that man to save my life! I’ve taken many, many photos of him that are honest, accurate and truthful, but I’ve yet to get one that I’m pleased with. Nate, our brilliant wedding photographer, takes great photos of my husband all the time. I suspect it’s a matter of perspective. 
Black Flower Photos is giving this Scottish Highlands
Hills and Clouds 
print to one lucky Trick or Treater!

To enter, visit Black Flower Photos and 
leave a comment here about which photo is your favorite. 
Please include your email address.

One entry per person. 
Giveaway ends ("remember, remember") the 5th of November at midnight central time.
Winner will be chosen creepily via and has 48 hours to respond.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's Up, Slovenia?!?

According to my Deluxe Radar, I've had four visitors from Slovenia this week.


Sorry, I just wanted to make sure you could hear me. There are a lot of miles between North America and Slovenia, after all.

In other news, the dogs are still missing.

In additional other news, and to be honest, as a new parent, I may have said this already but I don't remember and I'm too tired to check, you may be wondering "why all the giveaways? doesn't she ever check her archives and notice she used to write all the time?"

Um, hello. New parent. Still trying not to forget the baby in the car.
And trying not to forget more infant Tylenol, because he's sprouting teeth every other day.
And trying not to forget to brush my own teeth, speaking of teeth.

Be that as it may, I Heart Giving Giveaways, for a few reasons.
1) I've been laid off for like 3,000 years. Giving anything to anyone feels great. 
2) Everyone else has been laid off for like 3,000 years. Supporting their businesses feels great.
3) Everyone's brother has been laid off for like 3,000 years. Giving them an opportunity to win something - for themselves, for someone else, as a gift - feels great.
4) I love chatting with Etsy shop owners. HA! Had a pattern going, threw a curveball, didn't I? They are kind, quirky, interesting, hilarious people.

Speaking of curveballs.
Did you SEE the World Series opener last night? I did. Husband's from Texas, you know. Support them Rangers.
What. A. Fiasco. Disaster. Mess.

The 5th Inning was the Inning That Wouldn't End. Being Henry VIII's wife sentenced to a beheading with a butterknife would have been less drawn-out and tortuous. 

And then there was the interesting line-up of pitchers from San Fran:
*Emo-guy: the David Bazan of the Major Leagues
*Bearded guy: he makes me want to stroll through a bazaar and drink Turkish coffee
*Faux bearded guy: he told a reporter he doesn't dye it. I can only assume sarcasm.

Hopefully, the Rangers will rally tonight. But the execs at Fox and Lifetime don't consult the small sliver of overlapping demographic Venn diagram that is me: 

The viewer who wishes she didn't have to choose whether to DVR the World Series or the season finale of Project Runway. Wow. What if Heidi Klum appeared at the end of the Series and "auf wiedersehn"-ed the losers? Or, OR, what if, for the final game, the Giants and the Rangers had to create a day and evening look for a mystery celebrity?

It's been a long week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lost Dogs

The dogs are out.
The dogs are gone.

They're off, having a fun-filled, romping adventure, or are in harm's way, dodging loaded pick-up trucks and rowdy mini-vans. And I don't know which it is.

Pioneer Woman lost a dog once. Nell never came back.

We moved from the Bluegrass to the Lone Star in the beginning of the summer, and ever since, Charlie and Daisy have been running gleefully in the backyard, barking at the squirrels in the overhanging trees, or chasing each other, or bounding up when Sweet Husband or I walk out the back door. Sweet Husband has checked and rechecked the fence to make sure it was secure.

But they're dogs.

And sometimes dogs dig under fences, forcing their way through, snapping off the bottom of the boards in their desperation to chase or play - what? A cat? A raccoon? A neighbor dog? The mailman? And then their owners go to put them up for the night, and come running back into the house to tell their wives "the dogs are gone."

And then we drive up and down the streets, calling their names, listening to distant barks - all of which sound just like your dog - and we wake up in the morning hoping they've found their way home, through the open fence gate we left propped for them, just in case.

And then I think of the time we brought Sweet Baby Boy home from the hospital, and Charlie would lay at the nursery door as if on guard duty, and when Jack cried, Charlie would whine, and look at me, and trot to the nursery, and back to me, worry crinkling his brown and white face.

And I remember Daisy's antics, and her irrepressible grin, and the time she ran out onto an icy porch and lost her footing and looked like an old Disney cartoon of Goofy, legs flying in all directions.

I think of the Blessing of the Animals that Episcopal churches have sometimes, and St. Francis, who loved birds.

The city has the "lost" report, and photos to accompany it.
Kind neighbors have sent an email alert to the neighborhood association.

Charlie and Daisy, if you're checking your covert canine bark-mail on a library computer and you're reading this, please come home. I promise I'll throw the tennis ball as long as you want me to.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Votive: A Beautiful Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed. The winner is #2, Julie! Congratulations!

It's that time of year: apples are crisp, Halloween costumes are hastily being assembled, and Martha Stewart: Living has glorious slices of Thanksgiving pie showcased on the cover.

Some of you feel something tickling the back of your brain: like something hiding just out of sight, a glance at the calendar makes you feel you've forgotten something important.


I am pleased to introduce you to an extremely gifted artist. She has a shop on Etsy. She does beautiful work. And she is generously providing a yellow starburst handpainted votive to one lucky person - a gift for you, or someone you love. I encourage you to do some Christmas shopping from talented Yevgenia

Let me introduce you to Yevgenia.

I love that items in your shop are global - alongside tea cups, there are bowls with chopstick notches, and the ubiquitous English egg cup. Is the wide appeal deliberate, or does it spring naturally?

It actually springs naturally. I grew up surrounded by my grand parents’ English and German tea sets, which are now collectibles. So I naturally, out of melancholy, look out for such items. And I was always drawn to Asian art, sculpture, ceramics and design. Growing up in Moscow, Russia I was surrounded by a lot of ethnic diversity of former Soviet republics, which I think added to my globally appealing aesthetic. And now living in New York City, a melting pot of the world, just constantly broadens my palette.

I notice that you have a beautifully keen eye for nature - many of your items showcase elegant blossoms and foliage. Does your inspiration come from the outdoors, from classic botanical prints, or where?

I love the outdoors! All my summers up until 14 years old were spent in summer camps, hiking or at my grandparent’s house in suburbs by the lake with a gorgeous garden. Now that I live in urban jungle and don’t have a car, I kind of obsess about the lack of nature in the city. I have a gorgeous park 2 blocks away from me, where I’d love to prop up a tent and just live there.

 A few of your glass items seem to fuse abstract art with stained glass, the way you've painted them - they actually almost remind me of icons. What's your process - how do you get from a clear, glass object, to an exquisitely adorned ornament?

Being a multi-media artist outside of Etsy I am working with reclaimed windows which I paint and sculpturally build out to create wall hung 3D sculptures which are back-lit. I think this definitely influences how I approach painting glass. The shape of the glass object dictates the design for me, that’s why it’s almost always abstract. I get carried away by a curve or an angle, or some strange reflections produced by the thick edge of the base. But I’m always aware of how it will look against the light and in the shade, from all the angles. 

 I love that your art has a clear, consistent voice, but that it also stands alone, unique, and personal. Have you thought about creating collections, or do you prefer to allow your pieces to stand individually?

I have already begun creating collections based on my most favorite designs: Grass Fields (with floral permutations), Red Dragon motif (with black and gold variations) and Topography series, which at this point encompasses all the glass works. I did organize my store previously based on the collections but I think it was a bit confusing for the buyers looking for, say, a cup. So I changed the layout based on the type of dishes. I just wish the Etsy store was more customizable. 

 How does an online venue like Etsy help you in your day to day life as an artist?

It is incredibly inspiring to know that somebody out there likes what I create and wants to own it. This makes my day and gives a reason to go on creating. I think all artists are aware that they need audience; so knowing that I have one is very encouraging.

                  To enter this giveaway, featuring the handpainted, yellow starburst votive from Yevgenia, visit the shop here: Find your favorite item, and tell us what it is in a comment below. Include your email address for winner notification purposes. Limit one entry per person. 

BUT WAIT!  Make a purchase from Yevgenia's shop, and earn five additional entries!

Giveaway ends midnight central time on Monday, October 25th. Winner chosen via and has 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen.                                               

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Favorite Hymn: "Stand by Me"

When the storms of life are raging, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When the storms of life are raging, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When the world is tossing me 
Like a ship upon the sea 
Thou Who rulest wind and water, 
Stand by me (stand by me). 

In the midst of tribulation, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
In the midst of tribulation, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When the hosts of hell assail, 
And my strength begins to fail, 
Thou Who never lost a battle, 
Stand by me (stand by me). 

In the midst of faults and failures, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
In the midst of faults and failures, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When I do the best I can, 
And my friends misunderstand, 
Thou Who knowest all about me, 
Stand by me (stand by me). 

In the midst of persecution, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
In the midst of persecution, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When my foes in battle array 
Undertake to stop my way, 
Thou Who sav├Ęd Paul and Silas, 
Stand by me (stand by me). 

When I’m growing old and feeble, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When I’m growing old and feeble, 
Stand by me (stand by me); 
When my life becomes a burden, 
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan, 
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,” 

Stand by me (stand by me). 

listen: Stand By Me