If you enjoyed Susannah Conway’s #AugustBreak2019, please consider joining us for a month of show-and-tell.
#SeeYouInSeptemberis about creating new connections, and seeing the world through different lenses. It’s easy-peasy: Just translate the daily phrases into photos, and then upload them to social media with our hashtag. No need for costly equipment–a cellphone camera will do. Think of it as recess for your imagination, which always wants to play.
Skip a day or two, if you wanna, but remember to add the hashtag #SeeYouInSeptember. That’s how we’ll find each other! Reveal to us your magic tricks/apps, if you’re so inclined. And psst, don’t forget to add the daily word/phrase!
Sound good? Let’s do this! Here’s a quick example, to help get you started:
I’m reading…several books at a time. And you? #ImReading is the prompt for Day 2 of the #SeeYouInSeptember photo challenge (I snapped this with my iPhone and added a fun overlay with the Rhonna Designs Magic app.)
(Thanks, Pamela Celeste Reese, for co-creating this month’s challenges with me. Can’t wait to see where this one leads us, and to meet new friends along the way!)
It’s a siren song, social media. We post glittery images on Instagram, obsess over our likes and mentions. We chime in on trending Twitter threads, not realizing in those moments of self-righteous fury, that we are, in effect, choosing chaos over positive action.
I’m worried, dear readers…worried that we’re drifting away from the ideals that we’ve always believed in, as individuals and as citizens of the world. I’m concerned that, in focusing our energies on the here and now, we’re losing sight of the dreams that we’ve been working toward, for ourselves and the greater good. So when today’s prompt, HOPES, came into focus, I saw it as an opportunity for introspection. Maybe also, a non-confrontational, open dialogue about the things that matter most.
Beyond your hot-takes on Twitter, deeper than your filtered selfie snap…all I want to know right now is what do you believe in, and what it means to you to be alive.
I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.–Audrey Hepburn
Today’s theme for #AugustBreak2019 is PINK. Susannah Conway founded this event several years ago; and while I’ve always enjoyed the artistic challenge, I love best that when I scroll through my social media feeds, I’m meeting up with creatives who, like me, are exploring ideas and techniques that move them past their comfort zones. Not to mention, it’s so much fun to peer through their windows on the world!
Here’s the deets…wanna join us? Just create a photographic image that somehow illustrates the theme of the day, and then share it on your favorite social media networks. Easy-peasy. No need to use a high-end camera–a cell phone snap is totally fine! Simple or abstract, fancy or straightforward…you get to translate the daily prompt however you want. It’s group play, but even better, because you get to make up your own rules!
The life blood of photography is a kind of holy curiosity, where life is viewed with reverence and awe and some measure of understanding as to the transience of it all.” —Donna Hopkins
Did you hear? The “supermoon,” “blue moon,” and “blood moon” put on quite a show this morning. Lucky me, I had an unobstructed view of this celestial event. It was an awe-inspiring performance—a magic trick, unparalleled. The supermoon hung low in the sky, a luminous pearl against a backdrop of black velvet. As it passed through the earth’s shadow, it turned blood red and then vanished.
When I first spotted the oversized moon, it was peeking through my picture window—a bright orange orb, nestled into a cradle of shimmery white. I ran outside, cell phone tilted upward, and did a celestial show-and-tell with my friend Donna.
We talked a while longer, but the moon had already cast its spell. As soon as we said goodbye, I tossed a jacket over my pajamas and grabbed my car keys.
By 5:35 a.m., I was enjoying an ocean-front view of the eclipse. There were other people there, of course: pros, lugging fancy equipment into position; and casual observers, snapping selfies with their smart phones.
Most, however, peered up at the moon through their windshields, windows cranked so they could listen to the ocean’s lullaby.
I stood alone on a sand berm, wrapped in a cloak of silent reverence. Salty mist stuck to my lashes; bracing winds tousled my hair. No need to be shy about having tossed a hoodie over pink ostrich pajamas—everyone was sleepy-eyed, anyway.
The moon shone down on all of us…
…eventually fading into a rusty glow.
It winked at the rising sun, and then slipped into the ocean.
You’ll find better pictures elsewhere, of course. I don’t own a high-powered, fancy-pants camera, and I’ve got lots to learn about manual settings. But you know what? I sincerely doubt that any camera (pen or sketch pad) in the world could’ve captured the deep-seated joy—and the wide-eyed sense of wonderment –that came of saying yes! to the magnetic pull of the moon this morning.
We should bow deeply before the orchid and the snail and join our palms reverently before the monarch butterfly and the magnolia tree. The feeling of respect for all species will help us recognize the noblest nature in ourselves. –Thích Nhất Hạnh
Overwintering Monarch Butterflies (Huntington Beach, California)
I’m honored to share with you some wonderful news:
A team of biologists from Ensenada approached me a while back, asking permission to use the photo I’ve reposted at the top of this page.
We have some pictures and diagrams of the Monarch but we don’t have pictures of the Monarch when they are clustered in the eucalyptus tree. We would like to have this pictures so people have an idea what to look for to find the Overwintering spots…. We applied thru the National Park of Sierra de San Pedro Mártir to get founds from the CONANP (National Commission of Protected Natural Areas) to raise awareness of the status of the Monarch Butterfly in Baja California. We got a [grant] to make a 2 day workshop for 20 people. We are inviting personal from the Natural Protected Areas from Baja California, also representatives of the Nongovernmental Organisations that work with Conservation and Wildlife in the area (Terra Peninsular, Pro Esteros, FASOL, etc). The workshop will be given by my fellow Biologist Ibes Favian Davila and Felipe Leon, who recently attended a Monarch Conservation Conference in Alamo Sonora…
As part of this public awareness project, biologist Saul Riatiga and his colleagues created posters and brochures that 1) distinguish the Monarch from other butterflies; 2) identify native milkweeds; and 3) describe Overwintering spots. These print materials will be shared among conservation groups, and will also be distributed to communities in and around Ensenada.
I’ve not yet mastered everything there is to know about Monarch Butterflies — not even close! — so I’m excited to see where this international partnership might lead.
Oh, the places you’ll go…
Dr. Seuss’s words couldn’t be more prescient. This what comes of indulging your curiosity and following your passions, wherever they might lead you. Because, as of my new scientist-friends so wisely said, “Nature doesn’t know about borders.”
You can follow this project on Facebook, at Monarchs en la Oeste. Community members will be interacting with scientists, sharing anecdotes and contributing photos to the overall data collection efforts.
“These seals seem to know you,” said the movie producer who shared the beach with me this morning. I was snapping photos in the rocky cove; his crew was sprawled across the sandy shoreline, filming a promotional piece for Visit California.
It’s true that the seals are comfortable with my presence. They talk to me, and vogue for the camera.
So naturally, I’ve been posting lots of photos & videos lately. Because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
But there’s also backstory to this, my most recent obsession.
You see, my friend in New York loves seals. She’ll drive all the way to Maine, just to watch them play.
“Do you see seals on your morning walks?” she asked me one day.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them around here.”
She was really disappointed, because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
It didn’t seem all that likely at the time, but I promised her I’d take pictures–if I ever saw them here, that is.
In a poignant twist of fate, I first saw these harbor seals on the morning of my friend’s cancer diagnosis. I’ve been taking seal videos and snapshots for her, ever since.
These harbor seals keep showing up–for my friend and me, and for anyone who finds delightful these gifts from the sea.
So there’s another other thing I haven’t yet mentioned. Trust me: It’s very much related.
My friend and I are working in tandem on some special projects for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It’s a coast-to-coast connection that makes us feel as if we’re doing something good in the world. And despite the miles between us, it’s brought us very close. Illness or no, we are stronger together.
Well… I didn’t know it when I visited the seals this morning, but my friend had sent a handwritten card to our candidate of choice. She tucked a short note inside, and addressed the envelope to Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton. “Let yourself be great!!!” she said, and then she signed her name.
And so it was that while my friend was at the hospital this morning, hooked up to the IV line that delivered her third chemo treatment–and while I was in Goff Island Cove, circumventing the film crew and capturing these images–my friend from New York heard her cell phone ring.
If you know me, you know already that my eyes were swimming when my friend let me know how things went down. Hillary was gracious, she said, and so very encouraging: “Get well soon,” she’d said, with genuine warmth in her voice; and after thanking my friend for the personalized card (and her volunteer efforts), Madam Secretary mentioned the four, smallish words that touched her so deeply.
“Let yourself be great!!”
A softball coach first shared those words of encouragement with my friend from New York. She was just eleven years old. But as so often happens with words that resonate, my friend never forgot that handful of words. And when the just-right moment presented itself, she passed them along.
You never know where a moment’s kindness might eventually travel.
You might be surprised about the reach of a few, carefully selected words of encouragement.
Like these seals, they imbue a special kind of magic. When you least expect it, they find their way back to you, carrying treasures of their own.
Not FAA regulations and local laws, because those are debated elsewhere–more knowledgeably and objectively than I might. Let’s talk, instead, about the ways in which these sky cameras, built for fun, might negatively affect wildlife habitats and the places we’ve come to know as our private sanctuaries. Not a high-level discussion, but an up-close-and-personal, eyewitness view.
Imagine that you’re enjoying a morning walk on the beach, toes digging into sand, as gentle waves splash ashore.
Now that the tourists have gone home, the beaches are nearly empty. But look! There’s a trio of seals to keep you company–further out to sea, sunning themselves on Goff Cove Island.
They’ve come to know and trust you, because you approach them with a quiet reverence…
…zooming in with your camera but never encroaching on their comfort zone.
They snooze while you’re scrambling over the rocks, investigating the tide pools and snapping photos–ever watchful, but never fearful. You’re buddies now, and they even talk to you.
“What do you see out there?” a newcomer asks.
You point, and then marvel together at their sleek beauty.
A bull seal reveals itself, watches you watching him. The potential for danger is always near, for both of you. But instinct is a powerful thing. You know you are safe, and so does he.
You pan your camera across the ocean, sun-kissed waves to sandy shore. There is no curating to be done here. It’s their habitat, and you are the guest.
The seals doze, perk up now and again, no doubt attuned to sounds your human ears aren’t sensitive enough to hear.
And then, near the very end of your videotaping session, you hear a menacing whine.
The seals are on heightened alert, now.
A strange beast crests the rocks…bobbing, whirring, careening back and forth in unpredictable patterns. Then it drops, dozens of feet, at high velocity.
The herd panics. The bull seal gives a signal, and they dive into the water, all four of them, and vanish.
Maybe it’s a stretch to think that drones will eventually stake their claim on everything, within and beyond a human’s reach. Maybe it’s wrong to extrapolate, from my own experience, that we’re edging toward a world in which curiosity outstrips compassion, privacy goes by the wayside, and convenience trumps all. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we should set some ground rules while we can.
Meet Melody Ellison, a 9-year-old African-American girl who loves gardening, singing in the church choir, and listening to Motown music. Her story, No Ordinary Sound, is set in 1960s Detroit during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches about equality, American Girl’s newest BeForever™ character picks “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for her very first solo performance. Change is in the air, and when the unspeakable happens in the Deep South, Melody’s voice is silenced. Can she recover it before her upcoming solo? Enter the book giveaway at the end of this blog post, and be among first to find out!
Most girls choose dolls that look like them. They want dolls that spark their imagination and inspire them in some way. Melody and I aren’t twinsies, but then again, I didn’t look like my beloved clothespin doll (Miss No Name), either. But we share the same name, and our stories are similar. Best of all, Melody Ellison’s built for adventures, just like me.
She arrived in her “meet” dress, accessorized here with a pillbox hat, cat-eye sunglasses, and a patent leather handbag.* Motown all the way, but ready for her adventures in La La Land.
We took a quick tour of my backyard first, because that’s what gardeners do. So flattering, the California sunshine on her beautiful hair and skin! I tucked some flowers into her handbag and then we headed to the beach.
Lovely view, don’t you think?
Melody opted quickly for a more casual look, ditching the handbag and slipping out of her patent leather flats.
She scrambled up the lifeguard stand…
…and splashed in frothy waves.**
Salty breezes tousled her hair, and her sunglasses slipped down her nose.
We explored the tide pools together, collecting sea glass and ocean-smoothed rocks.
Then we leaned against this outcropping, watching the surfers and listening to the seagulls.
Melody didn’t bring a beach hat, but she protected her curls with this fetching little number. A passerby pivoted, called over his shoulder: “Hey, isn’t that the doll I saw on the news? She smiled and waved, like the celebrity she is.
It was a memorable day, start to finish–lots to write and talk about when we got home!
We had so much fun on our beach adventure, and I can’t help but think that girls of all ages will fall in love with Melody Ellison.
Kudos to American Girl for designing this beautiful doll, who reflects so well the changing face of history. Author Denise Lewis Patrick should be congratulated, as well, for adding No Ordinary Sound to the growing collection of diverse books. Melody isn’t just a doll–she’s a phenomenon. In lifting her voice for positive change, she’ll inspire girls of all ages to do the same.
*American Girl collaborated with a six-member advisory board that provided input on all aspects of Melody’s appearance and storyline, including her outfits, accessories, hairstyle, historical events and settings.
Sunlight spreads itself across the neighboring hillsides, nudging the earth out of its slumber. A hummingbird glides easily between palm dates and salvia, chittering as it sips nectar, and I celebrate with her the sweetness of this new day.
This is my first entry in the monthlong, collaborative photography project, “August Break 2016,” a mindfulness activity that draws participants away from their daily routines and into the wider world. Inspired by a specific prompt, you snap a new photograph every day in August. No need for fancy equipment, and you can bend the rules to suit your needs or interests.
I’m using Susannah Conway’s #AugustBreak2016 as an opportunity to practice something I’ve struggled with: capturing sharp images of hummingbirds in flight. I’ll also be spending lots of time at my writing desk, polishing up a special project. Each creative act, inspiring and informing the other…
Some of you might remember that I participated last year. Aside from the healthful benefits of venturing outdoors, those photography outings had carry-over effects on my writing, all for the good. Focus. Experimenting with light and dark. Seeing things from different angles, and expressing myself in new ways.
If this sparks your own creative urges, I hope you’ll grab your camera and join us!
Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. –Barbara Kingsolver
This handsome hummingbird made his presence known while I was sitting in my backyard this morning, savoring a steaming mug of coffee. With a flash of his red gorget, he somehow managed to pull me away from the hyperbolic headlines and to notice, instead, the beauty that surrounds me.
When he preened, his gorget flipped. Voilà: Bozo the Clown. Tend to the things that matter, he seemed to say, but never lose your sense of humor.
Fight or flight? Given the stakes in this election, I see only one choice. But first, I had to get quiet. We do our best work, I think, when we’re attuned to nature’s beauty, and to the joyful noises all around us.