Photography

Befriending Blue Jays

We’ve had blue jays as visitors to our yard for years, but this year is unique. I think one of last year’s fledgling jays picked our yard for his home. Specifically, the pair of jays nested in this pine tree right next to our porch.

This has led to our cats watching out the front windows and the blue jays watching back.

So our house is filled with the sounds of jays yelling at cats while cats chitter at the jays. Even when neither is making noise they still keep an eye on each other.

It is hours of solid cat entertainment.

The jays are less concerned about humans. In fact they seem calmer if a human is in view along with the cats, as if they know that the humans will control the cats. However on the day when I was photographing flowers near the nesting tree, the jays expressed loud opinions.

They kept a close watch on me to make sure I wasn’t going to find their nest.

However it is also possible that the yelling was less about the nest and more because they wanted me to go get some peanuts for them. So I did that too.

Blue Jays are noisy, pushy, bossy birds. I like them and am happy to befriend this pair. Sometime in the next few weeks their babies will be ready to fly and then they’ll stop guarding my front porch so closely. I will be glad to have the yelling and chittering be a little less constant, but I also hope they still come and visit.

A Rainy Walk Through Thanksgiving Point Gardens

I almost didn’t go even though I had a ticket. I bought the ticket a month ago to assign myself to leave the house, but on that morning it was raining. Howard had to chivy me out the door. Thus I arrived for my meander along rainy paths, admiring growing things.

The gardens still require masks and everything is outdoors, so I felt safe from risk of pandemic infection, but I still found myself avoiding people where I could. Because of the rain there were far fewer people than usual, but it still felt like too many. I’m not sure why, but I always love displays with parasols or lanterns hanging over the trail. They lift my spirits and make me feel like I’m flying too.

With my own umbrella, I felt an even greater-than-usual kinship with the parasols bobbing in the wind. Though I was definitely a raven to their bright songbirds.

The Koi were completely unbothered by the rain.

The geese were also unfazed.

I got significantly damp.

And I discovered that wearing a face mask while being rained on presents something of a dual challenge for wearers of glasses. Foggy! With Dripping!

I didn’t even notice it until I got home and was editing photos, but while I admired the many blooming flowers, I mostly photographed the statuary, water, and set pieces.

And there were many things I couldn’t photograph, like the feeling of standing in the man-made cave behind the waterfall, hearing the roar of the water and feeling the thrum of the engines that hurl that water over the rocks into the pond below. Or the wide open vistas when my eyes have been used to looking at the contained spaces of my house. Or how hungry I was for green. Green trees on green grass with bushes just starting baby green leaves doesn’t make a great photo even if it makes my heart happy. I did get a picture of this tree trunk that looks like a frog.

I love Thanksgiving Point for how beautifully it is created, and how much care they take to make sure that every part is accessible to people who use wheels to get around. I also hunger for a wandering experience in a place that is a bit more natural, so perhaps my next outing will be a hike up a canyon. There will be fewer flowers, no tulips at all, but full of beauty. Walking in the rain was lovely.

An Early Spring Garden Walk

Today it is 70 degrees out (21 celsius) which makes it a lovely day to walk in my gardens and see what is growing. The front flowerbeds have begun to put forth new growth. Soon these red peony shoots will turn green and leafy.

Dandelions are cheerfully growing in places where I don’t want to have dandelions.

I have my first tulip blooms.

The spring star flowers and grape hyacinths are out in force.

In fact, the grape hyacinths have started invading the lawn. I love it and put off the first mowing until after they’re done blooming.

Above the invasion of grape hyacinths, you can see the grape row. I need to trim it back and build a better structure for them to grow on. I should do that soon before the vines start to leaf out.

Another trimming project is this pear tree that I’m trying to rescue from blight. Those last tall branches will come off as soon as I figure out how to put the chain back on the pole saw. When it grows out again, we’ll be able to watch for blight and trim it out.

The apricot tree is in full bloom, though some of the blooms got caught by a freeze, so I had to pick a bloom cluster that didn’t have freeze damage.

The first daffodils have made their appearance

I’ve got a birdbath, wind chime, and bee hotel to put up now that the weather is nice. I’ve already got this stacker feeder to draw birds into my patio space. Some day I need to sit outside long enough to catch pictures of the goldfinches which have started coming around. They look so dapper in their spring colors.

The new garden bed next to the patio is getting ready to bloom.

Parts of it are blooming already. This is going to be lovely spot to sit in the warm weeks to come.

Spring always gives me joy. Thanks for coming on this walk with me.

Frosty Morning


The air was crisp against my face, the ground crunched with ice underfoot. I looked up at the dawn brightening sky, attempting to determine why this morning was lovely when others had merely been cold. It was certainly not the task which occupied my hands. Pulling a garbage can to the curb is arguably the least-lovely of possible tasks. The sky had no explanations for me, just a broad expanse, pink tinged at the edges. The difference then, must be in me if the sky, cold, and ice were unchanged from days prior. This morning I carried with me a soul ready to appreciate and see the beauty when other mornings I focused on my steps and task. Work focus is so often necessary in a world where productivity is survival. Yet the tiny pause in appreciation of the frosty sky did not impede the completion of a mundane task. It elevated it. And I returned to warmth and light a little better for knowing the frost.

Fall Break

My kids were out of school for five days. Instead of packing up everyone and heading out for adventures, we stayed home to do comforting things and a few projects. Some of the projects took place in the video game world, but mine were house and harvest.

Years ago we planted grape vines. The starts were gifted to us by a Schlock fan who worked at a vineyard, so we have varieties that aren’t typically seen in home gardens. The vines have matured and we now get a huge harvest each fall.

This year there was a boom in snail population, because for each batch of grapes we brought in, I had to rescue dozens to a hundred tiny snails. The finger pictured is a pinky finger.

The snails had to be rescued because once the grapes were de-stemmed, we cooked them into juice.

Then the juice was cooked into jelly. It was a lot of stove work and glass bottles.

The kitties had their own ideas about how to spend the weekend.

On the Monday of the break there was a different project entirely. We had a big solid redwood playset that we purchased when our kids were little. For the past five years or more, it has sat in our yard unused gathering detritus. We decided that it was time for the playset to move to a home with two six year old boys and a baby. So bright and early we began work.

The job and playset were bigger than the new playset owners expected. But I put my crew of adult-sized kids to work and things came down pretty quickly.

The disassembly process showed me all the ways in which this playset is amazingly solid after sitting outside in the weather for more than 15 years. It also let me see that being disassembled is the best possible thing to happen to it. The new owners will be able to clean everything up, replace aging bolts, re-stain, and replace the few boards that are showing structural wear. I’m glad it is going to people who are excited to do that work. I would never have gotten around to it.

It is always interesting to see what you find in a project like this one. I figured out where all the kid scissors went. We used to have so many rules about scissors not going outside. Rules that were apparently not heeded as evidenced by the graveyard of lost scissors.

Now there is a big empty space in my yard where the playset used to stand. Everything feels open and new possibilities are beginning to be mulled over.

All in all, it was a lovely use for a long weekend. Though I was physically tired at the end of it.

Welcomed Back

I had a moment of quiet delight when I opened my laptop to enter the Wifi password and I discovered that my computer (Calcifer) had already connected. Calcifer remembers this place. So do I. This is my third visit to Woodthrush Woods. Even on my first visit the house felt welcoming and familiar, as if I’d been here before and only forgotten. The exact quote from a blog post I wrote at the time was:

I used to dream about my grandma’s tiny house. In the dreams I went upstairs and through a door to discover that her house had extra rooms and floors. Stepping into Woodthrush Woods was like stepping into one of those dreams, my grandma’s house–only different and bigger.

This visit there is actual familiarity along with that welcoming feeling. My first visit to this house is chronicled in a series of posts starting here. And my second visit starting here. That first visit was five years ago, time slipped past while I was not measuring. The switch over to cruises for the Writing Excuses retreats was the right choice for everyone concerned, but it did mean there were fewer events to draw me to visit this house.

Reading back over the posts I wrote five years ago, during that first retreat, I can see how far I have come. Back then I barely even had the word Anxiety to describe what I was wrestling with. It is so obvious now that anxiety was the issue, but in 2012 I didn’t know that. That trip was six months before the kids began hitting mental health crises. It was before all the diagnoses, tears, grief, and depression. It was back when my whole life was shaped by my anxieties and I couldn’t even see it. That trip dragged it out into the light and demonstrated why it was a problem. Since that trip I’ve traveled a long and winding emotional road. Coming back into this place shows me how far I have come. I am stronger and more fully myself that I was five years ago. My family has a nuanced lexicon of ways to self-assess and manage the now-acknowledged mental health issues that each of us deals with daily.

Pausing to acknowledge the road I’ve traveled these past five years is apparently the first work of this writer’s retreat morning. Time for the next thing.

Vacation as the World Changes

As I listened to Hardcore History’s series on World War 1, the narrator spoke in detail about how that war was a watershed in human history. Afterward everything was different than before. And it all began abruptly, with a single event that led to a cascade of other things until all of Europe was at war. I remember in particular one segment after the war had begun when the narrator spoke about average citizens in their home countries, that they didn’t understand yet that the world had changed. They went about their lives, had picnics, went to work, complained about the small inconveniences of life. The narrator was so surprised, how could the people not be struck by the trend of events?

In the past week my country ordered a strike on Syria. North Korea has been in the news. This same week my daughter spent hours by a pond catching frogs while we’re on vacation. I sent emails to continue a work project because I have a responsibility to see it through. I took pictures of the pond and of flowers. And I begin to understand why those people over a hundred years ago went on picnics. Some of them knew that the world had changed. They knew that death, grief, and disaster were coming for them. So they treasured the picnic while they had it.

The terrible pictures on the news exist in the same world as my pictures of bumble bees and blue skies. For a while I was participating in political discussions on social media. Lately I’ve been so overwhelmed with it all, and with my own urgent tasks, that I have not. I feel guilty about this. I should do more, spend more effort, time, money to improve the world for those who struggle more than I do. At the same time I know that if I deplete myself I will not have stamina for the long haul. Taking care of others is always a long haul. And if the current folks in power get to stay in power, that haul will last at least four years. I’m keenly aware that my efforts or lack thereof have an effect on whether they get those four years. My personal effect is minuscule, but not nothing.

One of the things I feel I can do is provide some places of respite. I can share my pretty pictures. Because when souls are beaten up and grieving over terrible images, sometimes beautiful things can help. I have to remind myself that the picnics which the hardcore history narrator marveled at were important. People on the front lines desperately need to know that there is something normal, beautiful, peaceful that is worth saving. When people rotate off the front lines something comforting needs to be there for them so that they can rest up before doing battle again.

So here are some of the pretty pictures of a vacation that occurred simultaneously with a series of events which may cascade and permanently change the world I live in.

Amaryllis

amaryllis
My amaryllis is blooming. It sits on the edge of my tub right by the bathroom door. I can’t see it until I enter the bathroom, then it is right there, a giant beautiful flower. I keep being surprised by it, “Oh that’s right. I have a flower.” Life needs more big beautiful surprises in it, particularly in mid winter.

Things I Learned While Cruising

Dolphins have a series of sounds that they always use when approaching another dolphin. Each dolphin has a unique set of sounds. This means that dolphins name themselves and routinely introduce themselves by name.

If you place two Tayler kids at adjoining tables, they will create little fortresses and villages out of sugar packets.
sugar-forts

Different ships have different social structures between staff and guests. This one felt more stratified than the last ship. I kept trying to put my waiter and my room attendant at ease and was never able to quite do it.

The world is full of amazingly kind people. Many of them were our attendees and teachers for this event.

Having a larger ship does not mean I’ll feel the ocean less. Because the ship was so tall and the underwater portion shallow in comparison, I felt the motion of the ship most of the time. I never felt sick with it except on the one night where I was in the highest lounge of the ship while the ship was skirting the edge of a storm.

I do not like it when they make the dining hall staff dance to music. I’d much rather be having conversations. They danced four times during the week. It was a lot.

Sometimes the light strikes the water in a way that makes crepuscular rays reflecting down into the water. This is hard to catch on film, but I tried.
reflection-crepuscular

There were lots of knowledge gaps in my children’s experiences of travel. Howard and I were frequently explaining things and demonstrating things. They had to be shown how to navigate an airport, how to order room service on a ship, how to share elevators with lots of other people, how to be polite in all the small ways that are necessary in crowds.

Bringing kids onto a crowded ship with fourteen decks, then making them stay for a week, is an effective way to exterminate elevator anxiety.

While some of my kids dove in, did their own research, and ran off to do things, I had to be cruise director for some of the other ones. I had to book tickets to shows then require them to actually attend those shows, which they then enjoyed.

Nassau has iguanas everywhere. This delighted all Taylers.

Dusk while pulling away from port is beautiful.
island-dusk-2

Standing on a balcony and watching water flow by is a huge destressor. Riding a smaller boat with wind in my face is also a destressor while simultaneously being invigorating.

Dan Wells will let his assistant paint his nails if the polish is glow in the dark with tiny bats.

If we leave the room set up and the mics hot, apparently attendees will host a spontaneous Writing Excuses episode with various people playing the part of the cast members.

Swimming with dolphins will make my daughter vibrate with joy.

Other people genuinely like my kids and find them charming. This is nice to know because I often worry that their various intensities will make them bothersome in public.

Old Heidelberg is a marvelous restaurant and I should eat all the potato pancakes.

When there is a fire at an airport, security will completely empty the terminal and we’ll get to stand in a long line waiting to get into the building. Once inside I could smell that it had been a bread fire, it smelled exactly like scorched toast. Then I thought about it and realized that the evacuation was not an over reaction. A small fire could be a staged distraction and they had to rule that out before allowing travelers back into the building.

If you let Gleek loose with a free afternoon and a pool area populated with little lizards, she will become so expert at catch and release that she can practically just walk up to them and pick them up. Also, she will manage to tame them so that they’ll just sit on her hands and shoulders.

Those photos with water and hair flips are a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Water up the nose is a serious issue. Also if you have long hair, it requires serious back muscles to move the weight of the hair and water.
splash

Given the opportunity, a conference of writers will claim space in a lounge and gradually all the other people will leave because we’re talking about weird stuff.

While on a cruise, strangers will use the elevator ride to divulge random details about their lives. Sometimes this is delightful, other times it’s just weird.

If you put siblings into tiny cabins for a week, all the latent rivalries and tensions will come to the surface.

Day three is when kids melt down and want to go home. Day five is when they really settle in to the rhythms of ship life.

An autistic adult who is removed from most of his familiar routines, will need someone to be with him pretty constantly so that he doesn’t retract inward into loneliness and sadness. Also the newness of things means he can’t fully enjoy them. They have to repeat and become familiar before he can evaluate if he actually likes them.

When we are willing to be vulnerable with each other, a powerful connection can be formed in a very short span of time. Also a single sentence can tell a powerful story. I witnessed nine people take painful personal stories and distill them into a single sentence as part of an exercise. It was amazing.

My camera has settings that let me catch moon on water (If a bit dark and blurry). You can also see the constellation Orion if you look right of the moon.
moon-water

I need my trips to have spaces of unscheduled time so that I can process the experiences I’m having. I’m home now and life is moving onward. Some of those thoughts are going to be lost or buried unexamined.

I love writer people. (This isn’t a new thing I learned, but it is a thing I’ve been reminded of.)

Royal Caribbean has an entire Autism program. I knew that before embarking, but I thought it was kid focused so I didn’t tap into it on the ship. After disembarking I learned that they’re trained to help autistic adults as well. If I’d engaged with guest services we would have had a different week. But since every single hard thing opened up new knowledge and realizations for all of us, I’m not sure I’d trade away the week I had. If there is another time with my son along, I’ll have a conversation with guest services.

Sand and water are good for hours of entertainment, even when the kids are all grown up.
wave-and-sand

Sometimes when I make my kid go along on an excursion that he really doesn’t want to do, he will discover that he loves part of it. Same was true for dinners and shows. I need to make him do more things that make him uncomfortable so that his world can become larger.
snorkling

Sometimes it only takes small things to create happiness.

There are people who can understand what I’m dealing with and will give me hugs when stuff is hard.

The WXR staff is amazing. We watch out for each other and tell each other when to take time off or to nap. When an emergency comes up, everyone steps in and helps so that the conference proceeds smoothly while the emergency is managed. And happily the emergency was minor and resolved without any long term consequences.

Ships on the ocean leaves trails in the water, much like airplanes leave contrails in the sky.
water-trails

All of that, and I’ve only begun to mention the things I’ve learned in the last ten days. I wish I had the funds to travel more with my kids. I wish I had the time to travel more. I’m looking forward to next year’s WXR cruise in Europe.

I had a marvelous, wonderous, complicated, challenging, stressful, joyful, beautiful trip.