Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pollywog Photography

So, I've kicked of a new photography-related blog for two reasons: (1) to officially kick off a side business specializing in fine art children's photography, and (2) to create what I hope proves to be a useful resource for people wanting to improve their own photography.

Please let me know if you find the name, content, etc. good bad or indifferent.

Link on the right. Web address is Eventually, I expect to have a dedicated website up and running, but hopefully this works in the meantime.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Plants Behaving Badly

A few years ago, when we were first putting in the yard, and I was bumming seeds and advice off of anyone I could, my Aunt Janet advised me to avoid plants that "misbehave."

At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. Now, I have a very good idea. Good: plants that quietly do their stuff, mind their own business. Bad: plants that aggressively move around, bully the neighbors, run rampant, and generally cause trouble.

Who's the culprit in the garden this year? A perfectly innocent-looking plant called a white sage. I've got little white sages coming up all over the place, like dandelions or crab grass. Infiltrating the Black-Eyed Susans, throwing a sharp elbow at the Purple Coneflower. Misbehaving. Bad, bad, plant.

Hint for the uninitiated: if the plant propagates (spreads or reproduces) by rhizome, just ... say ... no! If you see the word "rhizome" associated--even remotely--with a particular plant, that spells trouble. Avoid rhizomes. Avoid plants that misbehave. Avoid the evil white sage.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Eat Your Heart Out, American Idol

Okay, so you've all seen the Susan Boyle clip by now, but you gotta love some of the other acts from "Britain's Got Talent" that come up along side her on YouTube:

What a great riff on ye ole' talent show.

Hidden Sorrow

I greatly admire the work of a particular landscape photographer. So, I was pleasantly suprised when I ran into a fellow at a conference who had collaborated with this photographer on several books. As we discussed the photographer and his work, this fellow informed me that the photographer in question had, in recent years, suffered through a series of crushing personal tragedies.

If my recent post on Les Miserables suggested we all have it pretty cushy, this experience reminded me that--even in this day and age--none of us is immune to personal tragedy, and that, however good things may appear on the surface, a lot of people still suffer through tragedies small and great, often quietly and behind-the-scenes and sometimes alone.

Fame and fortune can't insulate us from that. Nothing can, though fate never seems to deal a fair hand to anyone. Some suffer unspeakably, while others seem to glide along with nary a bump in the road. But I suppose "seems" is the operative word.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Les Miserables

There is scarcely anything else in the world but that: to love one another. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

I just finished rereading this beautiful, heart wrenching novel by Victor Hugo. If you haven't read it--or if you've only seen the play--you should find a copy and start working your way through. There's a reason it's widely considered one of the greatest novels ever written.

Like other great novels--The Brothers Karamozov comes to mind--it will put you through an emotional wringer. But that's the point.

If nothing else, the book stands as a powerful reminder of all that we take for granted. In this day and age, I think sorrow and loss and true deprivation are often vague and distant things. Not to say that such have have been banished from the world--far from it--but rather that here in America, few us of know what true poverty looks like, or recognize that most of the world's population for most of world history could scarce dream of the opportunities we take for granted: education, employment, health care, sanitation, leisure.

Even our perspective on death is someohow distant or muted. So often, death happens in the hospital to old people, not to the young or to people in the prime of life.

I suppose I'm a romantic at heart--a sucker for the sentimental--but something rings true in this social critique that also weaves togther themes of redemption, love, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. Vive la Republique!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Power of Narrative

I've been giving some more thought to this whole Susan Boyle mania (here's the clip I suspect you've all seen by now:, and I've reached the conclusion that it's all explained by my latest theory of life, the universe, and everything. That theory is: it's all about the narrative.

In other words, finding the right "story" gives meaning to much of our life and experience. Stories play an important role in religious thought (consider the parables or even a concept like "restoration") and religious experience (such and such happened, and then I knew ...). Good narratives make for good books and good movies. Lawyers use them to persuade judges and juries (generally it's the most convincing "story" that wins the day). Even our interest in sporting events is often driven by a narrative of one sort or another. We root for "Cinderella" teams, relishing in the story of an group of misfits or underdogs overcoming adversity. We love it when the the blue collar team everyone counts out takes down a Goliath like the New York Yankees. Figure skating? The need for narrative explains the constant stream of "bio" clips about the contestants. All narratives; all stories. I think we even define ourselves by, essentially, taking a bunch of facts and writing a "script" to make sense of them.

I've think that same concept--the power of narrative--explains the world-wide phenomenon of Susan Boyle. She's a wonderful singer, to be sure, but there are thousands or even tens of thousands of better singers out there. What makes Susan Boyle interesting, even inspiring, is the narrative. So, she gets up there on stage in her frumpy dress and stumbles through a few intereview questions and--guess what?--we've already written the narrative in our heads: check her out, this is going to be funny: a real train wreck. What makes her story so compelling is that she proceeds, in just a few seconds, to turn that narrative entirely on its head, and suddenly we have a wonderful, inspiring story of a 48 year 0ld woman from a small town in Scotland who's never been kissed, and goes on stage in front of thousands of people and sings the living daylight out of a song about someone who's given up on life, given up on her dreams. Witht the flip of a switch, we have a story of perserverence, of courage, a diamond in the rough, a most unlikely hero. Wow. You couldn't write a better script.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Trail of the Ancients

Our spring break this year had something of an "ancient America" theme. Covering roughly 1400 miles in 5 days, we visited, in order: Fisher Towers, Needles Overlook (Canyonlands), Lowry Pueblo (Hovenweep), Mesa Verde (Colorado), Durango, Four Corners (Navajo Tribal Park), Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa, Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges, Hite Overlook (Lake Powell), and, last but not least, one of our all-time favorites: Capitol Reef. Whew!

Fortunately, our kids travel well, so all that time in the car wasn't too bad, and it was fun to round out the family travel map with a trip to Southeastern Utah and the Four Corners region. We saw a lot of great stuff both on--and off--the beaten path, met some great people from all over the world, and learned a fair amount about Native American culture and history. For example, we learned that the term "Anasazi" (a Navajo word meaning something like "enemy ancestors") has fallen out of favor and been replaced with "Ancestral Puebloans," apparently on the assumption that no one can possibly take offense at a word so long and hard to pronounce. Whatever term you use for its builders, however, one thing is clear: Mesa Verde is cool, as are the literally thousands of ruins the Ancestral Puebloans left scattered all over the Four Corners region. In some of the ruins we saw thousand year-old finger prints, clear as day, and corn cobs, the remnants of meals eaten long before Columbus discovered America.

Great stuff.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ahh ... Caprese

For a tomato junkie like me, nothing says "summer" quite so well as a caprese salad, particularly if the tomatoes and basil come straight from my own garden, still warm from the sun. Fresh. Delightful. Delicious.

Alas, for the rest of the year, caprese represents a particularly cruel kind of bait-and-switch: a hint of summer, a taste, a tease, a mirage that evaporates with the first bite of tough, bland, and mealy tomato. And yet still I order it at restaurants small and great, hoping, somehow, that this time, it will be something more than merely disappointing.

Take Setebello, for instance, a recently opened Neapolitan-style pizzeria in downtown Salt Lake. Good, smoky, woodfired pizzas with fresh ingredients. "Okay," I ask the waitress, "How are the tomatoes in the caprese?" "Good," she replies, "Everything here is good." But they are not: watery, tasteless tomatoes (all-too-typical winter tomatoes), coupled with a decent buffalo mozzarella and a few measly sprigs of basil.

But, tomato lovers take note: deliverance is here. A perfect, vine ripened summer tomato in January? Hardly, but pretty darn close. In a word: Campari. They sell them at Costco, and they are far and away the best store bought tomato I've found, particularly off-season. Firm, tangy, and sweet.

Pair them with a good, fresh, hand pulled mozarella (no easy find that, either, but available at most specialty stores; the local Costco sells a reasonably good one under the Bel Gioso label), a liberal helping of basil (I like it cut crosswise into thin strips), a good sea salt, cracked pepper, and a splash of good olive oil and, if you like, basalmic vinegar, and--voila!--a bite of summer, no matter how cold and bleak it may be outside. Winter, snow, and freezing rain ... I scoff at you! It is summer. I am in Southern Italy. The breeze is soft, and sun is warm. Life is good. I have caprese.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I like goats. I grew up with them. Part of my mother's grand exercise in self-sufficiency. I remember milking them on cold winter mornings, and the way the first squirts of milk rang in the bottom of the tin pan, the warmth of the udder, the steam rising from the fresh milk. The smell of hay.

But even a goat fan like me must admit that they are strange little creatures. Some are cute, like Nubians with their floppy ears and endearing brown eyes; others are not, like Alpine goats; others still are just plain weird looking with Marty Thelman eyes and little stubs for ears.

We never ate goat meat, though my Mom would, from time to time, sell a billy goat kid or two to "the Iranians," who most certainly ate them.

Well, I stumbled across an article today in the New York Times on eating goat meat: , and loved this description of how they look: "Their unappetizing visage is simultaneously dopey and satanic, like a Disney character with a terrible secret."

Great, great writing. That guy's got 'em pegged.