Removing Distractions

I’ve had this photo rat holed for a few years. I took it into Photoshop and cloned out the cars, then desaturated all the colors except for red since this is one of the most famous red things in the world. Then I took it into Lightroom and added some sepia to warm up the black and white tones.

Here is the before:

Holidailies 2010 Badge

Not a Francesca Sort of Girl

It is June of this year and my seventeen year-old daughter Spank and I are in Rome for some major museum crashing. Fresh off the subway with a crappy, zoomed out map, our suitcases rumble on the cobblestones as we search for a tiny B and B. This is the first time it’s just the two of us so far away from home. It’s a little dirtier and hotter than Paris and London and the cars aren’t as fancy, but the colors are more saturated and everything moves in slo-mo.

As there are no signs advertising the place, we pass it up, come back, and stand at the address feeling like suckers with our pre-paid internet booking.

One of the building tenants lets us through the gigantic wooden doors as she goes through. We stand in the courtyard, still dumbfounded. The tennant has never heard of the place. Finally, I spot an intercom near a glass door and see the name of the place in a tiny slot in 10 point courier. Here we are from half-way around the world and this is my mark, a tiny piece of paper less than half a square inch in a courtyard behind colossal wooden doors. And I fucking find it.

After the buzzer, a deep voice says, “Fifth floor” then buzzes us into the foyer. Like every place in Rome, it has a marble corkscrew staircase, and this one, an add on cage-type elevator in the middle.

But it is broken. We carry our suitcases up five flights of stairs and finally get to the office, which is actually an apartment. We are slicked over with sweat from all the walking and stair climbing in this crushing heat wave. A little embarrassed. A six-foot brunette with impossibly long legs opens the door, looks us over from head to toe, then gestures for us to come in. She is the only person I have ever actually seen sashay. As we follow her into the apartment/office, she doesn’t bother to throw on any lights, but I notice her hair is teased up so high I can see through it. Her clingy, belted t-shirt dress barely covers her ass.

In the middle of her apartment, she welcomes us to sit across from her at a desk. Her accent is thick Italian, rhythmic, and spoken like the last waves of high tide. She manages to give us details about the city, where to go for breakfast, how to get tickets to skip the line at museums. I ask if there are places to avoid, especially at night, since Spank and I are two women, alone.

Her eyeballs are heavy, as if the pupils are made of lead while she struggles to keep her eyes level with mine, but she does. She flicks her wrist, flays her fingers, “Rome-uh… is safe-uh.”

She slides a piece of paper across the desk, “Call me-uh, when you-uh, wake up-uh, they need-uh, to fix-uh, air condition-uh.”

There is only a number on the paper, no name. I look back up at her and ask what I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to know, “What’s your name?”

Between that question mark and before she spoke, in my head, my own voice begs, please don’t say Paola, please don’t say Paola, because I’m going to develop a tic right here and give off the tiniest hint of a smile.

And as if she read my mind, the name slowly rolls off her tongue, like that eight ball you call in the right corner pocket, dropping in there with its last bit of momentum, “Paola.”

I don’t tic out on her, or look at Spank, I just write her name, concentrating hard because she’s watching. I had to make damn sure not to write “Paolo.”

Francesco-Francesca doesn’t cross my mind as she isn’t a Francesca sort of girl. No, she’s too angular, her chin too strongly chiseled, cheekbones a bit too sharp.

Then she takes us to the marble staircase with the elevator shaft in the middle. Asks us to wait up there with our luggage so she can “reset” the elevator. Roman staircases have the acoustics that make every footstep sound as if you are right next to it. So we hear her stilettos “tic-toc, toc-tik, toc-toc” like a broken clock, all the way down until they stop. Then the elevator cage closes, CLANG!

That’s when Spank and I look at each other and call it at the same time, “Thatsadude.”

And we are totally cool with that. If Rome is safe for her, it is safe for us.


I like searching for wireless network names while traveling, struck gold here, look down to the fourth one.

Speaking of fourth, don’t you love it when an artist breaks the fourth wall? Gives me chills. (this is part of Raphael’s School of Athens).

I’m Feelin’ It

On my birthday I found myself driving to a town just north of here to get fingerprinted. There’s a new law in Texas that nurses have to turn in fingerprints within the next ten years. Licensees are chosen at random, so there are some nurses who won’t have to get theirs done until the deadline.

The universe is usually aware that I am quite the slacker and I never get picked for audits or jury duty (knock on wood) or anything, as long as there’s someone else who could go first.

Not this time.

I could have gone to the police station or the FBI (gasp), but as the nursing board states on their website, these fingerprints are often unacceptable and have to be redone. They recommend an identity specialist.

So our cops and FBI are incompetent when it comes to collecting prints? That’s like Crime 101, right?

Okay, I go up to this town and it’s a shitty winter day. The sky looks as if someone removed it in Photoshop and completely forgot to add anything back in. It’s just white and empty. I pass through their historic district and see houses that look like birthday cakes. I’ll go back and take photos one day when there is a sky.

I drive up to the address of the ID place and it’s this ancient brick building that looks like a mental institution in a Stephen King made for tv movie. Great. I get to the front door and I’m still unsure this is the right place, I’m waiting any minute for something scary to jump out at me and hack me with a hatchet or an axe. There’s a plaque near the door stating its historical significance. It was indeed a hospital at one time.

I knew that shit. Knew IT!

Then I think to myself that I have the ability to pick up waves of historical suffering. It’s the strangest thing, I can walk into a house or building and feel good or bad vibes. Maybe it’s just the way a place looks, and I’m imagining things. Don’t care. Whatever it is, real or not, it moves me. Which is great, because I don’t like feeling nothing about something. Indifference leads to boredom, which is, eventually, painful to me.

I mosey down a creaky hallway that has pipes running along the ceiling, ones that groan. There’s a few old mirrors on the wall that when I catch a glimpse of myself, I wonder if it’s really me. That’s how bad those old mirrors are, there’s no clarity in them and there seems to be a halo around every object in them. Then I wonder if it’s just me and the attitude I brought in there. Skittish. Skeptical. Or just the simple fact that I hate antiques and the mirrors know it.

There are several offices in this building. I pass a door for a child psychologist. I’m startled when that door swings open and a woman with a short blonde Kate Gosslin cut looks left, right, then shuts the door.

Pass a local magazine editing office. It’s dead in there. Lights out.

Get to the ID place and go inside. My bedroom is larger than this entire office. All of the artwork on the walls are not prints, but puzzles of Native American scenes. About twenty of them in this tiny space. Someone here likes solving things. That someone is a young black woman who takes mug shots and runs each finger over a glass scanner.

Also in this cramped room are four teachers and a fireman, all waiting their turn. They don’t seem to be bothered by all this. Me? I’m fuming. This thing will completely ruin my option of living a life of crime. Bankers, engineers, maybe even cops, they have a choice, they can commit crimes until they get stupid and caught doing something wrong that leads to their first set of fingerprints. Not us.

I look at the fireman. He probably entered the field so he could learn how to commit the perfect arson. ‘Cause there is nothing as satisfying as burning shit down.

The schoolteachers. Evil milk money thieves. Get them!

A nurse from the local nursing home walks in. Her too, and her kind demeanor doesn’t fool me. I wonder how many patients she’s snuffed out with a pillow for having the audacity to use the call bell?

Millions of unsolved crimes will finally be put to rest after they run all these prints. Those Texas legislators are absolutely brilliant for coming up with this new law. Oh, and this is at no cost to the state. Uh un. I had to shell out $10 for this service. I bet murderers get theirs done for free. Just a hunch.

Later that afternoon…

I came home to a heartwarming sight. Kara made me a birthday cake before she left for work.

All is right in the world again.

Blue Moonlight on ice

There was a blue moon on New Year’s Eve, which is rare. We only see that once every eighteen years. The term “blue moon” really isn’t about the color of the moon or the moonlight, it refers to how many full moons there have been in a cycle. You can read about that here in a Yahoo news article.

Since this was special and as I love the light of a full moon, and there was ice in my alley, I went out and took a photo. Not too well focused, but I think the light is pretty.

I used my 50mm lens and just put the camera down on the ice. This is a 2 second exposure at f1.4, ISO 125. I did a little post work in Photoshop, but I can’t remember what I did.

I could have gotten a much better photo had I closed down the aperture and done a longer exposure, but I was freezing out there in my pajamas.

Monkey See, Monkey… Sea-monkeys!

Before Christmas, Kara was asking about Sea-Monkeys, “Are they real?”

So for Christmas I surprised her with one of those kits and just a day or so later we could see them floating around in the water, doing backflips and all that. They remind me of fleas.

I took out my reverse ring adapter and decided to do a little macro photography today to show you the sea-monkeys.

For even better magnification, I got out my close-up lens set and used that with one hand while I moved the camera with the other to focus.

Extremely difficult, requiring tons of patience. This is about the best shot I got of a baby sea-monkey.

I got a video too, but after uploading it, I found some other sea-monkey videos and decided to trash mine.

Here’s a better one someone put up on Youtube.


I wish I had not seen that. Really, now I want to throw these ugly little things down the drain.

Not as advertised!

How Do I Catch Falling Snow?

Today provided a great opportunity to test my mad photography skills. Snow! Yes, again. We’re not used to getting it here in this part of Texas, so I have no snow skills. What a wonderful day to learn something new.

I grabbed a couple of lenses and tried to capture falling snow. There was no wind, so it was falling straight down. What it looked like to my eyes and what it looked like in a photograph were entirely different things. It was pouring down snow, but in the first few photos, no snow.

I was determined to catch that snow.

So I manually focused in the middle ground and got this:

1/60 f5.6 ISO 400, flash fired, manual focus

The snowflakes were way bigger than that and there were a lot more of them.

1/10, f6.3, ISO100, flash fired
You can see the size of the snowflakes, but there was much more than that.

1/40, f2.8, ISO 200, no flash

The lower f number (wide aperture) seemed to make the biggest difference. This is a little better, but there were about four times as many snowflakes.

Or was I just imagining things?

One thing is certain. The snowman I made keeled over and died.

RIP snowdoggy dog.

Short answer to the question in the title: With the ground.

Next stop, flash

I finally ordered that clamp for the flash to go on the umbrella stand I got last year. Now I’m looking at ring flash adapters and it seems as if I’ve gone down the rabbit hole. My attention is just all over the place, one minute I’m looking at the Ray Flashes and the next I’m all over soft boxes.

I got a new lens for Christmas, a Canon 28-135 f3.5 with image stabilization. It’s okay, but not as spectacular as the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens I got last year. Seriously, that fitty is just amazing. If I could have only one lens for the rest of my life, it would be that one. It’s a light eater and has a crisp focus. Even better, it is small and lightweight. With the new lens, everything looks sort of fuzzy and dim.

The thing about the 50mm lens is it is fixed, so I can’t zoom in or out with it. It’s great for portraits, but not so good shooting landscapes and wildlife. Still, it’s the lens I take with me on vacation since it is so lightweight.

Here’s a photo with the 50mm lens at 1.4 on an overcast day.

It’s supposed to snow here later today so I’ll go outside and try that new lens. Maybe it’ll do better out there than inside the house since it needs more light.

Anyway, I’m ready move on and master that flash, that way I won’t have to rely so much on natural lighting. I keep a photoblog :::here::: if you are interested.

Pretty Ugly Beauty Salon

I usually go all photo crazy when I go to my hometown in South Louisiana, but luck was not with me, it rained and then by the time the sun came out, it was time to leave. I only got the chance to take this one photo in a run down part of town.

I’ve got a couple of images in my head of things I saw and wish I had taken.

The first is from the perspective of sitting on a porch looking out into the yard during a downpour. Above me is a low tin roof much like the one in the photo above. Rain from each little wave in the tin makes long lines of water that fall to the ground.

The second one is from the perspective of the driver’s seat at 70 mph. On the side of the road, a black man walks in our direction. He waves a fishing pole at us, and at the end of it, a huge fish. The man smiles from ear to ear as he shows off his catch to strangers he will never see again.

I wish I could draw.

Strawberry Cake with Never Fail Icing

It is birthday season. Blane Sr. last week and Blane Jr. this week. I made this strawberry wonder for my son after he asked me to surprise him with a special cake.

I started with three layers of white box cake mix. Between the layers I put a layer of strawberry preserves and some fresh sliced strawberries.

strawberry layer

The icing is the magical part. It is a meringue type icing, not something you can buy in a tub or box but something you have to actually crank up the stove to make. It is worth the entire seven minutes of your time. That is one of the popular names for it, Seven Minute Icing. But it takes a little longer than that to make. It is also known as Never Fail Icing, but I’ve had it fail on me before. Those failures have much to do with the humidity. If it is rainy outside, it won’t sugar properly and will be sticky.

So, besides sunshine, here is what you need for the icing:

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup of sugar (granulated, not powdered)

3 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon of vanilla

You’ll need to make it in a double boiler. Don’t panic if you don’t have one, I ghetto mine with a bowl and a stock pot. Just make sure the boiling water in the lower pot does not touch the bowl.

Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar and water in a bowl and mix for one minute before putting the bowl or upper pot over the boiling water. (hold off on the vanilla for now)


See below, my aluminum bowl fits perfectly over my stock pot with the boiling water.

double boiler

While the water in the lower pot boils on med heat, use an electric mixer to whip the mixture until stiff peaks form (yes you are doing this over the stove, don’t burn the cord for your mixer).


Like this in the above photo. This takes about seven minutes. Then you take it off the pot of boiling water and add the vanilla. Whip some more until the sides begin to sugar, about a couple more minutes and not over the stove.

Now you need to work fast and you had better have that cake ready because the icing needs to go on now!

sides first

Ice the sides first, then the top.

deco cake

I added some special toys on top while the icing was still wet. What will happen over the next half hour is the outside of the icing will become crunchy and yummy and…

That cake did not last 12 hours in this house.

While the strawberries on the outside are really pretty, I do not recommend you put them on the icing as they cause the icing to run due to the moisture in the berries. (now I know)

Another variation is the banana cake. Blane’s grandmother gave me this recipe years ago, so it is a family favorite.  Bake a yellow cake instead of the white, and for the layers between, make a small box of Jello brand instant pudding (small box and only use 1 1/3 cup of milk in the directions). Spread a layer of pudding then a layer of sliced banana between each layer. Frost with the Never Fail Icing and call yourself The Boss.



This is the second time in my life that I’ve seen such a thing, a road buckled due to extreme temperatures.


It’s been hot here.

When I was a kid, my mom and I were driving down the highway. There had been a heat wave, the worst I could remember, and while we were out on that road, things began to change. A light sprinkle of rain began. The road was so hot, the raindrops turned to steam. It looked so bizarre.

Then there was chaos. Sections of the highway on both sides began to buckle, hundreds of them. Most of the cars stopped as soon as they could, but there were quite a few cars that got stuck on the peaks of broken road, like see-saws. Don’t forget the steam fog. It looked like a horror movie set.

I wish I had a photo of that.

Massive Failure

I dropped Spanky off at her driving school only to be called back to pick her up because they had over scheduled drive times. Now if she had cancelled, I would have had to pay a $25 cancellation fee. I know this because I had to pay once when Kara went to that same school and had to miss an appointment due to illness.

So I drove back over there, walked in with my big sunglasses on and told the reception that they owe me twenty five bucks. The lady laughed. I didn’t. There were a bunch in people in there and I could hear a little snickering.

Finally someone said, “She’s right.”

Hell yeah I’m right.

Twenty five dollars is not really what I wanted. I only needed to make a point that if I had to pay up for missing, they did too. So I made a deal with her to schedule two drive times (you have to fight for those, believe it or not, and can only make one at a time and they have to be two weeks apart).
I got two for next week. Yay!

After that we took off for Ross, a store that reminds me of a garage sale of never used items of clothing, shoes, and various housewares. Bargains on crap we don’t need.

One of the reasons they sell name brand things at bargain prices is because the product was a massive failure. Spank and I like to look at items in there and come up the reasons these products failed. Most of the time, the item is just fuck ugly.

Like a white shirt with three gigantic buttons on the front.

The suitcase that rolled in every direction but had skulls and crossbones all over it (I almost wanted that).

Funny screw ups are fun to spot. Look at the animal texture baby book:


Didn’t even bother to match the hair color.

Check out the scribbling on this doggie tee:


Gangsta dog?

What’s coming next is such a massive failure of catastrophic proportions, I don’t know why they didn’t take this out to the trash and burn it.

Fire the people who worked on this shit too.

Seriously, it’s the worst thing I have ever seen and I swear I did not move this product to another area to make it “display better.” This is exactly how i found it.

(I almost didn’t post this, it is sooooooooooooooo bad)

But here goes. The Product Failure of the Year. Of ever, maybe.


That. Is. A. Lunchbox.

Portable Brain

See this thing right here?


That is what I call my portable brain. It’s my hard drive from my MacBook Pro that I took out last week.

It’s still good, it didn’t crash or anything, it just got filled up with thoughts, photos, videos… my life. Maxed out 100 gig. So I ordered a 320 gig and cloned the old drive with Super Duper (free software, yay) and dropped the new one in my machine and I’m good to go.

I wish I’d thought of this sooner. I had this massive photo scanning project going since last summer, about 10,000 photos in the dining room. I got about half way through and ran out of hard disk.

So there I was stuck in the middle of that. I didn’t think to get a bigger hard drive, the plan was to get the scanned photos sorted (decades of them which began before my dad was even born), move those over to an external HD and then finish the job of scanning.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the dining room has been a massive mess that I tried to pretend didn’t exist. Although I don’t usually roll that way, I managed for almost a year and surprisingly, Blane did as well.

So when Kara’s hard drive failed and we had to take her computer apart to replace it, I got the idea to do the same with my computer. Ah, the ideas that flow when backed into a corner with a gun to the head.

Okay, so I’m all sorted out with the computer things and the photo project is back on, piles are getting smaller, and the dining room is getting back into shape as the useless room that it is.

Here is a photo I scanned from my dad’s old box of negatives. I’d never seen this photo before, my parents must have sent the paper copy to family.


I just think it’s amazing to find something like this. It’s like going back in a time machine.

The boy with the big head is my brother Jim, the other is Shane, and the baby trying to break free is me. Funny thing about any baby photo of me, I’m always trying to get back into my dad’s arms. They used to tell me that I didn’t walk until I was three because my dad carried me all the time.

Back then it was considered a bad thing to hold your kids all the time, but my dad didn’t play by the rules. He did what he wanted to do and I’m glad he did.


I don’t believe in fate, destiny, predestiny… 

But sometimes there will be a string of coincidences that are just fantastic and I like to just get in the moment and pretend there is just a thing. Just to see what else happens. 

I got a new lens for my camera last week and while researching it, I read about how I could buy a reverse mount ring adapter and turn it into a macro lens (for photographing tiny things such as bugs). So for less than $10, why not? I ordered it.

A few days ago, the thing came in the mail and as I walked up the sidewalk I thought, won’t be using this for a while, there are no bugs in winter.

Get in the house, the kitchen, look over at the stovetop, and there is a ladybug crawling around on it. Out of all the places in my house, the stovetop is the best spot for a photo of a bug (yes, I get it, a bug on the stove, gross). I’ve got two recessed halogen lights directly above it and the stovetop surface is a highly reflective stainless steel.

I thought for a second, this could be a sign or signal that I should get my camera out and set that thing up and maybe I’ll take the most amazing photo I’ve ever taken. Ever.

I got a tiny jar and put her in there while I set up the camera.


One thing about using this type of lens setup is that it is all manual focusing and the aperture can’t be set, so what that means is there is a very tiny spot in there that is in focus.

Also, every little bit of camera shake is magnified.

Here’s a good example of how tiny the focal plane is.


See the edge of that paper, how only one part of it is in focus?

See the writing on the paper, how only the top part of the “t” is in focus?

You know how fast ladybugs crawl?

So what I did was wait until she stepped into focus to hit the shutter. This was handheld and I was also holding the paper she was on, so really, now that I think about it, this photo’s almost impossible to take.

Everything was lined up just right and I had a lot of good luck. 

So did she. I flipped her over so I could photograph her underside. 

She thrashed about helplessly, so her arms and legs were all blurry in all but one photo. I thought about Gregor Samsa in that story “Metamorphosis”. Then I thought about how I didn’t like it that it was all up to me whether this bug lived or died.

I brought her outside where she can enjoy the woodpile for the rest of her life.

And I can’t for the life of me post a photo of her underside, because, you know, she is a lady.

Delicate Destruction

I love it when we have ice storms. Today was a strange one because the temperature fluctuated betweeen freezing and dripping (32-34 f).

Which means icicles. Yay!

This one is of the last minute of sun shining through the little spikes on the street sign. Reminds me of a lamp I used to have.


And Vegas dancing girls’ costumes.

So Spank and I went out to that bridge by the frozen woods and found a lot more icicles.


Just after I took this photo she did what any self-respecting kid would do, she ran her finger along the rail and sent every single one of them tumbling to the ground.

It sounded like a tiny piano, when you run your fingers across all the keys real fast.

I like that kinda stuff.

Collision of art, commerce, past, and present

There’s a shopping center near here with a bunch of cowboy days bronzes. I went there today to the camera shop and happened to have my camera with me. What a coincidence.

There are so many people there and so many cars, it’s difficult to get a shot of just the bronzes.

But I thought this one was funny because of the type of store it was in front of. Seriously, it’s a bronze cattle drive spread out right in front of a barbeque pit store.


I had to stand in the street to line it up like that and risk my dear dear life to oncoming traffic which was determined as hell to spend every last drop of Christmas money. There are sales and there are stampedes.

The next photo is just one part of a circle of cowboys around a campfire. I like the expression of wonder on this youth’s face as he listens the other bronze men talk. The Men’s Wearhouse sign behind him cracks me up.


I keep a fairly updated photoblog over at TheCuckoosNest if you like that kinda stuff.

I’ll be cleaning up some of the photos I took and will put them over there in the next day or so (all the good stuff goes there).

All Full Up

Besides all the clutter that Santa will bring, my hard drive is, after two and a half years of digital photo video and photo scan abuse, completely full up.  Despite all this, I managed to eek out this photo from my archives to wish you all a happy holiday, merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah… Whatever you celebrate.


See, that was supposed to be in black and white. There is mutiny on the hard drive.

Feels Like Christmas Today

Kara had this iPod that went bad about a day after the 90 day store return policy ended. A couple of months ago I called Apple and went through mailing it to them only to get it returned to me “as is” with two different reasons they didn’t do the repair.

By email they said nothing was wrong with it. When I opened the returned iPod, there was a note in there saying it had been damaged by the consumer. Something like that.

I know this is her problem, but I get her to do things for me that I don’t have the patience for and in return, she does the same for me. 

Today I went to the Apple Store to talk to a Genius about the thing. I was willing to pay for the repairs, anything to get the thing working again. The guy looked at it and gave me a brand new one. He said he did notice a little dent on the back, winked, and said the hard drive is on the other side of the dent and not to drop the thing again in the future.

While I was there I asked him to take a look at my iPhone. I’d noticed the photos weren’t coming out as good as when the camera was new. He couldn’t figure out why it was like that so he went to the back and got me a brand spanking new one.

I love Apple.

Blane, an Apple hater was with me and almost said it too.

Because all that took only ten minutes.

Many months of nagging problems solved, just like that.

Also, in the mall, just outside the Apple Store, Snoglobes!

This one was almost two stories tall and you could walk around in it.


Inside the snoglobe it’s snowing and there are these little Christmas scenes. Magical.


It feels like Christmas today.

Wanna Play a Game?

Want to win something? I got an email from someone over at A&E Home Video, and they saw my post where I mentioned Ice Road Truckers. They said they want to send me a review copy of season two AND some extras if I want to do a giveaway on the blog.

I find this absolutely hilarious because I’m such a girly-girl, you know, I mean… Look at my Christmas tree.


Do I seem like a person who would watch Ice Truckers?

Well I do, actually. I love that show. It’s gripping, these guys have a goal and if they screw up, they could die. For real. 

So hell yeah I want season two of Ice Road Truckers and I want to get you a copy of it too. I’m going to think up a fun game (maybe you guys can help me out here, too) to decide the winner.

Who’s in?