Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Shift

Baby me...

FACT: My mom won the door prize for getting old: cataracts.  She had surgery scheduled.

FACT: My dad was still in rehab, following a unexpected hospital stay.

FACT:  They needed help and I'm the only one around who can give it.   There are no other surviving relatives.   I may be the baby of the family but for now, I'm taking the lead.

If we're lucky, we have the blessing of having our parents with us for a long time.  If our parents age, we children have the difficult task of helping them navigate the transition to a new normal, where the definition of independence changes.  It's a tough road, and one that every child with elderly parents travels.  

And so a new normal takes shape.  One where abbreviations like MI (mobility independence) and ADL (activities of daily living) make sense and are thrown into sentences.  Where I make color-coded medication charts to simplify things.  Where home health care angels provide guidance and support, explaining medications and checking vitals (and double-checking charts to confirm I didn't make a mistake).  

I'm lucky.  Up until now, my parents have been very healthy. And, with the help of some new medication, home OT and PT, and diligent exercise, my dad will get better.  My mom's eye should be okay (though it's not a given yet, there's still follow-up to be done). And I will help as I can, thanks to the support of my family and the availability of lots of flights between NY and Chicago.

I'll be back here when I can.  For now, I'm off to the grocery store; I have some cooking to do.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Garden snippets

It's been a crazy and emotional week.  You know what it's like. There's little time for much except what needs to get done, and keeping your sanity can be tough.  So how to keep balance?  For me, I've found solace this week in spending five minutes in the garden, watching it evolve from day to day. It's put on an incredible show and the pause in beauty has uplifting.  Let me share some of my garden with you.

I love these brush strokes of color
An inula emerging in the early morning light

A perfect bud ball. Love how this unfurls
The white poppies after the rain have technicolor accents

Blossom and buds; they're everywhere!

See what I mean? They're everywhere!  This rose looks like it's made of fondant
Salmon poppy with that hint of citroen.  Luscious

Friday, June 2, 2017

Hope springs eternal

I was on a domestic tear this past weekend, particularly outside.  Admittedly, it was necessary.  I haven't worked in the garden, really worked, for a few years.  I'd let the perennials -- and the weeds -- do their thing.  But I had an urge to actively engage with my "green space" and I attacked it with a will.  I dug up of dying shrubs, icky plants, and aggressive weeds, and tossed them into our compost pile.  I transplanted hollyhocks, and other such perennials, that had grown too large.

And then I started planting anew.  My beloved poppies are once again gracing the space in front of our stone wall.

The "traditional" orange poppy
This year I added white to the mix
An unexpected pink poppy in a pot marked "orange".  Love the serendipity of this

I planted annuals in the spaces "between".  One of my goals this summer is to eat at our patio table more often and I'd like to enjoy the beauty of our big pine trees and the splashes of color from snapdragons, verbena, and other such summer flowers.

 Some of the annuals, pre-planting
I also planted a modest vegetable / herb garden.

My marigolds "guards"

We'll have lots of fresh basil, cilantro and parsley for pestos and flavor, lettuce and tomatoes for salads and, if everything goes right, colorful carrots later in the summer.  It's a very active process to plant a garden.  In the beginning.  And then you pray for gentle rains and warm sunshine.  You hope bees visit, but not hungry bugs.  You cross your fingers that everything takes hold and grows in your garden, except for weeds.

Hope springs eternal.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spring Book Report

My reading has been as far-flung as the pollen seems to be this spring.  It's all over the place!  Here are some of my recent reads that I would recommend:

I think Hillbilly Elegy deserves the accolades it's received.  This is a memoir of a life shaped by culture and dire circumstance. But I also thought it was a balanced view of how efforts for change, no matter how well intentioned from the outside, need to be done in concert with the folks that will be impacted by the suggested changes.  A thought provoking book -  at times chilling and, at others, uplifting - of a part of America that doesn't often make the headlines.

The Maisie Dobbs series is an enjoyable one, and I'm pleased that the latest edition to the collection doesn't disappoint.  In This Grave Hour, the 13th in the series, finds the our British female investigator trying to solve the murder of an immigrant who settled in Britain after WWI. (Yes, a bit spooky in its applicability to today's debates.) I continue to find Maisie an entertaining and engaging character.  Do you have a favorite series?  (Mine are almost all murder/mystery books.  Hmmmm.....)

Paul Kalanithi's book should be required reading for everyone (along with Being Mortal) about the choices we may choose to make as we near the end of our life.  This is sad, no doubt, but it's also humbling. And, I think it's important for those of use with aging parents to consider how we'd like to help them maintain dignity.

This time I got my science fix from The Soul of an Octopus, a charming and well written account by naturalist Sy Montgomery, of her experiences getting to know captive octopuses (no, it's not octopi, I've learned; you can't put a Latin plural "i" at the end of a Greek word), seeking to discover them in the wild, and marveling at their intelligence and individuality.   This was particularly compelling for me after our diving trips this past December/January.  We watched octopuses ink, change colors, and scamper about reefs.  I don't think I'll eat octopus salad again.

An octopus on one of our dives.
What have you been reading?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bunnies on the Mantle

The stitched Easter bunny
Back in February, I showed you a canvas I had stitched.  Now the flat canvas has been transformed into a three-dimensional bunny that sits on our kitchen fireplace mantle for Easter.

The kitchen fireplace mantle
This is a wonderful time filled with faith, family, friends, and food.  I hope your weekend, whether it's spent in Easter or Passover celebration, is joyous as well.  


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Seeing the Light

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, 1994
From the Kitchen Table series

One of the interesting things I've discovered leading tours for the Picturing Love exhibition is that many people have a hard time considering a photograph from an art perspective.  Perhaps it's the predisposition that photography is "the medium that doesn't lie".

Well, photography is just as manipulated by the the hand of the artist as any other art form.

How is the photograph composed?  Has the photographer chosen to emphasize some elements and to hide others?  What's been cropped?  What might be just beyond the frame?  How does the decision to make the photo black and white vs. color influence our narrative with what we see?  The answer to each of these questions -- and more -- are the result of the photographer's artistic process.

I've been leading tours focusing on light.  Photography can't exist without light; it's fundamental to the photographic process.  However, photographers can choose to shoot in ambient light, enhance a setting with studio lighting, or increase/decrease the light in the dark room process. It's been a fascinating conversation point with guests.  In one case, the light serves as a metaphor for trust; in another, the light is as much a character in the narrative of the image as the people within it.  So I'd like to challenge you to consider light as you view photography.  Not passively, but as an active choice made by the photographer.  I look forward to hearing how this line of inquiry might influence your appreciation of the art form.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Love, Captured

Image from Katonah Museum of Art website
On Wednesday, we took the deep dive.  We started docent training for the KMA's upcoming exhibition, Picturing Love. I am fascinated by this exhibition.  All right.  At first blush this seems right up my alley.  But, I was intimidated.  We had 47 images that we needed to research, write about, and explain.  And, we had to be able to teach it all in two 2-hour sessions, sharing bios, making connections, clarifying process.

But, I'm in love.

I love, love, love this exhibition.  It includes such compelling imagery.  I've been surprised by the artists' process and intent, by the cultural context in which many of the images were created and the stories that are shared or intimated.  There are so many themes to consider in the exhibition within the  broader intent of showing how love has been captured on "film" by artists and the populace alike.  We're all interested in gestures of affection.

I'm leading the opening night public tour, at 6:30 PM on Saturday, March 18th.  I hope you'll join me.  If you can't make it to the KMA that night, I hope you'll find some other time to experience this fabulous exhibition.

Oh, and you can be part of it, too!  The KMA is encouraging the public to share their own images of affection.  You can send them in to pinmypic@katonahmuseum.org or tag your pictures with #pinmypic on Instagram and Facebook.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting a Head Shot Taken

I figured getting my head shot taken for work would be a no-brainer.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I was wrong. It took two tries over two separate days.  Here's what I learned:

1) Know which side is your "good side".  We often prefer pictures of ourselves taken from one side or another.  It may be the way our hair falls or how one eyebrow arches.  Whatever.  If you have a preference, know it going in so (if possible) you can have your picture taken from that angle.

2) Get sleep the night before.  I didn't the first time, and "Blech" is all I have to say about that.

3) Be thoughtful about what you wear.  I'm sure you all know that solids or simple patterned tops are best.  Nothing too distracting.  And yes, you should wear something that you're comfortable in.... but not too comfortable.  Whatever you wear should rest smoothly on your form; if it's too loose fitting, the rolls and folds of the fabric will not flatter your figure.  Be sure to ask the photographer to check your collar is straight, your shirt fabric's not bunched up under your armpit, etc.  Clean lines will help, a lot.

4) Look like yourself. I was repeatedly advised to put on make-up so I wouldn't look washed out.  But I didn't put on too much.  I  don't regularly wear that much make-up and if I had put on a lot more, the resulting image just wouldn't have look like me. This isn't high-def TV after all.  That said, if you have the time and the funds to have a professional do your make-up for you, absolutely do.  But be sure to try it out a few days beforehand so you're not surprised with how you look.

5) Get to know the photographer, even for just a few minutes.   I was nervous.  I'd never done this before and it showed in the pictures from my first session.  It's hard to smile naturally in front of someone you don't know, especially when that someone might be asking you to continue smiling with your head at an angle, with your chin down, now close your eyes and open them again. Just taking a few moments to chat will help you relax and will likely result in a better picture.

6) Ask to review the proofs so you can choose the image you like.  A professional photographer will undoubtedly have a good eye, but only you can decide which image you like best, that represents how you'd like to be seen.  Try to keep control of that process.  A good photographer will try very hard to please you and will, if necessary, come back again if you don't like the end result after editing.

7) Be realistic.  No matter how little or much I weigh, I'll never have cheekbones.  I'll always have dimples.  My eyes have turned from blue to green.  It's how I look and that should be my expectation.  We should expect the editing process only to work with what we have, not to turn us into someone we're not... not even our selves from five years ago.  And so, here's me today...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Taking Pictures

Leaf in blue ice ©Vivien Zepf
Nikon D90; image taken in early morning

My father tortured us as children, insisting that we do it "one more time", as in walk down the stairs again or point at that tree again.  Okay, it really wasn't torture; we did it so he could get the picture he wanted. But it sometimes spoiled the fun and might be why I don't take that many pictures of my own children.   Instead, I record where I am, whether in front of grand vistas, on a city street, or in my backyard.

Taking pictures has made me look more carefully at the world around me.  Sometimes I see things as I'd frame them in a picture.

For the last 15 years I've always carried some kind of camera with me.  I used my small digital camera until the lens -- literally -- fell off.  I make room in my carry-on for my big camera whenever we travel.  There's no way I'm leaving that baby at home.  And now that cell phone cameras are pretty darn good, I use it a lot too.  I can be an annoying person on her cell phone, but I'm stopping to snap pictures, not texting, tweeting, or chatting.

Subway lines ©Vivien Zepf

Because I also use my phone for work calls, it's not practical to get all sorts of supplemental lenses because I might be tempted stop what I was doing to put a lens on.  Nope, no can do.  I do miss the flexibility that a lens gives to picture taking, like depth of field.  And that's why I said yes to Tim's request to write a blog post about my photography.  Tim works for Light, a start-up with a new compact digital camera that merges different lenses to achieve high quality DSLR images.  It looks amazing.  Maybe I'll be able to get one some day.  (hint, hint Tim)

Monday, February 20, 2017


Our older daughter came in for a quick 24 hour visit and it was lovely.

We inhaled guacamole at lunch
We went to the American Museum of Natural History to visit the Titanosaur.  Sigh; one of my favorite places.
Can someone please remind me what trees these are from?
I can't believe the snowdrops are blooming; but then again, it was 57° today

Looking up to see cool lines and light
The cityscape reflections didn't disappoint
One of many bridges

I hope you've had a chance to enjoy family time, too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bedside Table + Evening Commute

I've taken to reading for at least 15 minutes on my evening train commute. (Not in the mornings; I'm usually reading and writing emails.)  This time is a wonderful supplement to my bedtime reading ritual.  So, what have I read lately?

This charming Young Adult book asks the question "Is there true love at first sight?" And then asks the second question, "Can teens experience it?"  Finally there's the inevitable, "Does it last?"  Though I've made it sounds that way, The Sun is Also A Star is not formulaic.  There's so much more to the story than love -- prejudice, choice, siblings -- and I was sucked in and raced through it.

Lab Girl satisfies my science itch.  This is Jahren's first book, combining a look back at her childhood and the years spent conducting botanical research with chapters describing how plant-life grows and survives.  The personal sections are raw and poignant, and the "tree" chapters are fascinating and very readable.  Her enthusiasm for her subject is palpable and I'd love to hear her lecture.

Though many of us have seen the movie, "Out of Africa", Paula McLain still has a fresh story to tell about Beryl Markham in Circling the Sun.  Beryl was a woman ahead of her time, an adventurer who didn't let her sex stop her from exploring and doing all the things she wanted to do.  Her life reads like a epic -- which, of course, it was -- and I dreamed of being in Africa.

What are you reading?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Off the To-Do List

A while back, I showed you an old needlepoint canvas I had pulled out a drawer full of unstitched canvases. I thought it might be nice to work on something other than a Christmas ornament.

Today I dropped it off at the shop for finishing.  Somehow, I've managed to stitch this in 15-20 minute slots I've stolen here and there.

The canvas will be folded in half and then finished as an upright, 3D bunny.  (There are ears, too, but I forgot to take a picture of them.)  Hopefully it will done in time for Easter, but perhaps not; I didn't realize the deadline for finishing Easter items was on January 26th.  Ah well.

Still nice to cross this off my list; this poor canvas has been (literally) waiting years to be stitched.  Now I can also move onto other things.... like Christmas ornaments.  I discovered today that the Christmas ornament deadline is August 17th.  Egad! Who knew?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Lunch Treat

Pecan pie -- a delicious and lovely lunchtime treat

Today I had lunch with someone I've been friends with for 15 years. We talked about our families, books we were reading, health and politics.  Yes, politics.  We don't have the same ideas about what irks us, what we're concerned about for the future, nor how we believe some issues should be resolved.  But we talked. And listened.  And considered.

I think we're lucky.

I wish everyone could have the same experience, that everyone has people in their lives who make it possible to have a healthy exchange of ideas without vilification or name-calling.  This lunch was a treat for its company and conversation.... plus the scrumptious dessert.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New Year, New Plan

If you haven't guessed this already, I'm a chatty person.  Yep, I'm a talker.  But sometimes I don't blog because I don't have enough time to say all I'd like to say.  Big mistake. I miss blogging.  Desperately.

That ends now.  Today.

One of my goals for 2017 is to find time to blog, even if it's just to make a quick observation.  I'd like to reacquire my writing and recording habit.  So, I'm starting today.  I'm not waiting until the end of the month or the week to make a "clean" start.  I'm just diving in.  It may seem like the middle, but of what, I ask myself.  There's no defined time to re-engage or start something new.  The whole idea is to get started.  Otherwise it's likely a rationalization.  So, without further ado, here's what's up:

At the Museum:
I'm docent trainer again, but sharing the duties with two fabulous women who are making the process incredibly fun.  This exhibition is called "Picturing Love" and has a broad range of photographs depicting the different ways love can be defined.  I'm learning a ton and enjoying it immensely.  The opening is on March 28th.  I'll keep you posted.

In Paradise:
We had a wonderful holiday trip to the BVI to sail, snorkel and dive.  It was spectacular.  Here's a glimpse.  (If you follow me on social media, my new profile picture sporting a wetsuit is from this recent trip.)

The rocks and pristine water at the Baths
Sailing into the sunset
An octopus in the process of changing color

One of the many incredible fish we shared the ocean with.  This one is a White Spotted Filefish.
The children's Christmas ornaments this year were meant to show a favorite place.  Here's what I made for each of them:


Older daughter

Younger daughter
In the Studio:
This is the start of a gift and so, this is the last I'll say about it until it's done.

Until next time, thanks for reading.  Happy New Year!