Author Archives: Karen Milling

Elephants, Inspiration, and Sage, Apple, and Cheddar Scones



(Previously posted on Buried Carrots)

I wanted to see the elephants. I wanted to do something different with my day. While out for my early morning run, I took a different turn from my usual route so that I would run past the zoo and see the elephants through the fence. I knew from a past visit that the zookeepers hide food from them inside the enclosure because the animals enjoy the game of hide and seek. And sure enough, there they were, quietly seeking out their morning treats. I like to see them when they don’t know anyone is watching, before the gates of the zoo open and they are flooded with noisy visitors. I like to see them peacefully enjoying the cool, quiet morning, undisturbed.

Many days I run the same route, turn after turn. I could see the elephants every day if I chose to; they are only a little out of the way. But so often something pulls me along my usual way: I have to be at work, I have to run the errands, I have to, I have to, I have to.

Today I have to do something differently.

Visit the elephants.

Then come home and continue the grind, but with a fresh perspective because I shook up my day — even if just a tiny bit — and did something to make myself smile.

It worked.

After weeks of feeling uninspired in the kitchen, I suddenly felt renewed. Freshly baked Sage, Apple and Cheddar scones soon filled the kitchen counter and the house smelled of autumn. Sharp cheddar, sweet apples and fragrant sage make these savory scones the perfect match with a hot cup of soup – just the thing when fall is right around the corner.

So do something differently. Visit the elephants. Make the day unique. You might find that it’s just the thing to put a spring back in your step.

Sage, Apple and Cheddar Scones: 

4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup very cold butter cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 green or red apples, finely diced
3 teaspoons finely minced sage 
½ cup diced sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375˚

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Pulse to mix. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the apples, cheddar and sage. Place in freezer for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl combine the eggs and ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Whisk well to combine.

Add eggs and cream to the flour mixture and stir until dough just comes together. Add additional tablespoons of heavy cream if necessary.

Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface. For mini scones divide the dough into four equal portions. Form each portion into a rough circle 5-6 inches across. Cut each circle into 6-8 wedges. For large scones form two 8-10 inch circles, then cut into wedges.

Place wedges on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Recipe adapted from Good Life Eats.

Keys to Success From Abby Wambach and London 2012

I’m catching up on sleep. My blood pressure has returned to normal. I haven’t wept in at least three days.

That is to say, the London 2012 Olympics are over, and slowly but surely life is resuming its normal rhythm.

This year we did our best to watch as much of the Olympics as possible, recording events happening during the day, following on Twitter, and watching primetime coverage in the evenings. We took it all in: the success, the defeat, the joy, the heartache, the triumphs and failures. We watched again and again as Olympians had their moment to shine. Some of them did so, flawlessly, and others struggled under the immense pressure.

And the whole thing got me thinking. What makes these Olympians, or anyone for that matter, able to rise to the moment? What makes them able to pick themselves up and start again after crushing defeat? What can I do to be more like them?

I think it boils down to three elements, none more important than the other, each equally essential to success:

Do it.
Understand it.
Believe it.

Whatever “it” is that you want to accomplish.

How successful is the diver who skips out on practice? What becomes of the world’s fastest woman if she doesn’t understand the physics of how to get out of the starting block efficiently? How does a team come back from being down a goal — three times! — to win in the final seconds of overtime?

Perhaps at this point you’ve heard about the infamous semifinal women’s soccer game between Canada and the U.S., the game in which a rarely called free kick was given to the U.S. because the Canadian goalie held the ball for too long. And it’s possible you’ve heard that leading up to that call, Abby Wambach, veteran player for the U.S. team, was counting, loudly, near the ref each time the goalie held the ball to bring attention to the matter. Finally the ref called it – and the free kick resulted in a handball that resulted in a penalty kick that resulted in a goal that equalized the score for a third time. And then the U.S. came back to win in overtime with a fourth goal — the latest goal in Olympic history.

Do it. Understand it. Believe it.

You see all of these elements at play in this situation. First, Abby knows the rules of the game inside and out and how to use them to her team’s advantage: a goalie shouldn’t hold the ball for more than six seconds. It’s a rule, so is there any harm in pointing it out when time is most certainly of the essence? Second, she is fit enough to play — hard — for more than 120 minutes. Guess how she got there? She practices and practices and trains and practices. And finally, when her team was down a goal for the third time, Abby didn’t resort to stepping on other players’ heads (see: Melissa Tancredi); she simply kept believing that winning was possible. And guess what? It was.

Now apply this to me, or you, or anyone. If you want to do something, or be something, or accomplish something, then do it, understand it, and believe it.

Get out there and take photos. Get the best training you can afford and start learning how to mix songs better. Take a deep breath now and then and tell yourself that you’re courageous, you’re talented, you’re capable, and you’re ready.

My success, my desires, may never result in a gold medal hanging around my neck, but achieving them would feel just as good. (Deep breath: I’m courageous, I’m talented, I’m capable, I’m ready.) Thanks for the inspiration, Abby, and London 2012.

Going Home.

I was born in the Pacific Northwest.

Not really. I was actually born in Texas and grew up in the Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. But when I graduated from college I moved to Seattle —trading drought for damp and chiles for blackberries.

The landscape of the Pacific Northwest was so different from anything I had experienced. A big city with buses and ferries and mountains unlike anything I had seen. Water and boats and bridges, rain and clouds and more rain.

I was young, and I was living far away from my home and my parents. I was truly on my own for the first time in my life. I felt free to push myself creatively, free to allow myself to change, free to reinvent myself, free to make mistakes. I dove in headfirst, taking in the city and the surrounding landscape, making friends, falling in love, falling out of love, changing jobs, staying up too late, creating art, and generally trying to figure out who I was going to be.

So in a way, I was born in the Pacific Northwest; I became someone new there. It is as embedded in me as the Southwest: my two homes.

When I left Seattle, it was because I felt like I was done there. I had accomplished what I needed to accomplish. I had a better sense of the kind of person I wanted to be and it felt right to leave the Pacific Northwest behind to pursue new things.

But I’ll always go back.

To revisit the city is to revisit myself, to see how much I’ve grown and changed and to embrace that young person who was so hungry for life, but so uncertain where she was headed.  I’m happy to tell her it’s all going to be wonderful.

To read about Seattle eats, go to Buried Carrots.

The Big Day

I am one day away from my first wedding shoot. Saturday is the day. The anxiety dreams have begun in which I’ve already filled my memory cards, have forgotten my tripod and am alarmed when the wedding ceremony begins in the swimming pool.

But in reality, I think I’m ready. I rented a lovely 85mm prime lens and have been practicing with that and with my flash. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I simply don’t have time to master everything I would like to master in terms of technical skills before the wedding date. So I’m turning my thoughts toward the things I do well.

Test shot with the 85mm rental lens

Again, I’m grateful that I have been learning and applying editing techniques in Photoshop. I would certainly prefer to take photos correctly the first time around, but I’m glad I have such a powerful editing tool to help in case I don’t capture exactly what I’m after.

Here’s what I’m taking:

  • Nikon D5000. It doesn’t have a full-frame sensor, but it’s what I’ve got. I’m comfortable with its controls.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. This lens allows me some versatility and range, but it is heavy, so I’ll need to use it in bright conditions with fast shutter speeds or with something to stabilize it.
  • 85mm f/1.4. This is the rental lens and probably what I’ll use during the ceremony and for the posed shots. It’s really great for portraits, does well in low light and gives lovely Bokeh or blurred/out of focus areas to the image. The closer focal range will allow me to be further away from the ceremony and still get some nice, close shots.
  • 35mm f/1.8. I’m taking this because I have it, so mostly it will be a backup lens, but it is a really sweet little lens that I use a lot for food photography. It is also great in low light, so it might come in handy for things like shots of the wedding cake or other food shots.
  • 18-55mm f/3.5 and 50-200mm f/4-5.6. These are my kit lenses. I’m taking them as backup and hope not to need them, but they’re there if I do.
  • Two flashes: one manual and one with TTL metering capabilities
  • A whole bunch of AA batteries
  • A whole bunch of memory cards
  • Tripod
  • Stepstool
  • White foam core for bouncing light if necessary
  • Two camera batteries and charger
  • An “assistant.” Basically, my lovely spouse is going to follow me around, hold stuff, and keep an eye out for sweet moments I might be missing if I’m focused on something else.
  • A list I found online of “not to miss” wedding shots

A lot of what I’m packing I might end up not using, but I don’t want to be caught without something I need, and I absolutely don’t want any dead batteries or lack of memory storage.

another 85mm test shot

All that’s left at this point is to pack up the car and get there, then do what I do: take pictures. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m thrilled. A big day for the bride and groom. A big day for me too. It will be beautiful, I’m sure.

Here I go!

Great Websites for Photography Techniques

As I mentioned in the previous post, I recently visited the site where my first-ever wedding shoot will take place. It is a bed and breakfast in Ribera, NM.

The venue is lovely, and the ceremony will take place outdoors overlooking a beautiful vista. The reception will be indoor/outdoor and will last well into the night.

The view from the ceremony terrace. Plentiful New Mexico sunshine.

My visit was valuable in that it allows me to know ahead of time what kinds of photography challenges I will face so that I can prepare for them accordingly. Here’s what I learned:

  • The outdoor setting is BRIGHT, fully exposed to the sun. That means there is a lot of potential for high contrast and lots of shadows. And that in turn means I’ll need to be prepared to use a bounce card or a fill flash for posed photos, and think carefully about shot angles when shooting the ceremony. (As a side note, I have to say that after seeing the venue, I was pretty happy that I’ve been working so hard on my Photoshop skills. I’m confident that with the powerful Adobe software I’ll be able brighten shadows in post if necessary.)
  • The Bride and Groom will likely be placed with their backs to a wall of windows during the meal. So, again, I need to be prepared not to overexpose the windows and underexpose the couple. But on the plus side, there is potential for some creative silhouette shots.
  • The ceiling of the indoor reception area is wood, i.e., not white, meaning the color of my bounce flash will be affected.

So, all of that said, here are a few websites I’ve been visiting a lot lately:

  • Tangents, created by Neil Van Niekerk, is FULL of valuable information on a wide range of photography subjects. He even has several posts specifically about wedding photography – even as specific as “shooting in bright sunlight (wedding).” THANK YOU, NEIL!
  • The Strobist has a lot of valuable information – especially about understanding equipment. But a lot of the focus of this website is about off-camera flash, which I am just not prepared to use for the wedding shoot.
  • Digital Photography School has a lot of great general tips about photographing a wedding for the first time. Most of the tips then have links to other articles about the techniques necessary to achieve good results.

The Internet is, of course, as big and deep and wide as the ocean, so I know there is a wealth of other sites out there, but these have been three of my favorites so far. They’re the ones that have made me breathe a sigh of relief to know that I’m pointed in the right direction, I’m learning the right things, and gaining confidence with knowledge.

the ceiling: wooden beams

The wall of windows: possible exposure issues, but also potential for beautiful side light and silhouettes.


Flash Challenges

With my first-ever wedding shoot just a few weeks away, I took some time to drive out to the wedding venue and check it out ahead of time. It is a beautiful bed and breakfast in the tiny (and I mean TINY) town of Ribera, NM.

I brought my camera and new flash, which I’ve been practicing with and learning how to use. The flash is manual, meaning it will not meter through my lens. Since Nikon Speedlights that do have through-the-lens metering capabilities are fairly expensive, I chose a cheaper, well-reviewed manual zoom flash thinking I would learn how to deal with Flash Exposure Compensation on my own.

View from the terrace of the bed and breakfast

Some things don’t work inside my brain… and the concept of Flash Exposure Compensation is one of them. I don’t get it. I simply don’t get it. I’ve read, practiced and read some more, but I’m not making any headway. Will I keep trying? Absolutely. But right now, I have a job to prepare for and I can’t take my chances on equipment that I don’t understand.

Coco, the sweet B&B dog, was happy to help me take some test shots.

So I ordered another flash. I still didn’t spend the hundreds of dollars needed for a Nikon Speedlight. Instead, I found a third-party flash that offers through-the-lens metering. Had I known that such off-brand flashes existed, I would have never purchased the manual flash in the first place.

Live and learn. Anyone need a manual flash? Barely used?

How I Booked My First Wedding Photography Gig. And Why I’m Not (Totally) Freaked Out.

Life is full of firsts. First job, first love, first home, first (and I hope last) marriage. This past year, as I’ve worked at building my photography portfolio, I’ve had many photography firsts: first headshot session, first portrait session, first children’s portrait session. And coming up this May is possibly the biggest photography first of them all: my first wedding.

I’m nervous, of course, and excited. And since this is a first that many aspiring photographers encounter, I thought I’d share my journey and provide a window into the emotional, educational and practical lessons I’m learning along the way. In the interest of keeping the posts fairly short, I’m planning a series of them. This post covers my first steps.

How did I get recommended for this gig?

The short answer here is my food blog. I started my food blog, Buried Carrots, just over a year ago. I’ve worked diligently and researched regularly to improve my photography over the year. The blog still doesn’t have a ton of followers, but it gets more than 100 hits a day and tops 2,000 on a good day. It is steadily building. My biggest fans, of course, are folks who know me, and friend of mine who loves my blog has a friend who is getting married. She needed a photographer who wouldn’t charge a fortune, and I was recommended.

How did I nail down the gig?

I was completely honest with the bride. I told her I’ve never shot a wedding before, I am self-taught and learning as I go, and that she would need to feel comfortable with that. But I also told her that I felt really confident with natural light photography. I told her I had photographed kids and families and individuals, and that everyone I’ve worked with so far has been happy with my work. I also assured her that when you work in digital and take 1,000+ photos, you’re bound to get some good ones.  She agreed to have me photograph her wedding.

How did I decide on a price?

Carla keeps saying that at some point, I’m going to have to start charging people for my work. So far, everything I’ve done has been for trade or “whatever the client wants to give me.” I know there are a lot of strong opinions out there on this subject. This is mine: I’m building a portfolio, and until I have one in place, I don’t feel comfortable charging people. The experience is so incredibly valuable to me, from the challenges of each unique shoot to the challenges of post processing. And anyway, how can I ever shoot weddings if I’ve never shot a wedding? I need a wedding to shoot as much as the bride needs a photographer.

The bride’s budget was $500. I agreed to take $250 for the shoot and a specific amount of post-processing work. Any additional post-processing will be negotiated, and any equipment I need to rent will be paid for by the bride.

How do I keep myself from freaking out?

Research, research, research and research. Practice, practice and practice.

I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about wedding photography and the technical skills that I still lack in. And I keep picking up my camera every week and taking photos. You’re not going to take amazing photos if you never use your camera.

Also, I’m staying organized.

After my first conversation with the bride, I immediately created an Evernote document. I can access it from my laptop or from my phone, meaning that whenever I think of or see something that might help me do a better job at the wedding shoot (an idea, an existing photo, an article, a website, etc.), I save it into the Evernote document. I have all my notes from my first conversation with the bride there. And I have a wealth of helpful information in the form of links to everything from wedding photography tips, to lighting tutorials, to what shots to take.

All of this preparation helps calm my anxieties about my first wedding shoot. But it doesn’t erase them. This is someone’s special day, and I get one single chance to capture the beauty, emotion, delight and joy of it all. I can’t screw up.

But I trust myself. I’ll prepare as much as I possibly can, and that means I’ll be less likely to make simple mistakes- like not having enough memory or battery power. And when the wedding day arrives, I’ll do what I do: I’ll take photos. After all, it’s MY photographic eye that got me here in the first place. So I have to trust my abilities to capture light and laughter and tears and memories, photos that will forever mark this beautiful milestone in the Bride and Groom’s lives. And forever mark a pretty significant milestone in my life too.

Postcard From Orlando

This week we travelled to Orlando, Florida — the theme park, gift shop, outlet mall, chain restaurant, six-lane highway capital of the world. Or at least of the southern United States. Not exactly my first choice of destinations, but our aunt kindly and generously gave us a week at a timeshare property, so off we went to make the most of it and enjoy some time away.

When I travel I love to get off the beaten path and try to see a place for what it really is. As I researched things to do in Orlando, I began to realize that there isn’t much of an “off” the beaten path. Orlando is designed to draw in masses of people, charge them admission, entertain them, feed them and sell them souvenirs to remember it all by. Everything is BIG and colorful and fantastical. It’s what they do and they do it well. So we went with it, to an extent. We spent a full day at Epcot Center. We explored Downtown Disney, we saw a Medieval Times dinner show, we shopped at an outlet store, we played mini-golf, and we enjoyed it all, but we didn’t give up on finding our way off the beaten path.

After much searching, we found the more beautiful, serene side of Orlando — it does indeed exist. You just have look carefully.

At our resort we rented kayaks and paddled around the small lake bordering the property. Sure, it was right by the six-lane highway, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We hugged the shoreline where tall grasses and lilies grew and saw beautiful herons and cranes and even a small alligator hiding in the marsh. We visited two local gardens and explored the grounds filled with lush tropical plants and flowers, and absent of crowds. We were the only customers in a small Falafel place in a strip mall, and we enjoyed huge plates of hummus and pita, falafel, dolmas, and tabouleh. We ventured out to Winter Park to a sidewalk art festival and enjoyed wandering from booth to booth seeing paintings, pottery, sculpture and photography.

Those are the places I would go if I lived in Orlando. They are places and things that bring me comfort and joy and a feeling of peace. They provide some respite from the crazy, bright, crowded bustle that dominates the rest of the city. They must be places that make Orlando feel like home to some who live there. They are certainly lovely memories for me, and I don’t even need a t-shirt to remember them by.


Read more about the Orlando trip at Buried Carrots.





White Lies and Valentines

Every once in a while, one of my clients innocently asks, “Are you married?” This always stops me in my tracks. Even if I see it coming, it forces me to pause, to think about how to answer.

I’m a massage therapist. Basically, I go into a dark room with naked strangers for a living. There is, of course, much more to a therapeutic relationship than that. There is a great deal of trust involved. Clients trust me to care for them and respect them, as well as maintain their boundaries, both physical and emotional. It can be a delicate balance sometimes. We are two individuals. We might be as different as could be, and yet we agree to spend an hour or so together in a situation that makes both of us somewhat vulnerable.

In massage school, I took ethics classes in which I was instructed not to talk about myself to my clients. I’m to let the client guide any conversation that may or may not occur. And I learned to set my own boundaries regarding what and how much I share with my clients, if anything.

So when the questions begin — like, “How long have you been doing this?” “Are you from here?” “Do you have any kids?” — my answers are short and polite, and I quickly turn the conversation back to the client or to the massage. “I wonder if the pain you’re experiencing in your arm is due to nerve entrapment?”

But when they ask if I am married, everything changes.

Suddenly I have to decide. Do I tell the truth and risk upsetting my client if they are conservative and anti-gay? I’m compassionate enough to imagine that a homophobic person would feel very uncomfortable lying naked in a dark room and being touched by a lesbian. Not to mention the discomfort I would feel. Do I lie? Which way shall I lie? Tell them I have a husband? Or tell them no, I’m not married? Or do I say something neutral like, “I prefer not to discuss my personal relationships?” — in which case I’ve probably raised their suspicions and so I might as well have told the truth.

I hardly think a straight massage therapist would be faced with the same conundrum.

Today it was a perfectly sweet Midwestern woman who asked me if I was married. She was retired, travelling with her husband on a two-month adventure in their motor home.

I lied to her — and then my heart broke and all I could think of was my beautiful wife, whom I love and love and love.

Maybe I would have been pleasantly surprised. Maybe if I had spoken the truth my client would have said, “Oh wonderful! Tell me about your wife.” I won’t ever know. Is it even my place to test that boundary during a massage?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Carla and I are celebrating. We love each other to the ends of the earth and back again. We will keep loving each other every minute of every day until our days are done.  And someday, during our lifetimes, I hope I will be able to tell each and every person I meet how proud I am of my beautiful wife and expect nothing more than a smile in return.

I’ll just keep loving her until we get there.

New Year’s Day


Every year on new year’s day I try to do something related to the intentions I’ve set for myself in the coming year. This year, I simply set out on a walk and made an effort to try to see things in my neighborhood differently. What I discovered were textures I’d never seen before, colors hidden on old boards and rusted metals, trees made more interesting my simply shifting my angle of looking at them.


I want 2012 to be a year of expansion. I want to keep growing my photography skills, building followers on my food blog, and broadening my creative endeavors. But I also want balance.


I think today was an excellent beginning. By doing nothing more than seeing with fresh eyes, looking at things differently, I turned the familiar into something brilliant. Here’s to a wonderful and inspiring 2012.