Category Archives: Karen’s Progress

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.

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.

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.

Back to Basics.

I used to enjoy grocery shopping. I loved taking the time to plan a week’s worth of meals and think about what I would feature on my blog. I would spend an hour or two searching for recipes and perusing cookbooks to find the perfect things. Then I would head to the store and wander the aisles, choosing the best produce and reading labels. It was meditative and fulfilling for me. It got me excited about cooking and eating and blogging.

But somewhere along the way, I lost that joy. In an effort to maximize my time off, also known as “my time to take photos, edit photos, cook food, write blog posts, manage social media, watch tutorials, advance my photography skills, etc., etc., etc.,” I started going grocery shopping after my work day ended on Wednesday afternoon. That way, I had three full days “off” to do all of the abovementioned things.

But the grocery store is inevitably jam-packed with people on Wednesday afternoons — I have no idea why — which makes shopping frustrating and hurried. And because that’s when I’ve just completed my work week at a physically demanding job, I’m often too exhausted to do the recipe searching and planning that I should, resulting in not only half-baked (ha ha) cooking and photography plans, but also a tendency to forget certain things on the list or buy things we don’t need.

So, enough is enough. It’s time to get back to basics.

Don’t get me wrong; I love what I’m doing. I have been working very hard to improve my photography skills. I’ve started taking portraits and headshots. I’ve been researching photographic technique and lighting tips and applying them to my food photography. I’ve been cramming Photoshop skills and tutorials down my own throat.  Basically I’ve given myself a second job, so although I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have three days off, I spend much of them working. And although it is tiring and sometimes difficult, I love the momentum I’m building and the direction I’m heading. It’s just time to rebalance.

The start of a new year is as good a time as any a time as any to rethink how and more importantly WHEN I’m doing things. I need to keep myself focused on my photography goals, but get back to enjoying the planning, cooking and shopping aspects again. That means making some meaningful time for them. Some simple reorganizing of my schedule ought to do the trick. That, and reminding myself that doing things differently doesn’t mean they’re any better or any worse, just different.

So in the spirit of simplicity and getting back to basics, I give you these blueberry muffins. That’s about as basic as it comes. Simple and sweet.

Happy New Year! Here’s to finding balance for us all. A few of my recent portraits are below. For the muffin recipe, check out my other blog: Buried Carrots.

Little Raft of Happiness

This morning we made pancakes. It wasn’t really morning, it was one of those days where the morning stretches into the afternoon. We slept in, cuddling and having long meaningful conversations with the cats while they purred. Then we sipped espresso and listened to the rain.

On our long morning run we came up with song lyrics to a uke tune that Carla wrote and I stopped to take pictures of leaves and birds.

Then we had pancakes. Buttermilk pancakes with real butter and lots of maple syrup.

And after breakfast we all gravitated toward the sofa and gradually sank down for a nap. Carla and I and both of the cats – our funny little family.

This is what it’s all about. Floating on our very own little raft of happiness. In a sea of pancake fixins that need to be cleaned up. The bed unmade upstairs, wet laundry in the washer, just life, everywhere around us, our life. This is what I’m thankful for every day.

This has been a good morning.

Visceral Manipulation

I am finally starting to feel better. If you’ve been keeping up with my other blog, Buried Carrots, you know that I have been struggling with what is possibly some anxiety or depression. The most troubling part of this issue has been a persistent feeling of not getting enough breath. I’ve been calling it shortness of breath, but it is more like an inability to take in a deep breath, or a constant urge to yawn that never results in a satisfyingly deep breath.

So far nothing, other than the supposed anxiety, has been deemed “wrong” with me. My lungs sound good, my heart sounds normal, my chest x-ray is normal.

After I’d had this breathing issue for just over a month, my doctor recommended an appointment with a pulmonary specialist. Unfortunately the specialist can’t see me until the end of October. The thought of feeling this way for two more months was devastating to me, so I started to consider some other options.

As a massage therapist I have always leaned toward the science side of things. I like to know why and how things work, and I have always been a bit skeptical of the more intuitive modalities in which intention and energy are used to facilitate healing. I think this is largely due to my efforts to work against image of the stereotypical massage therapist — you know, the one who wears a long purple broomstick skirt with a silk tank top and a crystal necklace, and smells like patchouli and has hairy armpits and tells you that your chakras are out of balance even if that’s not why you went to see her.

But I’ve had a feeling that the breathing problem I am experiencing is rooted in my emotions and that I might benefit from trying some other kinds of bodywork. According to Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Polarity Therapy, the lungs are associated with grief, so I decided to try Visceral Manipulation. My dad passed away almost a year ago, and we had a troubled relationship, so I wondered if somehow my grief related to his death was responsible for my breathing issues.

You can read more about Visceral Manipulation here, but the basic idea is that the therapist “tunes in” to your organs and the surrounding tissues to “look” for areas of tension and help release them.

My therapist was one of my teachers in massage school and a mentor whom I’ve known for about 6 years. So I fully trusted her with my care. As she worked on my chest and tuned into my lungs, I felt a surge of sorrow building — as if I wanted to cry — but as much as I told myself to just go ahead and cry, the tears wouldn’t come. Instead, this well of sorrow felt as if it moved up and became painfully trapped in my throat. So my therapist worked there next and asked me questions like, “Is there anything you need to get off your chest?” and, “Is there anything you feel like need to say?” — questions associated directly with areas she was working with, as if my words literally were trapped in my throat. The questions were partly rhetorical, but we did make some progress toward uncovering the emotions that might be buried deep within my subconscious.

For the past two days, I have felt better than I have in over a month. I’m still struggling with the troubled breathing, but it is far less intense and much more infrequent. For many hours each day, I have felt basically “normal” again. What a relief!

So, believe what you will about intuitive bodywork. It has certainly made some kind of change for me. Maybe it works. Maybe the power of suggestion is enough for me to begin to heal. And maybe those are exactly the same thing.

Time for a Nap

Right now I am supposed to be writing a blog post about my adventures at the Food and Light workshop in Boulder, Colorado. To be perfectly honest, I was supposed to be writing that blog post yesterday at 9:00 AM, but instead I took a nap. (Give me a break! We got up at 6:00 AM and ran four miles!)
Normally, following a schedule is a very good thing for me. I function really well when I know I what to expect: a regular work schedule, a regular workout schedule, a regular schedule for writing blog posts. I go to bed each night and get up each morning at the same time. I even like to schedule “unscheduled” time. I know, boring, right? But for me, knowing what is coming up next gives me a sense of calm and control. I like to be prepared, and while I can absolutely handle being caught off guard, it’s not my favorite thing. Plus, with a very busy partner (whose various projects and deadlines I cannot keep up with), it’s helpful to know when we’re spending quality time together and when we’re buckling down for work. We look forward to spending time together and can really focus on each other without distraction.
But back to the nap I took in lieu of writing this blog post. Sometimes — Crazy! Spontaneous! — I will diverge from my regularly scheduled programming for some much needed self-care. I have learned that it is of utmost importance to BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  I got tired (literally) of telling myself that even though I was exhausted, I should push through my personal development projects: those things that aren’t earning me any money yet, but might some day. They’re things that fulfill my passion and satisfy me creatively and intellectually: photography, cooking, blogging. When I force myself to just get them done, the life is sucked right out of them. I don’t enjoy myself, and that defeats the purpose. But if I choose instead to rejuvenate myself with a nap or other relaxation, I often end up with a creative burst of energy and get the original project completed anyway — a win-win.

It’s a fine line. I want to prioritize my personal development projects because, well, I’m trying to DEVELOP something. I want my experience and talent to grow so that one day I can make a living doing what I love. That means that sometimes, even when I don’t want to, I will have to push through projects. But other times, it’s just as important that I take care of myself. Sometimes I can afford to invest in me and relax: take a nap, read a book, spend time in the garden and reschedule my project for later. I am much better off when I forgive myself for not getting something done and instead admit that my well-being needs to be the priority.

My nap was a good one. It was a beautiful morning. The air was nice and cool, and we opened the downstairs windows to let in the breeze. Hummingbirds were buzzing from one feeder to the other. Carla and I enjoyed a cup of coffee (decaf) on the sofa and then I sank down and snoozed for about an hour before getting ready for work. I felt so peaceful resting there while my laptop sat untouched on the table beside me.

Oh, and if you want to read about the Food and Light Workshop, check out my post on Buried Carrots.

Where I Work. What I Do. Who I Am. Where I’m Going.

I didn’t leave my job to pursue my big dream. I still have a 401k and a uniform, an ID badge and a proxy card. So why am I writing a blog about changing my life and pursuing my dreams?

I work as a massage therapist at a big resort and casino. In my humble opinion, it is probably one of the best jobs a massage therapist could hope for in this city. I enjoy the infrastructure of a huge company, and we have the best equipment money can buy and all the supplies we need. I have health benefits and, as mentioned above, a 401k. I like my coworkers, I like the environment of the spa, and I like being an employee rather than a contractor. In addition, I am still a relatively new therapist — I’ve only been doing this for four years. At the spa, I work and work and work, and as a result my skills are improving every day. Because I don’t work for myself, I don’t have to worry about where my next client will come from, or who is going to pay for laundry detergent, or how I’ll pay the rent. I can just focus on providing excellent client care and customer service. I can continue to build my massage skills and concentrate on being a good team member. For right now, it is exactly where I need to be.

But massage isn’t the only thing that I love. I have a lot of interests that have become fairly serious hobbies over the past few years. Cooking, photography, writing and blogging top the list. My current job allows me enough time to pursue these interests (yet another big bonus of working there), and I’m working very hard to grow my skills in all of these areas. I don’t know exactly what that means for my future, but I know that expanding my skills and knowledge can only lead to good things — new opportunities.

My next big challenge is the 2011 Food And Light Workshop in Boulder, CO: a two-day food photography workshop. This is a big push for me and one I’m very excited about (when I’m not being nervous about it, that is). I’m basically self-taught when it comes to photography, so getting some real instruction is going to be great. I’m hoping to gain some insight into areas where I have been struggling, and overall I’m hoping to learn how to improve my photography for my food blog, Buried Carrots. I’d really like to build a bigger following for Buried Carrots, and one of the ways to do this is to get picked up by sites like FoodGawker and TasteSpotting. But that requires really good photos. So improving my photography is my first step toward pushing Buried Carrots to a new level.

So that’s it in a nutshell: where I work, what I do, who I am and where I’m going — for right now, anyway. I’m focused on pursuing my interests, working hard and following my heart on a path that is leading me toward my “next big thing,” whatever that may be. Look for updates (and photos) from the workshop coming soon!