Monday, December 17, 2007

Retro Thanksgiving - A Look Back

Since blogging is new to me, here's a question for all you experienced bloggers: When you take 200+ pictures at a large family event and wish to blog about it, where do you begin? How do you effectively represent the magnatude of something like that when your blog allows you to only upload 5 pictures per post? Not having had your answers in advance, I just went with what turned out to be some of my favorite pictures from our fantastic thanksgiving trip to Utah. And, there will most likely be multiple posts about the trip. If you have better ideas, please comment below. The picture above is one of my favorites. Ella has the sweetest face. I sneaked up on her and Becca with the camera and she looked just as the shutter actuated (another perfectly planned moment in photography). While color balancing in Photoshop Elements, the thought occurred to me that the real focus of the picture should be Ella's face and everything else should take a back seat so I extracted her face, blurred everything else and put her face back in. Even Jeanne liked it (which is saying a lot!) Photos like this were possible because of the miracle of the Condo. You'll have to review my journals after my death for the whole condo miracle story but because of the miracle, Becca and Jake and kids were able to stay with us the whole time we were in Utah which gave lots of opportunity for good pictures.
Like this one. There was a playground in the gated community where the condo was and one of the playhouse features was a little round opening (perhaps to provide more light or maybe the designers knew how cute it would be to photograph grandchildren looking out the opening). The tough part about the picture is that Ella had a runny nose the entire time we were in Utah so you just have to get past that to really appreciate it.
It's still a bit stunning to me that Emily is growing up. This was a candid shot at Joanne's house which simply made me pause and realize just how grown up she has become. It is a great blessing to have her at home. She is fun, full of energy and laying the foundation for a good, strong testimony. A parent can't ask for much more than that (although I'm sure Emily feels like I do).
These are "Four Young Girls." The Young's are so good to Becca and her family. Natalie and Audrey are like sisters and Sister Young has taken Becca in as a true daughter. You can see from this picture that I'm entranced by Ella's face - the others are beautiful but Ella's is mesmerizing.

To me, the picture below just captures the whole meaning of "Thanksgiving" and the restored Gospel for that matter. While the picture isn't special the people and the purpose are. It is of those who attended Victoria's baptism on Thanksgiving Day. A baptism on Thanksgiving with family - there's just something Celestial about that.

All In The Name of Friendship

When Joe Nehila reminded me that I had offered to take family pictures for him I imagined Joe and Heather and the three boys. At 10a Saturday, just as the Littles were leaving, a knock came at the door. It was the Nehilas - all of the Nehilas!
It is, of course, an entirely different thing, managing that kind of crowd, trying to keep everyone happy, looking for good shots, and dealing with "posing misery." Of all the things I lack in photography (and there are many) posing is my biggest shortfal (that I'm aware of). We had good fortune and got some reasonable results.
This picture is sort of like "Father of the Bride 2." The little girl belongs to Kelsey and Dan (Kelsey is Joe's daughter) and the little boy belongs to Joe and Heather. Kelsey is pregnant with number two and Heather is pregnant with number 6. So, when Heather delivers, she will have had 6 and Joe will have had six and when you add it up, 6 + 6 = 8. (You figure it out.)
This was a fun shot, taken on the run. I used Photoshop Elements to blur Joe and keep the little one in focus. I first tried that effect on a picture of Ella and Becca. Even Jeanne, the biggest critic of "Photoshopping" ("It looks fake" is her standard comment) liked the effect with Ella a lot, so I tried it again here with good result.
It took a fair amount of work to get Ashley to smile (13 is a tough age for that sort of thing) but as you can see, it's a great one when it happens. I like this photo and feel like it's as good as any professional studio shot. It was taken in the living room with an 85mm f1.8 lens and camera mounted flash (SB800).

Is This Really Hometeaching?

One of the unexpected advantages of learning photography is the ease with which one can give Christmas presents to hometeaching families. OK - it wasn't exactly "easy" to get Ray and Donna Little to find a time where they were both available for a photo session but I think they really wanted to have pictures taken and they liked the results.
They came over to the house Saturday at 9am. It was 26 degrees outside but you can't tell that by looking at the outside shots. Of course, Ray and Donna are outdoors people from way back so maybe they were completely comfortable in the cold. They didn't pick the pictures I would have but that's part of the fun of portrait photography, learning what the client likes. (I picked the one below but Donna didn't like the way her glasses were resting on here face.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Little Birthday Miracle

Tonight we celebrated Laynie and Jeanne's birthday. Birthdays are a remarkable thing, reminding us annually of the miracle it was that a child was born. It's a time that is so happy and carefree that we actually willingly and joyfully eat food that has been spit upon. (To my knowledge birthday cake is the only such food.)
Laynie received many gifts but the Little Kitty CD player was her favorite. Had we known, we all could have gone in on it together and it would have more than sufficed. She wanted to carry it all over the house (unfortunately it was plugged in at the time). I think it made her feel "grown-up" like Addison who has an old CD player in his room.
Since the big party for Jeanne is to be held Tuesday night, she received a couple small items so she could join in the party. It was the little gift I gave her that gave rise to the birthday miracle. Sometime ago it came to me that Jeanne needed a knitted Christmas stocking like all the rest of us. She didn't have one because she knits them for the rest of us and for some reason never knitted one for herself. Years ago I purchased a rather pathetic stocking for her and wrote her name on it. For whatever reason, this year it seemed particularly out of place. Of course, we didn't get around to decorating for Christmas until the first week of December so as I began my search for knitted stockings, what seemed like a good idea quickly became discouraging.
There were many on-line stocking knitters, but one after another told me they were booked for the rest of the season and there could be no "Jeanne" stocking until next year. Then came the little miracle. I called a sweet woman in Vermont who knits stockings and inquired about one with the name Jeanne on it. She told me she couldn't make any more for this year but that she did have a box of overruns or extras or something that she would check. She checked it as I was on the phone with her. "OK, here are the j's. Jackson, Jane, Jacob ... Did you say J*E*A*N*N*E?" "Yes, I did." "Well, here's one. It's green and red with sleighs and bells on it and the name "Jeanne" embroidered on it. Will that work?" "That is just great!" I was filled with thanks and awe that another little miracle had happened in my life. Then the voice on the other end of the phone said, "Oh, since it's in my overrun box, it's half price." If you know me, you'll understand, the miracle had just become HUGE.

Friday, December 7, 2007

For Sarah

The continuing comedic saga of "For Sarah."
Sarah is cute. Sarah is Mary's roommate. Sarah thinks Rodger should write more about her in his blog.
Sarah adores Rodger's grandson Clay and he adores her so Rodger believes it is a reasonable request to include more of Sarah in his blog. Sarah loves Clayton so much that she allows him to kiss her with "frosting lips" because he thinks it's funny. That's a lot of love.
Sarah is hungry. It's fun to make food with Sarah around. She is very appreciative and makes the cook feel good about her recipes. She is nice to Clayton and she is nice to Jeanne. Hummm, that's two good reasons to include more of her in Rodger's blog.
Sarah loves trains, just like Clayton. They share their love of trains together. They both like to make very long trains and then crash them.
Sarah and Clayton like to play "chicken" with trains. Who will give in first? Will they crash in the valley or will one begin to back up frantically? To find out, tune in to the next episode of "For Sarah" perhaps sometime in February 2008. Sarah, you are very cool. Rodger

Monday, December 3, 2007

Pickett Star Power - Miracles Have Not Ceased

O.k., we had to marry into stardom, but we still consider Rochelle one of our own, whether she achieves fame or not. And no, that's not the miracle, that Bill married a nice girl who's going to be a Broadway star. So let's go back to the beginning for an explanation of the title.
One of the more enjoyable events of Thanksgiving vacation was attending the Saturday night showing of "Little Women" performed by the BYU MTD students. Rochelle played Meg and was WONDERFUL! In fact, I've seen 5 Broadway musicals this year and this production was as good as any on Broadway. No, that's not the miracle that BYU MTD students are as good as Broadway performers. In fact, I sort of expected that. Just wait, the miracle is coming.
We arrived Friday night, so the show was one of the earlier items on the agenda. Of course, I took my camera and somehow think they are only talking about flash photography when announcing "it" is strictly prohibited. Well, I was quite happy with how the photos turned out. The 85mm f1.8 at about 160th/sec worked quite well. Rochelle and Bill would have something nice for their scrapbook. By the time Thanksgiving day came around, the card in my camera was getting full so I transferred all the pictures of Rochelle to a flash drive to make some room. While modern digital technology is a miracle to be thankful for, that is not the miracle of which this entry speaks.
Upon returning home, I accidentally deleted EVERY picture of Rochelle on the flash. I called Kelly - no help. I called Casey, who generously travelled up to the rental condo where I had performed the function but found that since I had never put the images on the hard drive there, they could not be re-captured in Utah. I went to bed very late and prayed, "Heavenly Father, if there is a way to recover the pictures show me how, and if not, help ME RECOVER." Well, God is faithful and a God of miracles. Despite the fact that everyone had told me if you delete something off a flash drive it's GONE - I got up Saturday morning and typed the words "recover deleted files from flashdrive" into Google search. Up came a company who claimed their software could accomplish just that. Allow me simply to say, it was the best $50 I ever spent and IT WAS A MIRACLE. Miracles haven't ceased and God is good.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Girls From Fugal 189

Good roommates sure make college more fun, not to mention heightening the probability of success. It was a great pleasure and a lot of fun to meet Mary's roommates - the girl's from 189. Katie, Jill, Kaitlin, Sarah, and Christina (even though she's always "working the do") are all wonderful, happy, smart, beautiful, talented girls. Each is so different yet they fit together like an exquisite puzzle.
We walked to Ward Conference together on Sunday morning. Rodger - ever carrying the camera - found a photo op right outside the conference center. With the trees turning and mirrored windows in the background the result was quite beautiful (girls and environment). Sorry to Christina that she's not in the picture, it's part of the required sacrifice to serve as RS President at such a young age. I'm sure there are compensating blessings.
Later that night at Ward Prayer it was 189's turn to introduce themselves. Apparently creativity had been lacking in the intro's in prior weeks but that ended this night. The girls used the song "YMCA" with their own lyrics to wow the crowd and effectively tout a bit of the personality of each one. After they were done the young man conducting the meeting commented, "the bar has effectively been raised!"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Worry About Mary?

When I informed a friend a couple months ago that Mary was leaving for college, she said, "You must be worried!" "Worried?," I asked. "Well, kids go to college and some get in trouble," she said. "No, I'm really not worried at all." I suppose part of the lack of concern centered around the fact that Mary would attend BYU but most of it originated with what Mary is - the essence of Mary - goodness. When I couldn't stand not seeing her any longer, I left PA to travel to Utah and be with her (and others of my children) to verify my beliefs. Faith is believing in things you can't see, WHICH ARE TRUE. Faith can become knowledge through persistent experience so it's not like I "believe" Mary is a great person - I know it.
When I opened the door to my dorm room all those years ago to see Jeanne standing outside, she radiated. Good paintings draw your eyes to important parts of the canvass. Jeanne was a very good painting. Light streamed out of her eyes and her smile was convincing and contagious. Mary has always had those same traits, as you can see. Pictures paint a thousand words so I'll spare you the reading.
I remember the first time Mary and I ran together. Byron Shaffer had convinced me to run with him in the morinings so he could lose some weight, we would do about 2 1/2 miles three mornings a week. On the off mornings I'd go by myself and quicken the pace some. One morning Mary asked if she could come along. She was young, and she was small, but she was good. The most noticeable thing about her on that first outing was her mental capacity. It was not easy for her to keep up, but there was no way she would let that be an issue. Her will power has always been intense and powerful. I look up to her for that. After a couple days in Utah she asked, "dad, can you front me $15 so I can run in a race?" "Honey, you just got over pneumonia. Are you ready to run a 5k?" "Yes!" There never is any point arguing with her. She knows herself, even though she sometimes pushes too hard (strictly in my opinion). She met a new friend and ran a decent time and finished with a smile. I went to the finish line and waited for her to cross. After a while, I called her cell phone. "Where are you, I'm at the finish line?" "I'm at the finish line too!" There were two 5k's in Provo that day. I had gone to the wrong finish line, but finally caught up to her to get the above, post-race photo.
Another significant reason not to worry about Mary is that she has wonderful friends. Perhaps chief among them is her cousin Kelsey. Kelsey is an inspiration to all of us. She has endured more than the rest of us ever will and she smiles and laughs and believes. Kristen is another who has chosen the right without the benefit of influences most of us had. She is a pioneer of sorts, leading the way for a new generation. It was so interesting standing on the field at an inter-mural soccer game Friday night. There must have been thousands of participants across campus. I just thought, "what a different place this is - what a great place - where students are engaged in healthy pursuits at 10p on Friday night." All those good influences soothe a father's soul.

The PA Conundrum

Jeanne and I ask ourselves more and more lately why we live in Pennsylvania. Of course there is no definite answer why we came here in the first place. It's true we believe that God led us here for some reason or purpose and we believe we should fulfill that mission. Without a specific calling it's hard to know when and if the mission has been completed. It is also true that Annie and Kelly and Addison and Laynie and another up and coming grandchild live here, which could be answer enough to the question, "why Pennsylvania?"
But there certainly exist compelling reasons to perhaps seek opportunity in the west. Note four of those reasons in the above picture. Although we have completely forgiven Jake for turning down the perfect job in Pennsylvania and have furthermore recognized, by virtue of his callings in the ward, that it is possible he and Becca were actually "needed" in Utah, it doesn't make it any easier to have them living so far away. Returning from Utah this past month was the hardest return trip of my life. I rarely get very emotional about important things (like leaving children behind or sending kids on missions or to college) although I am perfectly capable of having deeply emotional experiences during entertaining movies (like - say - Evan Almighty), but leaving Utah this time was genuinely difficult and emotional. It felt almost "wrong" to be going home.
Fate has somehow dictated that four of our six children currently reside in Utah. So much for Casey's theory that central Pennsylvania is a black hole and NOTHING ESCAPES. Sometimes it seems the only things that haven't escaped are Jeanne and I. Being with Casey and Bill as they rough-housed and joked around made me miss the very home that seemed wrong to return to. How does one keep a a house a home when the principle elements of that home voluntarily and purposefully dismiss themselves leaving mere echoes of the past instead of moments in the present?
That being said, my trip to Utah was spectacular! Being with Mary and Casey and Bill and Rochelle and Jake and Becca and the kids and other good friends like Kelsey, Kristen, Jo Ann Hickman and the Holley girls, etc. was just GREAT! We shopped, we ate together, we visited, we laughed, we went to movies together and basically just loved being with each other. Funny how you could take those moments for granted when you all live in the same house. It reminded me to try my hardest to cherish every moment I have left with Emily. On the way out to Utah I completed a book called "Miracle in the Andies." It was an emotional account of a South American rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andies at 12,000 feet and how many survived the ordeal for 75 days! One of the lasting impressions was an observation by the author, a survivor of the crash, that the experience taught him to cherish every moment in life and never take any moment for granted. I'm hoping my Utah trip will teach me that, including not to take any of the remaining PA moments, however many that may be, for granted.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Making The Flight Seem Short

With my deepest apologies to Ginger, the Southwest flight attendant, for posting this so late, even the most usual and mundane occasions can be made interesting and meaningful by wonderful people. Take Ginger, for instance. The flight from Baltimore to Salt Lake City is about 5 hours east to west. It normally feels like a very long time. I'm reticent to complain about "long" flights since so many of my ancestors spent 90 - 120 days crossing the plains from Iowa to Utah in search of religious freedom and the hope of finding Zion. Certainly, 120 days would be a LONG FLIGHT, but what can I possibly say about 5 hours or even 6 or 7 hours if the flight is delayed or there are problems? Nothing! So to say that five hours seems "long" is at best relative and at worst whining. Anyway, on this particular occasion, Friday 12 October 2007, the length of the flight seemed shorter because of Ginger. Ginger is from Houston. Ginger always smiles. She spent 25 years on the Houston police force, retired and started a new career as a flight attendant on Southwest Airlines. When we first met she noticed I had brought along plenty to eat and I offered to share. She took my response as typical passenger small talk but eventually thankfully took half a ham and cheese on homemade wheat and then we began to talk. My curiosity revolved mostly around how she could have such a happy outlook after spending 25 years on a big-city police force encountering the worst the world has to give on a regular basis. Her response was simple and profound: "I believe most all people are good." She reinforced to me how our experiences are powerfully crafted by our own beliefs and expectations. I am certain that her experience with the same criminals as other officers encountered in Houston was completely different than most because she believed the person was inherently good. Now she smiles at passengers and wonders what other attendants are talking about when they complain about "nasty" passengers. They don't know what "nasty" is, but then, neither does she, I suppose, since to her, people are good. So she smiles. Thanks Ginger. Houston, and the world, are better places because of you. Rodger

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Although it never occurred to me 14 years ago when contemplating moving to central PA, it is fun to be only 3 hours away from New York City. I would simply never want to live there, but it is a very fun place to visit. On Friday, after completing the golf tournament, Emily and I piled into the car and drove to NYC to see a musical on Broadway. Emily loves singing and wants to be a Broadway star one day. At this time of year it's easy to get half-price tickets (which still aren't inexpensive-$56/per), but it makes it tolerable.
Right on Broadway and about 46th there is a large store with every conceivable cd and dvd in it. Emily likes to go there to look for "original cast" Broadway shows. On this day we bought "Legally Blonde" (the musical) and also an old time favorite movie, "Ferris Buehler's Day Off," which when combined with a ClearPlay filter is a very funny movie. Emily is fun to be with because her enthusiasm and exuberance for experiencing life are energizing.
Granted, NYC is a bit of a strange place. Here on Time Square some of the "strangest" assemble. The picture is of a "living" Statue of Liberty who, I suppose for a fee, allows you to pose with her for pictures. Emily wouldn't allow me to take a picture of "The Naked Cowgirl" who was right behind us, in fact, she wouldn't let me turn around and look at her. Just another great reason to hang out with Emily, my moral compass.
The show we saw was "Hairspray." Emily has the cd and knows all the words but had never seen the show. It was delightful. We bought tickets at the 1/2 price window TKTS. She said they were "partial view." They turned out to be a box, you know, up on the side wall, stage right about 5 rows back. We were practically on top of the stage and could see everything. Of course the couple from Japan who sat directly in front of us were very nice and moved just enough to allow me an unobstructed view. We got back home at about 2a, just as Jeanne was leaving for work at the hospital. What a life!

Golf: The Life Game

Perhaps 10-12 times per year I play in golf tournaments. I love to play golf. Golf is a game that can teach valuable life skills and points to the gospel in so many ways. So, even though I'm not very good (12 handicap) it is a joy to play and learn. We have a "team" at Cindy Rowe Auto Glass. I love these guys. Kelly Ditto is my son-in-law. He is competitive but fun, always making funny comments and keeping us loose. Kirk Reed is Director of Operations at Cindy Rowe, a fine man, committed to family, always appropriate and very comfortable to be with. Brian Clayton is the assistant Dir. of Ops. He is the best golfer among us. A good person. Humble. Prone to a bit of sarcasm and ribbing. Never crosses any "line." A good athlete. They are always fun to be around. There was a tournament on Friday the 4th of October, 2007, at a course called Manada, just off I-83 and Rt. 743. Emily had no school so she came along. She was a great help and lots of fun and helped us do well. although we finished 12 under par, it was not enough to win (we came in third). It was a beautiful fall morning. There was light fog, the temperature was in the low 70's and the greens were in good shape. Like life, golf is a game and a time to be enjoyed. The scenery is beautiful, the company is fantastic and the opportunity to achieve is abundant. Of course things happen that can be unexpected, frustrating, surprising, even stupid. But other things can be almost sublimely joyful. We started on seventeen. Kirk hit to 12 feet, above the hole. I sank the putt. We were off to a good start. Focusing on good is the key in golf and in life. On the "long putt" hole, I sank a 45 foot putt, from just inside the fringe. It would be difficult to have a putt any longer than that. Yet at the award ceremony, the $50 gift certificate was awarded to someone else. Turned out he thought it was a "closest to the pin" hole. No worry. It's all for fun. And for learning one more lesson - even when people are wrong, just smile and enjoy the moment and learn from it.