Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Is Good To Me

Christmas has always been remarkable good to me. OK - that first Christmas after I met Jeanne was a little rough. That was the time I called on Christmas day to talk to Jeanne (a mere month after we had met). Her little brother Michael answered the phone and went screaming through the house, "it's Rodger on the phone, it's Rodger on the phone." I took that as a pretty positive sign but when Jeanne got on the phone she sounded a little down. "What's the matter?," I asked. "I was just hoping you'd call me on my birthday," she replied. I'd actually thought of calling her on her birthday, December 18th, but decided I couldn't afford two phone calls and opted to call on Christmas day. Of course, if I'd known then what I do now, that her birthday often got overlooked with all the Christmas preparations going on, the choice would have been obvious - call on her birthday. Well, in response to her vain hope of the birthday call I explained the one call decision and said, "Guess I should have called on your birthday," to which she replied a rather curt, "How about both days." So, o.k., that Christmas didn't get us off to a very great start, but pretty much ever since then every Christmas has been great. There's been the little glitches. I was telling my dad tonight about the time Jeanne and I looked at each other at about 11:30p on Christmas eve and said, "We're done - it's an all-time record, 11:30p and we can go to bed." On the way to bed, Jeanne said, "didn't you get a bike for somebody?" Well the bike was still in a box in the garage, and any of you who know me know that at my best, I don't put things together all that great and at midnight, after putting Christmas together all night, putting anything else together was near impossible. 11:30p turned into 2:30a before I knew it, so it turned out not to be a record after all (actually, it might have been the latest Christmas Eve ever). But, those little things aside, Christmas has been a special time in our home, a wonderful time, filled with happiness and contentment, very little complaint, lots of games and fun and strangers, and family and food and JOY. I've thought more than once it's certainly been more than I deserved and how did it ever turn out to be so good. Well, the answer to that became apparent last night. After 31 years of marriage, during which Jeanne and I have been at least above average communicators, I found out the secret to all of our great Christmases and I've got a picture to prove it.

So, I live with Mrs. Santa. It doesn't change anything. I'm as committed as ever and don't even think my expectations for a Christmas present have changed, it's just one of those little life surprises that you smile about and keep on going. Besides, she's a pretty darn good looking Mrs. Santa at that.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Emmy Got A Haircut

Under normal circumstances, I'd leave this kind of a post to Emily. After all, it is HER haircut. But here's the rub - she ask me to take pictures of the new "doo" so she could show all her friends. So I did, but, horror of horrors, she did not like them. So what does she do? She takes a few self-portraits with her phone for all I know and posts those. So, as an outlet for the deep hurt of being disrespected at such an extreme level, I am posting the pictures I took of the haircut. Oh, and by the way, she (Emily) is VERY cute.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

First Snow In PA

Snow has come early in PA. It wasn't really forecast. But it came anyway. Like everything else, the unexpected has it's goods and it's bads. In this case it's beautiful and it's cold. And here is what differentiates people in life - you may either focus on the good, focus on the bad, or just miss it altogether. That said, let me say, IT'S BEAUTIFUL! Oh, and Ray Little and I are going to have a great time at the Penn State - Michigan State game today (a great chance to bundle up and thank God for new technology in the clothing industry).I can't recall ever seeing this contrast before - the fresh snow and the brightly colored leaves. For some unexplainable reason the Beech tree leaves are exceptionally brightly colored this fall and seem all that much more colorful against the snow.Last night's sunset reminded me of another reason why we willingly trade the summer's warmth for the winter's cold - the sky. I was reminded of all the times on Sunday afternoons when Kelly and I would go out on photo safaris. Only in the winter, with the sun low in the sky and the temperature inversions and whatever else contributes do we get the color and feeling in the sky. On this evening, Jeanne and I were on our way to do some Christmas shopping (yes, we are very on top of things this year) when the sky appeared and I asked if it would be ok to stop for a minute to take some pictures. Of course, she's heard "a minute" way too many times to know "a minute" can sometimes turn into thirty, and, of course, she's very loving and supportive of my picture taking, so she intelligently responded, "sure, but I need to go to the bathroom pretty bad." She knows me well enough that my concern for her would take precedence over pictures (one of the few things) so it really was only a couple minutes. The tracks heading into the setting sun reminded me of movies when I was a child which almost all ended with someone "riding into the sunset." So this is my version of that.
Just in parting, remember to occasionally look back, there may be something you're missing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Harvest Moon

Just in case you ever wondered what a harvest moon is - there's your answer (the full moon nearest the time of the autumnal equinox). Now, you may wonder, "How did Rodger know that?" Aside from the fact that I'm "the smartest dad in the world," this is a small story of the true value of sport.

Developing team building characteristics, learning to work hard, taking personal and group responsibility, experiencing the exhilaration of being your best, overcoming fear, growing incrementally stronger (I could go on) have always been the upside of being involved in sport. I've been a fan - but no longer count myself as such (with the possible exception of BYU football). By accident I discovered another advantage of sport.

Tuesday night I had to cut some pictures I had printed. The paper cutter was downstairs. I rarely watch TV anymore but figured since I was in the room there may as well be some background noise, and it turned out to be baseball. Baseball is not a fast game. It has long, actionless intervals during which announcers need to fill dead air. On this particular night, the moon began to rise over some stadium (I believe Pittsburgh) and one of the announcers began to explain why the moon appeared so large and what a harvest moon is. That motivated me to get up, grab my camera, go outside and take the above picture. Suppose it's no wonder why sport is such an American staple.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Mower and Straight Lines- A Parable

There was a middle-aged man mowing his lawn on his riding mower. It was late in the season. There hadn't been much rain. It was late in the day. The sun was low in the sky casting long, sometimes confusing (though beautiful) shadows. Although the lawn was generally not long, the few spots that were made it look scruffy, so it needed a trim. It was even a bit dry and brown in some spots but would definitely look better mowed.

As the man mowed he noticed how hard it was to see where he should go. The reason it was hard to know where to go next was because it was hard to see where he had been. Since most of the grass was not long there was no clear path created by mowing it.

The man thought if he slowed down and mowed more carefully he could do a good job and not miss any spots. This worked for a while but the man became concerned how much time it would take to mow since he had so many other things that needed attending in his life. He wished for a way he could go faster and still be sure not to miss any spots.

Then he turned a corner and the sun shone just right on his path, not for a long time but long enough to realize that the path he had cut before had been a straight line and if he just went straight, no matter what happened to the light, he would mow exactly where he should. This was a great insight and he was happy and confident - for a moment.

Then in front of him loomed the darkness of the shadow cast by the huge Copper Elm. The man could not see anything under the tree. It was impossible to see the right path. He began to fear. Immediately the man thought of straight lines - if he could just keep his line straight in the darkness, when he emerged in the light he would still be on the right path. He began to feel confident again and looked up. It was then he saw the light beyond the shadow and the straight line of the path leading from the shadow into the light. In his mind he could connect the lines on each side of the shadow, because they were straight, and drive through the darkness without fear, knowing he would be on the right path when he got back in the light. And that's just what happened.

When he was done he thought of the importance of making straight paths. He'd never much thought that knowing where he had been could help him know where to go next, on the lawn, or in life, but now he knew the straighter the path he forged the easier and better it would make life in the future. He thought about how sometimes he had to walk into the darkness, with faith, knowing the light would reappear and how sometimes he had feared. Now he knew that if he were walking straight paths, there would be no fear in the dark because he could stay on the right path until the light reappeared. He thought how this applied particularly to him, in his middle-age, a little late in life just as it had been late in the season for the grass. While a lot of new grass was not growing, it still needed to be tended to and the very fact that it wasn't growing so fast made it actually more difficult to see the path, but that life's pace could be kept brisk if he were walking in straight lines. He thought, as he was drifting off to sleep, how nice it would be if the grass just never needed to be mowed, then he wouldn't need to worry about paths at all, but figured as he drifted off to sleep, that won't happen because there definitely won't be any astroturf or turf of any sort in heaven. He was content.

Musings on Macro-relevancy and Paying Attention

One of the issues associated with being released from a calling is"relevancy." Having been released as bishop two years ago there's a nagging and continuing question of whether I'm contributing. Of course any feelings of irrelevance are relative, not objective, since the experience of being a bishop will never disappear (and doesn't seem to even fade that much). With me, the feelings are not exactly new. I still remember talking about doing "big" things around Papa Bob, wondering, for example, how fixing people's windshields was making much of a contribution to the world (why couldn't I have become a doctor instead of a businessman), and he would consistently ask, "Are you doing your hometeaching?" And, it really does come down to that. God's world is a world of individuals. HE would never hesitate to leave the flock and go find the one, so the whole feeling of "macro relevancy" is flawed in the first place. For example, I'm so impressed with Byron Shaffer, the bishop who preceded me. He finds people to visit and just does it, no assignment, usually no stewardship, just out loving people one at a time, and that's enough, for him and them. Still, it doesn't make relevancy go away for me, flawed or not. (Another of my many life problems, making irrelevance seem relevant.) Anyway, since being released Jeanne and I have tried to keep doing worthwhile things - we still provide our basement for seminary every morning and I make it a point to take the students to school. And that brings me to "life lesson" of the day.

Several days ago, backing out of the garage with a car full of seminary students on the way to school, Ian Raleigh, who was sitting in the front passenger seat commented as we exited the garage, "Wow, that was close." He was referencing the distance between the sideview mirrors and the wall of the garage door opening.

There is generally about two inches on each side if you are well centered, but I tend to come as close as possible to the drivers side, knowing that if it's inside two inches all will be well on the passenger side.

"I've got it mastered," was my response, immediately picturing the scratches on each of the sideview mirrors from coming too close, "as long as I pay attention," came the addition. The words seemed profound as soon as they came out. Does that ever happen to you? You say some seemingly innocuous thing only to have your own words strike you like a hammer?

Ian and I spoke all the way to school on the gospel lessons associated with backing the Honda Pilot out of the garage. We decided no matter how good you got at keeping some commandment, you still have to pay attention. No matter how secure you feel in your understanding of the Gospel, you still have to do the "pay attention" things, like read the scriptures and pray and go to church, etc. And, we decided that sometimes you SCRATCH the mirrors, it just happens, even when you are seemingly paying attention, and at times like that you realize there will be a little pain associated with getting them fixed (money for paint jobs, repentance for sins) because no scratched mirrors can get into heaven. They can be made perfect though, whether at the body shop or through Christ's atonement.

Hope that helps somebody out there, it's helping me right now. Thanks Ian. Thanks God.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weddings - Yikes

It was a busy but fun and rewarding week in the picture business. Again, miracles do happen and so does fun and growth. As you can see, the DC temple is a beautiful place. Unfortunately, they are doing construction around the ENTIRE temple so you just have to get your angles so the construction isn't visible. The above was taken from the back of the parking lot with my 18-200 zoom (somewhere in the middle) and turned out pretty nice. Anyway, the main point about weddings is, I'm really comfortable with one, or two, or maybe even three people, but when it comes to 40, the inadequacy starts to creep in! And that's where prayer and miracles come into play.
I honestly wanted these sweet kids to have memorable pictures and prayed hard that some of them would turn out. To be honest, I was worried on the way home whether I had any good ones.
Then my friend Becky Bruckner called while I was driving home from the temple after shooting the Hunter-McDonald wedding. I told her how I had prayed and she said, "I'll pray for you too." I said, "Isn't a bit late for that?" "Is it ever too late for God?" She helped me remember, instantaneously, that all things are possible with God. So, even if all the images on the card in my camera were bad, a prayer, even at this point, could change all that.
Well, thankfully, there were some good ones and they were very happy with the results.
Of course, that's not the end of the story. The reception was in New Bloomfield, about an hour from home. Jeanne agreed to come with me so we could spend a little time together, and it was a fun ride up. We arrived before the wedding party, who had been delayed and arrived 1/2 hour after the reception was to start. It would be a bit of a late night.
We were about ready to go, so Jeanne said she'd meet me in the car. She had put my camera bags in the kitchen so they'd be out of the way. As I was leaving the wedding party requested a few additional shots, so it took me longer to get to the car than anticipated, and I was in a bit of a hurry. I jumped in the car. We drove the hour home and arrived at 10:15p. On arrival, it became apparent I had left all me camera gear in the kitchen in New Bloomfield and I needed to be at the temple the next day at 1p. I dreaded the drive back up early in the morning to retrieve it, especially since I'd promised John Williamson, I'd help with some family pictures at 8:30a and had made arrangements with Tina to enter the mansion. Well, Molly McDonald, the bride, is about the sweetest person in creation. She made sure that her brother somehow got the gear to someone (Kristen Malasky) who was going to the temple the next day and I was saved the drive. I still had the D300 with me, so the miracle was complete, I was able to help John out the next morning and geet plenty of sleep.
Of course, I was still concerned about taking decent pictures.
Surprise, surprise, the next day was easier than the first. Must have learned something from day one because the whole posing and organizing the group seemed to go much better.
It was a beautiful day at the temple, about 80 degrees, not too humid, sun conditions a bit harsh, but a bit better than the day before as it was slightly later in the day.

You'd never know there was dirt and construction two feet in front and on both sides. Once again, give God the glory, things turned out just fine!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

For Kelly

This blog is dedicated to my loving son, Kelly Ditto, because he cares about such things (and it might be a good idea to have a record of my office when it was clean once in history).

And there's more to the story than just being clean.

Perhaps you noticed the big black box behind my desk and were wondering what it is. Well, that's my Kodak ML-500 commercial photo printer. Yes, I'm now competing with Costco. Well, not exactly, but it does mean I can print up to 8x12s without driving to Costco to do it and it prints 8x12s in 13 seconds (5x7s in 6 seconds and 4x6s before you can blink). Not only that, the prints are professional quality, in every way as good as lab photos. You may be asking, "wasn't that a little extravagant? Well, yes, but not as bad as you might think. You know me. The machine retailed for $25k. It is rated for life use by "feet" of paper and is rated at 250k feet. It has 30k feet on it which means I can print about 300,000 5x7s before it dies (at a mark up of $10 per print that means it can generate $3,000,000 in revenue). Well, anyway, I bought it from this super nice guy in Texas who runs a photography studio and uses these machines and bought 50 of them from WalMart photo or somewhere so he'd never have to worry again about printers. He kept 6 and sold the rest. Oh, he sold me mine, with $400 worth of paper and dye, and a dell computer to run it with XP pro and the drivers installed, for $2300. Yes, two thousand three hundred. I know, itis still a lot of money, but last week I generated $1,000 in photo revenues and next week I'm already scheduled for $2,ooo so it will be worth it!

Also, perhaps you noticed that there is a monitor on my desk. Jeanne has been on me for quite a while about getting another monitor in my office so when people come in to look at their pictures they won't have to crowd around the monitor on my computer desk. I've been putting it off because monitors are expensive and I'm the cheapest man in the whole world. So, yesterday, Emily and I went to Costco to do Sunday dinner shopping and there was a monitor, "display only" on close out for $199. I took it as a sign, since it was the very day I was cleaning my office and bought it. On returning home it was discovered that the monitor has a base unit that allows one to rotate it 360 degrees on its base. Absolutely perfect for its intended use.

Thanks to Annie for teaching me about little miracles (and big ones as well!).

God Will Use You on Vacation - II

So, in this case Jeanne and I are walking by the harbor in Newport one evening (walking off some ice cream or gelatto no doubt) and it is beautiful. The sun is setting. I've got my camera and am taking some pictures of the sunset (which will lead to a later point).
We hear a woman's voice say something like, "I'll give you two dollars each if you'll just be good for one picture!" There, at the waterfront is a mother trying to take pictures of her three children for Christmas Cards. They turned out to be extremely nice kids, but you how it is sometimes performing for your mother.So, Jeanne and I look at each other, you know the look, we didn't need to say anything to know we were going to help this mother get some good pictures. Well, you know how Jeanne is with kids. The minute she started working with them they became angels. Then I asked if mom minded if I took some pictures with my camera.This is where another part of service comes into play. You know you get blessed when you serve others - every time! Aside from meeting some nice people, feeling good and coming away with a smile, I learned something about my camera. As previously mentioned, I was taking pictures of the sunset right before hearing the mothers plea to her children. To maximize the color of sunsets, I usually go to a speed setting and play with the exposure time. I forgot that the setting for the sunset was still on my camera when I started to take pictures of the kids. I loaded my flash and started shooting and the results were very nice. So, now I know how to maximize a sunset and get nice portraits at the same time. Now that's a blessing of service!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

God Will Use You on Vacation

Meet the Smarts - as in "Get Smart." Once again, in more or less traditional fashion, I had prayed that we could be instruments in God's hands. It's a standard for me. Don't get me wrong, I mean it and earnestly want to do God's handiwork but most days it's not directly obvious what work was done.

So, on this day, Jeanne and I are eating at a famous little dive of a restaurant, The Lobster Pool, situated right on the ocean in Rockport, Mass., because the Shaffers told us it was a great place (who better to know about food than Byron Shaffer). Anyway, as expected, the food is very good and the scenery over the ocean is beautiful. The only real trade-off is putting up with the bugs in the grass that like to eat your legs. We could have eaten inside, but then it truly would have been just a dive of a restaurant.

Anyway, while eating, I notice this couple who look about our age. I noticed them because there are only about 20 of us crazy enough to put up with the bugs outside so we all noticed each other. After dinner, I get the camera out and start taking some pictures of the sunset and while doing so hear a woman's voice, "You look like someone who knows what they're doing, would you mind taking our pictures. My husband is so embarrassed that I'm asking you but it's our 30th anniversary and I'd like to have some nice pictures," she says while offering me her camera.

I gladly accepted the offer but suggested the pictures be taken with my camera and the picture taking led to a long, seaside conversation about California, nursing, social work and more. It was a great time, and at the same time, I felt again like the Lord had used me just a little to bring an extra portion of joy to someone's life. And that feels good. So, to sum it up; good food, good scenery, good company, doing good - IT'S ALL GOOD!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vacations Basics

It's important before diving deep into the more ethereal topical matter that readers understand the basics of vacation for me and Jeanne. This, of course, can be different for every vacation but for this vacation the basics are clear: Eating, Walking, Picture Making.

Understanding those things before proceeding will help one comprehend the the rich lessons and experiences of this vacation. So, as you can see from the above picture, eating was preeminent on this trip. If you can comprehend this one photo you'll not need to wonder too much more about the eating part of the trip. What lies in front of Jeanne is an order of Fish & Chips from a little dive of a restaurant located right on the seashore in Rockport, Mass. The name of the place is the Lobster Pool. That might be significant for any of you traveling to Rockport in the near future because it is not to be missed. Yes, a single piece of lightly breaded, deep fried cod more than covered the 10" plate and under it was a full order of hand-cut fries, all of it soaked in malt vinegar and then covered with tartar sauce. In the foreground are the sweet potato fries, because there just wasn't enough to eat! What you can't see are the bugs eating our legs and the old picnic table, shared with other patrons, for seating.
Some of you may be gagging right now while others of you are jealously remembering the best fish and chips you ever ate and calculating how long ago it was. But what you must understand is that earlier that very day, Jeanne and I had walked perhaps 10 miles while investigating Salem, Mass., so we had a few calories to burn. Which brings us to the picture making portion of the trip.
This doesn't really take a lot of words, except to say that fish & chips, no matter how good, taste so much better when this is the view from the table. Wish you were there with us!

PS - it was a trip full of blessings. We entered Rockport on the east side and could tell by the directions that the restaurant was on the west side. I said to Jeanne on the way there, "too bad we won't be able to look west across the water to see the sunset." Well, apparently Rockport is bounded on all sides by ocean, because we looked directly west across the water even though it is located on the extreme east side of Mass. :)

Little Lessons

Just a starting note on some reporting on our vacation to New England. Because of timing issues, we decided to go to church at Lebanon Ward on the Sunday we left so we could get Mary and Ashlie to UMass on time. There was a young man who worked for us that left under suspicious circumstances and we have pursued legally who is a member of the Lebanon Ward. I didn't even think about it until Jeanne leaned over and asked, "Can you take the sacrament with (him) in the chapel?" Then the realization came that perhaps I hadn't handled everything exactly as I should have and my heart should be filled with more love and ... I'm glad Jeanne is around to keep me straight. So, that is the beginning of our wonderful trip - and I did take the sacrament in case you were wondering!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Beautiful Vacation

Well ... all I have time to say is was a beautiful vacation. (more to come)

Monday, July 21, 2008

STOP ... and take it all in

One of the things I've learned about life from carrying a camera around at all times is that sometimes, despite schedules or comfort or plans or whatever, you just have to stop what you're doing to appreciate the beautiful things around you. So, on the drive home from teaching institute last week, I had to pull the car over to the side of I-283, get the camera out and take this picture.

Normally, if I'm trying to take an "artsy" picture a great deal of care is taken to eliminate distractions from the subject of the composition. There was no opportunity for that here. There were no other available angles, the sun was sinking fast and if the moment was to be recorded it was now or never and this is where I was. Retrospectively I discovered that what I like about the picture is the very fact that there are telephone poles and wires, florescent signs, guardrails, tail lights, etc. and amidst all that noise, all the man-made stuff, you can find beauty if you want to. It's right there in front of you if you'll just look. That's pretty much how life is at all times - full of good and beauty and blessings if you're willing to look and not be distracted by the less important things.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wheat and Tares

This week, a friend - Becky Bruckner - asked me to take a picture that portrayed the parable of the Wheat and the Tares from the New Testament. I immediately thought, "too bad, because the harvest was all in last week." She's a woman of faith though, so I went out to see if there was any wheat left standing. Not a mile from the house I came across the edge of a wheat field that had all been cut except the edges. I took this picture to portray that parable and at the same time felt grateful to have been asked and thankful to a farmer that left the edges.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More Senior Pictures

I love taking portraits. Saturday evening was no exception. I had met Kelly at another shoot, she was fun and a little sassy, not afraid of the camera and her mother decided to cancel her appointment with the local studio and me do her senior pictures instead.
I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make money at it because I tell everyone it will be a half-hour shoot and then linger for two hours and take 500 exposures.
In any case, Kelly was, as expected, great fun, very beautiful and grateful. Her mother insisted on giving me a down payment on the job.
The Haldeman mansion is such a great place to do photo shoots of any sort. It was a great blessing that Carol Arndt took me there in the first place and that Tina is always amenable to getting me inside the mansion and is even working on getting me my own key.