Monday, February 11, 2008

The Up and The Down

Sunday was a fantastic day - mostly. Sacrament meeting was one of those rarish occasions when the spirit is overwhelming and tears come easily. There's no telling why. Preparation I suppose. But, most Sundays the preparation feels about the same. It's just sometimes, prayers are better or thoughts are better or something, and the Spirit is really strong. Today was one of those days and I don't know why. I got up early to pack for my trip to Arizona and Utah, since I had to leave during sacrament meeting to get to the airport on time. That's not exactly a spiritual experience. I would prefer not to travel on Sunday, but then I'd miss everything that went on yesterday (Saturday) and be gone from my family for an extra day. My mind was on Tom Edmonds, hoping that he would still be around when I got back from Utah so I could visit him again. The events at the temple the previous day were still on my mind and were tender indeed. It was ward conference, maybe there were memories of ward conferences when I was bishop. Or, maybe it was because before the meeting started I was able to talk with Cassandra Shaffer to make sure everything was alright from out "discussion" the night before where I think she was upset. In any case, it was sweet, and renewing, and uplifting. Unfortunately, I had to leave before President Rehm spoke.

Jeanne took me over to the York shop where I met Kirk. We drove down to Baltimore to catch a Southwest flight to Tucson, Arizona. The flight was uneventful. It seemed long. We stopped in Albuquerque, N.M. and then traveled on to Tucson. There was a nice woman sitting across the isle with her two children. She was pregnant with her third. She was an RN so we talked a little about kids and nursing. Kirk and I watched "A Bridge to Tarabithia." Both of us cried. So far, so good. Then when we got to Tucson, there was no information on our rental car form how to arrange to be picked up by the shuttle. We waited for a long time and called the 866 number provided only to be left on hold for 10 minutes, and I found myself getting upset. That kind of ruined the spirit of the day. I suppose that's one reason to avoid traveling on Sunday. But we got to the hotel and got some sleep and all in all, it was a great day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Full Day

After spending the morning and early afternoon with the Raleigh's and Catherine, I returned home to find Emily sitting in front of her mirror putting on "Cats" makeup. She's pretty into the musical. I down loaded some pictures from the morning then headed over to Masonic Village to visit Tom. Tom had spent time during the week at Hershey Med Center, where they had discovered a non-operable mass in his abdomin and sent him back to the Homes. He had moved from his room to a hospital bed. Upon entering I met his 95 year old sister, Anna Lee and his neice, Sarah. He had never mentioned them to me. I assumed they lived a long way away and had come to visit after his hospital stay. Instead, they told me they lived in Hershey, but Tom hadn't spoken with his sister for years and there was a reconciliation taking place. That was a good thing and they were very enjoyable to speak with. Tom was under the influence of a great deal of morphine. It was the first time in 4 years I had ever spoken with him when he wasn't completely coherent. I took Sarah down to his old room where his Neice and nephew in-law, Lynda and John Toler were cleaning out his room. Once there, everyone wanted to talk about funeral plans. I guess the prognosis is pretty bad. Tom had spoken to me on several occasions about John and Lynda and very much enjoyed their visits. Before leaving for Tom's I left three girls, Emily, Maddy and Maddy's friend Jasmine trying on dresses for the formal youth dance at the stake center later that evening. When I got back, I fed them a little dinner, grabbed Emily, drove to Marietta, picked up Catherine and came home to find youth beginning to fill the place.
It's not unusual for the YM and YW to meet at our house for trips to the stake center. It's on the way for everyone in the ward. Tonight there were a total of 11 when it was all said and done. I managed to get eight into this picture. Don't they look great? As a high counselor and bishop I always lobbied for MORE formal dances, but the adults always seem uncomfortable asking the youth to dress up. Look at them. They enjoy it and would do it more often if given the chance. Anyway, we broke up into two cars (Raleigh's and Pickett's) and drove to the stake center.
I forgot to mention, Emily's friend, Merideth showed up right before we left, which made Emily exceedingly happy.

Once at the dance, I was informed that the photographer for the dance had called right before it started and said she couldn't come. I asked if they would like me to get my camera out of the car and take pictures. It was a blessing that the camera was in the car and I was glad to answer someone's prayer. It is honestly fun to be used as an instrument in God's hands, and just being there with the camera lightened the YW Presidency's burden this night. It turned into an all night ordeal, because part of the equation was to go to WalMart and get the pictures developed so the kids could take them home that night. It was really a great time, but I seriously got NO packing donefor my trip to Arizona the next day.

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Years ago there was a popular beer commercial which always concluded, "It doesn't get any better than this." Of course, it was wrong then and it's wrong now, but the saying was catchy enough to remember all these years and today (Saturday, Feb. 9th, 2008) was truly a day when "It doesn't get any better than this." Nine weeks ago Catherine Pearce was baptized and today she went to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead. Perry Raleigh is her home teacher so he and Valarie planned the whole event. Fortunately for me they invited me along. We were to leave the Raleigh's at 5:45a. I woke up around 4:15, excited for the day to begin but wanting to get more sleep before it did. The next thing I heard was Jeanne saying, "Rodger, it's 5:40a!" It was a great opportunity to decide not to go, but that was never an option. I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, grabbed a granola bar and drove over to the Raleigh's. Fortunately, the clock by our bed had been set ahead about 5 minutes, so I even made it on time. The whole thing was a miracle. Catherine was radiant. She was excited and curios and desirous to do work in the temple. We got there plenty early and took some pictures outside the temple. Her smile tells it all.
I was just lucky to be there. Perry has been suffering with some back problems and was unable to perform the baptisms so he asked if I wanted to do it. I asked the sister at the front desk if I could perform the baptisms for Catherine and she said, "Can you make sure that happens?" "Yes, I can!" Just the kind of interaction I like. Well, for whatever reason, the girls were entering the font area one at a time. Perry, Valarie and I were sitting in the viewing area talking and enjoying the spirit of the place, when suddenly, there was Catherine in the baptistry. I jumped up and ran into the font area, forgetting to take my footies off (which got sufficiently wet) and surprised all the workers there by announcing I was going to be performing the baptisms for Cathering. It all worked out and Catherine later expressed how grateful she was I had done it. I felt deeply blessed for the opportunity.
The greatest part was the smile on her face every time she came out of the water. She was beaming, being sure to read for herself the names of every person she was baptised for and just beaming with joy. After, I asked Perry and Valarie if they had seen the smile, "No, we could only see the back of her head." "Oh, I should have turned her around so you could have seen it!" Although, I'm a bit surprised, given the size of her smile it didn't go all the way around to the back.

Afterwards we went to the vistor's center and watched the Joseph Smith film and took some more pictures. It was just an absolute joy and honor to be with Catherine on this wonderful day.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Banner Dinner Day

The title pretty much describes it. There are two young women living upstairs. Above is Bonnie Corbett. Bonnie is a traveling nurse trying to pay off her student loans, so, she's living upstairs. She's from Canada. I met her when she attended an institute class, liked her immediately and when she explained her plight, it was pretty easy to invite her to move in up stairs. Ann Marie was already up there so what's one more. She's been living here since about October and will probably live here until the summer. You may have noticed her in some of the Christmas pictures.
Of course, this is Ann Marie McDonald. I can't even remember how many years Ann's been here - 2, 3. Anyway, she's part of the family at this point. She is the Stake YSA rep and teaches RS in the ward to rave reviews! She completed her masters degree last fall, teaches at Penn State Harrisburg and is applying to doctorate programs. Ann Marie served a mission in Brazil and we came to know Ann Marie through Jeanne's brother Bill, who was the bishop in her parent's ward in Seattle (where her father is now bishop). Ann's car was having problems and Bill told her parents that I liked to find cars for people and the rest is history. She wound up finding her own car but moving into our house.
So, here's the big deal. Tonight (February 7th) Ann Marie and Bonnie made dinner!! It was swell. Jeanne was at Stake Young Women's meetings and didn't come home until about 9p so it was perfect that they made dinner - inspired! It was a nice chicken in sauce and pasta dinner with gourmet green salad. Bonnie had no interest in having her picture taken. I try to convince people they would prefer to have attractive pictures show up on the internet, but to no avail with Bonnie. Thanks for dinner girls!

Bizzare Weather

The day after deadly tornadoes killed over 50 people in Arkansas and Tennessee (6 Feb 2008), the edge of the system worked its way into the Susquehanna Valley. Temperatures rose from the 30's to the 60's and the effect was quite eerie. So, what happens when it's suddenly 65 degrees in the first part of February? Well, first of the all the National Weather Service posts advisories warning of possible tornadoes. Then, the sky starts to look very strange (see above picture). As you can see, there is beauty in strangeness. There's certainly a lesson to be learned from that.
Out of strangeness comes transcendent beauty. I was down by the river taking pictures and turned around to see this spectacular rainbow in the sky. Unfortunately, to get to the river, I had parked by the side of Rt. 441, just down stream from TMI, crossed a gate, climbed a hill, crossed the railroad tracks, climbed down a large hill and arrived at the river. It was a long way back to the car and a long way back to where I could get a clear shot of the rainbow, so I took what I could. But, the point, of course, is, that there is wonderful beauty in everything - in all of God's creations.
I made my way back to the car. By then the rainbow was waning. I tried to drive to a spot where I could see it better, but it was gone before a good spot came. So, I drove down to the river below the dam and encountered the sky in the above photo and the remaining photos in this post. As you can see, the sky did spectacular things as a result of the strange weather.
People did strange things as a result of the weather as well. Despite tornado warnings, the warm weather brought out hordes of fishermen. It is practically dark and they are lining the river. It was interesting to talk to them and find out that they fish for walleye and pike in the Susquehanna. Who would have known?
The sky really began to look ominous at about this point.
But, I guess if the fish are biting, who cares about a little tornado. I asked the above fisherman if he frequently got a chance to fish in the middle of February. His response, "I fish everyday of the year." He seemed like a nice guy, easy-going, happy. Maybe I ought to try fishing and see if there's something magical about it.
The above sky is the "left" side of the sky. The storm is passing on the right. As I'm taking this picture, a fisherman, who has just put his stuff away, says, "I think I see something coming down from that cloud."

There's time for a couple more pictures, but then as the rain begins to fall and the clouds begin to look ever spookier, it's time to pack it up and go home.

What To Do?

How do you take pictures on a day like this? I guess that's where beginners, like me, get into trouble. So, you go out and get some experience so in the future you might have some good ideas. Anyway, there should be some memories of days like this, because they do exist. Not only do they exist, they are good days, all except for the color and light. It was a busy day at work, so I didn't get around to even attempting any photos until nearly 5pm and this is what I found.
One this is nice though. The 80-400 still zooms in this weather. Ah, to be faithful.
Not to fear. Emily has musical practice from 6p - 9p. I can always take pictures there (and do). Some turn out. Others don't . I'm still trying to get good at low light stuff. Noise is a problem, even with very fast lenses. So, there must be a problem with the photographer.
The above photo makes me wonder, "Is there anything good about a 50mm f 1:1.4 lens? Fast? Yes! Sharp? I can't seem to make it sharp, no matter what ISO or Shutter Speed or any of the other things I know how to do. Fortunately, the buyers of these kinds of pictures (parents) are not too discriminating. Have a great day!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Welcome To VR

Did I happen to mention that the new 80-400mm lens has Vibration Reduction (VR)? That means it's good for people with shaky hands - like me. Somehow, when VR is on it compensates for hand shake. If you look closely at these pictures, the first in each set is without VR and the second is with. I know you need to look close, but believe me it really makes a difference.
Also, you might notice that it was a slow picture day. I don't want to say on a slow picture day you get Kirk. Kirk is a great blessing in my life. I love working with Kirk and couldn't ask for a better person to spend so many hours with. So, really, Kirk is just as capable of showing up on a good picture day as on a slow one, but he has had a VR lens for some time so I was trying to learn a few things from him. As with everything else, he was a big help. Thanks Kirk.

President Hinckley Dies

I had talked to Mary in the evening of January 27th, 2008. She called from school about something and we ended our call at about 9pm. She called back at about 9:15pm. "Dad, did you hear President Hinckley died?" It is amazing how fast news travels. He had died about 15 minutes earlier and she was already telling PA about it. I got four calls that night, the last at about 11p about the news. President Hinckley was a great man and will be dearly missed - but the church will move on and his legacy is forever intact. Thank you President Hinckley. Farewell.


They say living life successfully is all about balance. So, here's a little balancing act. Perry Raleigh was sick today and stayed home from church (Feb. 3, 2008). Ian, his son, takes his fast offering collection assignment very seriously. Instead of not doing it because his dad (who drives him and is his companion) was sick, he asked me if I would take him. OK, that's fine, I like giving service and being a good guy. So, after dinner, the sun is starting to get low and Kelly and I are thinking we need to keep our Sunday afternoon outings intact. I call Ian, to tell him we'll be there in a few minutes to pick him up. Upon arrival, we inform him it's going to be a little longer than he anticipated, but he'd enjoy it. I say, "Kelly, where should we go?" Ian says, "To the Schmoel's." He's serious about his assignment and hasn't quite caught on yet that he is captive for a photo shoot along with fast offering collection. The Schmoel's live in Maytown. May as well see if there's anything to shoot on the way there. We drive to Schmoel's. Park the car. Ian gets out and says, "You have to come with me." "I thought I was just driving, otherwise I wouldn't have taken my tie off!" "If you were just driving, my mother could have done that. I needed a companion." It was simple logic and made me worry about my deductive powers. We walk up one flight to the door, ring, wait, knock. No one home. An idea pops into my head. Let's go to Chickies Rock and take pictures. It's not far. We can stop at Schmoel's on the way back. I've never been there before. Ian is ok with the idea.
And this is where balance comes into play. We were on the Lord's errand and got rewarded for doing the right thing. The sunset was spectacular. Kelly had a great time. Ian had a great time. Rodger had a great time. I call the above picture "Big Sky at Big Bend." There is a BIG bend in the river between Marietta and Columbia.
As mentioned, Kelly and Ian had a good time. I gave Ian the D50 and let him do whatever he wanted. He took some nice pictures.

And here's a happy face of a highly rewarded and blessed guy. After pictures we stopped back at the Schmoel's and they were home and gave Ian a fast offering. Then we dropped Kelly off at home and went to the Sim's who were also home and gave a fast offering and we talked about Jessa's upcoming operation and Jerra living at our house for the summer (the Sim's are moving when school ends). It was a very successful trip. Anyway, the point is, if you balance things - LIFE IS GREAT!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lens Play

It was dark when we got home Saturday night so I couldn't play with the new lens. After getting my Sunday School lesson ready, before I went to visit Tom, I took a few pictures just to see how it worked. All of the pictures are at 80mm then at 400mm. Actually, on my camera it is the equivalent of 120 - 600. I thought the results were good and the lens will definately be fun.

New Lens

Every now and then, I'm capable of doing pretty strange things. This ranks pretty high up there. Jeanne has been telling me that she has volunteered me to be the official photographer for Trek in June. So, I've been thinking about how to make the best pictures in a setting like that, and kept thinking I needed a good telephoto lens. The Nikkor 80-400 was attractive but expensive. A couple days ago it struck me that I should look on Craig's List to see if anyone was selling one. It's a little unusual to see them for sale. On any given day on eBay there might be one for sale. I don't look at Craig's List very often, so it was a strange thought. But, I looked. Steve Poole in Anapolis, Md., was selling his lens that he got as a Christmas gift (he got it from his mother and she'd "kill (him) if she knew (he) was selling it"), and for a really good price. The reason was, he owns a D40 and the autofocus on the 80-400 doesn't work on his camera. It all sounded reasonable.

You remember about the sleep over. So, I told Emily and Lenee they needed to come with me for a ride (it was ok with them, they watched dvd's the whole way down and back). Steve had agreed to meet me in Timonium, about an hour's drive. We agreed on a spot and as I approached, we contacted each other by cell phone. He told me he was waiting in a parking lot in a Lincoln. A Lincoln? Suddenly, I had visions of some drug dealer/pawner/con guy. It was comforting that he was almost an hour away from his home turf, so it didn't seem like some sort of ambush could have been arranged spur of the moment. We had only agreed on the spot a couple hours before. Well, as I approached his "Lincoln" I remembered he told me he was a taxi driver. The Lincoln was a taxi! He seemed like a normal taxi driver (a little different kind of guy) who effortlessly repeated his story. It seemed real. I brought my camera to test the lens before buying. The above photos are of Steve, in the parking lot, from about 15-20 ft with my SB800 flash. The top picture is at 80mm and the bottom at 400mm, with no other changes. Nice zoom, huh?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Life's Changes

So, remember the story about Bishop Beal committing us to no sleep-overs for kids over 12, and how I said that was a firm rule, at least until we had been in PA for a while? Well, here's a little follow-up to that. Rules were always a pretty firm thing with me. Finding exceptions always seemed too risky for any possible rewards. The younger children were always carefully watching for any loopholes (or so I thought). Well, I guess life changes because there seem to be more and more exceptions. It's not because I'm "softer" necessarily, but more because I'm more comfortable or assured that teaching the value of exceptions can be virtuous as well as keeping rules. (It could also be because there aren't any "younger" children left at home to plot and scheme the loopholes.) Anyway, case in point - Lenee. We love Lenee. Because of a legal misunderstanding (divorced dad and mom legally hassling each other), step-dad (father of her four siblings) can't be in the house at the same time she is. So, it seemed like having her at our house on the weekend so mom and step-dad could be together at home would be a good idea. Was it a sleep-over? Yes. Was it an exception? Yes. Is there still a "no sleep-over" rule for Emily? Yes. Am I comfortable enforcing that in the future even though an exception has been made? Yes. And that's the difference. In the past I would have been too insecure with future enforcement to make exceptions so it was easier to live the letter of the rules.
And, of course, there's a rub. In order to make it more fun for Lenee, we invited Maddy over too. Sure, the day will come when the two of them will respond, "what do you mean there's no sleep-overs? We just had one at your house last month!" And, it will be ok. We'll all be fine, somehow. Aren't they cute? They were testing out Mary's old prom dresses because the stake dance this Saturday is a formal. (Maddy was a little impatient with the photographer because she couldn't breathe in Mary's dress.)
Speaking of changes - here's another example. Bill and Casey used to be so good at using movie dialogue in just the right moment. They had hundreds of lines memorized and would say them at the funniest times. I have my "all time greatest movie lines" list as well (but can only remember it when needed, and then only one line at a time). The line for this moment comes from the movie "Beetoven." It was a movie about a family that adopted a St. Bernard and the dad didn't like dogs. One day he was eating breakfast and the dog slobbered all over his pants. He began to complain to his wife. She kept saying, "honey, just change your pants," until he finally blurted, "you don't understand! I had a schedule and I'LL NEVER HAVE THAT SCHEDULE AGAIN!" I've used that line many times because it was a part of me. Flexibility with my personal schedule was not real high on the list and, retrospectively, many good things passed by because they didn't fit into my schedule.
So, here's the change. Saturday, it's getting late, there are many things to do and just barely enough time to do them all. I'm on my way to Costco to pick up some pictures for a family. It rained several inches the day before, has been cloudy all day and on the way to Costco, the clouds start to clear. A part of me says, "what a great sky. Take some time out to take pictures of the Star Barn with that great sky," while another part says, "stick to your schedule." So, I pull off the freeway and take half an hour to get some pictures with that great sky. And that's the difference. Years ago, I wouldn't have done it. Were the pictures worth it? Maybe. But one day something really significant will happen, because I was willing to be flexible, that couldn't have happened until that lesson was learned. Photography is helping me learn more about that.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Icy Day

February 1st, 2008. Today it was icy. Funny how often days can be defined by weather conditions. It was fun stopping and taking pictures of things that had new meaning because of the ice. Guess I'd never really paid attention before.
Proceeding with caution is generally a good idea but was a particularly good idea on this day. I grew up in California and never experienced an ice storm in my childhood. The first ice storm I remember is in Harburg, Germany, on Buxtehuder Strasse, in the early months of my mission. I still remember the sparkling trees and the size of the power lines. Of course, we took public transportation and rented an apartment so other realities beside the beauty of it all never crossed my mind. There is a lot of beauty associated with an ice storm and that's probably the important thing to remember.
The next ice storm I remember was in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It must have been the fall of 1978. As far as weird weather goes, Tulsa is right up there with Berlin and the Susquehanna Valley. I remember working the 3p-11p shift at the hospital that day. I went to work in shirt sleeves. the temperature must have been in the mid-60's or better. Thankfully, I wore a long-sleeved lab coat at work because when I came out to the car after my shift, it was entombed in ice - literally! The ice must have been 1/4 inch thick. I could not get my key in the lock to unlock the doors. I had no ice scraper. I believe a co-worker had a lighter and unthawed my lock. After unlocking the door, the door would still not open because it was sealed shut with ice. I bumped my hip into the door, hoping to jar the ice loose so it would open. Instead of jarring the door open, it CRACKED the door! Jeanne and I had thought for years that when the Honda was repaired in Idaho after her wreck with Bill in 1976 that the doors were new, or at least reskinned. Apparently not! The bondo cracked right through with my hip-nudge in the ice-covered conditions. It was a bit frustrating. It took an hour and 1/2 to get the car ready to drive, which was probably about the silliest idea of all - to drive the car on ice covered roads. I'd never experienced anything like it. It certainly wasn't like snow. Steering and stopping were quite difficult which makes driving an unpleasant experience. Nevertheless - I LIVED - just another miracle in my life. I thought the above picture was pretty funny, to have a sign with icicles hanging from it warning that the approaching bridge "may" be icy.
This is the street where I work. It wasn't looking particularly "cordial" today.
There is a very real beauty about ice-covered things. Again - it's good and bad. Beautiful to look at - dangerous in excess. Fortunately the branches of this shrub are strong enough to support the ice coat, thus the beautiful effect. If the ice were a little thicker, the branches start to break and that's not a beautiful thing at all. I must say that ice is certainly good for the windshield replacement business (just in case you're looking for the good things about ice).