Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Day in the Dark Room Making Collodion Images Without Training Wheels!

A Day in the Dark Room Making Collodion Images Without Training Wheels!

Since Todd was off escorting members of the 21st Century Iron Brigade on a  tour of the Antietam battlefield, I headed back to the dark room to practice making wet plate images on my own.  It was time to take off the training wheels and fly on my own.  With Todd out of cell phone reach for the morning, I was left to my own devices to set up the dark room, attach the lens correctly, and trouble shoot my own issues. And….there were a few.

While most Civil War re-enactors prefer tintypes, for my own artistic endeavors I prefer ambrotypes or making images on glass. I like the ritual of preparing the glass plate, the fact that I can graduate to making collodion negatives when I’ve mastered the positives on glass, and I like that I can just rub off the image if I don’t love the result.  Using glass eliminates waste and it is great for practicing. Okay – I just like it!

At this juncture I can say with confidence that I’m good at pouring the collodion on the plate. Of the 20-25 images I made today I had no pouring disasters. I used gloves and managed to avoid more than a few small silver nitrate stains on my hands. With one exception, I did well with developing. I missed a spot on the last plate because I’d tried to capture one of the cats. The cat moved and then posed absolutely still; I tried to compensate for the movement but presumed the image would be worthless and when I poured the developer was a little hasty because I figured it was a waste of time. Well, I was wrong about that, which reminded me not to make presumptions! The image turned out really well – considering it was an animal. So – I learned a lesson!

I worked on still life with flora. Had a few issues with fogging, adjusted the exposure and it disappeared.  All in all I was pleased with my progress- particularly the patience I’ve cultivated. If an image didn’t turn out great, I didn’t get frustrated. Instead, I methodically reviewed what I’d done, what I thought was the cause of the problem, and started over. This is huge progress – and I did it without training wheels!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Review of Vanished In The Dunes by Allan Retzky

Vanished In The Dunes – A Hampton Mystery By Allan Retzky

I read Vanished In The Dunes in one day.  The first few chapters did not pull me in; but I’d agreed to read the galley and write a review and wanted to give the story a chance. I’m glad I made the decision to keep reading.

Not to over simplify the premise – but this is essentially a tale of a chance encounter on a jitney to the Hamptons followed by a couple of unwise decisions complicated by an act of forgetfulness, the discovery of a dead body and then panic resulting in a series of misguided actions that leave the protagonist in a state of guilt, fear and a web of deceit and lies. This is a study of human nature wrapped in a thriller blanket.

The plot is convoluted but well woven.  It kept me guessing until the very end and actually beyond the last page. While I would be inclined to suggest the twists and turns in the story are improbable, I’ve come to see that life truly is more bizarre than fiction and that almost anything is possible. Bodies stay hidden in not so remote graves. Schizophrenics could get into medical school. Even with modern technology some police investigations are inept.

The characters, however, are not likeable. I felt no empathy or sympathy for any of the players. While I liked the book and thought the story was engaging, the participants in the narrative seemed two-dimensional.  This is a good read for the beach or an airplane.  On the mind candy scale I’d give it 3.5 Special Dark Chocolate Hershey’s Miniatures out of 5.

Friday, September 28, 2012

My First Weeks In Taipei - October 1988

My First Weeks In Taipei

Before our apartment in Taipei was ready for habitation we lived in the Howard Plaza Hotel, which was in the heart of the business district in Taipei. At first I was hesitant to venture far from the hotel. The street signs were in Chinese characters. I knew nobody. It was as if I were adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

One of the perks of serving an American corporation in Taipei was membership in the American Club.  This became the center of our social lives – a place where one could congregate with other English-speaking people and where we could enjoy familiar food. The German pastry chef made one of the best chocolate chip cheesecakes I’ve ever experienced. And, it was possible to order European or Australian wine with more than one bottle of the same label!

I was invited to a newcomer’s tea shortly after arriving. I’d been employed in the corporate world since just after graduation from university; so it was a foreign experience for me to consider how to spend my time as an unemployed dependent spouse. I was at a loss.

At the tea I was invited to play social bridge with a group of women the following week. Naturally, I said yes. Immediately, I looked for a bookstore that sold English language books that included an instruction manual on bridge. My only experience with bridge was an alcohol soaked endeavor while a student in the UK ten years previously. I found just the right tool- Goren on bridge. I sat in my hotel room at the Howard Plaza munching on banana bread and sipping tea pouring over the manual hoping I’d be able to fake it.

At my first bridge afternoon, I told all of those assembled that I was rusty because I hadn’t played since college. It wasn’t exactly a misrepresentation – I just omitted that it was a single instance under the influence of mind-altering chemicals late at night. Needless to say, I wasn’t just “rusty” – I was terrible. But, the fake it till you make it worked! Pretty soon I was not just a good player – I was a damn good bridge player. It kept my mind exercised!

The next step was….bowling. At my first bridge game I was invited to participate as a substitute at the expatriate women’s bowling league. Okay – bowling really wasn’t my thing. But….I was with other women in the same situation – and I was needy. So I went. And I bowled. I played bridge and I bowled. And then I was invited to joint a small expatriate women’s group in Tien Mu – an area close to where I was to live. And I embraced the group and the people and they became my family away from home.  And this is how I assimilated into the life of a dependent spouse overseas.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making the Decision to Move to Taipei, Taiwan in 1988

Making the Decision to Move to Taipei, Taiwan in 1988

I was living in Plano, Texas and working in Richardson at LBJ and Grenville when my then husband invited me to lunch at Houston’s, a place who served at that time “to die for salads” and advised me that he’d been offered a sales position in Taipei, Taiwan.

Needless to say I was flummoxed. While we’d discussed the possibility of accepting an international position, I’d always dreamed it would be someplace like Rome or Paris or  Rio or Australia or someplace where the USA had diplomatic relations. And to top it off, I’d recently accepted a promotion at work that had resulted in another person being demoted to give me his job. Note, this was in 1988 and women in management were still less than customary in conservative industries such as insurance.

However, I knew that to refuse to go would not only cripple my husband’s career, it would deprive me of an adventure. Never mind that Taiwan wasn’t in the top 50 places I wanted to visit. Actually, it wasn’t even on the list.  But I knew that if I said no, I would regret that decision the rest of my life.  The only real regrets are those of opportunities not taken!

So, I agreed to go. I gave my notice at work, decided what to send to storage, insisted that my shoes be send by air, and embarked on an adventure that ultimately lasted 5 years – with my living 2 years in Taipei and 3 in Hong Kong.

The experiences of those 5 years taught me to appreciate the differences in cultures, that flexibility was the key to survival, that all peoples do not think the same way or appreciate life the same way, that change is good and contributes to growth, that the American way is not the only way and not always the best way, that the US government can sometimes act like a bully, that American citizens cannot always rely on the US government to assist them in times of trouble, that there is beauty in the world that I’d never imagined, that the Chinese artisans of past centuries created treasures by hand that modern technology could never hope to recreate, that ground pigeon can be tasty, what it means to be a minority, that sometimes one must eat things outside our comfort level so as not to offend a host, that I could feel compassion for a snake, even poor Americans live much better than the average citizens of some other countries, and that I was not just a survivor but one who can thrive in situations outside my comfort zone.

While ultimately my marriage did not survive our time as expatriates, I will always be grateful to my former husband for affording me the opportunities to see a part of the world I would not have otherwise seen and to make friends with folks I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

As Americans we believe that we have a right to happiness – not just the pursuit of happiness – but actual happiness. The fact, however, is that we find happiness within ourselves by feeling gratitude for what we already have. Accepting what is; appreciating our blessings; focusing on what we have rather than what we wish we had.

At one of my first Al Anon meetings while I lived in Hong Kong, one of the group suggested that whenever we felt down, to consider making a gratitude list. Sometimes when I was in the depths of despair I would go through the alphabet and try to list one thing that began with each letter for which I was grateful.  Sometimes it was hard. However, with practice it became easier.  After completing many such lists, it became commonplace for me to feel gratitude for every experience whether it be positive or less than positive.  This keeps me grounded and happy.

Today I feel gratitude for everyday things – waking up in the morning  - feeling good is a bonus! I appreciate having a husband I love despite his idiosyncrasies, cats that are affectionate even if only to solicit wet food, a comfortable albeit dusty house, operational transportation including a convertible, heat in the winter and A/C in the summer, wine, a job that I like with a flexible employer that appreciates my talents, opportunities for artistic expression, the chance to watch the birdies in the back yard, a fabulous cadre of girl friends, a yoga practice that keeps me relaxed and spiritually healthy, and loved ones who won’t allow me to take myself too seriously. I appreciate the beauty of my environment including the sunrise, sunset, and the view of the mountains in the distance during my commute home, when the pastures of cattle come into focus.  It brings me peace and serenity. And I appreciate my peace and serenity.

To feel gratitude is to appreciate what is.