Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Power of Photography- Iran

During our inauguration in January, two of my photography friends from the Digital Image Cafe : Richard Shiro and Stuart Dahne photographed the people at the Mall as they gathered to celebrate our new President. Click on their names to view these amazing images which really captured the ambiance and exuberance of this historic event.

Photography captures not only the actions taking place during historic events, but also the emotions - the joys, the anger, the sorrow, the excitement, the victories, and the defeats. We won't be present to witness many of the world's great historic events, but we can experience them vicariously through the photos that are taken.

My son is an avid news reader and let me know about getting better information about the situation in Iran through Twitter. I started following the post election protests a couple of weeks ago, much of it from Twitter. I've run across some websites that have given me some new insight into modern Iran.

Iran before the election Part 1 and Part 2. give some amazing views of Iran before this election unrest. Iran's young people are highly educated. Tehran is a modern city. Because of the political and religious issues that separate the United States and Iran, Americans don't go to Iran for their vacations. The political rhetoric and the issues that the religious extremists of Islam create color our view of Iran and its people.

Through MSNBC reporter, Ann Curry's Twitter I found this Flickr Gallery of images Warning: While most of the images show the ordinary people who are protesting the fraudulent election results, some show the Basiji violent responses. Some images are graphic. I also found powerful imagery at Social Documentary.net. I have not yet had time to see all of the many images here, but the images I see showed me young people who want more - more freedom to express themselves, freedom to chose their government leadership, freedom from fear, better rights for their women. They want good things for their people. In a repressive society, it takes courage to take to the streets when the risk of death, brutal beatings, imprisonment, and torture are all too real. When you realize that the Iranian government has shut down all traditional media news reporting, these images become more valuable, because people risked their lives just to take them and get them posted on the internet. International reporters have been confined to their offices and are not allowed to do the traditional reporting. When I read my normal news on My Yahoo from the Associated Press, Reuters, etc; I don't find much information about what is going on, because of these restrictions. Most articles start with this caveat: "EDITOR'S NOTE: Iranian authorities have barred journalists for international news organizations from reporting on the streets and ordered them to stay in their offices. This report is based on the accounts of witnesses reached in Iran and official statements carried on Iranian media." Iran is a world power. What happens in Iran can have repercussions around the world. I find these photos to be important - the outcome of the Sea of Green protests will make a big difference in the day to day lives of the Iranian people. And I have to wonder with the news reporting being so difficult, how many Americans and Europeans are aware of the magnitude of these courageous struggles for a fair, democratic election.

While still photography tells a powerful story, film photography can go even farther as we can both watch and listen to people talk about what they think and feel. When looking up more about Ann Curry, I discovered this Dateline special about Iran filmed before the election. It takes some time to view all the segments, it is worth the time because this special report gives an intimate view of the changes occurring within Iran.

As a Christian and as an American, I know that I don't understand all that is going on in Iran right now. But from reading the tweets and seeing the photographs, I am praying for Iran right now with more insight. All people want to live in the own homes in security, want to have a safe journey to and from their jobs each day, want to have families and raise their children . . . I can't believe that most people in Tehran feel safe right now - it must be unsettling and uncomfortable and terrifying. Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies and these photographs give me faces of real people who are going through incredibly difficult times. God gave me a tender heart to care when such horrible things are happening - even when it is in a far away place that I will probably never visit - even when it is happening to people I don't know and will never meet.

These photographs also give me hope. There is much that separates Iran and the Western world - concerns over nuclear weapons, concerns over Iran's relationship with Israel, religious conflicts between Christianity which emphasizes grace and freedom and Iranian Islam's strict laws and punishments. Political change is rarely an easy process, but the vast majority of Iran's population are young. Perhaps there are leaders in the making both in the Western world and in Iran that can find a way to work through these conflicts finding acceptable compromises, so that our world will truly be a more peaceful place.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Weeds in my Garden - Part 2

My friend, David who gardens in Zambia wanted to see photos of my garden. I have to confess that my first thought was: "I don't want anyone to see my garden - it is not a showcase, it is not "neat & tidy." Several things made me change my mind. I HAVE worked at weeding my garden. Trust me, without weeding, the entire garden would filled with three or four feet tall Johnson grass. A busy schedule resulted in my first real weeding happening after the Johnson grass had staked its claim on my garden. Over several days, I weeded separate sections and used the hoe to further break up the soil. This gave my garden plants the opportunity to get ahead of the Johnson grass. There were a few areas around the peppers and onions that did not get well weeded and are still somewhat choked, but I worked around the peppers this week. And while I planted onions, spring is not the best time to grow onions in Central Texas. I've harvested a few and I need to check better and get whatever ones actually made onions.

Make no mistake, even though my garden is productive weeds and all, weeds are not a good thing for a garden. Weeds can choke out or shade your valuable vegetables and fruits. Weeds steal water from the ground that your good plants need. Weeds are easier to pull when they are small and the ground is still soft from tilling.

Practical things that I am not good at:

My friend, Debbie Rivas, had a life motto: Do a task while it is still "little." In the best of all worlds, one should spend 30 minutes a day weeding parts of the garden. I confess I get busy doing other things and don't allocate that daily time. And, you have to realize, I have the "hare personality." I work very, very hard at one time on a project and then I rest or go on to another project. "Tortoise personalities" are better at doing a little bit of work every day and keeping tasks small on all their projects. But I've learned that there are advantages to being both the tortoise or the hare. I have learned to accept that I am a hare and to work to make the most of my personality type.

Weeding regularly also helps keep the ground around your valuable plants cultivated and loose so that weeds are easier to pull.

The Spiritual Lesson:

I talked in my last blog about how my life was productive even with the weeds that are part of my life. I also believe that because I am human that my life will always have some weeds in it. My garden can survive with some weeds, but it can't survive if it becomes overrun with weeds. Likewise, I can function in life with some of the weeds, but I must actively pull weeds from my life to keep both my spiritual life and my daily life from being taken over by unprofitable habits and weaknesses. The weeds in my life can fill my time and prevent me from getting the important tasks done. The weeds in my spiritual life can choke out the positive things in life, steal the living water from my heart, and shade me from the Creator's light.

Each era of life has a different set of weeds to deal with. When I was raising my kids, there was the weed of activity. We all want our kids to be involved - church, scouts, sports, music, drama, etc. The needs for each of these good activities are great and the volunteers are few. So one of the weeds for me was saying yes to too many volunteer responsibilities. Possibly, my kids should have been involved in fewer activities, but that is SUCH a hard call when you want them exposed to so many of the good organizations and a positive things for kids.

Another weed in today's society is video games. In and of themselves, they are not bad. Taking time for relaxation and recreation is important. Video games can provide an outlet from our mundane and tiresome tasks. But many games have addictive elements and many people find themselves or their children spending far too much time playing video games instead of exercising their minds, bodies and souls. Time spent on video games robs time from productive daily tasks, time spent growing spiritually, and time doing godly work. If you are a game player, keep a time log for a week. I think you'll be surprised. Or do a video game "fast."

The internet is a wonderful thing. We can keep up with our far away friends, read the latest news, pursue hobbies, educate ourselves or read/write uplifting blogs. There is so much good information to be found on the internet, it is a very useful tool. But . . . we can become news junkies, Facebook junkies, Facebook game junkies, etc. Going through the book, "The Artist's Way," I recently did a week where I did a reading "fast." While I didn't completely abandon the internet, I limited the surfing I usually do each day - news reading, forum reading, blog reading, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It was amazing how much time that freed up to do other creative and productive things.


I want my life to be productive. I don't want to become a "perfectionist" in any part of my life. I want to accept my own weaknesses and human limitations. But, I also do not want weeds to take over my life and to choke out the good things I can do and should be doing.

Here are some of the products that came from my "weedy" garden. They can survive some of the weeds, but without weeding I would not have:

Yellow Squash:

Bell Pepper



Green canteloups

Almost ripe canteloup

What are the "weeds" in your life? What are the productive and spiritual things that you want to cultivate?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Weeds in my Garden

It has been a long time since I've had a garden, but for several reasons I am doing a garden this year. I planted radishes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, yellow squash, green beans, cucumbers, honey dew melons, canteloup, and watermelon. I usually do a pretty thorough job preparing the soil - this year adding a lot of "Back to the Earth" compost when we tilled under the grass. I put in simple furrows and got everything planted. I was blessed with a wet spring and I found a way to automate the watering (which is going to have to be modified now that we are under stage 2 water rationing.)

When I gardened years ago, I remember having great production from my garden plants inspite of the ever present weeds. I always seem to have many projects going on at once, so my time is never completely dedicated to the garden. And we have Johnson grass which can be a royal pain to get rid of. Tilling the soil does not get rid of Johnson grass and the rich watered soil provides a perfect environment for each root segment to sprout grass stems that can get up to 3 or 4 feet tall.

I have done some weeding this year, but the edge around my garden is marked with a tall Johnson grass fence that I kept hoping I would get mowed down. Problem is I have vining plants, so now it is probably impossible to mow without damaging them. The inside of the garden has the weeds a little better under control, but they are still there. A perfectionist gardener would be appalled. After all, weeds take nourishment from the good plants. And, there is an inner voice speaking not so softly into my mind: "A good gardener would have a weed free garden."

Saturday evening I picked 20 yellow squash - some pretty big. Tonight I picked another 11 squash. I'm blanching them and putting them in the freezer because those plants are making squash faster than we can eat them or share them with Jonathan and Debra. I'm getting into the rhythm of preserving - pickling, freezing, making jam (I bought the fruit.) The tomatoes are just beginning to start turning red and we get just enough green beans to either eat or put up a few bags in the freezer. The cucumbers are also going gang busters - I've working on my 3rd batch of sweet pickles. I've made 1 gallon of refrigerator bread and butter pickles and 4 quarts of "hot" dill pickles. I'm hoping to do one batch of the red cinnamon pickles and at least one or two more batches of bread and butter pickles. I'm also hoping to get enough tomatoes to do a bunch of jars of canned tomatoes. The peppers have been slow, but they are beginning to make green bell peppers. The melons all have fruit, but none are ripe yet.

My weedy garden is actually producing quite well. I've been thinking that there are probably several object lessons with this weedy garden. I'm a human being and my spirit has weeds as well - those areas of my life where I'm not perfect, areas of my life where sin is lurking, areas of my life where my habits and routines are poor, and areas of my life that need improvement. And, I believe that no matter how hard I try this will always be the case, because I am a human living in a fallen world.

The weeds in my garden give me hope. God is my master gardener. He knows which weeds really need to come out to keep from choking my spiritual growth and which ones can be removed later. He can fertilize my spiritual soil, loosen the dirt for my roots to grow deeper, and rejoice over the productive things that I am able to accomplish in spite of those pesky, weedy weaknesses. I am an imperfect creature with probably as many internal weeds as my garden has. But I know that God has used me in special ways sometimes because of some of those weeds. I need to use an encouraging voice to myself pointing out those good, successful things that do bear bountiful fruit.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Los Madrones

Los Madrones is one of several ranches that has converted from agricultural usage to conservation usage. Mike Murphy and his wife, Julie are working to improve habitat for the endangered species the golden cheeked warbler and also for the Rio Grande Turkey. Members of the Texas Hill Country Nature Photography Alliance, there are numerous blinds with both feeding stations and water features that attract many species of birds as well as other native "critters." It is a great place for both birders and photographers. It is also a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a quiet retreat back to nature.

Guests stay at the Casita, a beautiful cabin with both sleeping quarters and a small well equipped kitchen.

The living room is comfortable, but purposefully without TV so that guests can have the opportunity to commune with the beautiful natural surroundings and the peaceful tranquil evenings. Wireless internet is available for those who must stay connected with the outside world.

While there are some nearby restaurants for breakfast and dinner (and I found menus for those restaurants on the table), I wanted to fully enjoy my time at the ranch both for the evening light and sunset and the early morning birding, so I brought a simple dinner and breakfast. The refrigerated came with cream for your coffee and beverages of your choice.

I love the way the perches were set up. Mike provides bird seed, peanut butter, oranges, and bark butter. You can rearrange the props and put the bark butter where you would like the birds to come in to perch.

The blinds are comfortable and it was easy to set up my 300-800 mm lens. Had I been shooting with my 100-400, I would have moved the perches closer to the blind.

There is also a wonderful area around Little Bee Creek that I'm looking forward to exploring when the drought is officially over and the water is flowing again.

My bird list for my stay:
red tailed hawk
bobwhite quail
Northern Cardinal
Carolina Chickadee
House finch
Lark Sparrow
Lesser goldfinch
Mourning Dove
White winged dove
Painted bunting (female)
Rufous crowned Sparrow
Scrub jay
Brown headed cowbird

I heard chuck will's widow, scarlet tanager, and I think one of the turkeys.

There were deer at the blind right before dawn and squirrels.

I'm looking forward to going back to Los Madrones during the fall or next spring - a peaceful place, congenial hosts, comfortable accomodations, great birding and photography opportunities!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Garden

It has been a very long time since I've had a garden. We kept it small and compact. I had forgotten how long it takes for some of these plants to begin producing. Radishes were fast - ready within the first month. The tomatoes and peppers are just now beginning to produce and ripen. We've been having squash and green beans for a month or so. I didn't start freezing squash quickly enough - I've got some in the fridge that got picked and not cooked. So, I'm trying to pick and freeze in 2 person size portions - I packaged four this evening - I think I've got about 10 bags of squash in the freezer.

The honey dew melon, canteloupe, and watermelon have started, but are no where near ripe.

The cucumbers are also doing well - I had to contact my sister in law to get her pickle recipes again. I'm sure my copies will show up . . . .someday (only 2 were where they were supposed to be - and they weren't on my computer like I thought) . . . but thankfully Mary had hers handy. I'd never made the refrigerator ones - you put them in a container with the vinegar and pickling salt and seasonings and wait 2 weeks. Then they're good for a year in the refrigerator. They're supposed to be bread and butter like.

The sweet pickle recipe is a lime pickle recipe - you soak them in a pickling lime solution for 24 hours - then soak in cold water for 3 hours and then overnight in a vinegar-sugar brine with seasonings. Cook, jar and can.

While I can't believe I got rid of my old canning pots - they were nowhere to be found - so a trip to Target before the storm came in provided a higher quality stainless steel pair. You need two - one for cooking the pickles and a larger one for sealing the jars in a boiling water bath.

I'm getting tempted to make a run to Fredericksburg for peaches. I have memories of a peach butter recipe . . . We've moved things around over the last several years - so I hope I can find the recipe I used in the past. If not, I'm sure I can find a peach butter recipe on the internet.

Our neighbor has been raising cows over the past years. We had an opportunity to buy half a beef. I remember when the kids were little and I had the garden going, veggies, fruits and beef in the freezer, cabinets full of pickles and jellies. This beef has been specially raised to have good marbled meat. The nice thing about getting half a beef is that you get lots of roasts, steaks, and ground meat.

Long ago we had some chickens too. I'm not ready to add chickens to the mix, although I thought about it at one point when I thought the economy was going to get really, really bad. The nice thing about chickens is fresh eggs. They really do taste better fresh. But chickens take a lot of time and I remember how mean roosters can be. But I sure eyed the chicks that were for sale at Gaddy's feed a week or so ago. Chicks are SOOOO cute!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Barn Swallow Family

We don't get barn swallow chicks every year. Sometimes we're not home when the parents are rearing them. But this year, we're home. I'd seen the mother sitting the nest. We now have chicks - one noticeably younger. Today was my first day out to try to capture this porch miracle. The last time I was home at the right time with chicks was back in 2003 and I only had a 100-400mm lens. I'm hoping that with patience and my Sigma 300-800mm that I will get some good shots this year.

I don't have time to watch the mom when I'm shooting - she often comes in very fast. But look how far in she puts her head to feed the chick. Notice too how she balances her tail against the nest.

Sometimes I was able to get off a burst of shots, she's checking me out. I'm using fill flash with my better beamer hoping to get better exposures of the nest that is in the darker area under the eaves of my house.

You'll have to click on this image to see it full size - that's a dragonfly. I bet i could look it up and identify it from the patterns on those wings.

The chick gobbles it down.

I didn't get any prize winning shots today, but at least I've gotten started with this set of barn swallow chicks!