Portraits (quick! before the camera dies)

We always take our camera with us. Every day we snap photos – almost fourteen thousand over 20 months. Our Sony Cybershot DSC RX100 performed very well until a week or so ago. We noticed it started to have little problems. We ignored it – until one of the shades protecting the lens refused to open. Dirt, perhaps? A likely possibility when you consider where we’ve used it: on dusty hikes in Crete and Morocco, tenting in Tanzania, lounging on beaches in Australia and New Zealand.

We tried to clean the camera very carefully and dusted the lens. Now it opens and closes, but very slowly. It still works – kind of.

So, off we went to meet our friends at the LA Arboretum, a semi-functioning camera in hand.

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A peacock greeted us, and, in return, we snapped his portrait.

When our friends arrived, we headed down a path, talking more than taking photos.

As we walked by a pond several turtles, koi, and mallard ducks approached. Their friendly greeting impressed us, until it dawned on us that they were only after a handout. Sorry!

As we walked by a pond several turtles, koi, and mallard ducks approached. Their friendly greeting impressed us, until it dawned on us that they were only after a handout. Sorry!

By late morning, we made our way to a café with outdoor seating under the sweeping branches of a flowering tree.

Another peacock; another portrait.

Another peacock; another portrait.

We realized that although we’d taken a lot of portraits that day not a one was of a human being.

Why are we so reluctant to take people portraits? Maybe because so many people really don’t like the process of having their photo taken (though it seems most people like the finished product). Or is it because we fear we just won’t be able to capture in the photo those qualities that make them an interesting person?

We snatched the opportunity and – quickly – took a few photos of our friends. Would the camera work well enough for passable photos?

Sue’s photo was cropped to emphasize her lips and the flowers – both pink - with her glasses bisecting the image.

Sue’s photo was cropped to emphasize her lips and the flowers – both pink – with her glasses bisecting the image.

We cropped Rob’s fabulous blue shirt to give his face and the flowers framing his face the viewer’s full attention.

We cropped Rob’s fabulous blue shirt to give his face and the flowers framing his face the viewer’s full attention.

We still sat under the tree chatting after lunch when the view of the garden called for one last photo of the day.

The LA Arboretum on an very warm Spring day

The LA Arboretum on an very warm Spring day

What do we do now about our camera’s problem? Strange, but true, we had already talked about taking a second camera along as backup on our next big trip (8 months in South America in 2016). This was after reading just a few days ago Chris’ blog account of his camera malfunctioning while he was in Patagonia, ready to depart for Antarctica. So, the solution was staring us in the face: get a new camera and clean and repair this old camera (if affordable) to take along as a backup.

We researched what to get for our next camera and ordered a Sony Cybershot DSC RX100-II on sale.

And what to do about taking more portraits? Practice makes perfect. We resolve to work at people portraits as long as our camera “lives” or when the new one arrives.

 

March 2013

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A day’s walk

What’s a good plan for a warm, sunny day in Pasadena? We decided to start the day with a visit to the Arlington Garden and take off from there for a walk in the neighborhood.

Arlington Garden arose on a portion of the site of a mega-mansion (fifty-rooms!) owned by John Durand. The house, completed in 1905, was the largest in Southern California. Arlington Garden was established on the site after the house was torn down in 1961.

We’re unfamiliar with flowers in this area, and this is the first time we’d seen these little beauties.

We’re unfamiliar with flowers in this area, and this is the first time we’d seen these little beauties.

What an unusual garden! Little gravel paths snaked through distinct themed “rooms” of the garden with names like “Madagascan Spiny Forest” and “St. Francis Succulent Garden.”   All the plantings thrive in Pasadena’s Mediterranean climate.

Every time we learn the name of one flower, we see ten more like this one we don’t yet know.

Every time we learn the name of one flower, we see ten more like this one we don’t yet know.

The garden’s informality and many intimate seating areas gave us a very welcome feeling, as if to say “sit down and enjoy the flowers, butterflies, and birds while you visit with your friends.” So, we did, thank you very much. We sat on a shaded bench to see birds, but most hid in the trees or were too far away to really observe. Lizards darted by, stopping to do “pushups” in front of us.

We eventually stepped out of the garden to head down the shady neighborhood sidewalks for a serious walk. The large houses offered us interesting architecture and landscaping. We had only walked about 10 minutes when we noticed a shaded veranda by a small house with 16 colorful hummingbird feeders. BIRDS! We had hoped to see birds, and here they were.

Three female Anna’s hummingbirds on one feeder and a male flying in to another.

Three female Anna’s hummingbirds on one feeder and a male flying in to another.

We watched as a dozen or so hummingbirds darted around and sipped from feeders. We were mesmerized.

Allen's hummingbird

Allen’s hummingbird

The owner saw us standing on the sidewalk and came over to us. He suggested that, if we’d like a closer look, we could have a seat on his veranda. “Please enjoy the view,” he offered, and we accepted.

We loved observing the little hummingbirds from the best seats at the house.

We loved observing the little hummingbirds from the best seats at the house.

What about that “serious” walk? Oh, yeah. We pulled ourselves away to continue our stroll. Strangely, it seemed like we’d never left the garden. The lush landscaping continued. Each house seemed to outdo the next with beautiful plantings.

This unusual flower (to us) was a parting gift to us at the end of the afternoon.

This unusual flower (to us) was a parting gift to us at the end of the afternoon.

 

March 2015

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Architecture, landscape + style (in Pasadena)

As soon as we told friends that we planned to stay in Pasadena, their response was the same, “You’ll love the Craftsman houses!”

On our first day, we took a walk through “Bungalow Heaven” – using as a guide a brochure that we’d found in our AirBnB cottage. The brochure mapped the conventional Craftsman houses, built by contractors from plans in “bungalow books” (1910-1920).

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As we approached, nothing could match the grandeur of the trees lining the streets.

Craftsman style is characterized by porches, stone details, paned doors, multi-paned windows, earthy colors.

Craftsman style is characterized by porches, stone details, paned doors, multi-paned windows, earthy colors.

Another day, we set out on a walk to see houses designed by Charles and Henry Greene, who were born in Ohio but moved to Pasadena in 1893. Their Craftsman “bungalows” received praise for creating a “new and native architecture”.

One of the most notable buildings in the American Arts + Crafts style is the Gamble House. Greene and Greene designed the house and furnishings, built in 1908.

One of the most notable buildings in the American Arts + Crafts style is the Gamble House. Greene and Greene designed the house and furnishings, built in 1908.

Also, on the same walk, we got an unexpected surprise: a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Millard house and studio. Architects: Frank Lloyd Wright (house) and Lloyd Wright (studio); 1923-1926.

The Millard house and studio. Architects: Frank Lloyd Wright (house) and Lloyd Wright (studio); 1923-1926.

By the time we set out for Lombardy Road, our third architecture walk, we could see clearly how the landscape and the design sensibility of the owners affected the aesthetic. Since these houses were 80 to 100 years old, a series of owners have altered the buildings and landscapes over time. The mature trees and bushes in the neighborhoods provided a fitting backdrop for the architecture.

This was the highest and longest “hedge” we’d ever seen. Whatever was behind it was now totally hidden from view.

This was the highest and longest “hedge” we’d ever seen. Whatever was behind it was now totally hidden from view.

After seeing the Craftsman bungalows, we went to visit friends in their sweet little (and environmentally green) Pasadena cottage. Thoughts of architecture, landscape and style were still on our minds when we saw Jill in her living room. Her green floral top was the perfect match for the comfortable furnishings. Ah, Pasadena style!

Jill, a native Californian, at home

Jill, a native Californian, at home

 

March 2015

 

 

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Who are you, you gorgeous winged creatures?

As we traveled around the world, we hoped to see birds new to us. Our trip started in Asia, and “sloooooow going” describes our success there. We spotted only 9 new birds to add to our list in the 2 months we spent in Japan, China, and Vietnam in our comings and goings. Pathetic!

Eurasian tree sparrow, photo taken in Japan

Eurasian tree sparrow, photo taken in Japan

We wanted to see more birds, so arranged for local bird watchers, who knew what they were doing, to take us out for early morning walks in Thailand and Cambodia. Now, the pace picked up a bit with 57 new birds – and beautiful birds they were. A short stop in Singapore was good for 4 more.

Coopersmith barbet, photo taken using birding scope, in Thailand

Coopersmith barbet, photo taken using birding scope, in Thailand

New Zealand and Australia far exceeded our expectations. We purchased bird guides for each country, and those helped immensely. In 5 months, we added 257 new birds to our list – thanks in large part to local birdwatchers who took us to the best birding hot spots. Even on our daily walks we added new birds.

Kaka, photo taken in New Zealand

Kaka, photo taken in New Zealand

Laughing kookaburra, photo taken in Australia

Laughing kookaburra, photo taken in Australia

We expected to see unusual birds we’d never heard of – let alone seen – in Tanzania. In 2.5 weeks, we saw 164 new species, thanks to our superb guides.

Great-crested cranes (with flamingoes in the background), photo taken in Tanzania

Great-crested cranes (with flamingoes in the background), photo taken in Tanzania

Now (we mistakenly thought) we are on a roll. Sadly, even though we were looking, bird populations and species greatly diminished as we continued onward.

We saw only 8 new bird species in Morocco, and, off its coast on the Portuguese island of Madeira, we added 15 more. We spent three months in European cities and added a paltry 25 new species.

Chaffinch, photo taken in (Madeira) Portugal

Chaffinch, photo taken in (Madeira) Portugal

House bunting, photo taken in Morocco

House bunting, photo taken in Morocco

Laughing dove, photo taken in Turkey

Laughing dove, photo taken in Turkey

Greylag goose, photo taken in the Netherlands

Greylag goose, photo taken in the Netherlands

At the end of our 14-month round-the-world trip, we tallied the total: we’d seen 539 new species of birds. Amazing!

The last bird we spotted on our 14-month trip was this Eurasian blackcap who flew on to our cruise ship in Malaga, Spain. When we arrived in the Canary Islands it flew off. Bon voyage!

The last bird we spotted on our 14-month trip was this Eurasian blackcap who flew on to our cruise ship in Malaga, Spain. When we arrived in the Canary Islands it flew off. Bon voyage!

 

March 2015

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Deciding what to wear for the next 433 days – Part 2

What a task! Long before we took our round the world trip, we started to think about what we’d be wearing for 433 days. We started with planning our “core” items: shirts, tops, and pants. (Click for the details.)   Next step: layers.

We faced two challenges: 1) packing for a range of weather conditions – the heat in tropical Southeast Asia as well as the chilly, rainy mountains of New Zealand; and 2) limited room in our shoulder bags and carry-on suitcases.

Take a look at the layers we packed for those 433 days.

VESTS

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Joe knew he’d wear vests most days – and he did. He carried what he needed in those many pockets, and we never had any security issues. He packed a very lightweight vest, purchased in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, and this one, from Eddie Bauer, purchased in California.   Photo taken on safari in TANZANIA with Chagamba, our guide.

Beth didn’t want a vest that looked like a travel vest, so she bought a light linen vest at J Jill and sewed pockets inside. The travel hat, wonderfully packable, is a Wallaroo. Photo taken in Siem Reap, CAMBODIA.

Beth didn’t want a vest that looked like a travel vest, so she bought a light linen vest at J Jill and sewed pockets inside. The travel hat, wonderfully packable, is a Wallaroo. Photo taken in Siem Reap, CAMBODIA.

LIGHT JACKETS

Our friend, Meg, advised us to buy Patagonia R1 full-zip jackets for the trip. We did and wore them every day for many months. Thank you, Meg. They are the perfect jackets for travel.

Photo taken off the coast of Barcelona, SPAIN.

Photo taken off the coast of Barcelona, SPAIN.

Photo taken in Doubtful Sound, NEW ZEALAND.

Photo taken in Doubtful Sound, NEW ZEALAND.

JACKETS FOR COLD WEATHER

Could we find jackets that would pack small enough to fit in our bags and provide enough warmth when needed? Yes!

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This time our friend, Meg, recommended Patagonia’s Down Sweater for Beth. Joe found a similar down jacket at Costco. The photo gives you an idea of their packable size relative to our day pack.

RAIN GEAR

We debated if we really needed to take up valuable suitcase space for rain jackets, and especially rain pants. In the end, we took both, and, the day we hiked in pouring cold rain in New Zealand, we were happy they’d made it into our bags. Soon after, as we left New Zealand, we felt safe to ship the rain pants back to the U.S.

Joe’s rain jacket is from REI. Photo taken in Doubtful Sound, NEW ZEALAND.

Joe’s rain jacket is from REI. Photo taken in Doubtful Sound, NEW ZEALAND.

Beth had a light Sierra Designs rain jacket, purchased for an earlier trip to Iceland, and both of us had rain pants from earlier trips. Photo taken on safari in TANZANIA.

Beth had a light Sierra Designs rain jacket, purchased for an earlier trip to Iceland, and both of us had rain pants from earlier trips. Photo taken on safari in TANZANIA.

SWEATER

Beth’s Lands End black cashmere cardigan made appearances in just about every place we traveled. Photo taken in Sydney, AUSTRALIA.

Beth’s Lands End black cashmere cardigan made appearances in just about every place we traveled. Photo taken in Sydney, AUSTRALIA.

LONG UNDERWEAR

We both used long underwear, when we needed an extra layer. They take so little room to pack and kept us cozy warm. Sorry to disappoint, but no photos here!

CONCLUSION

Would we make changes to what we took? We really did need everything we packed, but, had we eliminated New Zealand as a destination, we could have eliminated the cold weather jackets and rain gear from our bags, and that certainly would have saved a lot of room. But who would have scratched New Zealand from the list?   Not us!

 

March 2015

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Walking around Palm Springs, camera in hand

When we get used to our surroundings, it’s tough to pull back and see what’s around us in a new way. Fortunately, our cameras help us to overcome this shortcoming. Our habit of taking photos has helped to train our eyes to see the unexpected in the ordinary:

Neutral background with a few pops of color. ..taken after a walk at Coachella Valley National Wildlife Preserve, east of Palm Springs.

Neutral background with a few pops of color. ..taken after a walk at Coachella Valley National Wildlife Preserve, east of Palm Springs.

Repeating patterns….of rocks and ring-necked ducks lined up in horizontal lines, taken on a walk at Whitewater Preserve.

Repeating patterns….of rocks and ring-necked ducks lined up in horizontal lines, taken on a walk at Whitewater Preserve.

Contrast of dark and light…of an insect exoskeleton on a tree, taken on a stroll through our Palm Springs neighborhood.

Contrast of dark and light…of an insect exoskeleton on a tree, taken on a stroll through our Palm Springs neighborhood.

Bold color….taken at the edge of the road close to where we’re staying.

Bold color….taken at the edge of the road close to where we’re staying.

Unusual sighting…of a roadrunner perched on a wall down the street from our AirBnB. We were only a few feet away. Not something we see every day!

Unusual sighting…of a roadrunner perched on a wall down the street from our AirBnB. We were only a few feet away. Not something we see every day!

Random pattern and colors…of a stone wall, near the start of the Henderson Trail in Palm Springs.

Random pattern and colors…of a stone wall, near the start of the Henderson Trail in Palm Springs.

Since we started traveling (nonstop) over two years ago, we fell into the habit of always taking our cameras along with us – currently an iPhone 6 Plus for Joe and a Sony RX100 for Beth. In a pocket and over the shoulder, they go on walks with us, sightseeing, and even to the grocery store. We take photos every day.

We’re enjoying all the little “natural wonders” that we see daily and don’t know if that’s due to our slowing pace in retirement or the photographers’ eyes that have given us a slightly different way of observing the world. Maybe both.

 

February 2015

 

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Timing is everything – so make your plans accordingly

We messed up, yet again, but then managed a last minute recovery. We planned a day trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to view and photograph desert wildflowers. How did we manage to ignore the first rule for desert viewing and photography? You know it: go early in the morning or late afternoon for the best light.

We started the morning snapping photos on a guided wildflower walk.

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The desert wildflowers are mostly small plants so we crouched down for a better view.

A quick review of the photos taken through mid-day was disheartening. All our efforts in the hot sun and bright light had produced only a few good photos. Lesson learned: don’t photograph flowers in bright sun. But now what to do?

We hiked up the Borrego Palm Canyon trail, and, despite the intense sun and glare, continued to snap (mostly unusable) photos.

How could we resist taking photos with such magnificent scenery?

How could we resist taking photos with such magnificent scenery?

Popcorn flower

Popcorn flowers

Brown-eyed primroses

Brown-eyed primroses

With better light later in the afternoon, our time had come for seeing everything at its best.

Checker fiddleneck and wild heliotrope

Checker fiddleneck and wild heliotrope

As the sun dropped lower, we had to hurry to get down the trail and back to our car before darkness obscured the way, yet, we still heard birds calling. We felt compelled to look for what was calling us.

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It’s probably not surprising that we saw rock wrens hopping around, occasionally singing from atop the boulders.

The light gave out before we were finished seeing all there was to see … and photograph.

One last photo before getting in the car and leaving Anza-Borrego at 5:40 pm.

One last photo before getting in the car and leaving Anza-Borrego at 5:40 pm.

Lesson to selves: Take into consideration the lighting conditions BEFORE setting off on future travel photography outings. (But, really, we think we have now learned that lesson!)

 

February 2015

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