Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Back From My Christmas Adventure

This time I really was off on an adventure, and I will tell about some of the good parts later.

I had been feeling really rotten for about a week and on Christmas Eve our treat was a trip to the Emergency Room in Bakersfield. Not a fun place to wait for Santa, I'll tell you.

I am much better now, but exhausted. It's 2:20 PM and I'm tired. That stinks.

I may have stories about some of the wonderful people I met, but no photos. The Husband knew that I was really in pain because I wasn't taking any pictures and didn't want to take a camera with me when we headed to Bakersfield.

I felt bad about not posting a Merry Christmas message here. I did have good intentions. And, yes, I know which road is paved with that exact material.

I hope everyone had a jolly good holiday. My spirits were lifted by all the marvelous people who took such good care of me. They all worked through Christmas with such great cheer. Along with all the lousy jerks we hear about on the news who do their best to make "human being" a pejorative term, there are so many lovely people in the world. I was blessed to land in a whole nest of the loveliest, just when I needed them most.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

You might say that I have been traveling the last couple of weeks. But, in my case, not the sort of traveling that probably first came to mind. Yes, there have been the usual one-day errand-runs to Bakersfield and Los Angeles—journeys to the city to stock up on on various and sundry types of supplies—but, most of my time has been spent on excursions of another type altogether.

The photo here represents one of those departures. Back when I was living in Los Angeles, I occasionally took on assignments to photograph people and their horses. This wasn’t a regular thing, since I was working full-time running the acting studio; but, it was quite satisfying when I found someone I really wanted to work with. With so much to photograph here in Bear Valley Springs, I had thought that I wouldn’t miss that part of my photography. I reasoned that with our horses never really out of sight here, I would be more than happy just taking pictures of them and I wouldn't need to make pictures of other people and their horses.

I was wrong. It turns out that I miss recording those stories about that relationship between human and animal. Finally, I dipped a toe in the water, and now that I have done a couple of these sessions, I am eager to further explore the possibilities.

And, yes, I continue to spend huge chunks of my waking hours in an exploration of lighting with speedlights. Talk about fun! I am having a blast. My test photos are not something I want to post on my blog—or anywhere else for that matter. I now own North Amerca’s most photographed teddy bear, and I have taken pictures of The Husband that I could publish only if I didn’t value my life. Nevertheless, I am learning and no longer intimidated by terms such as ETTL, channels, groups, and ratios. Moreover, shocking as it is to me, sections of my 580EX flash are beginning to make sense to me.

Anyone who has read more than five posts on my blog has picked up on the fact that I am more than a little obsessive, somewhat disturbingly moody, and totally unreliable. Consistency and steadiness with communication are not part of my profile. Therefore, I’m confident that most folks realized when I disappeared that Anita was simply off on some tangent again. I always feel a little guilty about not at least posting a note to all my blog-world friends whose fellowship I so much enjoy. At the very least, I could have put up some type of note—at least “Gone fishing” or something, but the fog had invaded my brain and, as is often the case in these situations, I was totally tongue-tied.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

May you have an abundance of blessings for which to give thanks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Still Life Photos in My Future

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Wow. I surely do know where to go for counseling the next time we have a houseguest. When I think of how much less work would have been involved! No. Wait. All that advice was from guys. Hmm. Maybe I should get some advice from some females to balance things out.

Here is the truth. I need something like a houseguest to put an axe over my head. I do want to eventually get fully moved in. But, there are always pictures to be made; something new to learn; experiments to be pursued; tutorials to study; material to read. What is a person to do? Now, thanks to The Husband’s niece, we are a little closer to being settled in and making this a home.

But, you had better believe that the minute the door closed behind The Houseguest, the B&H box came out. The dust behind the three-horse trailer she was pulling hadn’t settled over the driveway, before I had gotten the STE2 transmitter on the 50D.

I spend the next two days making dozens of test shots. More dead batteries. I’m slow. In the time it took to get the photo of the vegetables remotely close to what was in my head, a second bridge over Oakland Bay could have been built. Even after all those tries, the photograph still needed some clean up (should have done more) from the light spills that I failed to control, and the final product didn’t match up to my mental picture.

But, it’s that persistence thing. Eventually, I will work my way closer and closer to a grasp of how this stuff works. Ray K recommended a book to me that is bound to make its way into my Christmas stocking, and I continue finding helpful articles online. Expect to put up with more still life photos sprinkled among the landscapes and pictures of the horses—especially as winter settles in here. I can watch the snow fall while I take tons of pictures and keep my feet warm as toast. Sounds like a good plan. I stay comfy, and it sure beats tackling those last couple of rooms that need to be done.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Camera Gear and Character Development

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

The Houseguest was due Thursday afternoon. The package from B&H arrived at 2:30 PM. Dutifully, I parked the unopened box of adventure in the studio and finished my last minute chores. The next two hours was about temptation. It took a will of iron, but I emerged from the struggle victorious. I am proud of myself.

You see, I knew that waiting inside that box was a Canon STE transmitter along with another light stand and umbrella bracket. Once I ripped through that cardboard, I would enter the next phase of my lighting education. It took stern reminders through the next two hours to resist reaching for the box opener. Why did I resist? I knew that once I opened that box, I would be long gone. The place would, once again, be a mess and I would be totally distracted until long after our guest left. I might not even have noticed her arrival, and that wouldn’t have made any points with The Husband.

So, I waited.

Delayed gratification builds character, right? It darn sure better do something good for me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Houseguest. Do you have any idea what terror that word instills in the heart of a woman who isn’t great with housework. You know, forgets the dusting on a regular basis? On Sunday evening, The Husband casually announced, “By the way, my niece is arriving on Thursday. She will be taking off sometime Friday.” Yikes. Not long enough to fully register how dysfunctional this place still is, but definitely long enough to see the dust and notice a couple of rooms that clearly look as though someone is in the midst of either moving in, or moving out.

But, I just dusted a week ago. How did the place get so dusty, so fast? Whine. As for the boxes and clutter in those couple of rooms, I want a big banner that stretches all the way across the living room reading, “It’s about my bad back.” But, that isn’t the whole story. The truth is, it’s also about those cameras.

Hmm. Maybe I should have just wored with what I'm good at and gone for a new style of decorating. I’ll have to work out the details later, but I’m getting images of frames (empty and with some with prints) stacked everywhere—leaning against every piece of furniture. Cameras and lenses on pretty much every flat surface. Prints of every possible size stuck on the sides of anything and everything. Stacks of cables, lens caps, printing paper, camera batteries strewn about—artfully, of course. I may call it Photographer’s Grunge Chic. Hey, why not turn part of the kitchen into a darkroom. That would produce tons of chaos. No, wait. I don’t have a film camera, much less film. Still, what’s to stop me from buying a few rolls of film and stringing it here and there for garland? The place wouldn’t be clean, but it would clearly explain the reason behind the dust and clutter. Feel free to toss in your submission for an alternative name, as well as your own variations of this style.

I’m not certain that The Husband will be on board for this. I think I’ll continue dusting and cleaning, just in case. See ya.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Living with My Photography Critic

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Paul Butzi recently wrote about taking pictures when you have no idea why you are tripping the shutter. I hope Paul won’t mind, if I jump on the bandwagon and sing a few verses of “Me, too”.

I still have an enormous amount to learn about photography (it pains me to think how much), but I am getting more and more satisfaction from it. And, that is true partly because I am trusting myself more to differentiate between occasions that are predominately study periods and those that are more about simply doing. Yes, of course those lines are blurred, but from one outing to another—or from one portion of an outing to another, there is shift in emphasis. There are occasions when I am mostly intent on learning a new technique—drilling basics into my thick skull, and sometimes I am just playing scales.

But, if I want to feed the passion, I need to have times when I simply do what I do as best I can at that moment and trust that six weeks from now, a year from now, my skills will have improved. That is, they will improve, if I keep doing this and paying attention to what works as well as what doesn't. I just have to be certain that I am paying that attention after the fact, not using it as a club over my head while I am photographing.

Long ago, I noticed that a great percentage of my photographs that I like best—on those rare and special days that I like any of them—are those that I took while shooting out of my mind. Even in the early stages when I knew almost nothing, a surprising number of the images that showed progress had been taken when something somewhat surprised me, I raised the camera, and clicked the shutter before I had time to think my way through the image.

Now, more and more, I am giving in to the impulse to shoot with abandon. I am learning that what catches my eye—and my heart—is most often a fleeting moment. By the time I think about it, the moment and the magic are gone. The more I study the scene, the more certain the best moments will escape me. If I get bogged down in analyzing, I trip the switch and activate the nasty voice in my head that nags, “That light is never going to work.” “Better look again. Is this framed properly?” “You didn’t check your exposure you are just going to delete this. You’re wasting time.” Some days the voice is particularly insistent. But, I am gradually training the nagger to speak when spoken to, leaving me to place increasing trust in my gradually improving skills and my intuition.

Of course, I’m not merely wandering about drooling and hoping that wonderful things will pop up in front of my camera and that my muse will always whisper “Now” at the ideal moment. I am comfortable inviting my intellect to take charge, or at least participate, if it honestly seems the best way to solve a problem. But, for better or for worse, I go about my photography, at least part of the time, trusting that when I have no clue as to why my shutter finger twitches at a specific instant—much less what is filling the frame, I don’t ask questions. I just let go and enjoy the moments.

After all, that nagging critic in my head represents the part of me that can be paralyzed by the specter of failure. The message behind all that nagging is “Don’t take chances. Work cautiously. Play it safe. D
on’t prove you are a loser.”

When I tell the critic to take some time off, I have a grand time and sometimes there is a bonus. I may make more mistakes, but I also make more pictures that I like. Not a bad bargain for trusting myself and following impulses. I wouldn’t recommend it for crossing streets, or choosing life partners. But, I think following impulses can be a swell idea, when you have a camera in your hand.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Old Toys and New Obsessions

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

I'm glad that I stirred up some curiosity. But, Earl added an element of urgency by claiming that he was turning blue and passing out from holding his breath. He is a big kidder; still, just in case, I thought it would be better to quickly spill the beans. Besides, I have another shoot scheduled for tomorrow afternoon and some preparations to handle before then. Today, the fog is thicker than the proverbial pea soup. Tomorrow could prove very interesting. I'm sure there will be lessons to be learned.

I hope you didn't have your hopes up for something truly exciting here. I think you know me better. This isn’t really a big deal—just something new to me. First, I have to say that there are a gazillion things wrong with the photos here. They pretty much stink in more ways than I can count. For example, don’t you just love the line cutting through The Husband’s head? And that shadow into his camera right eye. Wow! Charming, no? No. I was thinking only about exposing for that sky and a certain kind of light on his face. It would have been nice if we had had a ladder handy to get his head up in the clouds. The second photo? Another long list that I won't start on. Still, you have to crawl before you can walk, right? Maybe this lighting business is ho-hum old hat stuff to most of you, but there are plenty new challenges in it for me.

The idea of working with more than natural light has been rattling around in the back of my mind for some time. The problem was that it was way back in a well-hidden corner and, mostly, I ignored the rattling. Probably close to two years ago, I bought a 580EX flash. Then maybe a year later, I got the 430EX. I was curious and was certain that, eventually, I would fully explore studio lighting. From time to time, I did play around a bit with both flash units, but the whole notion of using anything other than natural light just never quite took. At one point, I briefly considered selling at least half of my lighting equipment. However, before I could act on that thought, I would always have a flurry of interest that lasted a minute and a half. Long enough to put off selling—not long enough to develop any expertise. What it came down to was I didn’t have that much interest in shooting things that you could bring indoors. Horses and landscapes in the living room? Probably not. Don’t ask why that obvious disconnect didn’t stop me up front. Sometimes, I’m just slow.

Finally, I have gotten a glimmer as why those speedlights have been taking up space and have begun to investigate, with some seriousness, using supplemental light outdoors. It’s not something I have grasped readily, unfortunately. Rather, it has been a major challenge. Still, if you aren’t terribly smart and you lack talent, the next best thing is being stubbornly persistent. I have read I don’t know how many articles online in an attempt to cram some of this information into my brain. Yes, it still feels much like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, but I know a little more now than when I started. I have photographed the strangest things in our house and burned up more than a couple of AA batteries. But, I am beginning to get a sense of where I want to go with this.

The next steps include a great deal more experimentation outside, because that’s where I really want to work. Moreover, I have to catch The Husband with spare time and in a willing mood. (Tomorrow I have another subject and The Husband is going to be provide me with a voice-activated lightstand.) Getting a handle on this new thing is going to take quite a while and yes, the delay of winter will exasperate. This is a lousy time of year to finally figure out where I want to go next. But, it's comforting to know that I have that stubborn persistence thing on my side. Because, there are images in my head and, by gum, I want to see them on my monitor someday.

Detours and New Directions

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Whew! I’ve been running half-a-dozen different directions most of the time, and then barely functional for a couple of days. Hmm. Not so unusual, come to think of it. As a result, I am behind on most of the things that I like to keep up to date. I haven’t had time to read many of the new posts at the sites of fellow bloggers much less leave comments, and I have sadly neglected my own blog. I have a fistful of new photos that I want to post here, but I don’t yet have them ready. To top it off, I am still recovering from a sick day. Side note for the youngsters out there: When you are retired, “a sick day” means you are just plain sick. It doesn’t mean a day when you are feeling less than your best, or a day taken off to handle errands.

Since most of the diversions in the last week have been pleasant ones, I’ll talk about those and put the others behind me. The first of the month, I did a photo session with two friends and their horses. Even the obstacles presented by a far less than an ideal background and not-so-great lighting didn’t spoil the fun.

Much of the time the last week was been taken up by a new interest. No, I haven’t taken up skateboarding. I don’t know who insists on promoting that rumor, and my “Sweet Home Alabama” experience most certainly did not convince me to sign up for Dancing With the Stars”. It’s all about photography, and you will hear more about it in the days to come. Believe me, you will probably hear more than you want to, since I am quite immersed in this. Isn’t that mean to leave you hanging? Remember, at my age, and with my humdrum existence, one does what one can to muster an air of mystery and excitement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Little More Light in My Digital Darkroom

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

My computer handles CS3 fairly well, but it’s over three years old, so, of course, that means in computer years it’s a relic. That’s one of the reasons I had put off exploring working at 16 bits. I suspected that working with the larger files would only create more headaches than it was worth. But then, I read an article, or saw a tutorial (I no longer remember the source) that mentioned the increased elasticity of a 16 bit RAW file, and I was in a mood to experiment.

I know I have a tendency to be suggestible when I read or listen to experts, so I could be kidding myself. But, I am hooked. While it's true that working on a file that size chews up the memory at warp speed; I was surprised at how much more I could wring out of the material. When I used the approach for some photos I took using ISO 2000, I was grateful to have access to more depth and to be able work with pixels that were just a little more supple. The photo above appealed to me because of the story. Lancer was dealing with abandonment issues—Night had been taken out for a ride—and the herd next door must have looked appealing to our lonely gelding.

While I will continue to work predominately with 8 bit files, I now feel comfortable turning to the memory-hogging 16 bits when an image needs some extra TLC.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Side of Lower Valley Trail

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Another way of seeing sights along the Lower Valley Trail. Just to keep you guessing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Computer Feeling Unloved

(Click on the thumbnail for the slightly bigger version)

My computer screen hasn’t felt much love in the last week. My recent relationship with the computer has consisted mostly of setting up files to copy or move and leaving the room to handle other chores. Then there was the maintenance business a few days ago, opening the case, cleaning out the dust bunnies, and installing memory. I guess that is a sort of love being shown, but not much looking at the monitor.

As if that weren’t enough time away from my desk, there was a rash of errand-running lately. I have mentioned before that a trip to the supermarket—even if you only grabbed a dozen eggs)—chews up over an hour. Naturally, neither of us ever makes the trip for just a dozen eggs.

Just ten days ago, we drove to Bakersfield (that’s two hours round trip); on Wednesday the cupboard was pretty bare, so that meant Tehachapi (over an hour); then yesterday was an LA day. That’s a biggie. At least, for us. Under the best of conditions, it is a four-hour round trip. If you have the misfortune of hitting peak traffic hours or you encounter an accident or car breakdown, it is more like a five-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hour jaunt. Fortunately, we get to set our hours when we are simply errand-running and avoid the worst of the mess. Keep in mind that morning rush hour in LA starts about 6:30 AM and lasts until 10:00 AM. Evening rush hour chews up 3:00 PM until 7:30 PM. Obviously, we invariably catch a portion of the travel at risk of your sanity periods.

Still, we accomplished quite a bit yesterday and, of course, the best part of the trip is always lunch at Viva. In some ways, it’s like dropping by Mom’s on your way somewhere for a quick meal. You know she will be there and you can depend on good vittles. Moreover, there is no need for formalities. Especially if the restaurant is a little slow—and it often is as early as we arrive (usually around a quarter of twelve). On those occasions, the hostess often simply greets us and hands us a couple of menus inviting us to seat ourselves. We head to the back room to pick our own table. On the way back, we say “hello” to the waiters who have been there, in some cases, for close to thirty years.

Yesterday the food was typically delicious and the back room was pleasantly quiet. However, if you should happen to drop in on a Saturday night, don’t have your heart set on a tranquil meal. The margaritas are large, sufficiently potent, and the atmosphere is often raucous.

Weekend evenings are usually noisy because of the riders from Sunset Ranch, a rental stable, located in the basin (the ocean side of Los Angeles). Angelenos, who are feeling adventurous, can sign up for the Friday or Saturday night horseback ride across the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith State Park, have dinner at Viva in the San Fernando Valley, then ride back to the stables. As you might imagine, most of the riders are greenhorns and by the time they get to Viva, they are exhausted, sore, and often relieved to still be alive. Celebrations are usually in order. Too many margaritas are consumed and the place gets lively. Let’s sum things up by saying that, on more than one occasion, cabs are called, and some of the horses make the trip back across the foothills riderless.

Yesterday, most of the tables were sans margaritas and our lunch was peaceful. As always—along with the beans and chips, there are the memories of so many other meals. Peaceful ones, noisy ones, joyful events and sorrowful ones.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tackling the Piles

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

For much too long, I was verrrrry bad and let chores pile up. Sooner or later, one has to face up to those piles and dispense with at least a portion of them. It doesn’t matter how much you dread it. You can only postpone things so long.

Some of the catch-up work centered around file storage. I set up a couple of new hard drives that had languished in the cabinet a while and continued moving files for better organization. What tedious work.

I also installed more memory in my computer. Truth: I assisted (mostly with prep and clean up). The Husband installed. You can only imagine how chicken I am when it comes to poking around inside a computer. If I planned to do much of this sort of thing, I would dig up an old machine, then take it apart—wreck it most probably, get another and work until I could break one down and successfully put it together again. Unfortunately, I can’t work up the enthusiasm for the project. There are too many other things I want to explore that are higher priority for me.

I enjoyed very much the responses to my query on a backup scheme and have decided to follow through with that plan. I posed a couple more questions in my responses to the comments on that post, and I expect to be tweaking this strategy over time.

I’ve also spent time recently on some test shooting and checking a couple of locations in preparation for a shoot some time in the next couple of weeks. For one of the test sessions, I was at the BVS Equestrian Center and got distracted by the trees there. Let’s face it. I am frequently distracted by trees.

Finding an ideal location for pictures of horses with riders hasn’t turned out to be as easy as I had hoped it would be. There are number of reasons for that statement, but I won’t open that can of worms today. Those chores are piling up again.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Backup Scheme

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

I have a plan for file backup and I thought I would publish it here. My motivation is that I would like to see if everyone in the group says, “Whoa there. You are about to make a monumental mistake because….”

So here goes. I want at least two copies of everything. (My natural scaredy cat nature is to have three or four copies, but I just can’t deal with it. So, two it will be.) Favorites, Classics, whatever I am calling them at the moment pulled from each year will rate three of four copies, including a spot on the C drive. The first copy of everything will be processed then moved off to a desktop external drive. For the second copy or backup, I am going to experiment with those small, portable drives, such as Western Digital’s Passport.

Why the small portable drives, you ask? Space for one thing. Too much of my desk top is already devoted to the book-type hard disks. On the other hand, the possibility of storing those drives in another room doesn’t appeal to me either, because I hate crawling around under the desk plugging in the power sources and rigging the things up to the computer. I have had a Passport for a couple of years and have found it handy and reliable. It takes up little space, and all I have to do is plug it into a USB port and ta dah! I’m ready to go.

For the moment at least, it looks like a practical plan. Of course, one drawback is the cost. The price per gigabyte of storage space is lower with the larger drives, but I’m thinking that storage space and convenience of set up may win out. By the way, I also believe that the little portable drives are slower. That means that I wouldn’t want to use them any more than necessary.

Please wave me off if you know something I haven’t brought up. Otherwise, I’m headed to Best Buy next week to pick up a couple of those little guys and jump into this experiment.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

As the largest city in the U.S., you can imagine how many radio stations there are in that massive and diverse market. Bakersfield (the nearest city of any size in our area) has, I think, a grand total of four stations. Furthermore, up here in the mountains, we get only one.

I usually have the radio on in the afternoons, since I’m not much of a TV watcher. A big part of the listening on KNZR includes the bumper music that both of the local talk show guys play. The three o’clock host is all about Frank Sinatra. Once in a while, he will throw in a little Tony Bennett, but mostly it’s “Old Blue Eyes”. The one o’clock guy, on the other hand, has a real weak spot for Merle Haggard. Yes, that’s a pretty big leap. Still, they are both all right with me. I’m rarely fully focused on the music, and I don’t mind either choice. I enjoy both of them.

This afternoon was a different story. The one o’clock guy did three hours that was all about Lynyrd Skynyrd. Now, I’m the first to admit that my pop musical tastes are not the most hip. I can take rap for about thirty seconds and never even got as far as acid rock, or heavy metal much less the stuff that came after that. I know it makes me a country bumpkin to admit that I’m not a super big fan of jazz. But, classic country rock. Yeah, that’s good music.

I was doing great—getting some work done while those southern boys were wailing away in the background. I was enjoying something different in the early afternoon, then I ended up in the kitchen doing some baking and some cleanup when “Sweet Home Alabama” came up in the host’s roster.

First, a disclaimer: Let's just say I never turned heads on the dance floor. But, since my first broken hip, I really don’t dance at all. Long ago, I made my peace with not having much talent in that department, so that isn’t the problem. But, once I was fully ambulatory again, I always ended up hurting my back every time I tried dancing. Pain is a great motivator. I gave up what passed for dancing in my case.

Yet, I have been known to make exceptions. Now, I could claim I was a victim of circumstance in this case, but I won’t make excuses. There I was, alone in the kitchen. The guitar riff at the opening of “Sweet Home Alabama” began; I was on my feet; and, well, one thing led to another. I may have still had a dish towel in my hand when I began making a fool of myself. My head was saying, “Stop”. My feet were saying, “Go.” I mean it was Lynyrd Skynyrd!

So, my back will hurt tonight. Right now, I think it will be worth it. Ask me about it tomorrow.

P.S. Fair warning: This posting twice a day thing is a bad precedent and not apt to be repeated often.

More from Lower Valley Trail

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

I didn't have time for much of a walk yesterday, after all. Good intentions and all that. I got sidetracked setting up yet another external hard drive, so I can eventually have more working space without spending the tedious hours combing through old folders and deciding between file number xxx8 and xxx9. The photo above was taken a couple of days ago during that long walk bathed in lovely light.

Yesterday, I was on the way out for at least a short trek down Lower Valley when I saw both horses at full attention, staring intently toward Cub Lake. Peering more closely, I spotted the cloud of dust and eventually saw half a dozen girls out for a rather raucous ride. They were cantering, laughing, and shouting at one another—having a grand time. Lancer and Night joined in the excitement, so that meant, of course, that I couldn't possibly head out for a walk. Besides, I didn't particularly want to be in path of "The Wild Bunch". Not that I would have been in danger, but I would have eaten a good deal of dust. The trail certainly wouldn't have been my typical quiet, refuge.

No big loss. There are worse ways to spend my walk then ambling around the property near the house, watching the horses do something other than their customary munching, checking on the birch trees, and just soaking up the comfort of feeling more and more at home in Bear Valley Springs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walking Lower Valley Trail

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Recently, I have been taking my evening walk down Lower Valley Trail. There are two trails that meet at one corner of our property: Lower Valley and Upper Valley. Lower Valley takes me down toward Cub Lake and, so far, I have ended up following that route. One of these days, I will get bored with going that direction and I’ll start turning left to go along Upper Valley.

In the beginning, I always carried the 24-105mm lens on the walk, until one day I had the 100mm macro on the 50D and was curious about how it would work out on the trail. I ended up sticking with that lens for a couple of walks. I never seem to think of the macro for landscapes, but it worked out fine.

My walk is a special time of day. It’s quiet. Occasionally, I bump into someone—a rider, a hiker, or a dog-walker. But, frequently, I have the trail all too myself. Back there I am far enough from Bear Valley Road to effectively muffle the traffic noise, so the only sounds I hear are maybe neighing horses calling for dinner, an occasional barking dog, and usually the whisper, or whine of the wind in my ears.

On this particular Sunday evening, I was glad that I had rushed a few chores to get started on the walk and stayed out long enough to get home a little late for dinner. The clouds were heavy and low producing a magical light. The swaying grasses—playfully tossing light in every direction, the trees standing watch in the distance, the foothills and mountains rimming the valley, and that expanse of sky—they all make great walking companions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Sign that Points to Questions

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Yesterday was one of our Bakersfield-trek days. Faced with errands that can’t be taken care of in Tehachapi, we devoted much of the day to the drive and schlepping store to store. If we could get a Trader Joe’s in Tehachapi, it would cut down considerably on time spent in Bakersfield. But then, I would want to stop with TJ's and that's not fair to the people who want other types of growth. Drat. Oh, well driving to Bakersfield isn't so bad. 

If you aren’t familiar with the Trader Joe's chain, their prices are exceptionally good and they have items that are either unavailable elsewhere or scarce at best. (For example, The Husband is crazy about their store brand frozen tamales. I am, too, but can no longer eat them, unfortunately.) The chain is bit like a poor person’s Whole Foods. The latter offers terrific products, but I have heard them referred to as Whole Paycheck, and let’s just say that we patronize Trader Joe’s instead.

I can’t resist taking a camera with me on these treks in spite of the fact that I don’t usually come home with much. Drive-by photography doesn’t typically produce great yields (especially with an incredibly dirty windshield). Of course, I want to stop about every ten miles. That isn’t practical for many reasons—including a time schedule to keep and most often no place to pull off going down through the mountains.

For yesterday’s trip, I took not only the 40D—because it happened to have the 24-105mm lens attached, but the G7, as well. I ended up using the small camera on the way home. As traffic slowed approaching a traffic light, The husband and I each spotted this sign at the same moment. It provided a nice giggle .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Macro Lens and Baby Birch Trees

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

We have three baby birch trees in front of our house. Since they were planted by the original owners of the place just before we finalized our purchase, they are getting close to two years old. For the last few days, I have been been out there, with the 100mm macro lens, taking photos of the golden leaves in our yard as though my camera were in the process of melting.

For a couple of hours, each morning, the house provides lovely shade on at least two of the trees, and there are inviting piles of fallen leaves to keep me interested. The leaves aren’t those of grand and impressive maples, or rich and complex oaks. They are simple and not so flashy, but they suit me and have kept me busy right outside my front door. I keep thinking I should get out and do some more exploring. But, so far, I just can’t seem to get past those birch babies.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Photography and Late Lunches

(Click on the thumbnail for a slightly bigger version)
I’m putting the blame for my late Sunday lunch square on Monte Stevens. I almost named this post "Put the Blame on Monte". Posts of his, such as this one, got me thinking recently that I don’t spend much time making pictures of homely things. His intriguing photos of simple, everyday objects kept nagging at me, reminding me that I needed to experiment. After all, the world of photography is not all horses, trees, paths, fences, grasses, clouds, and such. I rarely take photos inside and with winter coming, I would be wise to think more about indoor photography.

I had been outside, yesterday, working with the macro lens and it was already past my lunch time, but I could not stop thinking about those photos on Monte's site. Yes, my stomach was complaining at the thought of further delays, but it was the appetite for food up against the appetite for just one more photograph. 

Ultimately, lunch was postponed again as I gathered a few things on the kitchen counter and set to work. I was having a good time, but I ended up not taking very many pictures in this session, after all. Okay, I confess that I couldn’t resist snacking on the set dressing. When there were only three baby carrots left, I surrendered, put down the camera, and consumed all the props.

There were lessons learned and some of them not so obvious. Clearly, if I am to produce any interesting photographs of this sort, I have to experiment more. But, next time I need to work with inedible props. Or, eat before I pick up the camera.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Black Holes

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

I have known this was possible all along. I just never had any evidence. Heaven knows how I replicated this result—I must admit that it wasn’t intentional. But, clearly, I was way ahead of the curve with practical research in this area. For as long as I can remember, I have had things disappear from my desk. Most often, I would blame the poltergeists, of course, because we all know what havoc those little rascals wreak in our lives. The truth, it would seem, is that I had inadvertently created a desktop black hole—one that was actually devouring things I had safely stored on my desk. And, I don’t even recall purchasing any photon-absorbing carbon nanotubes. Whodathunk? Oh, well, now the poltergeists are off the hook—at least when it comes to the top of my desk.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sunlight to Clear the Mind

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

The fog we have had the last couple of days has been the perfect complement to our struggle with taxes. After days of staring at numbers, the fog outside was not nearly as thick as the one in my head.

After breakfast, I stepped outside to take a breath of the clean air and enjoy the light just breaking through the mist. One deep breath and I was scurrying for the camera. The light shining on the little stand of trees at the edge of our place was just the promise of hope that I needed to power me through these last few hours of suffering. By the time I processed the image, some of the cobwebs had cleared and my heart was considerably lighter.

After the package goes in the post office early this afternoon, there will be little time to enjoy the relief. All too soon we will have to begin preparing for April 15, 2010. In the meantime, however, I will have an opportunity to make lots of pictures and breathe lots of fresh air. Even the IRS can’t spoil those finer things in life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Storm Warning

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

The big storm that was coming our way never made it. By the time it encountered all the mountains around us, it had fizzled. Rain to the south and west; storms to the north; here, an early morning sprinkle and gray skies. I can’t say that I am horribly disappointed to have missed out on what the weather forecasters were predicting, indeed what hit some coastal communities. Still, it would have been nice to have gotten some rain. We need it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blogging for Dummies

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Not only am I not a geek, I am virtually paralyzed by the thought of most software. For example, I have almost none of the bells and whistles on my blog that Blogger offers and I am not even considering ever switching to Wordpress. Now, take this for what it is worth, since I have already admitted that I don’t know what I am talking about; but, my ill-informed impression is that Wordpress is well suited for folks who are adept with software while Blogger is designed not only for those clever enough to maximize it’s capabilities, but for dummies as well. Furthermore, the only version of Blogger is free and that suits my budget perfectly. Is there any wonder, why I went with the latter?

Being a non-geek, shows up front. My blog is in need of updating, but every time I get into the dashboard, I spend far too much time bumbling about and get frustrated that it takes so much time to complete what I know should be a simple task.

In the last few days, I screwed “my courage to the sticking place” and switched from the old "post editor" to the newer "updated editor". By the time I experimented for a couple of days, I was more than a little ticked-off and convinced that I had wasted my time and driven my blood pressure up by at least ten points. It appears that I traded spell-check and new problems for a couple of conveniences that I had been living without up to this point.  Yes, I got a typeface I prefer, namely Helvetica. Still. Worth all the hair pulling? Let’s put it this way, I switched back to the old, unimproved editor after one post—for health reasons. Life is short.

On a slightly saner (at least calmer) note, I have been curious about statistics for my site for at least six months. I know I have a very light traffic, but it would be nice to see the growth. I do think that I have more readers now than I did a year ago, but I have never had the gumption to install any sort of counter. I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Although curiosity is a powerful motivator, I wouldn’t be doing anything different with my posts after reading the statistics. I suppose, then, that it doesn’t matter except that it irritates me to be handcuffed by my lack of education—which is compounded by wimpiness. It's pathetic, isn't it, if you can't easily master Blogger? Hopleless, I would venture to say.

By the way, I have finally returned to fight another day with new "updated editor" and we are getting along better now. And, you can stop laughing at me now, thank you. Sigh. I think I will concentrate on taking more photos and enjoying the digital darkroom. It's wise to acknowledge our limitations and stay in the kiddie sandbox if we truly belong there.

P.S. If you are wondering whether the photo connects with the text, think about it. Bird. Brain. Riiiiiight.
P.P.S. I don't stay in this sort of mood long. There is no payoff. But, sheesh, every so often I just need a good rant. I already feel better.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Allergens 1, Anita 0

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Not long ago, I mentioned that I have virtually no sense of smell and that it gets me in trouble. Unfortunately, I also have nasty allergies. I have also admitted that our social life is pathetically dull. Well, we received an invitation last week and it worked out for our schedule. Since I had been mostly cooped up with bookkeeping programs and taxes, I was eagerly looking forward to an evening out. The best part is that the company was delightful and I had a great time. I passed over a slight alarm that went off in my head and hoped it was imagination. After all, while it was obvious that the home was going through major renovation, that didn’t mean any of the paint was fresh enough to cause me problems and I was having a great time gettting to know people. Besides, I always have hopes (maybe it’s blind stupidity) that I will be able to practice mind over matter and survive if the allergens aren’t strong enough to bring me to my knees immediately.

There was a great deal of getting to know one another and we got a tour of the home, now part way through through its impressive transformation. The view from the living area is splendid and I filed away the road to their house as one to explore, camera in hand. Determined to at least avoid stomach problems, I was careful to consume nothing but water. I didn't want anything to spoil the lovely evening. After about two hours, I could no longer ignore the warning signs and, fortunately for me, the party was breaking up anyway. It turns out we weren’t the only ones who normally turn in early.

Before we had completed the five minute drive home, I knew that my Superwoman cape had once again failed me. I could feel the asthma coming on and the headache building. Whatever the trigger, my throat was tightening, and I knew I was going kick to myself the next day for being stubborn. Who knows whether it was lingering paint fumes, too-new-for-me carpets, some adhesive used? Whatever the culprit was, The Husband didn’t detect any odors that would have alarmed him so it wasn't just my nose that failed.

An antihistamine probably blunted the effects considerably; but I slept badly, got little rest, and woke up feeling as though I had been rolled over by a bulldozer on a personal mission. My only comfort Saturday was the Dodgers completing a sweep of the Cardinals and heading for the NLCS. We take our pleasures where we can find them.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Loving the Dodgers and Higher ISO

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

A few weeks ago, Paul Lester posted about higher ISO’s and his remarks started me thinking again about my most recent gear purchase. When I bought my Canon 50D, I knew full well that I wasn’t buying the camera that offered the best high ISO performance on today’s market. However, it ended up being the camera that best suited all my needs—cost and fps also ranked high on my must-have list. Because I still try to avoid going over ISO 640 to minimize processing chores, I have yet to fully explore all the possibilities of higher IS0’s with my newest camera. But, I am growing more confident that there are occasions when it’s high ISO to the rescue.

I didn’t gain the new confidence because I buckled down to some serious testing, but, as usual for me, stumbled into the information. A few days ago, The Husband took a break for a ride and left me toiling over the steaming heap of numbers we had been wading through for tax preparation. When I was completely burned out (it didn’t take long, since I had been at it off and on through the day), I decided I also needed a break. A little time watching one of our recorded episodes of NCIS was just what I needed. I escaped to the living room, turned on the TV, hit DVR, found an episode, but then realized I wanted a glass of water. My detour to the kitchen, put me within range of the radio I had left on in there the last time I snuck in a few minutes to catch up with the baseball game. Uh, oh. Ninth inning, Dodgers down 2 to 1, two outs. Rats. Maybe worth a minute for the nail to be put in the coffin. What? Holladay missed the ball, the Dodgers are alive?! Well, NCIS can wait. This was a playoff game, after all. As I listened to Vinnie call the play-by-play, I looked out toward the back pasture and noticed that The Husband had removed Lancer’s fly mask and the gelding was exerting a little energy fretting over being left alone.

Now there were three distractions calling. The Dodgers in distress, a distracting 40 minutes or so of TV drama, a relaxing photo shoot of Lancer (because after all I have hardly any pictures of the chestnut.) ;) The Dodgers won. I mean they won my attention and they won the game, a wonderfully exciting nail-biter. It was playoffs for NLCS over NCIS all the way.

The minute the winning run crossed the plate I grabbed the 50D and headed out toward the pasture to try my luck. By then, it was getting late and to get decent shutter speed and good exposure in the few remaining moments of light, I opted for ISO 2000. The files required a little extra time for noise reduction and I could probably do a better job with a noise reducing plug-in; but, so far, I get along with Photoshop CS3. While it’s true that I wouldn’t put these photos up against those shot under better circumstances; once again, I felt good about my choice to buy the camera. Without that higher ISO I would not have gotten the photos I hoped for. Of course, I would have gotten something different and the result might have been terrific, but I could always experiment in that direction. Having choices is nice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Running Free

(Click on the thumbnails for the bigger, better version)

These photos were made a few months ago and the horses were only turned out in that lush grain a couple of times for very short periods before the grain was mowed down.

The grain was beautiful to look at, but too rich for a grazing pasture. At least for our guys—especially the gray. After a limited grazing session, The Husband checked Night’s feet and discovered troubling signs in the white line. He had hoped to be able to put the geldings in that pasture for fifteen or twenty minutes a day without danger, but it appeared the grain was just too much for Night. Out came the tractor and down came the grain.

Paying attention to those troubling signs in horses’ hooves is critical to the animal’s survival. If the horse is prone to laminitis, permitting access to rich food can be a fatal error. The Husband has always been attentive to these matters, but has become even more keenly aware of these problems and warning signs since taking on his new career as a farrier. Never one to do anything halfway, he immersed himself in learning his new craft and his dedication has paid off multiple times.

The Husband's dedication has paid off multiple times now. He is currently celebrating the success of one of his rehab projects, a horse that had been shod for years and whose feet were in sorry shape. Fortunately, the owner took The Husband’s advice to take the old gelding barefoot for natural trims. Now Turbo’s feet have been rehabilitated and are in excellent condition. His life expectancy just got bumped up by a few years and that’s good news.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Installing the New Modem/Router

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

A couple of days ago we received the new Modem/Router from AT&T and finally, Sunday evening, we had time to get into the easy, sure-fire, foolproof, can’t fail installation. You see where this is going, don’t you? Sure enough, we hit the dead end early in the process. Since the device is set up on The Husband’s computer and I am plugged into the network he was on the keyboard this round. Confidently, he clicked on “Run”, which the instructions explained would complete the installation process, then take us through the next few, simple, painless steps. Nope. After about four attempts, shutting off firewalls and tinkering with security, we gave up and called technical support.

I promise I don’t work for AT&T and don’t know anyone who does, but I am becoming a walking advertisement for these people. (By the way, I hope this doesn’t get the
FTC on my case, because I am going to talk in a positive way about AT&T”s customer service.) Once again we negotiated the automated portion of the call and eventually got to a polite and attentive technician who walked the husband through the work-around. Sure enough it was simple (once there was a guide leading the way) and we are all set again with our Internet connection (including a device with a firewall). The Husband reset all his security controls and we are good to go—only until the next power failure, perhaps; but, next time we know how to solve the problem.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Caught Off Guard

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

This hawk and I surprised one another Friday evening. After being inside all day, I headed for the front door to take a short walk while the corn bread baked and, on the way, grabbed the camera that had a CF card loaded. It happened to be the 50D with the 70-200mm f4.0. When I stepped off the porch, I turned to the left to check out the sunrise potential and saw out of the corner of my eye one of the hawks perched on our roof. He took off and I scrambled to get a photo.
I wasn’t ready for him and it looks as though he wasn’t prepared for someone to interrupt his hunting. I always walk away from these encounters mentally kicking myself. If, if, if. I only I had had time to choose shutter speed. If only I had had time to adjust exposure. If only I had framed it better. If only I had attached the teleconverter before I walked outside.

Instead of dwelling on the regrets, I decided to celebrate having gotten anything at all. After all, this was strictly a gift. It’s not as it I planned, waited, and watched—investing time in and earning a nice photo. I was fortunate to experience the moment and get anything at all.

All this thinking about how I wish I had done things differently reminded me, of course, of Paul Lester’s post, "
Lessons Learned". Each time I download a batch of pictures onto my hard drive, I wonder what new lessons I will learn. Or, what old lessons I might be reminded of yet again.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Weekend Blowout

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Our trip last weekend took us down into the desert and south straight into the soaring temperatures and the last gasp of summer 2009. Don’t get me wrong. There will be more hot days, but southern California isn’t likely to have another extended spell of three digit temps until next summer. Why did we take the old RV south and into the desert during a heat wave when we could have stayed in Bear Valley Springs where it was 10 to 15 degrees cooler? We were traveling to a birthday party of a dear friend, then further south to a family wedding.

The early portion of the trip was blistering hot and, just north of Riverside (a little over half way to our first destination), we heard a frighteningly loud kerthump and felt something hit the underside of the vehicle. We both had had our eyes on the road and felt confident that we hadn’t run over anything. The vehicle was driving as though nothing had happened; but, The Husband realized it had to have been a blowout and exited the freeway. Sure enough, the tread was stripped from a rear tire. Interestingly, it hadn’t lost any air. Blowouts are common on southern California highways in the summer. With the temperature at 110 degrees, the asphalt is a virtual frying pan and not exactly what the doctor ordered for rubber.

Blowouts are never fun, but at least we weren’t in the middle of the Mojave. After one false lead took us to a Goodyear tire store that didn’t have the correct model tire, we found the right store and headed for the waiting room to relax while the Goodyear guys did their thing. We knew we were in trouble when we spotted large fans aimed at the guys behind the counter. It had to have been at least 85 degrees in there, but it sure as heck beat waiting beside the road for the insurance company’s version of AAA service to arrive. (Been there, done that).

Why didn’t we simply stop on the shoulder and replace the tire with the spare. First answer would be the heat coming off the pavement at 20 or 30 degrees higher than the 100 plus degrees we were getting on the indoor/outdoor thermometer. Second, the spare was at least as old as the tire that blew and The Husband wisely chose not to risk two blowouts in one trip. We just counted our blessings since we didn’t get hurt with the tire holding up as it did and it had only taken us about 30 minutes to finally get to the Goodyear store. The only bad news was that by the time we were back on the road it was very late and we finally rolled in at the party just at the tail end of the celebration. We even missed singing “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl.

The next leg of the trip was uneventful, the wedding was lovely, and it was wonderful seeing The Husband’s family. Since all the siblings are scattered across the continent, reunions are special and infrequent occasions. Having come perilously close to one of my heatstroke numbers, I was pretty blitzed and I hardly picked up a camera during the first two days. Then the heat wave broke on Monday and the trip back was easy. A drive that took nine and a half hours on the way down took five hours for the return. I was treated to the beautiful clouds you see in the photo here and it was cool enough to enjoy them. By the time, I took this picture we were only about forty-five minutes from Home Sweet Home and I was ready to put the weekend behind me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boundaries and Opportunities

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

There are moments when I regret the fencing on our property and even resent its intrusion. Yes, I know that it is a necessity with the horses. Still, I loved the openness that we experienced when we first moved here. The land closest to our house stretched seamlessly into our surrounding acres and then flowed into the open land to the west and south of us. It made me feel somehow as though my space extended all the way to the horizon and that I was a part of and belonged with all Bear Valley Springs.

The pasture fencing changed that. There are patches of land, now, that are clearly delineated for specific uses and our space has been cut up into smaller pieces. The flow of land to the south is interrupted, and the mountains in the distance have been moved a little farther away.

On the other hand, sometimes a fence is a convenient perch, rather than a boundary. And, thanks to those perches, I get close-up views of some of our little neighbors that I would otherwise have missed.

Fences or opportunities? It comes down to how I look at them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Further Adventures with DSL

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)
Sorry about that folks. I fixed the link

Don’t expect me to explain exactly what happened to our Internet service, but we are much closer now to a solution. Finally, Wednesday morning what had been abysmally poor service got even worse. When I called the number for our DSL provider, I reached a very polite, well informed, customer service representative. To begin with the customer service rep told us (I’m no fool. I had The Husband in on this so we could play as a team.) to attach the modem directly to a computer and by pass the router (we have a network). After running some tests, she walked me through going to DOS and, with her dictating the directions, I reconfigured our IP address.

Fortunately for my sanity, The Husband had the presence of mind after it was done to ask how the address came to be incorrect in the first place since we really hadn’t been messing around in DOS lately . She explained that the address had probably been lost, corrupted, screwed up, whatever (by then my brain was reeling) as a result of a power failure. I don’t know whether you recall or not, but indeed we do have power failures in Bear Valley Springs. (It’s not all singing birds, wild flowers, and pretty scenery living out in the boonies.)

So, the good news is that, once again, I have access to the World Wide Web. The bad news is…we aren’t done yet. 1. Yes, I have Internet access, but The Husband does not. We still have to plug in the router and finish the job. (We weren’t able to take the support call to the next step due to The Husband’s schedule. It’s pathetic, but I don’t tackle these things if he isn’t in the house in case I call for help.) 2. All this comes just when I am going to be out of touch completely for a few days and then returning to a big, nasty job—taxes. Does it get any nastier than that? Thus, this won’t be finished until approximately mid-October. In the meantime, I have been able to sneak in a little time to check this out, and now I am remembering that DSL isn’t so bad. When it’s working properly, it’s pretty darned fast.

Before I wrap up this complaining and celebrating fest, I want to mention that the customer service from AT&T has been excellent each time that we have encountered a problem. Comcast may have provided the faster Broadband to us in LA, but their customer service was inept, rude, impatient, and thoroughly loathsome. In the long run, I prefer DSL. Go AT&T.

I certainly learned a great deal. I am still mystified by how an incorrect IP address could result in deteriorating Internet access. Why on earth didn’t it simply stop cold, instead of slowly getting worse over a period of at least two months? First, it began to slow. Then the connection would just disappear for no reason. A few minutes later, after running that "restoring connectivity" gizmo, it would be back and maybe last for quite a while, maybe not. The only constant was that it kept getting worse. That was what threw me. I assumed it had to be a problem with my computer, or our router. (Come to think of it, the latter may still be the case.) I was surprised how simple and quick it was to reconfigure the IP address and why it needed to be done. Most of all we got into this mess because I repeated an error I make all too often. Since I am painfully aware of what a dismal pseudo-geek I am, I always assume that I have messed up rather than putting the blame outside myself. That’s one of those things I am still working on. Oh, well, the clean-up job I started on my hard drives needs to be done anyway.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Last Friday was one of our “errands in Los Angeles” days. These days usually aren’t particularly entertaining—too much rushing from one point to another. too much traffic, and—on days like Friday— dull gray skies and haze that set a dismal tone. This time out we hit a particularly long string of sour notes. Almost every place we went to pick up something we can’t find in Tehachapi, the item was out of stock. With our tight schedule, we didn’t have time to chase around to branch stores. When the day was finally over, we came home with about half the errands on our list completed.

But, there was a bright spot. We stopped at our all-time favorite restaurant for lunch. "All- time favorite”. Are you picturing the posh place with a valet out front, designer décor, an exceptional wine list, fine linen napkins, extraordinarily expensive steaks, or fish cooked by an exotic chef with his own tv show?

No, you didn’t fall for that, did you? You have to know me better than that. Viva Fresh is a Mexican restaurant with décor that goes beyond cliché and, trust me, there is no valet. The parking lot is small and crowded—Beverly Hills this neighborhood is not. While it is a very nice neighborhood in one of the “horsey” parts of the San Fernando Valley, it isn’t where the uppercrust hang out for power lunches.

Viva sits just outside the fence of the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and the prime window seats in the main dining room face the Center along with the riding trail that encircles that facility. Since patrons often arrive at the restaurant on horseback rather than automobile, there are also tie rails or hitching posts in sight. (Nope. No valet to park your horse, either.) Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the picture. The window seats also offer a fine view of the restaurant’s garbage bins. Never mind. You just focus on the horses and ignore the less scenic elements.

We first went there, years ago, because we had horses stabled a few hundred yards away at a stable called Din Cara. The stable was run by a wild man, named Will—a hard-boiled and opinionated British fellow who was one of those once-in-a-lifetime characters. Viva became a habit because it was perfectly located for a quick place to refuel after a few hours of tacking, then riding, followed by the dirty clean-up of horses and tack. Nothing much has changed. There are no formalities at Viva. Not surprisingly, dirty riding clothes, sweaty hats, and manure stained boots are a common sight in this eating establishment. We always knew that we could walk straight from the wash rack to Viva and all you had to clean up was your hands. The stained riding breeches and that nasty brown spot on your white shirt from when your horse snorted didn’t get a second glance from other equally untidy patrons.

Long after Din Cara was a distant memory, (obliterated for a housing development dubbed, Din Cara, to rub salt in our wounds), we continued eating at Viva. We kept going back, even though we had moved and no longer lived nearby, largely because the food has always been simple, but delicious. The refried beans (lard free), because they are so simple, rank at 95% as good as the pinto beans my mother cooked and, believe me, that is high praise. All the meat is fresh and tasty, the sauces are mouth-watering (how I miss those treats); and, while they serve a hot salsa that will scorch the roof of your mouth, it isn’t applied on your food for you. In the case of many, if not most, dishes, you get to be in charge of how spicy or mild you want your food. Perfect for me. On most evenings there is live music and the groups we have heard were made up of studio musicians. These folks are the top-notch professionals who play the scores for Hollywood movies. Good music. Good food. Tough to beat.

Even with the delicious food, one of the best things about going to Viva is that we often get to say “hello” to Joaquin. When we first began eating at Viva, Joaquin was a waiter there and after hundreds of meals at the place, we began to think of him as a friend. His brother worked at Din Cara mucking stalls and we were fans because they both worked hard and Joaquin, especially, always had a cheerful smile. One meal I will always remember was at the stable and not the restaurant. We came back from riding one evening to find Joaquin’s brother and his fellow workers cooking some beef over a hibachi. They generously invited us to sit with them and share their food. Naturally, we declined. We didn’t want to reduce the size of the meal for any of these fellows who had spent hours shoveling manure. But, they insisted. We finally gave in and they served us a couple of the best carne asada tacos we had every eaten.

Eventually, Joaquin partnered with one of his fellow workers and bought the restaurant. It was one of those stories that makes you feel proud and hopeful about life, as well as people, in general. By then, Viva was by far our favorite restaurant. On special occasions, we celebrated by going to Viva. When we were especially tired or needed cheering up, Mexican food always seemed to be the perfect choice. When we wanted to have a long, easy dinner with friends, we invited them to join us at Viva. We were regulars.

After we left Viva last Friday, I began thinking about how comforting it is to have some constants in our life. Almost nothing about our lives resembles the life we lived when we first decided, so long ago, that we should “check out the Mexican food down on Riverside”. We have moved household twice, and now only get to Burbank once every five or six weeks. The after-meal conversations are shorter—no time to linger, and we talk about very different matters these days. We only get there for lunch these days, so no music; but, not much has changed at Viva. The beans are still superb, the chips are still fresh, there are still plenty of dirty boots about, and sweaty people munch chips while they watch riders and horses passing by the windows. Folks tell me that the Margaritas are as good as ever (not something I will ever be able to vouch for, unless I am prepared to schedule a slot at the nearest emergency room). We still know most of the waiters working there. When we see Joaquin, he has the same quick smile. And, Viva still feels like home.