On Being an Early Riser

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For a long time now, I’ve been an early riser. Sometimes, a very early riser.

While I clearly remember my college days when it was nearly impossible for me to wake up in time for an 8 AM class and my early professional career days when I dreaded hearing the alarm go off at 6:30 AM, I can’t remember when I made the switch from late riser to early riser. I suppose it was a gradual change as I aged, embraced my freelance lifestyle, and allowed my life to go off-schedule.

For the past 20 or more years, I haven’t had much of a need to set an alarm or wake up at a certain time. Every day is different. Although I do occasionally have early appointments or even earlier planes to catch — my favorite flight out of Wenatchee when I’m traveling leaves at 5:40 AM; yes, I do set an alarm for that — there usually isn’t any reason to get out of bed by a certain time.

I go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up naturally when my body is done sleeping. Or thinks it’s done sleeping. Yet these days, I’m invariably up before 6 AM, often before 5 AM, and occasionally before 4 AM. (If you read the blog post about my recent cruise, you learned that I was up most mornings by 4 AM.) I am naturally an early riser.

Some folks seem to think this is a problem. They have encouraged me to stay up later in an effort to shift my body’s clock forward a few hours so it’s more in line with everyone else’s. I’ve tried this. No matter what time I go to sleep, I’m awake before 6 AM — even if I stay up until a crazy time like 3 AM. And I don’t know about you, but I operate better on six hours of sleep than three. It’s fortunate that I apparently don’t need eight.

I like being an early riser. I like getting up around dawn in the summer or in the darkness of a winter morning. I like the quiet and the solitude of those early hours before most people are awake. I like hearing the crickets in the dark as I brew my morning coffee and my rooster crowing almost precisely a half hour before dawn. I even like the sound of the sprayers in the orchards below my home during the summer months, and seeing the headlights of the tractors as they make their way between rows of trees in the dark.

Do you want a more detailed description of a summer sunrise at my home? Read “Sunrise from Lookout Point.”

I like watching each new day being born — the gradual brightening of the sky, the fading of the stars and city lights, the glow to the east, the golden hour sunlight light tentatively touching the mountaintops to the west and then slowly blanketing their slopes all the way down into the valley.

Morning View
I never get tired of the morning view out my windows.

I like the fact that I can experience all of this at my own home, at my own convenience. I like taking my morning coffee out onto the deck and looking out over the new day as cool air caresses my skin and hair and the aroma of a recent rain or my fresh cut lawn competes with the smell of what’s in my mug.

I’m a morning person and get most of my work done in the morning. That’s good and bad. It’s good because it leaves the rest of the day wide open. But it can be bad if I have a lot to do and I run out of steam by 2 PM. I try to manage this drawback by scheduling appointments in the afternoon whenever possible, leaving the morning open to accomplish the things I need to do.

My usual routine consists of morning coffee as soon as I get up — whenever that is — and quiet time to reflect and write in my journal. Then I sit down at my computer and do some writing or paperwork or both. “Paperwork” usually consists of bill paying and filing, website maintenance, correspondence, client communication, and marketing material creation for my businesses. That usually takes me to 10 or 11 AM. Then I switch into more active work around my home or in my garden. There’s always something that needs to be done, especially as I finish up construction work that includes the tedious task of trimming doors, etc.

If I have scheduled an appointment or have errands to run in town, I’ll clean up, dress appropriately, and head down into town with Penny. I always have a list of destinations on a Post-It note stuck to my windshield so I don’t forget anything — I live 10 miles from town and I don’t like to make the trip more than once a day if I don’t have to. I keep shopping lists on my smartphone for the same reason. I can get a lot done on one trip into town if I stay focused and organized.

By 6 PM — especially in the winter when it’s already dark — I’m pretty much physically and mentally done for the day. That’s the time I set aside for socializing with friends and relaxing. I even find it difficult to write during this time, although I’ve been trying hard lately to make that my blogging time, leaving the morning open for writing jobs that bring in revenue. If I went to town earlier in the day, I sometimes meet up with friends in the late afternoon or early evening: wine at Pybus Market, cocktails at the Sidecar Lounge, dinner at Tastebuds, or a movie at Liberty or Gateway Cinema. If I’m home, I sometimes try a new recipe — I’ve recently rediscovered my love of cooking — and read the news or waste time on social media while eating it.

I think I watch too much television these days — more than an hour a day when I’m home in the evening — and it bugs me; my wasband was a slave to the television, channel surfing for hours every evening when he could have been working to achieve one of the life goals he claimed to have. I worry I might end up like him: unproductive and stuck in a rut.

I love to read, but if I do it in bed, I’m usually asleep within minutes. So I try not to read in bed before 9 PM.

I’m usually asleep by 10 PM — unless I’m out with friends or entertaining.

I don’t think I can adequately express how happy I am to be single and have full control of my life and time. There’s no one trying to put me on his schedule or make me share his time-consuming responsibilities. I do the things I want or need to do when I want or need to do them. I don’t have to schedule my life around someone else’s.

Best of all, I can wake up any time I like and not have to tiptoe around my home because someone else is sleeping.

I admit that I’m very fortunate to have the flexible lifestyle I have. But it isn’t “luck.” I’m a firm believer in the notion that we make our own luck. I worked hard to get where I am today and having this lifestyle is the reward for all that work. I’m a morning person and I earned the right to enjoy my mornings.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Washington Healthplanfinder FAIL

When automatic payments go seriously wrong.

I usually get email while traveling and generally keep up with anything important. Although I wasn’t surprised to get an email from Washington Healthplanfinder, my health insurance agent here in Washington State, to say that my monthly payment had been automatically withdrawn from my account, I was surprised at the amount:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15. My monthly premium is $375.14.

I immediately called Washington Healthcarefinder. After pressing numbers to navigate through four different menus — just to ask a billing question — and waiting five minutes on hold, a typical script-reading customer service representative answered. I told her about the problem. After asking for various information to assure I was who I said I was, she read a script that told me that emails had gone out in error. She asked if my bank had processed the withdrawal.

I admitted I hadn’t checked, and whipped out my iPad to check with my bank’s app while she was still on the phone. The transaction had not been processed.

She read another script that assured me that it wouldn’t be processed. That it was just the email that was an error. I suggested that if this was a widespread problem that an email should go out to notify subscribers of the error. She didn’t have a script for that so she didn’t have anything to say. I hung up.

Two days later, on Wednesday, I got an email from my bank confirming a withdrawal from Washington Healthcare Finder:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15.

I just about went ballistic. I called the bank to have the charge reversed and was told that I’d have to fill out a series of forms to get the process started.

Washington Healthcare Finder’s offices were still closed that early, but later in the day, I managed to get yet another idiotic, script-reading customer service representative on the phone. I was not kind, especially when her script informed me that the process could take several days while their accounting department researched the problem. There was lots of time wasted on hold, which further pissed me off. When she got back on the phone, I told her that their error had cost me more than an hour of my time with two calls to them and one to my bank. I asked if I would be getting compensated for my time. She said they wouldn’t compensate me for my time, but they’d “compensate me for the overcharge.”

“That’s not compensation,” I roared over the phone. “That’s a refund for your freaking error!”

Because she obviously didn’t understand the difference, she had nothing to say. I hung up.

But not before I demanded that she turn off automatic payments for my account.

Later yesterday morning — yes, two days after the initial email about the incorrect amount went out, I got this:

Notice of Error

Is there any way they could have screwed this up more?

I’m fortunate in that I had enough money in my account to cover this unexpected withdrawal. Other people who routinely carry smaller checking account balances would likely bounce checks to other payees, setting up a nighmarish experience of explaining the problem for every bounced check and getting overdraft fees reversed. Hours of a person’s time could be wasted on this.

I recently set up automatic withdrawals for a number of organizations I do business with. It should make it easy to pay on time without any additional effort. But I’m going to re-think that strategy and make my payments through my bank’s billpay feature. This puts absolute control in my hands and would certainly prevent something like this from happening again.


Turning trash into useful items.

Over the past year or so, I’ve really embraced the idea of upcycling to make useful things around my home.

According to Wikipedia, coined in 1994, the term upcycling means

the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

Why Upcycle?

I like the idea of upcycling for several reasons:

  • Upcycling really appeals to my scavenger instincts. For most of my life, I’ve wanted to gather discarded items that I think have some use. Hell, back in my college days, I furnished my dorm room with perfectly good items discarded by departing students, including an area rug, lamp, and table with chairs. You know what they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • Upcycling enables me to have more for less. With my recently limited budget, I have to make do with less money. While that often means doing without, it could also mean building my own solutions.
  • Upcycling reduces waste in landfills and recycling centers. Seriously, don’t we put enough crap in landfills and the ocean? Upcycling is better than recycling because it makes something useful without it first going through a waste stream. That means no transportation costs, no sorting costs, no remanufacturing costs, etc.

First Projects

Coop Construction
A look at my chicken coop under construction.

Pallet Garden
My first pallet planter makes an excellent strawberry patch.

I blogged about my first upcycling project before I even knew the word upcycling existed. In “Chickens Again, Part II: The Coop,” I wrote about the chicken coop I made, in part, from wooden pallets I’d scavenged. Two days later, I wrote “The Pallet Planter,” which showed off one of eventually three raised garden beds I’d built with more scavenged pallets.

Why Now?

All this is pretty new for me. In my old, half-dead life in Arizona, I wasn’t motivated to do much of anything — there just didn’t seem to be a point. And even if I did want to make or build something, I didn’t have tools or a useable workspace.

But here in Washington, things are different. I feel like I have a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning and make things happen. I also have a lot of free time on my hands that’s not filled with the need to try (and mostly fail) to make someone else happy.

I began acquiring decent power tools about a year ago — through purchases and hand-me-downs from friends — and have most of what I need to get projects done. And I have plenty of space; with my RV garage still mostly empty and my shop laid out to give me the best access to tools and workspace, I can tackle almost any sized project.

More Projects

As I work on my home to do all the wiring and plumbing — more on that in other blog posts — I take time out to get creative with “waste” materials.

Rolling Workbench
My first rolling workbench is a masterpiece of usefulness, built with a discarded crate and scrap lumber.

My favorite project to date is turning crates into rolling workbenches. There’s a business I pass when I go into town that gets engines and other parts on pallets and in crates. They discard the pallets and crates on a corner of their property near the road, under a sign that says “Free Wood.” If I’m driving by in my truck and there’s something worth taking, I pull over and load it up. (I actually keep work gloves in the truck just for this purpose.)

Small Rolling Workbench
I built this smaller rolling worktable yesterday. The only cost was the wheels, which I bought for about $10.

I picked up two large crates a few months back and turned one of them into a stand for my garden beehive. The other just sat in the dirt for a while, occasionally used as a work surface for cutting wood. When my building shell was finished, however, I got a brainstorm. Why not lay it on one side, add plywood shelves, and put wheels on the bottom? I had all the scrap wood and even the wheels that I needed. The resulting mobile workbench is perfect for woodworking projects and storing my power tools in a handy place. I even made a smaller version just yesterday.

Yes, I did mark the length of each piece on the end and sort them by size. That makes it extremely quick and easy to find just the piece I need.

Because I’m such a scavenger and because I told the builder to leave behind any scrap wood, I needed a place to store the useable pieces. That meant a sort of woodshed. I built one out of pallets (again), scrap lumber, and leftover metal from my building. The result is a 4 x 10 sort of lean-to with shelves that keeps the lumber out of the rain and snow. And yes, I filled it almost immediately — it’s extremely handy to be able to quickly find exactly the piece of lumber I need for other projects. Best of all, it matches my building so it isn’t an eyesore from the road (which it faces).

I’m also working on glass projects, although I don’t have any photos yet. I start with discarded wine bottles which, because of the sheer number of local wineries, I can get in any number I need. I’ll be melting down glass rings in a kiln for use in wind chimes. And I’ve also been cutting the bottles in half and finishing off the cut edges to make drinking glasses and vases. This is time-consuming, tedious work that I’m not exactly excited about doing. But the results are impressive. I expect to make an entire set of drinking glasses for my new home out of wine bottles. I’d also like to melt small glass pieces in a kiln to make jewelry; we’ll see where I go with that.

Creativity Can Be Rewarding

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these silly little projects. Seeing waste turned into something truly useful that makes my life better or easier is extremely rewarding. Knowing that I’m the one who thought up the design and executed it makes it even better.

What have you upcycled lately? Use the comments to brag about it!

Construction, Day 18: More Windows and Walls Go Up

A possible problem begins to rear its ugly head.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

Tuesday was an absolutely crazy day for me. That’s one of the weird things about the work I do. I can get paid to just sit around and wait — which is basically what I’ve been doing since May 26 when my first contract started — but every once in a while, I have to actually work for the money I’m paid. And when I work, I work hard.

My day started at 3 AM when I woke up knowing that I’d have to wake up at 4 AM to fly at 4:30 AM. Why I didn’t wake up at 4 AM, which is when my alarm was set to go off, is beyond me. But that early start was part of what left me completely exhausted long before sunset.

Dry AM
Yes, I was hovering over cherry trees a half hour before dawn on Tuesday morning. Although it’s difficult to see in this shot, my client’s pickup truck was parked on the road overlooking the orchard when I arrived 5 minutes after I told him I would. (See circle.)

I was in the helicopter at 4:30 and over my first orchard at 4:35. Good thing. My client was parked on the road overlooking the orchard. So yes, I was 5 minutes late. But he was also clearly able to see that I needed my landing light to illuminate the treetops in the predawn light. I was one of the first pilots in the air that morning.

I flew for 2-1/2 hours, stopping once for fuel. I got home at 7:20 AM. Angel’s crew was there and they were hard at work on the back wall. They’d run the metal all the way to the end of the wall, covering up the window frame, which was still waiting for the window to arrive.

I had just enough time to change my clothes and head out again, this time in my truck. I had to meet with the building plan inspector at 8 AM in his office. The framer and his builder girlfriend had raised some flags about the way the roof over my living space would be completed and I needed clarification.

(Note to women working in male-dominated industries: Using condescending phrases like “you’re not a general contractor so you wouldn’t know” and “this is woman to woman advice” to a potential female client is not a good way to score points. Never — and I mean never — address me as “girlfriend” unless we are already friends. And for anyone in the building industry: stirring up trouble with a building plan inspector for a job you haven’t been hired for is a great way to lose a potential client. Just saying.)

I got the information I sought but didn’t want. I fired off a bunch of email messages from my phone and left a few voicemail messages. Then I grabbed a breakfast sandwich and latte at my new favorite drive-through coffee shop and headed out to Wenatchee Petroleum. Although I’d hoped to avoid using the on-board transfer tank on my truck this year, I knew it would make my life easier. So I bought 75 gallons of 100LL fuel — saving more than $1/gallon in the process — and headed home.

I ran into Corey, the boss of my construction project, on Joe Miller Road, right before the turn to my road. He was on his way out after visiting the site. I was surprised to see him; I thought he was on vacation. He told me not to worry about the roof, that Tanya would take care of it when she got back from her trip to the east coast. I told him that I wasn’t that worried, that I knew they’d do the right thing. Someone came up behind me on the road and because we were blocking the road, I said goodbye and continued on my way. He called moments later to finish the conversation, pointing out that the project was still moving forward at a good clip.

It certainly was.

When I got home, I saw that not only had all the windows and exterior man-doors been delivered, but the windows had been installed. The south-facing wall was done. And two plumbers were working on the stub-outs for my septic system and water lines.

I’d been hoping to catch the plumbers and give them instructions before they began, but they had already dug a trench for the septic system line and laid in some pipe. This was not done as my friend Bob and I had planned over the weekend. I talked with them for a while to learn about why they were doing what they were doing and tell them what I wanted. We came to a very reasonable compromise that didn’t require them to undo anything and got me the setup I wanted — primarily an extension of the water line for an outside spigot and an additional sewer takeout inside the RV garage. I learned a lot and got a better handle on the plumbing tasks ahead of me.

But I didn’t stop for long. The first of two pilots I’d hired to help me this season had arrived at the airport and I needed to meet him to show him the orchards. But rather than drive out to the airport, I asked him to come fetch me in his helicopter. He showed up with a companion a few minutes later and didn’t bother to shut down. His companion jumped in the back with Penny and I climbed into the front passenger seat. We then proceeded to tour four of the orchards he’d be helping me dry over the next four weeks.

Back on the ground, his companion and I drove my truck and Jeep to the airport. We piled into the truck, saw one orchard from the ground, stopped for lunch, and toured three of the others.

That’s when the second pilot I was meeting today texted to say he was about an hour out. Back to the airport to meet him. He’d come with a companion, too. I said goodbye to the first pair of pilots, who were heading home for a few days before the contract started, and turned the Jeep keys over to the newly arrived pilot’s companion. I was loaning the pilot my Jeep for a few days; his wife with his truck and trailer would be arriving before the weekend. We all went to Quincy where he parked the helicopter and we piled into the truck for a tour of four orchards in that area.

By this time, it was around 6 PM and I was completely exhausted. I’d been going nonstop since about 4 AM and had driven more than 100 miles, much of it on muddy orchard roads. I was glad to leave the two pilots behind at a Quincy motel and head home. I still don’t know how I summoned the energy to stop for milk along the way.

When I got home, I stopped to snap this photo of my building in the late afternoon light. Two walls of my RV garage/shop were completely covered. I really like the color scheme.

Two Walls Done
The windows and two walls are finished on the RV garage/shop side of my building and it’s looking good.

Here’s the time-lapse for the day. Again, most of the work is done on the far side of the building, out of sight of the camera.

On Addictive Games

I get sucked in, too.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most computer-based games are a complete waste of time.

They require you to sit pretty much stagnant and, though keystrokes, mouse clicks, or finger swipes, manipulate what’s going on onscreen, 12 to 18 inches from your face. You can spend hours doing this and not even realize how much time has gone by. And, if you get sucked in badly enough, the game moves will invade your unconscious, causing you to dream about them or even just think about them when you’re away from the game.

Desktop Computer Games

Solitaire on Windows is a perfect example. How many hours have you or a friend or family member wasted looking at that green background, dragging virtual cards around? I’m fortunate in that I was never a Windows user and wasn’t tempted. (Macs come with Chess, which is far less addictive for most folks.) But I’ve seen that screen enough times to know how addictive it apparently is.

I’ve seen other people hooked on computer games. My mother plays something with colored shapes that she apparently has to match to clear off the screen. (Is this Candy Crush? I never asked.) Even when I visited for two weeks at Christmas 2012, whenever she was out of sight during the day, I’d track her down in the little TV room at the front of the house, playing this obnoxiously noisy game with the volume turned down. It looked kind of juvenile, like something a 4-year-old might play.

I tell people that I don’t play games on my computer. For the most part, that’s true. I don’t have any game apps installed on my desktop or laptop computers (other than the aforementioned Chess, which I’ve actually never even opened on any of my current computers).

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from playing Web-based games in my browser. More on that in a moment.

Mobile Games

I do have games on my iPad — although I have far fewer now than I did.

I was hooked on Words with Friends, a Scrabble-like word game you can play with others via the Internet, for well over a year. At one point, I was playing eight games at a time, sometimes two or three of which were with the same similarly addicted person. I finally got burned out and simply stopped accepting new game requests. Then I deleted the app from my iPad and haven’t looked back.

Then there was W.E.L.D.E.R., a very addictive word game that I could play solo or against a friend via the Internet. I can’t begin to count the hours of my life thrown into that game. I suspect I played that one for at least two years, although it could be longer. (I may have started playing it when I was married, possibly as a relief to the boredom of home life with a man who’d prefer to watch TV than have an intelligent conversation.) I found it challenging and, of course, addictive. Solo play meant I didn’t have to wait for my game partner to move; I could play any time for as long as I liked. Deleting that from my iPad last year was difficult, but after a few days I didn’t even miss it.

Crosswords app
Crosswords is a digital crossword puzzle app, nothing more.

Of course, Crosswords, a true tablet-based crossword puzzle, was my first iPad game and it remains on my iPad to this day. It enables me to play crossword puzzles from a variety of sources. I could load up dozens per day, but instead I subscribe to just two Sunday puzzles: Newsday and Premier. These are big, beefy puzzles with hundreds of boxes. I don’t find crossword puzzles addictive — and that’s probably why this game remains on my iPad. It’s there when I need something to occupy my mind, but it’s not calling out to me constantly, begging to be conquered.

Notice a pattern here? All three of these games have one thing in common: they’re word games. Yes, I’m a word nerd and the kind of games I prefer are word games.

The other game that remains on my iPad but hasn’t been opened in some time is The Room, “a physical puzzler, wrapped in a mystery game, inside a beautifully tactile 3D world.” It was the rage among my computer geek friends back in early 2012 (I think) and the buzz was so loud from people I respected that I bought a copy and tried it myself. It reminded me of the classic Mac OS game Myst in that it requires you to navigate through a 3D world and manipulate objects to get clues to solve puzzles. Solving each level’s puzzles take you to the next level. These games are beautiful with creepy sound effects and haunting music, but can’t be played a few minutes at a time. They’re the kind of thing you reach for when you’re stuck in bed with a cold and can’t do much else than read, watch TV, or fiddle with an iPad game. I played through it once back in 2012 and have saved it to play through again. (My memory is so shoddy that it’ll likely be new to me.) I just need a down day when I have time to waste. And now I see that there’s a sequel: The Room Two. So now you know what I’ll be doing the next time I’m stuck in bed with a cold.

The Room
The Room is hauntingly beautiful, but can’t be played a few minutes at a time.

Wasting Time

And that’s what games are for, aren’t they? Spending time you have to waste.

I do most of my game playing one of three times:

  • Right before falling asleep. Although I have a television in my bedroom here in the mobile mansion, I never did at home and won’t in my new home. I got into the habit of reading, doing crossword puzzles, or paying games on my iPad until I’m ready to sleep. Most nights, that means about 10 minutes.
  • Overnight or first thing in the morning. When I was having sleeping problems — which have, for the most part, gone away — I turned to books or games on my iPad to get me sleepy enough to go back to sleep. I also occasionally turn to them if I wake up earlier than I want to get out of bed.
  • Stuck waiting someplace. Whether I’m in a doctor’s office waiting room, sitting in my helicopter waiting for passengers to return to the landing zone, or sitting at a restaurant sipping a martini while waiting for dinner to arrive, books and games on my iPad are a good way to keep my mind busy.

If I’m alone and don’t have anything else to do, why shouldn’t I turn to a diversion I enjoy? That’s the way I justify it. More on justification in a moment.

Web-Based Games

The other day, one of my Facebook friends, Carla, posted a link to a game called 2048. This is a web-based number puzzle game that is incredibly addictive to anyone who likes number puzzles. What makes it even worse is that it’s also extremely simple, so it has the potential to suck in people who don’t even like math. Really.

Carla warned us that it was addictive, but I clicked anyway. And I got sucked in. In the middle of the day.

That’s the problem with web-based games. Since I’m normally sitting at my computer when I’m using a web browser, I naturally discover them in the middle of the day. When I should be working.

(You could argue that I shouldn’t have been on Facebook in the middle of the day, either, and frankly, I can’t argue with you. That’s another additive time suck.)

The trouble with this game is that I was pretty sure it was possible to beat and I was equally sure that there was a “trick” to beat it. Yet I couldn’t beat it or find the trick. So I kept trying. Over and over.

2048 Solved
2048 solved.

I finally got back to work. But later, I tried again. And when I discovered that I could play it via swiping in the browser on my iPad, it became my bedtime addiction. And my lounging in bed before coffee addiction.

Fortunately, after a few days, I finally beat it. I was pretty sure I had figured out the “trick,” too.

After proudly posting this screen grab on Facebook, however, I started wondering if I could do it again. Whether my “trick” was foolproof. And I got sucked into yet another round. I haven’t beaten it again.


And that brings me my friend Keith’s comment when I posted the screen grab on Twitter

You are playing games after telling everyone to stop playing games and get a life? LOL!

He’s referring to my repeated admonishment of Facebook friends who invite me to play Facebook games with them like Farmville, Candy Crush, Mega Casino, etc., etc., etc. I ignore all requests I get and, whenever possible, set Facebook so it doesn’t allow me to be invited again. I think these games are a complete waste of time and really wish people would find more constructive things to do.

And then he catches me posting game results, exposing me as a hypocrite.

No doubt about it: I was embarrassed. I responded:

YES! That’s the tragedy of it.

In my defense, it is a THINKING game. Supposedly will help ward off Alzheimer’s.

Also in my defense, I do it in bed as a way to get tired enough to fall asleep. (Not having many other options these days.) Also puzzles first thing in the morning, when it’s too early to get out of bed. I don’t do it in the middle of the day.

I do crossword puzzles, too. Same thing: last thing at night or first thing in the morning.

So I admit that I’m just as foolish as the people I ridicule for playing games and then attempt to justify it as a thinking game that’ll work my brain.

And there is truth to that. The Alzheimer’s Association’s page about Brain Health lists mental activity — specifically crossword puzzles — as a way to keep your brain healthy. While the National Institute of Health wasn’t so certain (at least not back in 2010), it certainly can’t hurt.

I justify my playing of these games by saying they help me get drowsy so I can sleep or they keep my mind active. People can justify any kind of irrational behavior to make them feel better about their seemingly stupid decisions. (Hell, I can only imagine the way my wasband has been justifying all the wacky things he’s done over the past two years so he can sleep at night.) It’s part of what makes us human.

What’s the Difference?

But are the games and puzzles I admit to doing any more brain-challenging than my mother’s seemingly mindless colored shape game?

I don’t think anyone can argue that crossword puzzles or games like The Room aren’t challenging. They really make you think. Crossword puzzles draw on your knowledge of words and understanding of puns. W.E.L.D.E.R. and Word with Friends also required good vocabularies.

But 2048? On the surface, it seems like a math game, but when you look at it objectively, it’s clearly a simple matching game — match two numbers and they become a new number. You don’t really need any math skills to play — although, admittedly, good addition skills are necessary to form a strategy and win.

So what’s the difference between that and matching colored shapes?

Damned if I know.

Avoid the Addiction

Wikipedia defines addition as:

Addiction is the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors.

Wasting hours of every day playing a computer game does not necessarily mean you are addicted. But thinking about that game when you’re not playing it or wanting to play it more and more seems like an addictive behavior to me.

Adverse consequences? How about the ticking away of your life’s clock in a trivial pursuit?

But who’s to say that it’s trivial?

I know that time is not as important to some people as it is to me.

I’ve dealt with my addictive game behavior by removing the games I played too often from my iPad. It’ll be a bit tougher to deal with 2048, but I assume I’ll get tired of it soon enough. (Maybe just one more win.)

I guess what I’m hoping is that the folks who do spend a lot of their time playing games on their computer try to look at the time spent objectively. Is there a real benefit? What are you missing out on? Can you spend your time a better way?

That’s for you to decide. Just try to think clearly when making that decision.

I Love My Life

Why I love my life — and how you can love your life, too.

I love my life.

That’s the thought that struck me last Saturday afternoon, as I walked across the transient parking area at Lake Havasu Municipal Airport, from the FBO office to my helicopter, swinging a plastic bag full of BBQ takeout.

I love my life.

The sudden thought amazed and exhilarated me. It put a skip to my step and made me smile.

I love my life.

This was near the end of a busy day when I’d spent 2-1/2 hours flying an aerial photographer and videographer over six different target vehicles in the 2013 Parker 250 off-road race. It had been hard, challenging flying, sometimes dangerously close to the ground, performing maneuvers that pushed the helicopter’s capabilities as much as — if not more than — I’d ever pushed them before.

This was the same day I’d been up at 5 AM and had gone out with just a half a cup of coffee and some oatmeal in my belly on a 31°F morning. The same day I’d preflighted my helicopter and pulled off its doors in the predawn gloom with just a Mini Maglite to light the way.

This was the day after I’d spent the night in a houseful of strangers — all men — sleeping in a bed on sheets that someone else had slept in the night before.

And it was only 24 hours — almost to the minute — after being offered the aerial photo gig 80 miles across the desert from my home.

It had been a most unusual and challenging 24 hours.

And I had enjoyed every minute of it.

I love my life.

I realized, as I walked across the airport ramp, smelling the aroma of my BBQ dinner and looking forward to the fried okra I’d nibble in flight on the way home, that I needed to blog about this sudden realization, I needed to document how and why I felt the way I did. I needed to capture the moment in my blog to remember it forever, just in case the feeling should fade due to events in the days or weeks or months to come. I needed to share it with others who may also love their lives but not really know it. And to share it with the folks who are missing the point of life — the meaning of life, if you will — in an effort to help them understand and set a course that would enable them to love their lives, too.

What I Love about My Life

In thinking hard about this, I think what I love most about my life can be broken down into several things: freedom, time, variety, travel, challenge, and friends. Bear with me while I address how each of these affect my life and personal philosophy.

Because I don’t have a “regular job” and I don’t have kids or a husband to answer to, I have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want. If I feel like getting up at dawn to photograph first light over the desert, fine. If I feel like eating leftover Chinese food for breakfast, great! If I feel like hopping in the car with my dog and spending the night in Prescott after a pot-luck dinner with friends there, wonderful! Anything goes. My only limits are time (see below) and money.

Not having a “regular job,” kids, or a husband also means I can make my own hours and do things when I want to do them. Obviously I’m not completely free — I still have work to do and appointments to keep — but my time is extraordinarily flexible. For the most part, I make up my day and week and month as I go along. If something I’m doing needs more time, I take it. The only time of year when my time (and freedom) are restricted is when I’m on contract for agricultural work — but that’s only 11 weeks out of the year. (I don’t know too many people who would find that a hardship.)

Back in 1987 (or thereabouts), I took a job as an auditor with a large residential developer. I did construction project audits. Every single audit took about two weeks to complete and was exactly the same. After two months, I started looking for another job. The lack of variety in my work was driving me insane.

I feel the same today — I thrive on variety. I like the fact that every day of my life is different. I wake up at different times, I do different things, I see different people, I eat different things, I go to different places, I go to bed at different times. Unless I’m elbow-deep in a book project that consumes 10 hours a day, no two days are the same. And that’s very nice.

One of the benefits of time and freedom is the ability to travel. I love to travel, to get out and see different places. When things get dull — when I feel as if I’m slipping into a rut at home — I shake things up with a trip. I’ve been home in Arizona since September and have managed to take at least one trip every single month since I’ve been back: Washington (twice), Las Vegas, California, Florida, and Lake Powell (by helicopter). That doesn’t count the day trips and overnight trips I’ve squeezed in on a whim: Prescott, Phoenix, Winslow, Parker, and Tucson. And I already have my next three trips planned out.

I don’t travel as a tourist, ticking off items on a list of things to see. I travel to experience the places like someone who lives there. It’s a much better (and usually cheaper) way to experience the world.

What can I say about challenge? Simply put, a life without challenges is simply not a life worth living. I need goals — realistic and achievable goals — and I need to be able to work toward them.

My entire life has been a series of challenges and achievements, some minor, like learning to ride a motorcycle or horse, and some major, like building a successful career as a freelance writer or building a profitable helicopter charter business from the ground up. I’ve always got a handful of goals in my back pocket and am always working toward achieving the ones that mean most to me at the moment.

I’m fortunate to have a good brain and good work ethic — two prerequisites for success. I’m also fortunate to have good health, which makes everything else a lot easier. But I know plenty of people who have all these things and still don’t challenge themselves. They skate through life, doing the least they can do to get by comfortably, never challenging themselves to go the next step. I simply couldn’t live like that.

The best part of always having challenges and goals to work toward? I never get bored.

It wasn’t until this year, when my marriage fell apart, that I realized how much my friends mean to me.

When I was married, living with my husband in Wickenburg or Phoenix, I didn’t have many good friends. I couldn’t. There was no room in my life to build and maintain friendships.

But when I went away to Washington for my summer work, my husband stayed behind. I began building strong friendships with some of the people I met. I also kept in touch with other friends from all over the world by phone, email, Twitter, and Facebook. This network of friends was amazingly helpful and supportive when my husband called me on my birthday in June and asked for a divorce. And they were even more supportive when I discovered, in August, the lies and the woman he’d been sleeping with. The pain of his betrayal is sharp, but my friends help ease that pain.

Even now that I’m home, dealing with harassment from my husband or his lawyer on an almost weekly basis, my friends have been extremely helpful, showering me with invitations to get out and do things together, offering me their homes as destinations for trips, or simply sharing words of encouragement and support. They not only take the edge off my divorce ordeal, but give me a great outlook on life.

Without good friends, no one can truly love their life.

How I Got Here

I got where I am the way most people get where they are in life — but with an abrupt turn and an important realization along the way.

The abrupt turn: career change
Raised in a lower middle class family, divorced parents, stepdad that brought us all up a notch and offered my family the financial security we never really had. High school, college. 9 to 5 job with a good employer and good benefits. A new job that wasn’t a good match (see above) followed by a better job with a Fortune 100 corporation. Things seemed pretty sunny for me.

But they weren’t. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like the work I was doing. I didn’t like the way the hour-long commute — each way — was eating away at my life. I didn’t like corporate politics and game-playing. I was good at my job, I made good money, I kept getting raises and promotions, but I dreaded getting up in the morning.

Been there? I bet you have. Many people have.

Trouble was, I made a bad decision back in my college days. I always wanted to be a writer, but I was convinced by my family that I needed a better career path. I was the first in the history of my family to go to college, so it was a big deal. I was good with numbers and math so we figured accounting was a good course of study. I ended up with two scholarships in a great business school, Hofstra University on Long Island. But in my junior year, at the age of 19 — did I mention I started college at 17? –I began realizing that I really didn’t want to be an accountant. I wanted to be a writer. I called home and told my mother I wanted to change my major to journalism. She had a fit and told me I was crazy. That I’d never get a job. That I’d be giving up a great future. I listened to her. I was 20 when I got my BBA degree with “highest honors” in accounting.

I’ve always regretted listening to my mother that day. Indeed, that was the last time I took her advice on any important life decision.

I always wrote — I kept journals and wrote novels and short stories that were never published or seen by others. And I always remembered my dream of becoming a writer. So in 1990, when the Institute of Internal Auditors was looking for someone to author a 4-1/2 day course about using “microcomputers” (primarily 20-pound “laptops”) for auditing and there was a $10,500 price tag attached to it, I sent them a proposal and got the project. I asked my boss for a leave of absence to do the work but was turned down. So I quit.

And that’s when I began my freelance career.

Believe me, leaving a job that paid me $45K/year plus benefits (in 1990) at the age of 28 was not an easy decision. As you might imagine, my mother absolutely freaked out.

Looking back at it now, this abrupt turn in my career path marks the day I stopped skating through life and started challenging myself to do better.

And I did. I had some rough patches along the way — the first full year freelancing was pretty tough — but I worked hard and smart and picked up momentum, mostly by working multiple jobs as a per diem contractor while writing articles and books. By 1998 I had my first best-selling computer book; the second came the following year. By then, money was not a problem — I finally made more money than I needed to live comfortably. I saved, I invested, I put money away for retirement.

And I used my excess time and money to challenge myself again: to learn how to fly helicopters.

By 2001, I’d bought my first helicopter and was trying to start a business with it. In 2005, I took that to the next level with a new, larger helicopter and FAA Part 135 certificate. In 2008, I found the niche market — agricultural work in Washington State — that finally enabled me to turn a profit. As publishing began its death spiral, I was already prepared with a third career that could support me.

People say I’m lucky. I disagree. The only thing I’m lucky about is having a good brain and good health — and even that’s something that I work at. It’s my work ethic — my deep-rooted philosophy that the only way to get ahead is to work hard and smart — that made everything possible. I truly believe that if you have a reasonable goal and you work hard and smart, you can achieve it.

Being able to make a living doing what I really love to do — writing and flying helicopters — makes it possible for me to love my life.

The important realization: the meaning of life
On my journey through life, I also made an important realization that changed everything: I discovered the meaning of life.

No, it isn’t 42.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no meaning to life. Life just is. But there are some undeniable facts about life and careful consideration of those facts should guide you to get the most of your life.

I guess I can sum it up my realizations about this in a few bullet points:

  • Life is short — and your life might be even shorter than you expect.
  • You only have one life. (I don’t believe in an “afterlife” or something like reincarnation.)
  • You should live your life as if you’re going to die tomorrow. That means not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today. It also means skipping the “bucket list” and doing what you want as soon as you can. And, by simple logic, it also means not waiting until you reach retirement age to start doing all the things you’ve wanted to do. You might never reach that age.

I think the light bulb came on back in 2008. When my friend Erik got sick and died unexpectedly at age 56, I realized that life can be taken from you at any time. I decided that I wanted to live life nownot when I turned the standard retirement age of 65. I realized that I never wanted to retire — that I wanted to do some kind of income producing work for the rest of my life. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be a slave to my work, now or ever.

I realized that in order to really enjoy life, I had to ensure my current and future financial security. That meant shedding assets I didn’t need and the debt that went with them. That meant paying off debt on important assets I’d always need, like a roof over my head. That meant building my business while paying off debt on its assets so that the business could support me without taking over my life.

And I’ve done all that. My house was paid off last February; I made the last payment on my helicopter earlier this month. I haven’t bought a new car since 2003 so I have no car loans or personal loans. Everything I buy now is by cash or credit card and, if by credit card, it’s paid off in full at the end of the billing cycle. I live within my means. I have no debt.

Do you know how cheaply you can live when you’ve got a paid-for roof over your head and no debt?

Go back to my discussions above about freedom and time. I mentioned that I don’t have a “regular job.” I’m proud of that fact. I worked hard to become debt free so I’d never have to get a regular job. Being debt-free gives me time and freedom.

Being debt-free makes it possible for me to love my life.

Don’t Get Me Wrong — My Life is Not Perfect

I don’t want you to come away from this blog post thinking that my life is perfect and that nothing ever goes wrong. That’s simply not true. My life might be good and I might love it, but it’s far from perfect. It’s worth taking a look at what’s not quite right.

Personal failures
I mentioned above that I need challenge to enjoy life. You might think that I always succeed at what I try. The truth is, although I have a pretty good track record, I don’t always succeed in what I set out to do. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it’s the fault of others I trusted or relied on — which is ultimately my fault for trusting or relying on them. Sometimes it’s just the fact that what I was trying to achieve wasn’t really possible for me to achieve.

One example is my stint as a landlord. Back when I starting making good money, I started investing in rental properties. At one point, I owned a condo, a house, and a 4-unit apartment building. The idea was to run these as a business that generated enough revenue to pay the mortgages and possibly a little extra. But try as I might, I simply could not succeed in keeping the units full with tenants who paid the rent on time and respected my property or their neighbors. There was never enough revenue to cover all the expenses. There were headaches with complaints and repairs and cleanup. It was a miserable ordeal that I hated. I wound up selling my properties before the housing market tanked. One of them resulted in enough of a profit to put a healthy down payment on my second helicopter, so I guess I can’t complain. But as a landlord, I was a complete and utter failure.

Then there were the aerial video projects I attempted back in 2008. I hooked up with a video production company based in the San Diego area. I’d worked with the owner and liked his work. He came up with a proposal and I signed up, giving him a chunk of money. I then spent at least another $10K on flying and related expenses to gather footage. And paid another chunk of money for him to start turning it into something. Then I saw the footage and what he was trying to pass off as a “trailer.” I realized that he was simply not capable of creating the products he had contracted with me to produce. I threw another $2500 at a lawyer, trying to get some of my money back, but the video guy was unreachable and I soon got tired of throwing good money after bad. Finally tally of money lost: about $40K. Ouch. That was an expensive lesson.

I’ve also had failures getting contracts for book ideas and books that simply didn’t sell very well. I’ve failed to get certain writing or flying or web creation jobs I wanted. I’ve made bad (or at least regrettable) decisions on purchases of RVs, vehicles, and property. I’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted and said things I shouldn’t have said. I’ve dropped the ball when it was my turn to play it, thus making a successful outcome impossible. And I’ve even let other people down when they expected or needed my help. I’m not proud of any of these things, but I can’t pretend they didn’t happen.

There are two things I need to say about personal failures and bad decisions:

  • There’s no reward without risk. If you don’t take chances, you will never achieve anything. This all goes back to the idea of skating through life. People who skate do so on a flat surface, never moving up or down. Nothing ventured, nothing gained (or lost). People who take risks can either climb or fall — by taking measured risks and putting the right effort into achieving goals, they’re more likely to climb.
  • We must all take personal responsibility for our own decisions and their outcomes. While others might advise you based on their own experiences or agendas, it’s up to you to make the final decision. Once made, you must take and keep ownership of the decision. Yes, I’ve made some bad decisions in my life that have led to disappointment or failure, but I alone am responsible for them. And I can live with that.

Life partner
And that brings up the second big thing that’s not perfect in my life: I don’t have a life partner.

I did — or I thought I did — for 29 years. We met in 1983 and hit it off almost immediately. We began living together only six months after we met. He liked to use the word “partner” to describe our relationship, but the partnership began to get tenuous not long after we got married 6 years ago.

It took me a long time to realize this. For years I think we were life partners, a real team that shared the same interests, dreams, and goals. But as time went on, that changed. The man who had been my leader became my follower and then my ball and chain. It happened slowly over time — so slowly that I didn’t even realize it was happening. And even when I began to realize it, I couldn’t believe it and remained in denial. I loved him too much. I didn’t want to believe it. Even today I’m having trouble believing that the man I’m in the process of divorcing is the same man I fell in love with and began sharing my life with 29 years ago.

I think part of the change had to do with our outlook on the future. Where I wanted to shed unneeded financial burdens to gain freedom and live my life now, my husband didn’t share either goal or philosophy. His purchase of a second home in Phoenix put a huge financial burden on him, but he refused to sell it. (And I won’t even go into how his living there with a roommate four days every week drove a wedge between us.) His worries about saving up for retirement and paying his bills put him in a string of dead-end jobs with employers who didn’t appreciate his skill set or compensate him properly. He’d become a slave, working primarily to satisfy his huge financial responsibilities and refusing to take steps to improve his situation. He was frustrated and miserable — and, in hindsight, probably jealous of my freedom. He took it out on me, with a never-ending string of put-downs and arguments and “the silent treatment” that wore away at my self-esteem and made me bitter and angry.

Even after visiting a marriage counselor (at his request), when I went back to Washington for my summer work last May, he immediately began to look for my replacement. He found one on a dating website: a typical desperate, middle-aged woman who would do or say (or share photos of) almost anything to snare a man who could ensure her financial future in exchange for sex and ego-stroking. His birthday call to me included the announcement that he wanted a divorce and a series of lies I honestly didn’t think he was capable of.

The transformation of life partner to vindictive and hateful enemy was complete.

And while the pain of his betrayal is probably — hopefully — the worst pain I’ll experience in my life, it does free me from the only thing still preventing me from loving my life: him.

But it also leaves a void in my life, an empty space I thought I had filled. While I enjoy my life, I think I would enjoy it even more if I could share it with someone. Still, I know I’ll be very careful about who I invite to share it with me; I’d rather go through the rest of my life alone than to trust and rely on the wrong man.

Been there, done that. Ouch.

I Love My Life

But as I walked across the tarmac at Lake Havasu Airport last week, swinging my bag of BBQ takeout, I wasn’t thinking about the things that kept my life from being perfect. Indeed, thoughts of such things never entered my mind. Instead, I felt a surge of happiness — exhilarating and exciting — that overwhelmed me when I suddenly realized that I love my life for what it is.

Sure, I have some rough patches ahead of me. My financial situation will take a bit of a hit when I lose half the house and have no place else to live. But I still have my brains and my good work ethic and my health. And I have the business I worked so hard to build over the past ten years. And I have my imagination to think up new ideas and new challenges. And my willingness to take risks to move forward and up — and accept the consequences of my decisions and actions. And I have all those other things: freedom, time, variety, travel, challenge, and friends.

My life is ahead of me — not behind me. And I embrace it because I love it.

A Bryce Canyon Photo Shoot

It’s all about timing.

I’m at Bryce Canyon with one of my aerial photography clients this weekend. Although we’re here to do some aerial work at Bryce and then at the Grand Canyon (and maybe Sedona), we’re grounded due to weather. Yesterday dumped at least 10 inches of snow in the area, blanketing everything with thick white snow. Last night, it started to clear out. My client and I arranged to meet before dawn and see what we could shoot in the park at sunrise.

We met at 6:30 AM. The moon, waning two days past full, was still up and, at one point, was beautifully framed by the tall, snow-covered pines along the park’s entrance road. We pulled over into a cleared area and my client spent about 20 minutes standing in the snow across the road with his tripod and camera. I took the opportunity to touch base with my husband back in Wickenburg.

The clouds were moving in again when we finally got back on the road. My client didn’t have much hope. I was uncertain. I know how quickly conditions can change up here. I also knew that the temperature/dew point spread at the airport 5 miles away was only 2°C — and that meant possible fog. I was hoping some of that fog might be in the canyon.

Inside the park, only two viewpoints were open: Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. Both look out into the “Amphitheater” area , a roughly C shaped canyon facing southeast. My client and I were glad the other road was closed; it meant our brief aerial photo work the next morning was less likely to bother park visitors.

Snow ThrowerMy client steered us to Sunset Point. Two very large snow throwers were at work in the parking area where only two cars were parked. We parked behind one of them, got our gear together, and headed out to the lookout point.

Although the path had been cleared the day before, about 2 inches of fresh powdery snow lay atop the surface. Below that was a sheet of ice. We both walked carefully. The viewpoint was deserted. The view was…well, interesting, but not perfect. The fog I wanted to see was layered in the canyon and at various other places beyond it. There was enough fog to make it interesting without really obscuring the hoodoos — red, column-like rock formations — that we’d come to see. The trouble was, the light was awful. The sun was up, but it was hidden behind thick clouds. The light was gray and lifeless.

The hiking trail down into the canyon was open — despite thick snow covering the pathway. My client, who was prepared to hike in deep snow, announced he was going down. I had the car keys. The idea was that when I got cold, I’d wait for him in the car. My iPad was in there, so I’d be able to read or check e-mail. He headed down and I walked back to the view point to see how things would change.

Another photographer showed up about five minutes later. We got to talking. He was from the Salt Lake City area and had come down the day before. He couldn’t believe all the snow he was seeing had fallen in just that day. As we chatted, we snapped photos. I had my monopod with me; he was shooting handheld. (My client was lugging a very heavy tripod down the trail with him.) A few minutes later, the man’s family joined us. He and his daughter (I assume) headed down the trail, leaving me up top with his wife and other daughter (I assume). We did a lot of chatting and photo snapping as time went on.

First LightThe first hint that things might improve came a while later when the sun started breaking through the clouds. I snapped this photo using the HDR function of my iPhone and then fixed it up a bit more in Photoshop to bring out the shadows. Not too impressive. The light faded again right after that and I started thinking about how warm the car might be. But I decided to stick it out a bit longer.

I was glad I did. A few things happened:

  • The sun rose higher. Of course, I expected that.
  • The clouds drifted on a gentle breeze to the west. The effect of that was to make it easier for the sun to poke over the top of the cloud bank.
  • The fog bank began drifting into the canyon.

The effect of all these changes, which occurred over the course of about an hour, was to make an amazing, constantly changing scene in front of me. I began doing real photography. The three photos shown below are among the best I shot.

Bryce Dawn 1Snowy Bryce Dawn 1
D7000, f/10 @ 34 mm, 1/400, ISO 400, No Flash

What I like most about this first shot is the laying of the low clouds among the hoodoos in the canyon. This really helped to separate the rock formations and add an element of three-dimensionality. It was also neat to be above the clouds without having to fly there.

I had two lenses with me: a Nikkor 10-24mm and a Nikkor 16-85mm. Although I prefer the 16-85mm lens — it’s the absolute perfect all-purpose lens — I found that I was shooting most photos with the wider view. With my Nikon D7000’s 1.5x crop factor, this lens, at its widest focal length, is equivalent to a 15mm 35mm camera lens. There’s very little distortion — unlike my 10.5mm fisheye, which is fun but not practical. I liked the way it accentuated the sky in some of the earlier shots I took.

For a while, I switched back and forth — no easy feat when wearing gloves and relying on a jacket pocket for lens storage. Later, as the light continued to change, I wound up sticking with the 16-85mm lens, which also had a polarizer on it. That came in handy when the sun had risen high enough over the cloud bank to bring out some of the colors. I’m a big fan of using polarizing filters when the light is right for them. It really can accentuate the outlines of clouds and the blue of the sky, not to mention the red in the rocks.

Bryce Canyon Dawn 2Snowy Bryce Dawn 2
D7000, f/10 @ 16 mm, 1/400, ISO 400, No Flash

I’m actually a little annoyed about this photo. When I shoot, I compose in the camera with every intention of using the full frame image. In other words, I shoot photos that don’t need to be cropped. This is very easy if you use zoom lenses, which I do, and take the time to compose properly.

The problem with this image is that when I shot it, I included my monopod head, which was leaning against a fence rail, in the lower-left corner of the picture. It ruined the photo. The only way to “fix” it was to crop it. This was the best I could do. It is not as I intended. I may attempt to remove the monopod head with Photoshop in the future, but I generally don’t like doing things like that. We’ll see.

Bryce Canyon Lone PineBryce Canyon Lone Pine
D7000, f/11 @ 24 mm, 1/500, ISO 400, No Flash

I like to shoot foreground items with interesting backgrounds. This tree, with the fog, clouds, and sky behind it to separate it from the background details, made a great foreground subject. And what could be more interesting in the background than snow-covered red rock hoodoos?

In all, I shot about 50 images over the course of 90 minutes. These were the three I liked most after viewing them on my laptop. I might find other favorites when I get back to my office and have time to look at them again.

I should mention that my camera was outfitted with its Nikon GPS, which worked like a charm to encode location information into each shot. This was the first time I used it. The device is awkward and I’m not sure how often I’ll really want to use it. I might reserve it for tripod-based work.

The fog bank continued to move in and eventually blocked out the sun again. The overlook chilled back down to its pre-sun temperature. Down below, on the trail, my client and the two other people who’d gone down started back up. The dad and his daughter arrived first and the family left together. When I realized my client had stopped for more photos, I decided to head back to the car. He joined me about 20 minutes later.

It had been a nice morning shoot, despite the cold. My client says there’s too much snow on the hoodoos for the aerial shoot we need to do before heading south again. While I agree that there’s a lot, I don’t think there’s too much. The red rocks are still clearly visible and should look great from the air.

As I write this four hours after our return, the snow is falling again. Let’s hope it doesn’t add much more to the scenery here.