Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Capturing Forever on Film

Picture of Teyla thanking God for a beautiful fall day by MJ
"Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever ... it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything." - the late American abstract expressionist photographer Aaron Siskind

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October 14, Thursday. Rog has just left for work. I have just done the dishes. Teyla is throwing a fit. She is bored with her toys and wants to play outdoors. She stands by the glass door in the kitchen, beating on the glass with her little fists and yelling, "Aw! Aw! Aw!" Baby speak for "out." I sigh, lay the dishrag down, grab my blue hoodie, pull a purple long sleeve shirt over Teyla's head, slip my cell phone into my pocket, pick Teyla up, head for the door. As I pass the kitchen table, I instinctively reach for my old, trusty camera, which I had set there earlier by the fruit bowl. I constantly lug my camera all over the place. I never know when Teyla might do something funny or memorable. If and when she does, I want to have that camera ready.
picture of Teyla reading, by MJ

We step outside. I let go of Teyla's hand and she takes off running down the hill, laughing as she goes. It is another sunny fall day. Perfect blue skies. A dog barks in the distance. One of the neighbors revs up his lawnmower. A little breeze scatters leaves that lay on the ground in colorful little heaps. Many of the trees around our property still wear their red and gold and purple robes. Breathtakingly beautiful, to say the least. But it has been like this all week. I have taken dozens of photos of Teyla running down the hill with her little arms up in the air, a big smile on her face, colorful trees in the background. Nothing new today, really.

We make it to the bottom of the hill. A big, grassy field. Our front yard. Teyla runs around some more. I stand to one side, watching her frolic in the October sunshine. I smile as she babbles to herself. A while later, I yawn. Nothing new to shoot, really, I think to myself. Same old colorful trees. Just a different day.

Then Teyla plunks down under a tree. An oak tree, I believe, with leaves the color of burnt gold. She grabs at some leaves laying on the ground and crunches them in her hands. She giggles. She likes the crackly sound the dry leaves make. She picks up some more. I'm standing there watching her laughing, playing with dry leaves, when I realize I haven't yet shot a photo of her sitting the way she's sitting, under that tree, with the sky so blue above her. 
In a flash, I get down on my knees and start snapping pictures. I can't seem to get enough blue sky from the kneeling position, so I drop to my belly and continue snapping away. Teyla is busy playing with her leaves, lost in a world of her own, and a lot of times, I like taking pictures of her when she is in this state. I don't have to plead with her to smile or pose. She just looks naturally happy. I love pictures like this.

All at once, the wind blows in Teyla's direction. She instinctively closes her eyes, but only for a split second. Just long enough for me to shoot that picture. But I don't realize how it looks yet, not until I download the photos from that shoot hours later.

When I do, I'm very happy with the way that particular photo turns out! Teyla looks just like she's praying in it. And the fall colors in the background are gorgeous! I'm so thrilled that I post it immediately on Facebook. I get many heartwarming compliments. Even an offer from an artist friend in Virginia to make an oil painting out of it! I might just let him do that.

Thank God for the magic of photography! Through it, we can capture special moments on film and rest assured that many years from now, we can view those old pictures and relive those unforgettable times in our lives. I know that someday I will enjoy showing Teyla all the pictures I took of her growing up, specially her "praying picture!" I will tell her of the sunny fall day she sat down in the grass, under a tree, and I crouched on my belly nearby, snapping pictures of her.

Not everyone owns a camera or is comfortable taking photos. And even those who do need someone else to take their pictures, too, sometimes. Thankfully, Richmond wedding photographer is always there, ready to meet our photography needs. Award-winning photographer Ron Stiers has helped many families across the country preserve special memories for more than 25 years. Not only does Stiers take photos in the United States, but he has conducted photo sessions in other countries as well, including Italy, Spain and Mexico.

I read about Stiers today and I believe what impressed me the most about this photographer is the community service he is known for. Stiers provides portraits to poor children and families. He also hosts fundraisers for various organizations such as animal shelters.

It has been many years since I paid a photographer to take my picture. Rog, Teyla and I turn to the self-timer and tripod when we want to take our family portrait and, so far, that has worked for us. But if I had to hire a professional photographer to take our portrait this Christmas, I would pick someone who actually has the heart to help the less fortunate.

Ron Stiers is that guy.

- By MJ

Friday, November 26, 2010

Escaping the Arctic Blast @ Monument Valley

Sunrise at Monument Valley, taken from our hotel room's balcony
When we left San Diego last Saturday for a much needed week of R and R, Monument Valley was not in our itinerary at all. It was supposed to be San Diego- Zion National Park @ Kolob Canyon- Moab (Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park)-Zion-Las Vegas( for Cirque du Solei and Black Canyon of the Colorado River in Lake Mead)-San Diego. Tes, of The Craftista and also one of the authors of The Salitype Society, was supposed to join us in Moab for Monday and Tuesday, then, we separate when we go back to Zion, while they go to Bryce Canyon National Park. However, it seemed Mother Nature has another plan. 
Two days before we left for the trip, there was a forecast of snowstorm in North Zion. Instead of going to Kolob Canyon, we decided to take East Zion @ Mt. Carmel Junction to escape the wrath of the snowstorm while on the road. It turned out to be a good decision for us when we saw in the local news later that night the many cars which skidded on the road and therefore had been stranded in the middle of snow storm. That kind of stress was the last thing we wanted on a vacation. Thankfully, I was able to see from the weather map at weather.com a route that would escape the snow storm while on the road. That meant driving South East first before going North to Moab. This route brought us to Monument Valley. Also, because of snow storm  on Monday, Tes and Doods did not make it to Moab for safety. Instead, we decided to meet at Monument Valley on Tuesday, a place which is closer to the place of Tes' sister. It was such a joyful meeting.  
I (left) and Tes (right) at The View Hotel's Guest's Lobby
This was how the sky looked like when we started exploring Monument Valley.
The clouds promise a beautiful sunset, and I was hoping the sky will not frustrate us since I wanted to show off to Tes one of the spectacular desert sceneries of the Southwest at sunset. Thankfully, the sky cooperated and put on a show for us to have a blast taking photos at sunset at Monument Valley.
looking East at sunset, Monument Valley (notice it is the same landscape, only the colors of the sky changed)
still looking East, sunset
looking West @ sunset, Monument Valley
still looking West @ sunset, Monument Valley
The rooms at The View Hotel all had beautiful views. Here are some more pictures at sunrise from our room's balcony (in addition to the very first photo above).

Sunrise @ Monument Valley- view from hotel's room
sunrise, Monument Valley
Until of course, it was time for us to leave Monument Valley to escape again the path of snow storm which started to roll in when we left.
storm rolling in at Monument Valley
After a while, on our way to Page, Arizona to meet Ted and Doods again, the snow which we had been trying to escape for days caught on us.
snow poured in as we left  Monument Valley
snow covered road, thankfully, no thick accumulation yet when we passed this
Thankfully, when we reached Page, though overcast, but there was no snow. We felt successful again in escaping another snow storm. But have we escaped the Arctic blast because we escaped snow? Truth is, we woke up the next day at -5 Fahrenheit temperature, and we finished the two bottled water we brought inside our room, when we took bottled water to drink from our car, they were all FROZEN! The warm pictures of the desert at Monument Valley does not really tell the whole story behind the subfreezing temperatures.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cheap Car Insurance in GA

Guest Post By MJ

Photo of Teyla and Roachy the dog by MJ

Our baby girl is fascinated by dogs. Fluffy dogs. Hairless dogs. Big dogs. And specially little dogs.

Recently, we piled into our red SUV and drove down to Coal River to visit Bart, one of hubby's friends. Turns out Bart owns a little old beagle, Roachy, whom Teyla fell in love with almost as soon as she spotted him sitting in a pool of late afternoon sunlight on Bart's newly-mowed lawn.
"Goggy! Goggy! Goggy! (baby speak for 'doggy')" I remember her yelling excitedly, as she toddled over to the black, brown and white mutt, her little arms stretched out in front of her, ready to give him a big bear hug. Alas, Roachy was not the easy-to-get type. He scampered to his feet and took off running across the lawn with Teyla in hot pursuit. We thought it was funny - the way Roachy would run a short distance from Teyla, then sit back on his haunches and wait for her to come close. As soon as she was a few feet away, he would rise to his feet and dart off. This went on for a while, much to our amusement. But we all cheered when Roachy finally got tired of playing tag with Teyla and allowed her to give him a hug and even a little kiss. I was lucky to snap the picture of that kiss, and of course it went on Facebook.

"What an adorable picture!" a friend from Georgia who saw it commented. She then shot me an e-mail mentioning a rehabilitation center for animals just a few miles down the road from their home. "Teyla would love the animals at that place!" she said. "Come on over and visit us some time!" She then told me how happy it made her to occasionally work as a volunteer at Noah's Ark Rehabilitation Center. She shared how her hubby and their two young children sign up to support the Noah's Ark cause a couple hours a month.

I went online and read about this non-profit organization today. I was impressed to find out Noah's Ark is not only a sanctuary for scared, wounded animals - mostly babies; it is also a group home for kids from birth to 18 years of age. The magical thing about Noah's Ark is the way the children from the Children's Care Home and the wildlife from the rehab center help each other heal. The kids take part in "pet therapy," classes where they learn to care for baby wildlife to increase the chances of these animals returning to and surviving in their natural habitat eventually. Through this program, the young participants who have been abused or abandoned - much like the wildlife they are caring for - learn to relate to each other as they care for the animals that, in turn, badly need affection and attention. Talk about healing slowly as you yourself help another wounded creature heal! That is the beauty of Noah's Ark.

I wish we had our own Noah's Ark in West Virginia. I keep thinking how lucky my friend's children are to grow up with the opportunity to reach out and help heal another child's life, and a wounded animal's life, too.

Because of Noah's Ark, plus the promise of magnificent swamp parks, award-winning resorts and gardens, wild animal parks, the world's largest aquarium, historic plantations, musical theaters, to mention just a few of the state's attractions, I recently added Georgia to my list of "Places to Travel to Before I Die."

To top it off, my friend, who has lived in 3 other states, swears it is a breeze to find cheap car insurance in GA.

"It's just like eating peanuts," she giggles. All you need is a few minutes to compare online quotes - the fastest, easiest way to save money when searching for best rates on car insurance in Georgia. Over time, this could save you hundreds of dollars!

Getting cheap auto insurance is the fastest way to start slashing your total auto expenses. In this day and age, who wouldn't want to save as much they possibly could?

Think of the things you could buy with the money you save when you get affordable car insurance: A new dress? That coach bag you always wanted? Some shiny baubles and bangles?

And let's not forget Noah's Ark, friends. The non-profit gladly receives donations. Every little penny will help their noble cause. Both the animals, and the children caring for them, will be grateful.

- By MJ

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hidden Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

The pictures below were from our hike to Hidden Canyon in Zion National Park, UT thanksgiving 2009 which I failed to share in this site. I can't believe almost a year had passed since we were in this place. The pictures may look very similar to Angel's Landing which we did the hike spring of 2009.
near the trailhead
The parking lot for the Hidden Canyon trailhead shares the same parking for Weeping Rock and Observation Point trailhead. The parking area is so small for the three popular trails that it can easily get packed. In the summer, there is no problem in parking because there is a free shuttle inside the park. However, during thanksgiving, everyone has to drive inside the canyon because the free shuttle is during weekends only. Thus, it took us a while to get parking and start the hike. But no complains, since the scenery closer to the Virgin River is just as awesome.
taking pictures here and there while waiting for parking space
This is a short hike, but very steep. Only about 2.5 miles round trip hike, but the climb is over 1000 ft. Like Angels landing, it has several exposed sections on slickrock, some parts of the trail have chains attached to the wall to help navigate through the dangerous parts. However, unlike Angels Landing, the vertical drop-off is only in one side of the trail, unlike the last half mile to Angels Landing where you look at the vertical drop-off both sides (left and right).
trail to Hidden Canyon
the cars below from the trail looks very tiny, like pecks of dusts
Looking Down at Angels Landing ( somehow, Angels Landing looks smaller and not as scary
from Hidden Canyon Trail )
However, at the mouth of Hidden Canyon, the trail becomes wider and gentler, and the vertical drop-off disappears.
Hidden Canyon Wall
However, as one goes deeper and deeper into the canyon, the trail becomes narrower with a some rock scrambling. Since the view does not really change much anymore, we decided not to climb the pile of rocks that blocks the canyon, turned around and went to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for another sight seeing adventure.