Saturday, 31 December 2011

Top pic(k)s for December

Good grief - it's the end of December already! Here are my five favourite photos from this month. Which do you reckon is the best? Please take a couple of seconds to vote for your favourite in the poll in the sidebar. Thanks!

1. Dandelion

2. Gerbera

3. Footprint

4. Spider

5. Manuka blossom

Day 350

Pookie really is the most thoughtful companion; when I got up this morning I found that she'd left me a dead rat on the door mat. I couldn't resist taking some some photos before I disposed of it. It was absolutely huge; by far the biggest rat I've ever seen, and it didn't have a mark on it. I've no idea how Pookie killed it. Maybe she has a special kitty superpower, such as scare-o-vision or lightning-bolt claws, or maybe the rat was already dead and she just stumbled across it.

One of my friends, Kirsty, is planning on starting a photo-a-day project in the New Year, and she asked me for some tips. I think this blog is probably the best place to share them, as some of you lot might be considering starting a similar project. If you do, let me know, and I'll follow you and cheer you on. Anyway, here are the tips I've come up with.

Have a clear idea about what you want to get out of the project.

When I started I had two main intentions: to take up photography as a regular hobby instead of just dabbling at it occasionally, and to develop my technical skills. You may have very different intentions to mine - you may want to chronicle a year in your life, or use your photography as part of a mindfulness practice, or explore a particular subject, or develop a signature artistic style. But as long as you understand why you're embarking on the project, you'll always have a sense of purpose driving you on, and you'll have a greater sense of satisfaction at the end of the project, because you'll have achieved a goal you set for yourself.

Accept that you will encounter difficulties.

Some days you won't feel like touching your camera at all. Some days you won't be able to find a single subject that interests you. Some days you'll have great fun taking loads of shots and none of them will be any good. Some days you'll have a particular end result in mind and you'll feel frustrated because you can't create an image that's even remotely close to what you can see in your mind's eye. Some days real life will get in the way and make your project seem like the silliest, most unimportant thing you could possibly be doing. Don't sweat it. Experiencing these difficulties and then figuring out a way to work through them is all part of what makes the project so exciting and rewarding. So just do your best and hang on in there, and you'll be fine.

Don't panic if you miss a day. 

I know, I know - we'd all like to achieve the 'perfect score' -  completing a 365 project in 365 days, but if you accept at the start that this is an unrealistic expectation, then you'll cope better on those days when life conspires to make you miss making that blog post. If you panic about missing a day, you're way more likely to give up on the project before you've completed it, than if you learn to take missed days in your stride. By the time I finish my project it will have taken me over 13 months, but if I hadn't given myself leeway over the timing, I'd have become disheartened and would never have finished it.

Take a camera with you everywhere.

Some of the best shots are not planned, but come from unexpected situations. I know it's a cliche, but it's true. So if you want to take advantage of what life throws your way, it's important to have a camera with you at all times, even if it's just a camera phone.

Tell EVERYBODY about your project. 

The more people who know about your project, the more people there will be who will take an interest in it, and the more impetus you will have to keep the project going. Just knowing that there are other people apart from yourself looking at your photos makes you want to raise your game, and gives you a sense of obligation about making that daily blog post. And on difficult days, that sense of obligation may be the only thing that keeps you going! Also, people are amazingly generous, and will offer you support, advice and feedback -- all of which are essential food for the artist's soul!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Day 349

As this project winds to a close, I feel like it's time to push the envelope, and do something brave.

I have a scoliosis (curvature of the spine). It's not a severe one, but it gives me constant discomfort. It's the reason why I took up yoga twelve years ago, and one of the many, many reasons why I'll continue to have a daily yoga practice for the rest of my life.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis thirty years ago, but I've never looked at my back in all that time,  so I thought it was time to confront the truth by taking a photograph.

The reality:

This is me standing up as straight as I can. And a yoga practitioner can stand up damned straight!

Finally acknowledging the truth of what my back looks like felt like enough medicine for one day, so I decided to help the medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar. So I created a 'kinder' shot of my back. I'm not sure whether it's my way of telling my back 'It's okay, I love you really', or whether it's simply a way of massaging my ego. If I'm being honest, I think it's more of the latter than the former.

The fantasy:

Soft focus rules!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Day 348

I find it hard to resist buying flowers when I walk past them at the supermarket, so today I didn't. :-) I bought a small bunch of gerberas, but it was only when I got home that I realised I don't have a vase to put them in any more. I found an empty plastic storage container in the back of the pantry, and used that instead.

I put the 'vase' on the kitchen counter, as it provides a plain, close-to-white background. I set up the camera on the tripod with my 50 mm lens and used a reflector to bounce daylight from the window onto the flower. I then took a series of identical shots with varying apertures. I liked the depth of focus that I got with f/7.1 best. I did most of the processing in Photoshop, adjusting brightness, contrast, levels, curves, hue/saturation, and then applying an unsharp mask. Finally I added a texture layer and played around with blend modes, opacity and fill until I got a result I liked. The texture is a freebie created by Sharon Collins at SKC Photography. See the link to her site in my blog roll in the side bar.

I restarted work yesterday after the Christmas break. I've got a new contract to write two two-hundred page maths books. I'm aiming to get them both finished before the end of February, so that I can take a leisurely route home when I go back to the UK. It seems like a wasted opportunity to travel across half the globe and not see anything apart from the interior of airports! So I'm going to be pretty busy over the next couple of months. Not the best time to take on a commitment to *three* daily blogs! 'Cos that's what I'll be doing during the first fortnight in January. I'll have this blog, which will be in its final two weeks, I've got my new Ryan Gosling Hey Girl blog that I want to keep going because I'm having so much fun doing it, and I'm also going to be starting a River of Stones blog. Phew! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Day 347

Meet Marty. Or it might be Martine, Martin, Martina or Marta. Marty and his family know how to stretch my zoom lens to its limits. In this way they're good at teaching the lesson of being content with what you've got. (They're good at teaching it, but I'm not so good at learning it!)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Day 346

I've no idea where the idea for this image came from. Probably not a good idea to probe too deeply!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Day 344

It being Christmas Day today, I was tempted to take a day off from this blog, but with the finish post in sight now, I decided to save up my days off for when I really, really need them!

It was difficult to get any decent shots today. The light was so harsh at the time when I was out and about with the camera.

Those of you who've been following this blog for a while will know that this is my first Christmas on my own since my husband left me. In fact, it's the first Christmas I've ever spent away from family. I was dreading getting through today, but I needn't have worried; I had a really enjoyable time. I spent this morning doing yoga and surfing (the internet, not the ocean), and then I went to a friend's house in town for lunch. There were sixteen of us, including five children, and after lunch we went into the garden and had a water fight using water pistols, sponges, buckets and hoses. We all got soaked to the skin. Luckily, I'd been forewarned, and had taken a change of clothes. This evening I went round to a neighbour's house for the evening meal. Both hostesses are excellent cooks, so the food was top-notch. I've got a lot be thankful for in my gratitude practice tonight!

Yesterday I started another blog. Amy, one of my Facebook friends, has been posting links to a load of Ryan Gosling 'Hey Girl' blogs, and like her, I found them very funny. If you haven't come across the phenomenon yet (and I hadn't until Amy started posting her links), then try googling 'ryan gosling hey girl internet meme'. Heck, not only had I not heard of the phenomenon, but I hadn't even heard of Ryan Gosling!  I'm just some old fart who lives in the back of beyond in a country on the other side of the world, and who doesn't own a television. Anyway, I decided to start my own 'Hey girl' blog, and I've had immense amounts of fun and wasted inordinate amounts of time creating the mash-ups. I realise that this is behaviour more appropriate for a teenager than a mature woman, but frankly, I don't give a damn. No doubt Freud would have made much of its significance, and I'd probably have to agree with him. It's amazing what four months without sex can do to a normally sane woman. In another couple of months' time I'll be baying at the moon and sprouting hair on the back of my hands, so I'd better make the most of my lucidity before it's gone. ;-)

I'm an ex-teacher, so naturally, my blog is called 'Ryan Gosling, Teaching Assistant'. Please indulge me and check it out. Thanks, girl! Here's the link:

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Day 343

Merry Christmas, everybody! May you enjoy good company, good food, and lots of joy and laughter.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Day 342

This morning I spotted a spider hanging by a thread from the veranda roof. She was hauling herself upwards, grabbing onto the taut thread above her with two of her front legs, and holding onto the loose thread with a couple of her back legs.

I'm delighted to have got a shot this good with my mediocre kit lens. I'm looking forward to playing around with that macro lens I'm going to buy once the house sale has gone through! :-)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Day 341

What a gorgeous day it's been today! It feels like summer's finally arrived.

My paddock's been livestock-free for a few weeks now, and the grass is growing really high. I suffer from hay fever, and have a particular allergy to grass pollen, so at this time of year, living in the middle of eight acres of grass can be a bit of a trial!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Day 340

Yippeee! I've sold the house!

The contract's conditional on the buyers getting the finance they need, but the estate agent is as confident as he can be that they'll get it. Because of the Christmas break coming up, they can't get the valuation done until the 6th of January, but hopefully their loan should be approved within a week of that. I've stipulated a settlement date 6 weeks after the date the contract becomes unconditional, so if all goes well, I'll be moving out towards the end of February. I'll drive up to Auckland over the course of a couple of days, visit friends, sell the car and then fly home.

Yesterday, when I first found out that the contract was finalised, I was disappointed not to feel as overjoyed as I thought I would have done. In fact, I felt, sad, lonely and lost. The house I've just sold is not just any old house. It's a dream that Iain and I had together and that we spent two years building together. It's the setting of so many memories, both happy and painful. After having lost both my mother and my husband in such a short space of time, it's a life raft of familiarity that I've been clinging to. Letting go of it feels scary, but it's also an essential step in order for me to be able to move on.

A couple of other things happened yesterday to make me upset (related to Iain, of course), so I resigned myself to having a 'bad day'. I know, I know, I don't have time to waste feeling bad, but sometimes you have to give in to things in the short term, in order to work through them more effectively in the long term.

So, having got all the negativity out of the way yesterday, today I'm ready to feel the joy! I had great fun on this photo shoot. I took loads and loads of shots and got very tired and giggly. I probably should have waited until the evening when the light will be less harsh and it won't be so hot, but I'm far too impatient! :-)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Days 338 and 339

Day 338
Seen at the cafe at the cinema last night

Day 339
I took these candid shots today by the river in town.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Day 337

Are you getting fed up of shots of grass and weeds? Because I certainly am! :-D

Tomorrow I'm going to the cinema in a town about an hour's drive away. The film starts at six, but I'm going to go in early, have something to eat at a cafe, and take some 'city shots' - well, what passes for city shots in a small town in New Zealand. At least I'll have something else to shoot other than weeds and grass!

I had some people come to view the house earlier today, and so I put my flower vase (full of pink carnations) out on the kitchen counter. When I got back home, I put the kettle on for a cuppa, and hoisted myself up to sit on the counter while I waited for the kettle to boil. As I did so, I knocked the vase onto the floor, smashing it to pieces, and gouging a hole in the laminate flooring. I wonder whether you can get rubber vases?...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Day 336

I didn't make a post yesterday. I had some unexpected visitors yesterday evening, and by the time they left, it was time for bed. Still, after missing several weeks earlier in the year, missing an odd day here and there doesn't rattle me any more.

In today's shot I'm revisiting a subject I've taken quite a few shots of during this project. I find dandelion clocks fascinating, and I'm still trying to come up with a way of shooting and processing a photo of one that does the subject justice.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Day 335

I'm only just going to make it in time for today's post - it's a quarter to midnight! It was our book club Christmas party tonight, and we had a meal at a pub in town and exchanged presents. I gave a framed print of one of my photos, and I was given a pair of beautiful handmade Christmas tree decorations in the shape of native New Zealand birds. I love them!

This one's a morepork (Māori name: ruru) - the only remaining native owl.

This one's a fantail (Māori name: pīwakawaka) - the gorgeous little bird I named my house after.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Day 334

I'm currently in the process of changing my name back to my maiden name.  I changed my Facebook moniker pretty much straight away, and a couple of weeks ago I changed all my other online IDs and my email. I've spent the last two afternoons changing everything else - bank account, driving licence, utilities, etc. The only other thing I've still got left to do is renew both my passports. That's the most expensive part!

Reclaiming my true name is a lot of effort, but it's something I feel strongly that I have to do. As names go, it's very ordinary (not distinguished like my maternal grandmother's maiden name, Courtenay, or characterful, like my paternal grandmother's maiden name, Postlethwaite). I'm reclaiming Lewis as a way of distancing myself from a faithless husband, and as a way of honouring the memory of my father, whom I loved and admired, and who died when I was ten. Once I've got my name back, I'm not going to let it go ever again.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Day 333

I took today's shot while I was waiting for the estate agent to show some more people round the house. If he does manage to sell it, he'll have earned his commission. He's shown round about two dozen sets of people so far. I'm confident that if there is a buyer out there, he'll find them!

Here's my photo from my SPARK partnership with writer David Ord, taken during my beach photo shoot the other day.

Follow the link below to the SPARK website to read the piece of writing that inspired this image. While you're there, take a look around at all the other work - there's some amazing art and writing. You might even want to take part yourself in the next round in February.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Day 332

Today I've been very busy and the weather's been very wet; neither of which is conducive to leisurely, artistically satisfying photo breaks.

The Law of Cat, Number 2: No matter how copious and dewy fresh the water in a cat's water bowl is, he or she will always prefer to drink from another, 'tastier' source.

I almost always eat porridge for breakfast, and I leave my bowl to soak for a few hours before putting it in the dishwasher. I caught Pookie drinking the porridge water this morning. This, of course, is not the most disgusting thing she's ever drunk. Not by a long way.

With only five weeks of this project to go now, I asked my Facebook friends to suggest some theme words as a starting point for photographs to keep me inspired in the final weeks. They came up with lots of ideas, and these next shots were inspired by two of them.

'Moving' suggested by Myfanwy

'Reflections' suggested by Carin

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Day 331

I had to vacate the house this afternoon, because the estate agent was showing someone round. There's nowhere to go round here, so I usually just park up down the road, and sit in the car and read. It was far too hot today to sit in the car, so I sat in the shade under a tree, listened to an audiobook and took some  photos with the iPhone. I really enjoyed my chill-out time. :-)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Day 330

This is a terrible shot, I know, but there's something about it I like. I think it's because the out of focus lights remind me of headlights in the dark. As a child I loved travelling at night. I associated it with exciting events like visiting our relatives in Wales. I used to love looking out of the car window and seeing city lights spread out below. I called it 'fairyland'. I'd stay awake for as long as I could, but I'd always fall asleep long before we got home.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Day 329

I visited the beach this evening to get some shots for this round of SPARK, a quarterly event in which artists, writers and musicians are paired up, and create new work in response to an inspiration piece their partner gives them. I've participated lots of times, and this round I'm taking part as both a writer and an 'artist'. If you're a visual artist, musician or writer, SPARK is well worth checking out. Go to

The nearest beach is only a half-hour drive away, but it's a ages since I last went. Like all the beaches on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, this beach has black volcanic sand and is strewn with driftwood.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Day 328

When Iain and I emigrated, we left behind a lot of things in the UK, including our Christmas decorations. I've missed them over the last six Christmases, but Iain was against buying new ones, as he considered it a waste of money. So today, partly to cheer myself up, and partly to cock a snook at Iain, I bought myself a new tree, lights and baubles in a half-price sale.  I think Pookie must be feeling ill, because she hasn't tried to climb the Christmas tree yet. She hasn't even tried to bat a bauble. Maybe she's saving up her attack for tonight, while I'm asleep!

If you voted in November's Top Pic(k)s poll, thanks! This month two photos tied for first place: 'A Star is born' and 'Heart in hand'.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Day 327

It was spinning and weaving again today, and we went to a member's house that I'd not visited before. She has a beautiful home and garden, but it started raining almost as soon as I went outside to take photos, and these three images were the only decent shots I got. They're all courtesy of my lovely 50 mm lens.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Day 326

I spotted this when I went into the local village today. 

The words on the board struck a chord with me and got me thinking.

The thorns of truth that have pricked me lately:
  1. I have been rejected by the person whom I love the most.
  2. I have failed at something that I valued highly – my marriage.
  3. My youth is gone.
  4. My life is more than half over.

The roses that are beginning to blossom from each of those thorns:
  1. Rejection has always been the thing I’ve feared the most. Most of the things I’ve done in my life, I’ve done in order to feel accepted. I know it’s pathetic, but it’s true. The thing I feared the most in the whole world has now happened to me, and from the person I was closest to, whose rejection was bound to hurt me more than anyone else's. It was, and still is, terribly painful, but I’m still here. Once you’ve faced your biggest fear, the power that fear in all its forms holds over your life begins to ebb away. It's incredibly liberating and empowering.
  2. Yes, I failed. I made mistakes and I paid for them. However, I’ve also learned from those mistakes. A huge amount. If I’m ever in the position again where I’m about to embark on a romantic relationship (a situation that I can’t even begin to imagine right now), I’ll remember the lessons I’ve learned. And I don't need to wait until some mythical, fairy-tale future to apply the lessons I've learned. I can apply them now, in all my relationships with other people - family members, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike. Also, just because I’ve failed at something important, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. :P
  3. Youth is beguiling, for sure, and its loss is upsetting (oh for 20/20 vision again!), but wisdom is worth so much more. And my stores of that particular commodity are just going to carry on going up and up with each passing year. Bring it on!
  4. The chances that I’ll live for another 46 years are statistically pretty slim (although there is a centenarian branch in my family, so you never know). The years I’ve lived so far have certainly been good, but I’m convinced that the ones ahead of me are going to be even better (irrespective of how many of them I’ve got left). After all, I’m wiser and less fearful. That’s got to mean I’m going to make bolder and better decisions. And better decisions usually bring about better consequences.