When it comes to travel, Esteban and I are planners: Before every trip we peruse a stack of guide books from the library, study some history, and map out our logistics.

Trip plan spreadsheet BLOGEight cities and three countries in one trip. WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!

Although we still leave plenty of time for serendipity, planning helps us make sure we don’t miss an interesting event — or accidentally land in the middle of one.

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Marathon 1130419 BLOG“May I cross the marathon route?” I asked the cop. “How fast can you run?” he replied.

But in spite of our best planning efforts, Esteban’s and my years of traveling together have taught us an inescapable truth: At some point the trip you planned will become the trip you’re on.

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You’ll wake up covered in bedbugs. You’ll get off the train at the Basel Bad Bf station instead of Basel SBB (big difference). Or maybe you’ll be stranded for 14 hours at Rome’s Fiumicino airport as Vueling concocts ever-more-creative excuses for your delayed flight.

The point is that things won’t go according to plan — and there won’t be a damned thing you can do about it. And at that point you’ll have a choice: Will you fume in anger at your ruined trip? Or will you roll with it, and see where this new adventure leads?

Esteban’s and my last trip tested this philosophy. Five days before our flight home, I noted that the stairs to our 17th century apartment were slippery from the night’s condensation, and thus paid the most meticulous attention to each of the 89 steps.

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Finally — on the 90th and last step — I relaxed. “I made it!” I thought. That’s when my leg slipped out from under me and I fell backward onto the stone staircase.

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I heard the “whump” before I felt the searing pain in my back or realized I couldn’t breathe. Instinctively, I crawled around on all fours for a couple of minutes. Then I climbed back up to the apartment to alert Esteban. “I’m seriously injured,” I told him.

Luckily, the scans didn’t spot any broken bones or damaged discs. “Nevertheless, these soft-tissue things can be surprisingly painful,” said the doctor, “but it’s important to keep moving as much as possible.” I nodded while I mentally hollered obscenities.

Back at the apartment I cried a bit as I iced my back and listened to the activity outside. “Those people have no idea how lucky they are to be ambulatory,” I thought. To pass the time I read several books and snapped iPhotos of my newly shrunken universe.

IMG_5774The view from our apartment’s window. At least it was sunny!

Every morning Esteban would help me shower and get dressed (because underwear and shirts become deathtraps when you can’t move your torso). Then we’d set off slowly, down the stairs, and out onto the street.

He’d open doors for me and help me negotiate curbs and prop me up like a mannequin in cafés. He also blocked cars whose drivers were impatient with my snail’s-pace progress, and kept people from jostling me in the markets.

I felt like a burden and apologized continuously … but through it all, he reminded me that “this is the trip we’re on.”

We’re home now, and I’m slowly on the mend. (Last week’s highlight: I put on my own socks. Yay!) But I’m still disappointed about the five “lost” days — mostly because Esteban lost those days, too.

Still, I’m trying to learn from his example. “Stop worrying about it,” he said yesterday. “We made the best of it.” He’s right that it could have been worse (I could have hit my head, or broken a vertebra). Or I could have been alone (crawling around on all fours, tangled in my bra and wearing no socks).

And anyway … now we have a great excuse to go back, and to try one more time to have the perfect trip in which everything goes exactly as planned.


Photography often makes me adopt some strange positions. Such was the case when I slithered on my belly along Paris’ Seine river to frame this shot.

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So engrossed was I in my task that I barely registered the sound of the street-sweeping vehicle approaching from behind, nor did I notice it stopping.

“Is everything alright, madame?” I saw the man’s boots first, then his uniform, and finally his masked faced. I felt a bit stupid as I stood up and explained that I was suffering for my art taking a photo.

He sometimes took photos too, he said, pulling out his phone. He flipped through shots he had taken while running an 850-kilometer (528-mile) race last year to raise funds for displaced children. “I came in third in my age group,” he beamed. “Wait. Let me show you …” There he was, standing on the winners’ podium. “And this is me, in my new suit, meeting President [François] Hollande!”

He told me he hadn’t always been a runner. He removed his mask and pointed to his right cheek. “See this scar? I used to be a firefighter. When I was in my 20s I responded to a commercial fire on the rue de Rivoli. We didn’t know there were gas canisters in the basement. They exploded, and I was severely burned.” He pulled back his cap to show me his scarred scalp. “I started running as part of my therapy,” he said.

“But even so, you used it to benefit others,” I said. “You’re quite a humanitarian — a real hero!” He simply shrugged and asked whether I would take his photo in front of Notre Dame.

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It wasn’t until after Roger and I parted ways that two thoughts struck me: First, the fact that a seemingly humble job often belies the richness of a man’s life. And second, that even as a street-sweeper Roger was still serving his fellow citizens.

The next day I got up even earlier and glimpsed how the quays along the Seine would look, if not for Roger and his colleagues.

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It enraged me that the partiers could not be bothered to use the empty garbage bin that was literally two feet away.

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Seeing the sweepers swerve to clear the piles of trash at least solved a mystery that had long haunted me, though: “What are those strange trails of water on the quays?” Until now I’d imagined roving packs of giant drunken snails.

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Although it’s too late to personally thank Roger for his work, here is my ode of gratitude to the multitude of women and men who get up long before dawn …

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… to give the rest of us a pristine view of Paris.

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And here’s one final pro tip for you: If you hear street-sweepers in Paris, follow them! They are wonderful people, and the water-slicked sidewalks they leave behind offer some equally wonderful reflections.

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I should have started my last post about Florida bugs with a confession: I could have avoided the whole thing by sticking to the paths …

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… instead of bushwhacking through the mangroves.

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Well, no matter. We’ve put the bugs behind us and have finally made it to the beach!

During our trip to Florida last November Esteban and I stayed across the street from the ocean, where once again I was struck by the power and immensity of the sea.

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Florida from 10,000 feet: mostly sand and water.

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I got up before dawn every morning to watch the sunrise. And although the light and the weather were a little bit different each day …

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… each new day drew the same cast of characters. I never got anything more than a scowl from the lady who carted off mounds of sodden seaweed in her tattered plastic bags, nor a single word out of the surfer I dubbed “Methuselah.”

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But by sitting still, I did gain the trust of some wildlife. One morning a seagull approached me, probably looking for handouts — but took flight when I extended my hand. The image of its sudden departure is a fail, but I still love the sunlight streaming through its feathers.

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Another day I watched a heron fishing along the shore. He looked awkward, stomping through the waves on his skinny stilt-legs, but he was a formidable hunter: He caught three fish in the 10 minutes I watched him.

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Even more comical were the sandpipers that sprinted along the foam’s edge with the manic intensity of tiny meth addicts. But when they stood still for a moment they suddenly seemed frail to me, and vulnerable.

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In fact, the more time I spent on the beach the less vast the ocean appeared — and the more vulnerable. One day Esteban and I spotted a crowd in the distance. “Let’s check it out,” I said. “Are you sure?” he asked. “It could be something grisly …”

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To the contrary, it was a sea-turtle release. I imagined how confused and thrilled the animal must have been to be back in the briny expanse, but fretted about the dangers it would once again face in the open water.

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One morning the beach was littered with shells. It was beautiful at first glance and I relished the crunchy carpet of carapaces.

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But my glee faded somewhat when I considered that every one of these shells represented a life.

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One shell in particular caught my eye — both because it was still mossy, and intact. I picked it up, thinking I’d found a real treasure, only to realize the shell’s architect was still inside. Its eyes poked out, like a snail’s antennae, as it surveyed me in return. I tossed it back into the ocean as gently as I could.

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This poor crab wasn’t as lucky, though.

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A couple of mornings, the beach was littered with Portuguese man o’wars. Some were still alive, their gelatinous bodies heaving as they suffocated on the sand. I briefly considered trying to return them to the water, but then remembered that the tentacles can be up to a foot long — and that their poison can sometimes be fatal. I felt terrible for the little creatures as I left them to die.

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During my morning walks I also noticed other types of litter, such as these branch bits that mimicked minimalist little bonsai trees.

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But even on the worst day, nature’s litter paled in comparison to the sheer volume of human trash I saw. Isn’t it ironic that we could kill something so vast as an ocean with tiny, careless acts?

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Here are 10 ways you can help protect the ocean, even if you’re 1,000 miles from the nearest beach.

Thank you — as always — for reading.


Esteban and I spent a week in Florida last November. It was bliss: We had a wonderful family gathering, lots of beautiful weather — and the ocean was literally right across the street from our hotel.

It became a ritual for me to get up before dawn every morning and watch the sunrise on the beach. I’ll show you those photos some other day, though, because before we can step onto the beach we must first walk through a thicket of mangroves and sea grass. And do you know what lives in thickets of mangroves and sea grass?

BUGS. (Warning: Arachnophobia triggers.)

It was only my second time shooting with my new GX85, in which Panasonic has dispensed with the anti-aliasing filter for even sharper detail resolution. Although I’m still a tiny bit concerned about unintended moiré patterns I was impressed with the added sharpness (though you can’t really tell in these internet-sized images …).

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Upon returning home I learned that there can be such a thing as too much sharpness, though. All of the shots I took of this spiny orb weaver rendered the little critter with a weird, fakey-looking halo.

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Closer inspection revealed the halo as individual hairs. Yes, people. SPIDER HAIRS!

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Although they look creepy with their hard, spiky shell, they’re harmless to humans — and they always make me smile. (Don’t those black dots in the middle sort of look like a smiley face?) Alas, I saw only two spiny orb weavers.

The species I did see in great numbers was the regular ol’ orb weaver, though.

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They’re named (rather unimaginatively) after the circular shape of their webs.

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Looking at it up close I couldn’t help but marvel at the web’s complexity — or the engineering it took to secure it among the vegetation. Isn’t it cool to consider that these spiders hatch with the maps for these intricate designs already encoded in their little spider brains?

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Being alone gave me the time one needs for macro photography. When your focal plane is this narrow — and when the wind keeps jostling your subject — maybe one frame in 50 is worth keeping.

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Also, for good macro photography you must get quite close indeed — which is how this very pregnant, 4-inch-long spider almost ended up on my forehead.

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I imagine my expression looked something like this:

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It all turned out OK, though, as no photographers — or spiders — were harmed in the making of this blog post. And after a while, even the ginormous orb weavers started to look kind of cute.

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Alright then, that does it for the Florida bugs. Next up: the beaches!


In the Midwest we often joke that, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.” It sure felt like that today.

The fog was so thick during my morning commute that I questioned the safety of driving. Caring about safety as I do, I pulled over and took some photos. (Because as we know, the safest place during any crisis is behind a camera.)

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By the time I reached work the fog had burned off and it was a beautiful morning. I expected the same sunshine as I exited my office, but instead was greeted by an ominous roiling sky.

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If it had been 15 or 20 degrees warmer, I would have worried about a tornado; all the signs were there.

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But nothing came of the bulbous mammatus clouds, which followed me home for a bit and then dissipated in my rear-view mirror.

They were soon replaced by a sunset that defied description. I swear on the bones of my forebears that these JPEGs are exactly what came out of my camera — no Photoshop, except to add a border.

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And of course I was witnessing this magnificent scene in a shopping-mall parking lot. AAARGH.

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Something tells me this isn’t the last of the fireworks though: It’s only February 21. Anything could happen! And if I’m lucky, I’ll be there to witness it with my camera.

This post is dedicated with love to a special someone in Florida who is having surgery tomorrow. I’ll be thinking of you and sending positive vibes! ❤︎

On my desktop sits a folder called “funnies.” Some of its contents date back to the earliest days of the internet, so I no longer remember their source.

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The internet circa 1973. I had a lot fewer bookmarks back then.

But no matter: Whenever I’m having a rough day, the “funnies” file always brings a smile. I hope these selected nuggets will bring a laugh your way today, too.

Let’s start with a follow-up to my most recent post, about the importance of saying “I love you.” ICH LIEBE DICH!!! Because life is short. And terrifying.

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Speaking of languages … English isn’t always a stroll in the park, either.

english-loose-grammar-blogThe breadth of our borrowed vocabulary can lead to some pretty funny auto-corrects, like these helpful suggestions from my email at work:

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And let us not overlook the power of a single misplaced letter …

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Yes, this mess we’re in is all your fault, you satin worshipers. Darn you to heck!

Not to mention how a news story can change when you append the byline to the headline:

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Remember …

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Another category in my funnies file is “signs of the times.” These are fairly self-explanatory so I will provide them without further comment.

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OK, I lied. I *have* to comment. THIS is why we always hit “preview,” folks. Always! Yikes.

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And this is why you should always hire a pro to illustrate your drowning signs, LOL.
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Umm … thanks for the encouragement, but no thanks.
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Then there is the category of “infographics and charts.”
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I also have a subcategory of Beatles-related infographics. Like this one that quantifies the historical concentration of localized troubles in Yesterday:

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And for anyone who has gotten stuck in an infinite loop while singing Hey Jude, finally there is help:

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And let us not forget IKEA! If you have ever attempted assembling something from the jolly Swedish giant you will appreciate these instructions for building a HËNJ. Notice that it calls for 10,000 people, though, so maybe recruit some friends on Facebook before you unpack it.

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Speaking of Facebook: Here’s a post from a friend that really made me laugh. I haven’t had arms like that since I was in my 20s!

unrealistic-body-image-blogAnd then there is Facebook itself, with its suggestion that I tag a planter as one of my friends.

facebook-tagging-fail-blogfacebook-tagging-fail-detail-blogFacebook also flunked geography in placing some photos from Cancun, Mexico just off the African coast. (Though in all fairness maybe Cancun *used* to be there before Pangaea broke up.)

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The funnies folder also has a few things created by yours truly for the amusement of her friends, such as this manufactured Mac dialog box …

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… this birthday greeting for a yogi pal …

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… and this disturbing image of my husband as a youth, thanks to a malfunctioning scanner. Ironically, he really did grow up to be that tall.

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And the rest of the folder, you ask? The rest of it is filled with assorted, random treasures I’ve collected over the years.

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Well, that’s about enough for today. Thanks for stopping by, and cheers to you from fair  Llanfairpwllgwyngwllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllatysiliogogogoch!

 


The first time I met Aunt Lisa, Esteban and I had rented a Plymouth Reliant in Queens and had driven it through rain and sleet almost 300 miles north to Lake Placid. I remember almost every mile thanks to the bald tires and absent windshield wipers (which presumably had been stolen back in Queens).

Lisa wasn’t there to receive us when we arrived, but I liked her instantly by proxy: The photos of her and her husband, beaming in their kayaks and on the slopes, spoke of a life well lived.

Over the next 30 years I grew to admire her. Lisa was a wonderful listener and was always quick to laugh, even when the joke was of dubious quality. Her soft-spoken ways belied her sharp intellect.

From her social graces to her simple life, her devotion to her family and her love of the outdoors, Lisa was my role model in so many ways.

It’s a pity I never told her that. Lisa died of cancer last Saturday, and now I’ll never get the chance.

Don’t put off saying “I love you.”


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Graphic created with images and posts compiled from UNICEF’s Twitter feed. All images copyright UNICEF.
Read more about UNICEF’s work with refugees.


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Image copyright Pete Souza / White House

After shooting some 15,000 frames in the past 12 months it took me a while to choose my 2016 Picture of the Year. But here it is, at last: Supermoon over Downtown.

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I know what you’re thinking. “IT’S TOTALLY OUT OF FOCUS!” Which is why it seems like a perfect metaphor for my past year.

2016 was the year I tried to do too much. In my zeal to get better at everything, I succeeded at improving nothing. Why? Because I lacked focus.

I bought into the myth of multitasking, that doing more yields more. But as the photo above attests, maybe I would have gotten better results if I’d focused just on my photography. (Or my driving.)

That’s why I’m again copying my blog-friend Jim in choosing a theme word for the year ahead — but only one: focus. If all goes according to plan, by the end of 2017 … well, you’ll see.

I’ll leave you with some reading that informed my choice of 2017’s theme word, and with my heartfelt wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding year ahead.

 

Want to get more done? Try “monotasking.”

Feeling anxious and scattered? Maybe it’s your multitasking.

Is time getting away from you? Here’s one way to change that perception.



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