February 26, 2016
Birthday angel

Birthday angel

Today was the birthday of one of my co-workers.  We are a small group – 14 or 15, depending on the day, and we are pretty much a family.  It’s hard not to be when you are working for the same thing – eternal salvation – in such close proximity.

Like a family, sometimes there are disagreements, but no fisticuffs, foul language, or character assassinations.  We might raise eyebrows or talk about someone, but it’s not serious, or long lasting. And woe be unto anyone who attacks one of us – there will be all the others lined up to protect him / her.

Birthdays in the chancery are a nice change of pace.  We get a page on our office phones telling us it’s time to celebrate a birthday in the kitchen.  We all wander  out of our offices and head to the kitchen, where the birthday buddy has prepared a high calorie treat.

We draw names for the birthdays.  The birthday buddy brings a cake, or some appropriate substitute.  Our Chancellor, Carol, makes this incredible coffee cake. She was my birthday buddy a couple years ago, and, having expressed my admiration of her baking skills with that coffee cake, she knew exactly what to make.  The birthday buddy also hangs up the communal “Happy Birthday” sign, and purchases a little gift.

When everyone is gathered together, we then sing Happy Birthday.  For the last 5 years, the Happy Birthday leader has been our HR director, Larry.  Larry is a wonderful human being, but he has trouble singing in a key where others can comfortably join him, and he rarely hits the exact right note.  He gets close most of the time,  but we love the fact that he cares enough to not care about his singing.  Today, however, Larry was gone and yours truly jumped in and helped out.

The birthday girl’s gift was the angel above, which was accompanied by the framed quote behind her. The quote said something to the effect that in the morning I need a bunch of coffee and a whole lotta Jesus. You can get away with stuff like that when you work for the Catholic Church!

It all sounds so very mundane, and quaint, doesn’t it?  But really, none of us would have it any other way.  We really love each other, and we really love the work we do.  Celebrating birthdays is just another way of showing that love to the other workers in the vineyard.

We really are a family, and we really do care about the eternal salvation of the people of God in Wyoming.  It was a joyous celebration today, just like it is for every birthday at the Chancery.

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Where’s the gold dome?

February 25, 2016
Blue Capitol

Blue Capitol

 

Things constantly change, even when they stay the same.

My original intent was to get a shot of our Capitol building under reconstruction, but I got distracted by the sky. Again.  Our state is going to spend $300 million fixing up this wonderful building, beginning now.  The whole place is surrounded by chain link fence, and scaffolding is gracing a large area of the walls.  It’s a much needed renovation, as the old building is tired and in need of modernization.

The downside to this project is that we live two blocks away, and our whole neighborhood will be consumed with construction for the next two years.  After it’s all done, however, it ought to make a nice neighborhood like ours even better.

Here’s what I find so interesting about this picture.  A few weeks ago, I took a shot of the Capitol on a cold, snowy morning. The dome shone like it was lit up, the gold glistening even in the gray morning light.  Tonight, at sunset, the same dome can hardly be differentiated from the sky.  And the sky is magnificent.

I continue to be amazed at what I am discovering on this 365 project / journey.  My eyes are different now than they were four months ago. If you’ve been reading along with this, you know that I have mentioned this fact a number of times, and it’s likely that I’ll mention it a number of times more in the future.

Something else I’m discovering is that I believe I have a book in me that needs to come out.  I have been rolling this around in my head for years, but I think I have finally determined the literary method of telling the story.  If I can get that off the ground, I’ll share it with you, dear reader, as I go along.

To the few of you who see this, thanks for reading.  I have to remind myself that I didn’t start this with the hope that I would get thousands of followers, but just so I could get some practice writing and shooting.  Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that you have followed along this far.  May God bless you always!

Hey kid, you losing your marbles?

February 24, 2016

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Indulge me here  for a bit.

Yesterday was a day of shooting photos, but not for the blog.  The staff of the chancery, including your’s truly, spent the day on retreat at the Abbey of St. Walburga, home to a group of hardworking cloistered Benedictine nuns in northern Colorado.  I shot pictures of the staff during the retreat, but they don’t really count for this blog.  Today was filled with time-sensitive work that demanded my full attention, and I have not gotten the camera out of my bag.  No shots of any kind tonight.

Last night I came home quite tired, as prayer and retreats, while spiritually energizing, can be physically exhausting.  Sherry knew I wasn’t up to doing too much, so we walked to the basement to make some decisions about lightening our load, i.e., getting rid of some of the stuff we have accumulated over the last 36 years.

She pushed to the front an old army ammo box that I got from my brother when he was in the army in the early 60s.  She opened it up to find some 20 gauge shotgun shells, for a gun which I no longer own; a box of BBs for – hold on –  a BB gun; one of my Dad’s old fishing knives; a mold for making bullets for a black powder rifle; and a small brown paper bag.  Sherry asked what was in the bag, and I had no idea.  Opening it revealed a slice of my childhood that I thought was long gone.

Marbles.

This picture, taken on my phone, was my marble collection, or at least what is left of it, from my grade school days at St. John’s school in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I’m 58 years old, and I attended St. Johns between the ages of 6 and 14.  These are old.

There’s quite a variety of marbles here.  Cateyes, puries, and the coveted steelies.  There are also a few smaller blue marbles from an old Chinese Checkers game.  These were my pride and joy when I was 8 years old, and they went to school with me every day, where I would join my buddies on the playground and shoot marbles at recess and lunchtime.

The playground was essentially an asphalt parking lot. No playground equipment except the footballs and basketballs we brought from home, or the jump ropes the girls brought.  And the marbles.

When the bell rang for recess, we would run outside and gather in a small bunch, deciding where we were going to play and what we were going to play.  Some days what we played was pretty much marble golf, where we had to put the marble in a small hole in the asphalt.  The first player up used his thumb in a flipper motion to propel the marble towards the hole.  All the rules escape me now, but I do remember that the second player could use his marble to knock the first player’s marble out of range.  We took shots from our knees, with our faces against the blacktop, one eye closed for aiming while our tongues hung out the sides of our mouths.

Rolling little glass marbles along the rocky asphalt of the playground, banging into other glass and steel marbles, roughed up the surface of the marble pretty good.  A close look at the solid blue marble towards the bottom of the picture shows a pitted surface, as this was my go-to weapon of choice.  Sometimes, when we were feeling really large, we’d play for “keeps.”  If I won, I got to keep my opponent’s marbles.  That blue pitted purie (so called because it was just translucent glass, no cat eye) won a lot of marbles back in the day.  Hence, the pits.

One vivid memory of my marbles sticks with me to this day, and I have shared this many times over the years.  I walked to school every day, as did all five of my siblings over the years.  It was only six blocks, and I found it to be a great time to imagine all kinds of adventures, to stop at Vogel’s Bakery for a doughnut, or just to skip along to and from school.  One day I was returning to school after going home for lunch.  I had my marble bag in my hand and was concentrating on them, probably thinking about the next game.  Out of nowhere, the sidewalk rose up to catch my foot and I did a face-plant on the concrete.  The momentum of the fall forced the marble bag out of my hands and onto the ground, opening the bag and scattering the marbles all over the sidewalk.  An older boy was sitting on the steps of a house across the street and witnessed the whole thing.  While I was lying on ground assessing what had just happened, he yelled out “Hey kid! You losing your marbles?”

I’m laughing about that right now.  Funniest thing I ever heard, and I was only 8 years old.

Hidden treasure

February 22, 2016

 

Our Lady of Peace

Our Lady of Peace

One of the benefits of working in a chancery is that we are surrounded by religious art.  Some of it, as you might imagine, is pretty good.  Case in point is this tapestry.

This photo is just a small section of a good sized tapestry.  I have never known where it came from, even though I have admired it for years and asked my co workers what they knew about it.

Tonight I was getting ready to leave, last one out, when I looked at it and it just caught my eye as a good subject for a shot. It hangs on a wall and is just outside the edge of direct light from a fixture in the ceiling.  It was a little too dark to get the details I wanted, so I took it off the wall and set it in the direct light.

Lo and behold, an envelope was taped to the back of the frame.  I looked inside and there were 2 things; a picture of the tapestry from a catalog, and a holy card from the funeral of a woman.  My guess is that this was a donation from the woman’s family to the Church, and she has gone unknown to me until tonight.

What a wonderful gift to find this generous woman’s legacy in our office!  This tapestry is so appropriately named, as it brings great peace just looking at it.  Our Blessed Mother, in all her splendor.  What joy!

Thank you to this woman for her gift.  I will prayer for the repose of her soul, and thank God for her generosity and love of our Church.

Same but different

February 21, 2016

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Sherry keeps geraniums on our porch.  I have shown pictures of them in the past, and in the dull gray of winter their intense pink is a respite, a small bit of color that invades the monotones of snow, ice and darkness.  The porch is made up of 238 individual panes of glass that face south, letting in enormous amounts of light.  It may well be the best part of the house.  We use it year around, and if the sun is shining, regardless of the season, we can sit out there during the day and enjoy the warmth.

Today was a sunny day, and the geraniums were in bloom.  We were praying on the porch, and, as we usually do when we finish our prayers, we were talking about what we just did when I noticed this flower right in front of me that was pretty much lit up like a flame.  I like to play with backlighting, so I intentionally overexposed the background so I didn’t turn the flame into a piece of coal, which is what would have happened if I followed the usually-good advice of my light meter.  This was shot at 1/100, f2.8 at 70mm.

 

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Then I went to the other side of the flower to capture it with the sun in its face and I metered off the flower itself.  I shot this at 1/3200, f2.8 at 70mm, just like the one above but with different exposures and different viewpoints.  They were shot at 3:23 pm and 3:24 pm, respectively. I was no more than six feet away on the second shot from the first.

I find that utterly amazing.  How is it possible that we can see the same thing, but from different viewpoints and come away with a completely different image?

I had this happen to me recently outside photography.  I had an encounter with a person with whom I have worked over the years that left me angry, bitter and resentful towards this person.  The image I had was this was a person who didn’t appreciate what I was doing, how much I was helping him/her, and, by God, how ungrateful he/she was for all that I had done!

Then he/she talked to me, without realizing the depth of my anger. It turned out my image of the event was totally flawed, and that it was just my perspective that had driven my emotions.

This action, which I am afraid is very common to us all, separated me from this person, but more importantly, me from God.  It’s difficult to be in a loving relationship with someone, be it another person or God, when anger is the driving force.

I see the beauty in the encounter now, better known as grace.  My anger led to grace, as I was able to see the love that had been shown to me even though it looked all the world to me like someone was out to get me.

Like the flowers in the pictures, our view of others changes based on our perspectives.  I find great beauty in both these photos.  We can find great beauty in each other if we are willing to look at how we view those around us.

I love our porch. It’s full of light, warmth, prayer, love and grace.  Just like the people in our lives.

 

She’ll be coming round the mountain

February 20, 2016

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It’s a Saturday, dear reader, and we had our grandson with us last night and today.  He’s 4 years old and an absolutely delightful boy.  Sherry noticed that a local group, the Sherman Hill Model Railroad Club, would have an exhibition at the mall in Cheyenne today, and so we thought that was a good place for boys, both the 4-year-old and the 58-year-old type.

My memories of model trains are from may years ago, and they consist of big gauge rail cars, tracks that sparked occasionally, and big black transformers with red and green handles.  The transformers required connections to 2 screw-down terminals that lacked any insulation.  A touch across the terminals by one hand or finger resulted in a nasty shock.  If we gave those to kids today, it’s likely we would be thrown in jail.

These trains are controlled by wireless computer systems and complicated controls.  The models themselves are incredibly realistic, and, as I understand it, awfully pricey.  The set-up for this is filled with great stuff. Model size towns, factories, a lumber mill, depots, mountains, tunnels and bridges.  It is absolutely fascinating, and if you like trains at all, this is the place to be.  I don’t believe I will ever delve into this hobby, seeing as how I just don’t have the room for it or the inclination to drop a bunch of cash on the equipment.  But I love what these folks have done, and I’ll be back to look again some time in the future.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

Self Portrait

February 19, 2016

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This is me.  As you can see, I am about 12 feet tall and remarkably athletic looking.  It’s a wonder I’m not playing professional basketball.

Lots of photography teachers say taking self portraits is a great exercise.  Today I followed suit and must agree with that conclusion.  I especially love the expression on my face.

My camera goes everywhere with me, and you can see that I am holding it up with my left hand.  This is an instinctive move, as I have practiced it many times in the past. Today, however, it was not a real good idea.  The shoulder doc told me not to lift more than about 1 pound for the next six weeks, and camera and lens weigh more than that.  There is some discounting that takes place because all I was really doing was holding it up, and not really lifting it up.  It still hurts.

This is me at 4:30 in the afternoon.  I’m just a shadow of my former self.

What does the Wind Look Like?

February 18, 2016
Windy

Windy

How does one take a picture of the wind?

The fact of the matter is that without some high tech camera that captures air movement, you can’t do it.  What can be done, however, is to shoot the results of the wind.  Hence the picture above.

Winter in Cheyenne is often an exercise in dreariness.  Snow falls, wind blows piling it up in drifts, then a few days later the temperature goes up and the snow melts again.

Today we had the high temperature and the wind.  We had a day where the temperature and the wind speed hit equal numbers – 60 and 60.  As I write this, it sounds like an airplane is right outside my house revving up its jet engines.

I wanted to relay the actual ferocity of the wind by way of a photo.  This scene is in the parking lot adjacent to our office.  The snow is left over from the last big snowfall of a couple weeks ago, and it was melting all day creating the small lake at the bottom of the picture.

Two things are happening here that shouldn’t typically happen.  First is that there are whitecaps on the water.  This is a puddle in a parking lot.  There shouldn’t be any movement in the water because there just isn’t that much water. Yet, as you can see, there is plenty of movement.

The second item is the lid to the dumpster.  It is not stuck in this position. It is halfway up because the wind is blowing it up.  It’s just not natural.

Lest you think I am a complainer, dear reader, it is not so.  Grumbler at times, perhaps, but we must take the good with the bad.  Wyoming is such a glorious place to be in the summer and the fall that it’s only right that we have to suffer a little with the wind in the winter and spring. Suffer may be too strong of a word, but it is, at best, inconvenient.

It isn’t possible to take pictures of the wind, but this is pretty close.  It does keep the air clean, however.

The blue hour

February 17, 2016
Cheyenne sky

Cheyenne sky

In the world of photography, there is this thing called the Golden Hour, which is just before sunset. It’s a coveted time that produces light that turns nice pictures into great photographs.

This isn’t really the Golden Hour, because it occurred after sunset.  The sky takes on a personality of its own at times like these, and the blue and white that is our ceiling is not at all the blue and white we see during the day.

I was feeling a bit desperate tonight, not really having an opportunity to shoot anything for this blog even though I had two “professional” jobs for the Diocese.  We are in the process of putting together material for our annual appeal, and I was at a state agency where the extraordinary people of Catholic Charities were holding meetings for foster kids, foster parents and prospective foster parents. I got some great, emotion-filled shots that I couldn’t use here because, well, they really are not right for this venue.

There are heartbreaking stories regarding those kids. The associate director of Catholic Charities told me that he seeks the hardest cases, and that includes kids who have undergone torture.  These are little kids in Cheyenne, not in Syria.  Torture? Really?  Really.  Addiction is the root cause of this travesty, and it takes a terrible toll on the most vulnerable people in our world – our children.

The people at Catholic Charities deserve medals for their valorous work.

But I won’t put those pictures here. So I hunted for a shot in desperation, and turned a corner and saw this.

I have remarked in the past that this project has been wonderful at opening my eyes to things around me I would normally miss.  Like the blue sky at night. And Catholic Charities. And, sadly, little kids being tortured in my very city.

Thanks for reading.  God bless Catholic Charities of Wyoming.

February 16, 2016
Empty

Empty

Ever looked at a playground at night?

I never really paid attention to one until tonight. Every Tuesday we have a meeting of a club I have belonged to for 7 years.  This is a club that is 114 years old and has existed in its current format since the beginning.

We hold our meetings in a building in a park, and next to the buildings is a playground.  As a child, my idea of a playground wasn’t much more than monkey bars on asphalt. Today that just wouldn’t do, despite the sort of romantic notions we hold over the things of the past.  Some kid falling from the top of the bars and hitting the deck below would be in serious trouble. Today’s playgrounds are much, much safer, and, frankly, appear to be a lot more fun than those monkeybars.

Tonight as I walked across the parking lot and into the meeting, I saw the silhouette of the playground. Here was this place of immense joy and laughter, and it was empty and dark.  That about sums up how I felt tonight going into, and coming out of, this meeting.

The emptiness and darkness were not for me.  Rather, they are for a some members of the club who are going through unspeakable hardship right now.  Rather than detail things, suffice it to say their conditions are not what anyone in his right mind would choose.

Yet here they are at the meeting, men of whom I have grown very fond over the years.  Knowing of their fear, anxiety and profound sadness, I can’t help but believe they come to the meetings for the friendship and support they know that is theirs.  My intention is to breathe in their troubles and breathe out purified air, cleansed by the goodness of God, so that they can breathe again themselves.  The Buddhists have a word for this practice – tonglen.  These guys need all of it they can get.

I left the meeting with a heavy heart, knowing that in spite of the enjoyment of the meeting, these two were facing trials that should have precluded their enjoyment of the meeting, but did not.

So this melancholy is not from them, but only because I feel the pain that encompasses them now.  May God bless them both.

A dark playground is a lonely place.  Darkness in our lives can be lonely as well.  We can pray that God shows us his everlasting love.


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