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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Taste of Tea

Ah, the warming taste of Chinese tea in the morning. It is a pure and simple moment that I look forward to each day. The Chinese believe that the process of creating anything is as important as the end result of the activity. From the utensils used to the care & patience given to the essential brewing of the tea, the motions are indeed a vital part of the relaxation. To this end, I brew "loose leaf" tea and not packaged tea bags. I find the quality of raw organic product higher than the sum of its assembly-line pre-bagged parts.

So, which tea is best?

I cannot consume any variety of green tea, as I find it to be too harsh on my body.
Accordingly, I have settled on white tea as my tea of choice. I am not picky about my tea, but I will admit that I have researched it enough to be dangerous. I have learned about the varieties grown, the regional soils, methods of harvesting & the final grades awarded to each type. So, I guess you can say that I am picky about my inherent knowledge of tea.

I have found that the standard grade of white tea is a mixed hybrid concoction known as White Peony tea. It is essentially a mixture of twigs, leaves and a few white buds. It is the Milwaukee's Best of White Tea, if that is even a remotely admissible comparison. On second thought, perhaps, simply the Budweiser of White Tea.

I primarily enjoy Silver Needle White Tea as my favorite. This tea is comprised of all flower buds only, no roughage, stems, twigs, leaves, dirt or filler. It is pure White Tea without the extras which help drive up the cost, but the quality more than compensates for that slight adjustment.

Rishi Silver Needle white tea ( Bai Hao Yinzhen) is a good introduction to the world of quality tea. Truly high quality silver needle tea is known to be very expensive with some batches reaching an estimated $122.00 an ounce. By comparison, this tea is sold for about $6.50 per ounce or about $.35 a cup.

TEA - Great for your mind, soul & overall health.

Brew a batch from Amazon here:
Rishi White Tea

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Going, Going, Gone....... Ebay is officially retail.

I am not new to the Ebay scene. I started early on with the website and its massive appeal back in 1999. While I wasn't smart enough to buy stock or work as a janitor for this company, I was keen enough to recognize a great thing when I saw it.

Ebay used to be the epitome of fantastic online deals, the world's largest virtual flea market, where nearly every purchase made you feel good about logging on and bidding. The excitement of the bidding was only outweighed by the occassional loss to a last-second sniper bid or perhaps slight buyers remorse on a product that you probably didn't actually need.

On rare instance, some items would be vastly overpriced due to the seller's greed or simple misunderstanding of the market value, but that was certainly the exception. Now with most sellers fronting their small business marketplace models, the opposite pattern is true, nearly all auctions are at retail prices. I search nearly every single day on Ebay for one thing or another, usually niche antique pieces with plenty of supply and the auctions are always indentical. Overpriced, retail junk.

Due to Ebay's marketing of business models and its own greed for hefty fee collection, it has transformed this one appeasing online bazaar of savings into nothing but a store front company. In most cases, usually more than 90%, you can actually purchase new items from Amazon cheaper than you can from Ebay once you pay for the ridiculously over-priced shipping charges from most sellers.

It is sad to see it go, but Ebay will not last at this rate IMHO.
People will grow tired paying retail and simply move on to a better designed auction model for their purchases. A simple place where they are still in control of market demand, prices, and yes, somewhere where they might actually get a good deal on something for a rare change.

Thanks for the memories....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The path & the past. (1931 Delco)

I vacillate between hobbies & interests from year to year, sometimes even season to season within the same year. Over the last 12 months, I have stuck with vintage fan restoration for some strange reason. This is probably the same handy nostalgia that keeps me pegged with pocketwatches, vintage tractors, visiting old trains and the hope of having a Model A Ford one day. This is unconventional thinking for an engineer in their mid 30s with no obvious link to rural America, nor family members who share any similar interests.

Yes, I would say that I am linked to the past, and I am an old soul. I truly believe that your DNA code is not only a map of who you will be, nor what you will look like physically, but a covert payload of memories, interests & stories from your past ancestors to which to learn. This gift is a transparent treasure box or time capsule that will release its historical contents to those willing to listen & take the time to learn from those memories.

I believe that while living in the present is good, learning & appreciating the marvels of the past is also just as amazing. I enjoy trying to comprehend how those who came before us with no Internet, no google search engines, nor any ability to communicate with the masses were able to invent the items that revolutionized the world & led us all to the discoveries that we take for granted each day.

I also see a simplier time. A time with less grandeur, less comfort, but more dedication, self-responsibility & solid work ethics. I try to emulate the basics of those principles today in my life.

I discovered another antique fan this past weekend and somehow it made it to the top of the proverbial list of patients (victims) to be restored. We were antique shopping in Denham Springs and finally found a shop willing to bargain & completely enjoyed the experience.

After a complete disassembly, cleaning, lubing, rewiring, sanding, polishing & painting --- it is good to go. Nice, strong 80 year old fan. Amazing.

1931 DELCO 12" FAN
Still Working but slow & rough.

Will make a nice Christmas gift. Who?


Before Pic - 1931 Delco Fan

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Emerson Northwind Fan Restoration

Here is another completed fan. I finally got spun back up (LOL) to action with fan restoration after taking a brief break from the hobby. I have several more fans to finish, and I intend on finishing all of the them before November.

Fan restoration process: I am not a hardcore professional restorer. I don't have the shop nor the sand/bead blasting tools, nor a pro paint shop to truly make these units "factory new" or better. I am truly envious of the true professionals out there who astonish me every single time I gaze into their work. I aspire to one day have the tools and time to improve my trade to learn from the true masters!

My restoration process is more of the home craftsman grade. I disassemble all of the fans completely. I clean every single part, bolt, shaft, bushing & blade by hand. After de-greasing and inspecting all parts, I move on to the electrical side. I create a custom diagram and electrical schematic for each fan. I use my Fluke meter to calculate & test all of the components and resistance/flow readings through the circuit. I then replace all wiring with period-reproduction wire & resolder all connections to the newly cleaned speed coil and switch unit including feed wire from base to motor and base to AC input. After replacing the plug with a period-replacement unit, I test the electrical.

Once cleaned, the parts all get painted and all metal polished and buffed.
The fan is reassembled and usually after a few adjustments & proper oil treatment, they power back to life!

I still find it incredibly fulfilling to start a fan that has been dormant in the basement cellar or attic, rusted & neglected for over 6 decades and inject new life into it.

One thing about my restorations: I always leave some original wear, patina and age on my work. It reminds me that you can never reinvent the past, nor take away the process nor influence of time. It allows me to retain & respect the character & history while at the same time restoring these little marvels of American culture.


This little guy is a Emerson Northwind 450 G model. This letter suffix places the fan date somewhere in the early 1920s. Even by the "cheap fan" standards compared to other fans in that era, this is miles beyond any modern product in both overall quality and craftsmanship.

It is an absolute truth - They just don't make em like this anymore. :)

Emerson Northwind 450 - Before Pic

Emerson Northwind 450 - After

Monday, June 28, 2010




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Monday, June 21, 2010

Early Morning Deer Encounter


Spotted this young fawn with its beautiful & protective mother this morning out on a walk near the property.
Only had my short zoom Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens mounted, so I literally had to wait until we were only about 20 feet
apart to capture this image. Lots of patience and a quiet, perhaps trusting morning gave way to a nice encounter.
Looking forward to more chance meetings on this relaxing journey in the Hill Country of Texas.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Emerson 29648 Anitique Fan - Finished


Finished my 2nd vintage fan. Going to donate this one to a silent auction for Gulf Oil Relief to be held by New Orleans Jazz Festival Foundation. All proceeds from this 1921 Emerson 29648 fan will be donated to support the rehabilitation of our precious Gulf wildlife impacted by this traumatic BP oil spill. It is a small part, but something dear and near to my heart as a native of Louisiana.

I hope small efforts by millions of hands can help restore, rehabilitate & prevent future disasters to our precious and invaluable ecosystems.
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Monday, June 7, 2010

My 2nd victim!!!

My 2nd victim patient has arrived!!!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Antique Fan Progress - Day 2


By day 2, the fan was completely dis-assembled. All parts cleaned, polished & painted.
It is not perfect, but I was going for the "renewed restoration" --- I like that I tried
the maintain the vintage character while just cleaning it up a bit.

Overall, just the wiring is remaining. I have to wait for a restoration wire which adds a little
style and authenticity to this work. It is essentially "new UL wire" covered in black cotton to
appear old without the negative affects, such as house fires!

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Emerson Fan Restoration - Progress DAY 2


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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Emerson 79464-AX Fan

Ask me how I know how hard it is to remove a fan blade that is left-threaded on a shaft after nearly 70 years! Wow, this one task took me about 3 hours and countless efforts of angle, tension & perseverance. Alas, it is off and the work can finally begin --- however, I must believe that will still not be all gravy from this point forward.

Here's to intense patience & a little luck! :)

1941 Emerson Fan


Say hello to my little friend!
I picked up this working 1941 Emerson Electric Cast-Iron fan in need of dis-assembly, cleaning & restoration for only $10.00 --- Ones in good condition sell at these antique shops for well over $100, and I saw an exact version today on the same street in this antique village for $250.00!

I think I am going to clean it up, do a full overhaul on the electrical, but leave some of the vintage antique patina. The original paint is still mostly intact. It has good character & for an item that is 69 years old & should be a fun project.

Cheers to a rare deal on a true antique!
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CHAPTER 1 - "Little Pieces"

From my book entitled "A Quest for Country"

Excerpt from CHAPTER 1
"Little Pieces"

Scattered among the young loblolly pines, the coarse blades of the Bahia grass grew much taller than expected. As we approached, I noticed the worn, rusted cattle gate, which no long stood proud and strong, but gracefully weakened as if the course of time itself had eased it into its own period of retirement. The metal was now a faded shade of rusted brown, a far cry from the bold fire engine red that once protected these proud acres. Securing these symmetrical metal doors was no longer the sliding metal claps, or even a hefty chain --- it was now a purple lead line. Yes, a simple soft rope with a rather feminine twist now issued the pronouncement of border protection onto this land. What a stark contrast I pondered as I walked closer, but at least this makes accessing the land that much easier. I was relieved as I slowly and easily untied the simple rope and pressed onward onto to the remainder of this impromptu adventure.

The land was slightly rolling and mysteriously quiet. As now an intruder both in the legal & natural sense, I felt a bit of adrenaline begin to flow, but that was mild compared to my heightened awareness for potential encounters. The grass was relatively tall, nearly 18" in most areas, but still plenty high enough to obscure the deadliest reptile or native predator. There is something very instinctual about our human ability to reattain lost hunting & defensive skills when placed into the proper environments. For a moment, I allowed myself to lose track of all time, everything outside of those broken gates, my life was now here on the inside of this arena, and I had to become a seamless part of its rank-and-file.

As much as I relish in these challenges, I regret having to be responsible for others who want to accompany my quests. Constantly having to ensure that someone else doesn't misstep their path, touch the wrong plant, nor endanger their own life is not something I enjoy. However, empathy runs deep in my blood. As the stress begins to mount, I carry it upon my shoulders in silence like an assumed layer of guilt.

Stomping through the young pines, and mild underbrush we continue to traverse this intriguing and beautiful landscape. I see with a vision of what is not here, not what is. The pines, gone. The underbrush, gone. The thick tall grass, gone. All that remains are the glorious and proud hardwood trees, the mighty southern oaks. I noticed in the distance a nice simple cattle pond, as I fumble with my parcel map. I cling to this folded white paper which offers me a little reprieve both in the legal sense if I get caught for trespassing and also a good indicator of where I might be in this dense humid habitat.

I press onward, trying to orientate the map with my steps and attempting to align the invisible lines of demarcation that segment each parcel of land. This property is now divided into a multitude of various sized lots ranging from 2.2 acres up to 7.95 --- the one that has my eye is the 4.75 acre piece right in the middle with its own small pond. We continue to walk upon this old road, a dense ridge line some might say, between all of the simple farmland. It is strange to imagine now this once large proud pasture is about to become nothing more than individual country homesteads. Never again in history will this property be as it once was. Like a sea overtaking a sand castle, the evidence of its existence will forever change and this book will sadly be closed, forever.

I wish that I contained the resources in my own purse to keep all of the land intact, simply flowing as one continual landmass in lieu of the broken pieces. These little pieces of land that eventually will become its destiny saddens me for a moment. I think about someone trying to place dividers in a running stream or a stony brook, each person claiming their own portion to themselves. All of them damning the history of their steps while conveniently damming the flow of the water itself. This would never be allowed, but with land it is all different and fair game for the developers.

I get lost in my thoughts, forgetting about the serene surroundings and time, even my companion who I figured by this point is in this as much as I am, and therefore has about as much chance of leaving this place unharmed. "Yes, but so much work is still needed to be done to make this even usable", I proclaim. Trying to convince myself that it is not worth the investment to live in this glorious place, while I am truly only projecting my own frustration & discouragement for not believing it could ever be mine to own.

By this time, I could sense a growth of silent frustration beginning to mount so I casually made some quick measurements in my head and with nearby landmarks relative to the plot map. We trekked out the path from which we entered in near silence. I had nothing else to discuss, nothing left to ponder. Resealing the past at least for now, I gently retied the purple rope as we exited the gates. I knew in my soul that these little pieces of land will bring joy to a less emotional family one day, but never more than they once meant wholly complete to nature herself.

As I touched the old gate, I spoke in silence and tried to feel the energy of this place. Perhaps, I will return. Perhaps, this land is still quietly speaking to my soul. Perhaps one of these little pieces will be a large part of my life one day.

We drove away and moment faded.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dreams of the Past ---

I woke up this morning in a confused state of mind. I had just departed a painful dream in which an ex-gf of mine was still upset with me. All of the emotions were live, not Memorex. It all seemed so real. I felt more than ever the jagged reminders of the pain that I caused some years ago now. Somehow, after all this time, I thought that I would be forgiven even remembered for something more than the last fleeting glimpses of trouble that I caused, the trauma of my recent divorce at that time.

I still feel things in the past are undone, but maybe I am just too damn stupid to live in the present or perhaps I still cannot escape the memories that haunt me for moments in which I chose not to conduct myself properly. I am not sure why the past continues to haunt my steps and reminds me of my misdeeds, my shortcomings, and ultimately my failures.

In my dream, I wasn't looking for absolution, nor pity, nor love --- just an opportunity to feel forgiven and at peace with my heart. I could still see the sadness and the mistrust in her eyes. I felt alone.

I will trust that God knows my heart. I trust that I will one day be able to walk innocently through my journeys, seeking not to recall the moments of the past. Like history, the past is not something to ignore, nor hide from --- it is something to reflect upon and to learn.

When will I ultimately be at peace?
When will I learn to forgive myself?
What was I supposed to learn from that dream?

I walk forward down the path hoping to discover these answers...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I am only happy when it rains.... ;)

I sit here idle. I called my mother this morning for her day of blessed honor. I was not appreciated for my efforts, but rather chastised for not calling her earlier to discuss my plans to take her out to eat today. Apparently, raw selfishness & a side of beleaguered obligation are on the menu for me today. Perhaps, had I felt slightly more incensed, I would have said something. I decided to let the moment go, knowing that sometimes those who are blissfully ignorant of their own rudeness will eventually reap what they sow.

Then I gave thought to some recent conversations about various people inside and outside of my life. The continually chatter about their "good days" or "bad days" and their inability to cope with the reality of life itself.

I call all of that mindless bantering --- the luxury of not having to truly live.

Life is not meant to be easy, nor stress free nor pleasant at all times. We are all products of the choices we have all made at various junctures in our respective lives. Where did we lose sight of our dreams? Where did we choose not to challenge ourselves, where did fear or anger get the better of our walk? Who said that we deserve to be cheerful & to smile each day? Who said there wouldn't be rain?

Still in the midst of reality of life itself, people complain. People result to medication to get them through the day, people bitch about their shortcomings, their lack of free time, their lack of purpose, their lack of a life to be honest. Yet those same souls attract, even construct the loneliness, the fear & the burdens in their own life. They are convicted with a sentence that they themselves have judged to be congruent with their own weight in self-pity.

It is akin to a martyr complaining about how bad it is to be a martyr.
You chose the role, now play the part.

For those of us who have to work each day to provide, who have bigger & more pressing responsibilities between the time we gaze into our bathroom mirrors & pickup the kids for soccer practice, we don't have the luxury of complaining.
We have people counting on us, we have corporations employing us, we have customers depending on us. The machine doesn't stop grinding away simply because we didn't have Bavarian cream for our coffee. The fields don't stop growing because we "don't feel just right today" --- Sad, sick or lonely, you have to get the work done.

We have not only exposed our soft underbellies but our soft convictions, our soft spirits & our weak resolve.

The luxury of being soft, of being restless, overly medicated & comfortable. Too easy it has become to complain instead of construct, to bitch instead of build, to wallow instead of work, to rest without effort. The luxury of wasting time, the luxury of sitting idle watching the days go by, the luxury of popping pills to remove us from the reality of our current situations.

This is not to say that I don't get discouraged, dismayed & depressed at times dealing with the realities of life. I do, and during these moments it is hard to press on and shoulder the responsibilities, the pain and despair that comes with being a father without his children & an overburdened professional. It is hard to smile sometimes, but with cheerfulness or not, I go to work, I press onward.

Sometimes walking through the rain is normal --- but sitting in puddles waiting for it to end, complaining about your wet socks gets your nowhere.

I would hate to ponder that fact that these same soft Americans are descendants of our pioneers, our founding fathers, our crusaders that built, battled for & blazed this country with their own bare hands. They truly had some bad days, they truly knew the sense of work, the responsibility & pride of a purposeful life. All without the bitching, the bantering & need for anti-depressants.

Additionally, they didn't wait for the next bestselling book to build them up, to help them remember that life is hard, nor to give them a purpose in their life. They didn't need to be reminded that life is what you make it, that anything worth anything takes considerable effort, hard work & dedication.

Reminders are good, like highway signs keeping us pointed in right direction towards our destination. However, you actually need to be on the road to see them! So, get out there, set a goal, challenge yourself to something new & see how truly wonderful life can be... rain and all. :)

I am only happy when it rains...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Country Living?

Louisiana Cypress - Nikon D2Xs - April 2010

We drove out to the country this past weekend. I miss it. It just smells cleaner, the air just moves easier & the pace perfectly matches my spirit. When I say country in Louisiana, especially south-east Louisiana, strange images probably come to mind. It is not the open corn fields of the mid-west, nor the rocky plains of Wyoming, just part of deep warm South. No, I don't mean gator infested swampland. I mean oak trees, gently rolling green fields & total mixture of diversity so rich it would make Jesse Jackson & Jesse James both equally proud.

Country in south-east Louisiana is mostly this --- the wealthy country with their hundreds of acres of manicured land & 15000sq foot plantations replicas versus the country poor, with their customary cinder-block supported 86 Firebird (faded glory) "hotrods", rusted weightlifting equipment on the porch & colorful plastic toys littering their untidy lawns. The country poor love Nascar, Budweiser, the Saints and to ride around on their 1/8 acre desolate dirt lots on their riding mowers cutting nothing, but holding their kids in absolute pride and accomplishment. The country rich love to savor the good life & pay someone else to maintain it all.

I am stuck in the middle.

In between, you have a handful of nice properties, well-kept with pride --- middle class people with good work ethics, but mostly you have trash. If you can imagine, we drove nearly 300 miles and never exceeded 30 miles from home. We traversed every old highway, backroad, and creek bed looking, exploring our backyard for something that captured us. We returned disappointed, but enlightened.

Strangely, some of the most pristine land containing the most picturesque landscapes were either drastically over-priced or more often marred with the presence of the most downtrodden, desolate & depressing shacks, trailers & their dirt-poor inhabitants.

The frustration and dichotomy of living in the country comes from the inability to control your environment. That is why subdivisions are so popular. You can control your environment & live next to your socioeconomic peers, all protected by those who just simply don't share your morals, interests nor class of living.

It is kind way to say --- hey, "This is where we are in our life. If you are better, go up the street to "Hillcrest Heights" --- if you are worse, keep on moving buddy. We don't need "your kind" here. That and no one wants to maintain 10 acres of land anymore. Tractors simply don't make time away from our Tivo's that enticing.

Again, I am stuck in the middle.

I guess I simply want my land again. I want my antique tractors to restore and my own parcel of Earth to maintain. I desire the rugged sinker cypress barns & the well-appointed country home. Even a nice lake, rolling green lawn, large oak trees lining a shapely driveway & cast-iron gates would be acceptable. (grin) --- I strangely feel very relaxed and at ease, at peace if you will, on old Plantation land. Country life --- It is in my blood, my genes & certainly my spirit.

I look forward to moving on --- away from this glorious Mandeville, LA subdivision to my next place, never to Hillcrest Heights, but to something more reflective of who I am. I am done living in the shallowness of impressing the proverbial Jones family & their 2.2 children. It all seems far too ordinary and rehearsed, almost predictably staged. I just want quiet serenity & some land, acres and acres of land to walk upon & call our own. A place for my children to fish, to run and my border collie to chase a herd of sheep.

Perhaps, we will locate our next homestead soon. Perhaps, I will die wanting to return to the place that sets my mind and spirit at ease. Perhaps, none of this matters, only the present, only today. Perhaps, I long for times that are gone for good reason --- only time & opportunity will ever prove me right or wrong.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Life is a hobby

If anyone knows me, it is that I have an abundance of hobbies that I get serious about then move on, only to return with a focused intensity angled squarely on mastering that one niche. I am not quite sure why I become so involved, so engaged into one whimsical discipline only to abdicate it completely, and walk away.

But I always return even though the process may take years.
Some of my hobbies that tend to keep me busy most weekends are:

-Adventure Racing
-Antique Pocket Watch Repair
-Volunteer work
-Chinese Calligraphy

I like to leave the world of work behind and finally after about 15 years, I am not on-call waiting for the world to melt each weekend. I can finally explore my interests with complete abandon and feel enriched before Monday morning. I believe that you truly need to live before you die & without getting all William Wallace on you, there is something magical in truly appreciating life, each moment.

By leveraging such a diversity of interests, I feed multiple sides of my body, mind & spirit. I feel the tactile history in handling & repairing 150 year old timepieces just as easily as I practice the patience & art of Chinese calligraphy on a 100 year old inkstone. I see God not in church, but I feel God in my photographs. I view His influence in my walk, in nature itself. I marvel at the simple magical moments that some people dismiss as wasteful distractions to a modern life.

Part of what I seek is a common thread that will tie some of this embattled chaos together. I sometimes feel that my life is a constant battlefield for my emotions and my thoughts. Becoming one thing, being known for one talent, one ability is just not important to me. I want to experience as much from life as I can during the proverbial dash on my tombstone.

On the work front, I am blessed. I am humbled by my success at work, that aspect of professionalism which defines my career. I am secretly proud of myself and the fact that I have overcome so much to make something worthy of my life and my ability to make a real difference for a great company. I am thankful each day for the opportunities that I have been given & I have not wasted a single second of those moments.

All-in-all, there is a lot to learn and even more to live in life.
Regardless of your interests or your career, Make enjoying life your hobby.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Roping' & Reality of the Angola Prison Rodeo.

Preface: I did not obtain press credentials before attending this event, so this editorial is entirely from the POV of an actual spectator. I still carry photo credentials from 2 newspapers that are valid, but since I wasn't officially on assignment, plus with guests, I didn't want to "press" the issue. (no pun, haha)

Angola Prison Rodeo --- April 17, 2010

We arrived to the event after sitting in 40 miles of traffic near St. Francisville, LA with road construction still apparently unfinished after 4 years of work. It took over 90 minutes to traverse the last 30 miles, so plan accordingly. There is only 1 road in and 1 road out of this event --- kinda like the view of Angola prison life itself, since over 75% of inmates are in Angola for life and will never be taking a road out.

Upon passing through the entrance gates of the prison, the cold, harsh stares from the Department of Corrections staff was slightly intimidating. Even though each civilian pretends to be there to simply enjoy a rodeo, the added edge & danger attached with being on 18,000 acres of prison land with real hardened convicts is the true draw of this event.

As we are guided acre by acre down towards the rodeo arena, the sheer vast size of this establishment, begins to dawn in on the visitors. Fortified guard rifle towers still stand manned overlooking miles of 25' high double-deep fencing and endless strands of rolled razor wire laying perched to snare the next foolish inmate escape attempt.

The shiny, colorful trucks and cars of the visitor parking areas look completely out of place, yet paint the quiet grass fields and acres of open pasture land. As we get out, like cattle, we all head quickly towards the deep-south Roman rodeo coliseum. The arena itself is actually just a large metal frame with bleachers & metal roofing overhang to shade all of the spectators. The arena seats 10,000 people and today like every other time in its history, the show is completely sold out.

After locating our seats which are quite near the main chute entrance to the dirt-filled oval stage, we settle in for the usual "down-home" commentary and red-neck rhetoric. We are not disappointed in the abysmal grandstanding by the rodeo
announcer. After 30 minutes of prayers, holding holds, few WhoDat chants & the warden announcing the presence of everyone including the kid who cuts his lawn at home, the show finally begins.

The small, but trusted group of prisoners who are allowed to compete are positioned in an area right across from the spectators (civilians) and above the holding chutes for the raging bulls and mustangs who are definitely poised for today's events. Wearing traditional black and white striped long-sleeve cowboy-style shirts, it remains unmistakably predictable, but casually unavoidable to mistake an inmate from a paid professional during the event.

The events go by one-by-one. Bareback horse riding, bull-riding, wild-cow milking, inmate buddy pickup on horseback, & calf wrestling are all on the menu of festivities today. While absolutely exciting in its own right, it is not unique from previous visits to this popular event. In some strange way, all of the events unfold almost with a predictable, traveling circus or "Cir de Angola" type of feel to it. The inmates, the wild animals and the spectators all seem to coordinate themselves to the same dance steps.

The animals unleash their fury with reckless abandon on the helpless inmates and the spectators point and gaggle about the events. The bulls charge and send prisoners flying like penguin-colored rag-dolls. While completely routine, however, it is strange to get the feeling that some people are actually expecting to see a different ending to to these events. However, that could be traced more to the cognitive ability of the attendees and less to do with the mystique of the show.

The spectators themselves run the gamut of social class, but most being classic country black, redneck white & small cross-sections in between.
The slutty cowgirl theme seems prevalent with most of the young girls, as if the girls dress themselves up to tease the inmates & provide them something to remember on those cold, dark lonely nights here at Angola. The majority of the rest of the visitors are essentially very homely, over-fed children and their parents looking for their long-lost fried funnel cake & cream soda, and taking the show in only between trips to the concession booths.

In the midst of all of the structure & predictability, the rawness of the show still shines through. The proximity to freedom and civilian living for the prisoners is clearly apparent, but like true professionals, they never interact, even verbally with the spectators, even while standing just feet away. For a brief moment, I was in a trance wondering why these men who appear to be relatively upstanding, tough, hard-working individuals got to Angola in the first place. Was it just a bad night of drinking followed by a regrettable action to a spouse or bar patron, or something more ruthless? Assuming they keep the Hannibal Lecter type far away from this event, I casually return to the enjoyment of the show.

All things considered, it is truly an amazing circus and should be on everyone's to-do list at least once. Sure, it is overdone, overplayed & part of an elaborate money-making grandstand, but you could say that about most professional sporting events. And at least here, the athletes only get paid for their winning performances and it is actually commensurate with their overall contributions to society as a whole.

So, get your tickets early and enjoy the greatest rodeo on this side of freedom.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My path with the art of photography

After collecting a multitude of lenses and camera accessories over the years, I have come to the general conclusion that a quote I hear years ago about photography is sadly accurate. "Most lenses are better than most photographers" --- simply stated it is not just the equipment, but more obviously the person behind the glass that will enhance, diminish or maximize the capabilities of any given lens.

The understanding of exposure, composition and good technique still overshadows the average consumer & their ineptitude at understanding what photography truly is --- an art. Sure anyone can press a shutter button, capture light onto a sensor and call that photography --- but is that the epitome of the effort required to join the ranks of those who dedicate their lives to showcasing moments professionally?

I have been humbled throughout my 15 year journey with photography. I have literally run the gamut on equipment and results. I have used early DSLRs that sell for <$300 today with simple kit lenses and landed front-page showcases with major metropolitan newspapers. In contrast, I have used 600mm f/4 lenses on expensive gimbal tripods & ended up with photos that wouldn't make the cut as frame inserts at a dollar store.

I have gone full circle & retro in some areas. In lieu of the latest autofocus, I now use a 40 year old Nikkor AI-S manual focus lens for all of my macro shots. I have taken the time to appreciate the quality of the older vintage equipment that is lost in the mass-market production of today's equipment. I have taken the time to master the proper understanding of light and its affect on the final image.

I have also learned that photography is as much a journey as it is a destination. What I mean is that I have set out numerous times with a strict time limit and an agenda only to realize that life is not on my time & not at my whim. I have learned that beauty is subjective & observing the everyday moments of life is truly what is worth capturing. Now, what I do is simply set out without an agenda, letting nature & the timeless essence of life unfold on its own accord, hoping that I am lucky enough to be part of a special moment & then capture it.

Some photographers see only what is in front of them, only what the world wants them to see. The white picket fence, the family photo in front of the oak tree at the park, the staged child graduation photo are all good examples of allowing the world to dictate your photographic moments.

Learn to filter out the average to find magic in the shadows. Learn to listen to the wind, watch the rustling in the leaves, take your time to observe the unfolding simplicity of our world & in those things, you will find your true photos worth keeping. It is hard when you literally are on a time limit or on a vacation, but even in these events, make time to see life on its terms --- get up extremely early, get in position when nature wakes up from its peaceful slumber.

Realize that life is as much about experiencing the moments, as capturing them.
After losing over 20,000 photos during hurricane Katrina, I can attest to the fact
that life is indeed precious & sometimes the only snapshots you have left are the ones written on your heart.

Go out & explore life & find the moments you seek.
Then if you are fortunate, those same moments will also capture you. :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

PBASE Gallery

Loaded my first Pbase gallery --- just some random shots.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Snapshots


We all drove to Fort Pike today, an old confederate fortification on the banks of Lake Ponchatrain build in the early 1820s. It is an open and slightly eerie place --- cold & damp brick hallways full of history & nearly two centuries of decay. My kids enjoyed running around the upper ramparts and relishing in the mild afternoon sunshine. I tried to imagine the sleepless nights spent waiting, wondering & fearing a potential sea invasion. I imagined the citadel in its prime and how it must have felt to live & die within these brick walls.
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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tracing my past

Left early this morning with a torrent of rain above me. As I pulled out of the Drury Inn in Meridian, MS --- I could barely see the road, and I quietly determined that this day of exploring my past was going to quickly become a wasted effort.  In this undetermined stillness, I pushed onward recalling from memory, the backroads and pathways to find my ancestor's graveyard site.

I drove up to Eutaw, AL and then Northwest to Aliceville, then Reform, then finally Millport and Kennedy. I turned up a poor rustic neighborhood to find the old city cemetery simply painted along the side of a simple country road. No elaborate fencing, brick pillars, nor gates encompassed this place, just a mixture of old and new headstones.

I parked in the church parking lot across the street and headed instinctively for the back of the cemetery, towards the old graves...those who had some roots down by this time, truly had a story to tell. I marched around in the remnants of some very light rain, trying to locate my family. Then, I found them. I cannot explain the feeling of finding links to the past, tangible markers that help you feel more connected to who you are as a person in this life.

As I located my great-great-great grandfather's monument, a mild sense of pride and peace raced through my veins.  This man, who would never know me nor my existence in this world, set the course for my ability to kneel above his final very ability to breathe & to live was set into motion before his death some 110 years ago.

Our lives do carry us forward and the choices we make certainly affect the future. I could not help from feeling connected & part of a larger, more extended family even by simply touching their engraved stone markers bearing my father's surname. I allowed myself to drift back, to try to feel their presence, to believe that in some small way, they were glad that I was there.

What will my grave say about my life and about those who will visit in the future?

My great-great-great grandfather William H. Smothers

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Change --- We could all use a little....

Earlier this year right after my birthday, (2/20) --- I decided that I needed to make another change in my life. Not any convicting medical discoveries, nor painful realizations helped spark this new path, just something within my spirit that urged me to modify my habits.

Each morning I sit for about 15 minutes in silence and just meditate --- try to clear my head, let go of all of the voices, the responsibility, the burdens of being an adult in general, and just breathe. It helps ground my spirit for the day, and I have noticed that I am calmer, and generally much more patient & less reactive to the world around me. I am actually more aware, focused & instead of being a coiled up stress spring ready to pounce, I am just more reflective & contemplate my responses a little more intelligently.

Alas, that is not the only change I am referring to!

I changed my eating habits. Flax Seed, Omega3s, vegetables & non-processed foods all
became options that I choose to savor now instead of any processed, refined or artificial foods. I decided to close the door on all meats & get my protein from either yogurt or fresh seafood. Now, this is not a radical shift for me as I felt that most of the time I did eat "healthy" --- but I just wanted to eliminate the impurities from my life...stripping down the layers of disease and empty calories which did not provide anything but fat & slow eventual bodily decay.

Taking an honest look at your own life, understanding how food can influence your day-to-day processes, your emotional and physical well-being --- it finally clicked and made so much more sense. I never really understood all of the hoopla about this
fad, this diet, this new age food book, and I still don't subscribe to those "bestselling buy-me, I will change your life" books.

If you ever truly change anything, trust me...a book won't be the reason why.
Change has to flow from a deeper part of your soul, a deeper, richer more spiritual
side of your life. It cannot simply be about the threats of living with the weight, the lung disease, the has to be because you choose a different path. That you choose to live better, not just live.

You seriously take the time to listen to your body, find out what it takes to be one
with life and decide to be truly happy. Not letting your vices fool you into happiness, but strip away the layers & simply get back to basics. Today, I eat 1/3 of what I used to eat 10 years ago, probably just 5 years ago.

I eat to live, I eat to nourish my blood, feed my organs, to heal my body, to enrich my mind...not to replace something emotional that is lacking in my life, not out of habit, not out of desperation nor stress.

I can feel the wheels of this change starting to have a positive impact on my life, but it takes time to cleanse your body out of the routine of all of the unnecessary chemicals, colors/dyes, preservatives, fillers & false promises.

For now, I am content and at peace with my path & my life. I was always seeking something so much larger outside of myself to "show me the path", "send me a sign" and it really just took, looking inward to my own soul and listening instead of watching, believing instead of speaking...doing it for myself instead of waiting for someone else to guide me.

Find something today that you can do to inspire a change in your own life.

When you're finished changing, you're finished - Ben Franklin

Saturday, January 9, 2010


In the midst of the cold morning air, I look down. I see the cracked faded gray concrete. I notice the stillness of the bare, winter trees. I breathe in the unmistakable almost sacred aroma of change. A gentle undertone...but it is there.
It is akin to how some train to break wood with their hands, how select few can decipher homogeneous fine wine and pick out individual flavors, how others observe ghosts, & how some people are truly fortunate enough to see how simple, yet how magical each moment of life can be. If they only choose to "see"

It is about filtering. To remove the artificial blinders, the ads, the media, the TV, the Internet, the distractions that encompassed we all call "life" --- it is getting back to the path. The reason behind it all, the very purpose for living itself. To seek out something more worthy of our time.

I find myself at crossroad in my life. Shedding the past, shedding those in my life that are simply not genuine, not meaningful, not part of who I am. It is not a slight to these people, nor personal. It is what it is. life is more than loving your loved ones, it is truly experiencing life. It is not someone forcing you to appreciate and respect those who are fundamentally disrespectful & selfish. Your actions define who you are, and blood or no blood, I stopped caring to keep our false relationships alive. I wish them no harm, only blessings. I don't want them to change who they are, just stop pretending to the world about what they have become.

Change is certain...Through action, change is focused. Through focus, change is guided. Through this guiding, change is meaningful.

I am unsure what this means for my life in 2010, but I know it will be monumental.
Crossroads. Where will my path lead me?