Friday, January 31, 2014

Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag

After yesterday's post, I think today calls for something a little lighter.  I took an early lunch this morning to do some banking before the line-ups got crazy and before the American/Canadian dollar discrepancy hit my road trip fund any harder.  And when I say early, I mean EARLY.  Lunch between 9:15 and 10:15am.

It was a brilliantly sunny and nippy outside, so on my way back I stopped to shoot some pigeons.  It turned out to be perfect timing since a nice, elderly lady threw them some feed right as I crouched down and turned my camera on.  All of these shots were taken with my 35mm lens, so those pigeons were extremely friendly and extremely CLOSE.  "If you take a dump on my camera...." went through my head at least once while they all flew about.

Banking... birds... I'm feeling very Mary Poppins-ish today.  Except that I spent my "tuppence" in exchange fees instead of feeding them to the birds.  This road trip is starting to feel a little more real all the time, even though we're still a couple months out.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hi, this is me. (Don't read if you don't want it to get real).

My name is Laura, but that is just a title that I answer to.  It is not who I am.  It is not how I define myself.  If you ask me to describe myself I will throw out words.  Words like... overachiever, tenacious, stubborn, artistic, logical, and so on.  I will stick more titles, more names, more badges on myself.  You may think that I am doing it to introduce you to who I am.  I'm not.  I'm labelling myself to tell ME who I am.

I watched a show recently that was about a dancer.  She was a ballet dancer who made it all the way to her audition with the biggest company there was.  She was a shoe-in for the position.  The named favourite.  But part way through her performance, she slipped on a loose bead from a costume and found herself wondering if she would ever walk, let alone dance, again.  A friend told her, "It's okay if you never dance again."  And she replied, "Yes, but then I will have to find another dream to define myself."

This is who I am.  I am the girl who looks for a goal or a dream to define her.  As a child, I looked to my parents' approval to define me.  If I was the perfect daughter, then all was right with the world.  This was measurable.  It was measurable by my parents' attitudes towards me and by the grades on my report cards.  I thought it was "who I was".  I was wrong.

Then I found God, and I used Him to define me, but not in the way I should have.  I used my success at my "Christian walk" to define me.  I raised up walls of strict behaviour and used them as measuring sticks to condemn the world around me.  Surely none of my friends were "as good of a Christian as I was".  The world was black and white.  I was on the white side of the line.  And they were all grey and tainted.  This is "who I was".  Wrong again.

Next I found music.  People viewed me as some sort of prodigy.  From middle C to an A.R.C.T diploma in less than 4 years.  I was not gifted in the art of music.  I was gifted in the art of determination.  I practiced 6 hours a day for almost 4 years straight.  Do the math.  That's the equivalent of 3 hours a day for 8 years.  Or 1.5 hours a day for 16 years.  Or 45 minutes a day for 32 years.  That is not prodigy material.  I have students that practice 15 minutes a day and are moving at a faster pace than that, and they're not even my so called "gifted" students!  I used to become paranoid with fear that I would get injured and lose it all.  In fact, later on, in my determination to never fail, I ironically dropped out of music at University because I was giving my all, driving my arms into the ground with injuries, and going to get only a B+.  High standards much?  But surely, THIS is who I was.  "The amazing pianist".  Wrong again.

Next up, marriage and making a home.  I felt like I was under a heavy weight of failure.  What sort of girl would move away from her parents, her home town, a rent-free 4-bedroom home for life and choose instead a struggling film student, debt and 400 sq. ft. of rented space?  Not to worry.  I would show everyone.  I would show the world what kind of girl would do that.  It would be the kind of girl that landed successful job after successful job, started her own businesses on the side, paid off debt and an entire mortgage in 6 years (still working on that one...).  She would be a wife with a perfectly tidy home, volunteer at church, have a social life, and work 2-3 jobs at all times while pursing violin lessons and photography late into the night.  Is this who I am?  It's what people see right now when they look at me.  There's Laura and her million jobs and half a dozen hobbies.  Oh, and she has a kick-a** marriage as well (which I do, but that is because I married the most amazing man you could ever dream of).  Is this who I am?  If you ask me, I will say "no".  I am supposed to say that.  Please don't be offended that I'm lying to you.  I am lying to myself as well.

And the latest and greatest ambition?  Photography.  I would master it.  I would get good.  Really good.  Hang my stuff on the wall and be proud good.  Am I there yet?  Some think so.  Some don't.  Could I get there quickly if I dug in and really put my mind to it?  Sure, I could.  It's what I do.  I conquer things.  I'm reaching a place where I know I have so much to learn still, but I actually feel I have a style and a voice.  There's Laura.  The photographer.  She's really good.  Is that what I want?  I'm supposed to say no, you know.  But I want it because it's a label and I collect labels.  I pin them to myself in false humility and embrace the sense of peace that comes from knowing "who and what you are".

These are the headline labels, but there are hundreds of others.  I'm introverted.  I'm wounded.  I'm strong.  I'm whatever the heck I need to be in the moment to place myself on a pedestal of honour or a pedestal of pity.  You know what I actually am, though, right?  I'm normal.  Everything I just typed can apply to every other human being on the planet.  Our labels are different, but our subconsciouses are the same.

I do have one true label, though.  The only one that is legit.  The only one that is real or truly meaningful.  I am going to tell you what it is.  When I do, old saints will smile and nod their heads approvingly.  The younger generation will perhaps do the same.  Or perhaps they will throw out a more enthusiastic "amen!"  Others, will gloss over it as commonplace "Christianese", the obvious "Jesus" answer that we joke about.  But I'm going to say it.  And then I'm going to take it one step further and tell you what most people won't.

Here is who I really am.  Here is the label I know to be true.  I am a sinner redeemed by what God has done for me, and I am now one of His children, dearly loved, tremendously forgiven.

Good job, me.  I said the right answer.  Now the part no one really says.  What the HECK does that even mean?  *Cue the part where I stop typing and stare at my screen while I decide how real I want to get online.  

You want a few more labels?  I have trust issues.  I have trust issues with God.  I have no problem with the "God of the universe, King of everything, Lord of all" part.  I get that.  I understand He came and died for me and that I'm one of His children now.  But I obviously don't really get that down in my heart because if I TRULY did, I'd stop collecting labels like they were going out of style.  I get authoritarian.  I get respect.  I get holiness.  I don't get unconditional love.  I don't get this God that is willing to take me stripped of every label I've ever collected.  I don't get this having an identity APART from my titles and accomplishments.  I mean, I get the CONCEPT.  But I don't get the reality of it.  But I want to.  I want my relationship with God to be so present, so real, and so encompassing that I don't need a single old or new label.  I'm not talking about the religion I so enthusiastically embraced as a teenager.  I'm talking about the real deal.  I'm talking about being a Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Being a Christian means you can stop.  You can stop building your own identity and lying to yourself about who you really are.  We are more than what we do.  We are more than who we know.  We are more than ourselves and our labels.  Or at least, we are if we allow God to make us that.  I am a Christian.  I am free from all of this.  But it's time to actually step out of the cage.  The door has been standing open for a long time, but I don't think I've ever stepped through.  Do I still have trust issues?  Sure do.  But as a wise family member said to me recently, sometimes trusting is just a decision you make whether your heart is ready to believe it or not.  And I'm really good at choosing to do things.  So this year, I'm choosing to trust.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Photography 365 Project: (Days 22 - 28)

Week 4 comes to a close!  Almost one full month in :)

Twice a month I have an extremely long day.  Every other Wednesday I alter my hours at work to 7:25-3:25pm.  This necessitates a 5:15am wake-up call.  Then, I leave work early to head out to a city where we used to live where I have 5 piano students that are all within a block or two of each other.  I manage to squeeze them all in before their bedtimes, and Nick swings by with the car to pick me up.  He drives me back to our neighbourhood in an adjacent city and usually I would have to run off immediately to Bible study from 7:30-10:00pm without stopping at home first.  Thankfully, this particular night it was "guys' night", so Nick dropped me off at home and headed out solo while I curled up in bed.  I grabbed this snap on our way home, at a busy intersection:

Thursday I was all done.  I'm truly an introvert at heart, and while I love people, they make me VERY, VERY tired.  We've been hanging out with lot of people lately and been involved in a lot of stuff at church (I'm working on the "N-O" word, I promise I am).  I was just needing a break.  So we crashed and had a night in.  I had only one student to teach so was done by 6:15pm.  Nick made us delicious avocado burgers and we hung out in bed together for the remainder of the evening.  So needed.  It may seem like a pretty lame "date night", but we think it was pretty awesome.  (And to answer some questions I've had - the camera is on a tripod at the end of the bed, and I'm holding a remote control in my right hand).

Well, that Thursday date night meant staying up way too late, so I was pretty tired come Friday.  Nick was downtown at a film networking event, so it was just me and no students at home for the evening.  (I only teach on Fridays if I absolutely have to - i.e. a student was sick and could only move their lesson to a Friday evening).  I practiced piano for another hour or so.  I'm still learning how to look at these charts and make music that is vaguely interesting out of them!  Then I was fast asleep before the clock even struck 8pm.

I thought Saturday was going to be lame, but it wasn't.  Nick got up earlier than I did to finish editing a video.  I followed him out to the living room with my blanket and curled up in front of the fire and enjoyed the sunshine coming in through the windows until he was done.  Then we spent some time mapping out a more precise timeline for our epic road trip we're planning for April/May of this year.  Next, we got ready, tidied up the house and bought Sir Francis Bacon, or Bacon for short.  Why name a fish "Bacon"?  Why not!  (Also, if you're Reddit or Imgur geeks like we are, you'll find it funny).  Next we headed off to worship practice together which was hilarious.  I don't remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did when Nick and the worship leader switched places/instruments for an entire song and we all went along with it laughing so hard we could barely play.  Nick's gorgeous voice made up the for fact that he doesn't know the first thing about playing guitar.  The leader held his own surprisingly well on the drums, however!

Why do people go to the early service at church by choice?  Ugh... let's just say I played WAY better at the later morning service AFTER we ran for coffee in between.  It was my second time playing on the grand piano there, which is pretty scary because as I mentioned earlier in this post - there's no notes.  On the keyboard I can "hide".  I can turn on a nice synth sound and play some chunky harmonies if I blank out.  On the grand piano?  There's very little place to "hide".  You need to keep playing SOMETHING at all times, even if you're not sure what.  It was pretty awesome, though, because I found out a friend of mine (who was singing on the team) had her grade 6 piano.  During set up the previous day, I hauled her over for a "how to play off a chord chart" lesson.  She picked it up in pretty much 3 minutes flat, so I volunteered her loudly for singing AND playing the keyboard that weekend. That spared me from being bored to tears playing pads, and also forced me to get over my fear and stay on the grand piano the entire time, removing my keyboard retreat as an option.  We were both pretty happy with the arrangement as we both survived and had each other's backs if one of us lost our place. And now the team has another keyboardist, which is great because we were running short :)

Back at the office and back traipsing to and from the hospital.  Every time I come out of the "dungeon", which is what I call our training rooms because they're in the basement with no windows, I'm never quite sure what awaits me outside.  Our weather here has ADD and changes on a whim.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I opened the doors to on this afternoon after previously entering into the abyss from layers of fog and grey:

Today was a relaxing day at the office with an unexpected lunch date with my best girlfriend, Tara. The walk to meet her for coffee was less than stellar compared to yesterday.  Everyone thinks it's wonderful that the grass is green here year round and that we have hardly any snow.  What they don't realize is that, in exchange, we are covered in a winter blanket of untextured grey skies more months than not.  The day was brightened, however, by receiving a phone call and subsequently a new piano student starting next week :).

I admit I'm feeling a bit uninspired with photo taking lately.  But really - did I think I could power through over 350 photos with enthusiasm and constant creativity?  But I'm still staying true to my plan of capturing life and every photo I take has a story, reminds me of a day, or expresses a season, and that's what matters :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Photography 365 Project: (Days 15 - 21)

We're three weeks in on the adventure and so far so good!  I haven't missed a day yet, though there have been one or two close calls.  Here's a glimpse at the past week:

Last Wednesday was a little less work than usual.  My 17 year-old student (who is the last student every other Wednesday) is taking the rest of the semester off to focus on her finals and applying to local colleges.  Thus my teaching day was done fairly early.  I was supposed to go to Life Group at church, but I was just so tired, I ended up in bed resting that evening instead.  This shot was taken on the bus about 15 minutes from my house.  The title is because I spend 2.5 hours (at least) each day commuting:

Thursday I met my friend, Tara, for coffee and had a 50% off coupon for Starbucks.  I skipped my morning coffee and held out until lunch for this baby.  Man, was I craving caffeine by that point!  I also took photographing your food to a new level with my big, honking DSLR camera and this itty-bitty cup.  I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but I think I still got a few looks....

Friday night, Nick and I did our most favourite thing.  We piled up in the bed with blankets, snacks and Netflix.  Then we stayed up waaayyyy to late watching our new favourite show, Suits.  It's hilarious and makes me so happy I don't work at a law firm any more every time I watch it.  I had forgotten how high stress firms can be.

Saturday Nick headed out to spend the day with some guys that live near us, and I slept in and spent the day relaxing and working on some photo projects.  I listened to the remaining episodes of my favourite show, flipping back and forth between tabs when it sounded like something really interesting was going on.  It makes Nick nuts when I listen to shows instead of watch them, but it's the only way to effectively multi task on one device!

Sunday afternoon we had lunch with some Life Group friends of ours and introduced them to a couple new games - Pandemic and Takenoko:

Monday morning was surprisingly sunny.  We were training in the classroom with no windows for most of the day, but when walking back to the office at lunch, we got a glimpse of the sun.  It's still quite chilly, though, but I'll take it to have no clouds or humidity for a bit!

Today is a contrastingly slow day at work compared to yesterday, but I'm not complaining!  I stepped out to the music store on my lunch break to grab a new book for a student tomorrow since the store by their house was sold out.  (I normally avoid picking up books for students at all costs because it makes my bookkeeping way more complicated and it's just one more receipt to have to hang onto for tax time.)  I brought my camera along for the walk and grabbed some shots while I was out:

And now I'll finish the rest of my afternoon at the office, teach for a couple hours tonight and then visit with my father-in-law who is spending the night as he's in town for a conference that begins tomorrow.  See you for week 4!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Year's Journey

I was recently reading through some photography material I purchased, and one of the instructors mentioned that shooting in the same situation over and over again is a great way to measure progress.  As you grow, you approach the same things differently.  You see them differently, you process them differently.  If I were to look at a picture of a flower I took a year ago, and compare it to a picture of a family I shot last month, how would I know which was better?  But if I compared a picture of a flower from a year ago with a picture of a flower from yesterday, it would be way easier to see any changes.

I'm in the beginning stages of a 365 project for 2014.  One photo per day for a full year.  I attempted this back in the Fall of 2012, and only got a few months in before giving up.  This weekend, I went back to look at those photos.  I also picked 10 photos that I've taken in the last couple weeks and found matching counterparts.  Here's what I came up with:

Cookies on the kitchen shelf:

 Board games at our kitchen table:

 Flowers in our dining room:

 Piano shots after lessons have ended:

 Nick and his computer on the bed:

 Blankets and toes:

 Peeking through to the computer:

 Street lights:

 Furry friends:

Day's end:
I'm excited to maybe do this again a couple years from now :)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Daily Commute

I grew up in the country, so having to drive 45 minutes to the nearest 7-11 is not a foreign concept to me.  Now I live in the midst of the city and can walk almost anywhere I need to.  However, I work in the heart of a different city, so my daily commute gets a bit tedious.  It consists of a short walk, a bus, another short walk, a train, another bus, and then another short walk.  All in all, it take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes each way.  It also gives the me the pleasure of spending literally THOUSANDS of dollars on monthly transit passes every year, but THAT is another matter.

For today?  Just a few snaps I grabbed on my way home yesterday now that the days are starting to get a bit longer.  Having some fun with long exposures on bumpy buses!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Photography 365 Project: (Days 8 - 14)

Here's the second week of my ongoing 365 project.  So far, so good, and I've been managing to keep up with inserting them into my annual photo book as I go along as well which will save me a ton of work later on!

January 8, 2014: 
One of my little six-year-old students made all of these bracelets in the picture below.  He made me one as well during his sister's lesson that matched the family and apparently I'm "part of the family now".  So sweet.  Wednesday is my busiest teaching night with five students back-to-back in an adjacent city.  Normally I need to rush from this back home in time to make it to our church small group for the later evening.  However, we're still on Christmas break from that, so Nick and I went and had a $0.25 wing night.  We always buy more than we can eat to use for lunch leftovers the following day.  They charge you an extra $2.00 for a take-away box, but we were smart this time and brought our own plastic containers!  I did get an odd look from the table next to us as I divided the wings evenly into two separate lunch containers, but it was worth it!

January 9, 2014
Today I was home sick from work.  I got up around 10:45am and realized that I was feeling much better and decided to go in.  I quickly got ready and texted my boss and coworker that I was on my way, but they both said to stay home and just make a fresh start of it the next day since nothing much was going on in any event.  So there I was at 11:30, fully dressed and ready with no where to go.  I was even already on the street and in the car with Nick who was going to drop me at the skytrain station.  We made a quick stop for Starbucks and some flowers.  I had asked him for some to practice on with my new macro filters, and since I stayed home that day, he couldn't really surprise me, so I got to pick them out myself.  We got home and climbed back into bed together and watched shows.  I'm afraid Nick's day was not very productive with me laying about.  Then I went to play with the last dying window light and the flowers while he tried to finish up a few things.  This was the best shot from the day, though there certainly were a lot to choose from.  It's so seldom that I'm home when it's daylight outside at this time of the year!

January 10, 2014
Friday night we went and played some board games with a couple friends of ours and it was pouring out.  It led to a lot of fun, interesting shots featured in THIS POST.  We got home pretty darn late, and after decompressing for a couple hours hit the hay just after 2:00am.

January 11, 2014
Saturday Nick heading off to do a Same-Day-Edit for a wedding and I kept sleeping through until the afternoon.  I am too old to stay up past 1:00am and not feel completely wrecked the next day.  I got up with just enough time to get dressed and head off to worship team practice for the evening, followed by the evening service.  When I got home, I tidied the house, made popcorn, and settled down with Netflix and photo editing.  It was all well and good for about 10 minutes until I noticed my computer power was almost dead.  Upon looking around the bed for my power cable, it slowly came to the realization that Nick accidentally took it to work with him!  Here I was with the perfect evening ahead of me and no computer.  That meant no t.v. (we only have Netflix - no cable), no practicing piano (my sheeting music was downloaded, but not printed yet), and no photo editing.  I didn't feel like reading and was too tired to work on any chores.  I was stuck.  So I watched Netflix on my phone until he got home shortly before midnight.  He promised me "an evening" to make up for the unfortunate event.  It was doubly unfortunate since the very night before I had said, "Nick, don't take my power cable to work with you tomorrow.  Go get your own from the church".  He made up for it though - coming in a later pic.

January 12, 2014
Sunday we both went to the early service at church as I needed to play for worship at both of them.  Then we headed home after lunch and Nick offered to help me with all my chores that I had to do so that I could free up an evening.  (Lest you think that "making up an evening" is a silly thing, let me inform you a full free four hours in a row at home to relax with nothing to do is a rare commodity in our household and something that is SORELY missed if it cannot come to pass).  We thought we would have THAT evening together, but it was one of those times where one chore turns into the next.  We had a friend come over and purchase our old desk, which led to much furniture rearranging, which led to a trip to Ikea to get a couple new pieces, which led to pretty much going through every drawer and under each bed in our entire place and getting rid of 6 garbage bags worth of stuff.  I even sorted through every card and photo I had and decided what to keep and what to toss.  We got things down the the "bear necessities".  I'm a bit of a minimalist and Nick's a bit of a pack rat, so we compromised where necessary.  Loving that I can now SEE the wall in this picture where before there would have been book shelves!

January 13, 2014
The make-up evening!  We finally managed to somewhat salvage an evening and some relaxing time.  Here was Nick's sweet gesture to me to give me some of that evening during the week.  On Monday, I have 45 minutes from the time I get home from my 8-4 until I have to leave again to go teach three students.  I came home to this lovely candlelit supper which actually succeeded in making me stop looking at the clock for 20 minutes and forget I was between jobs.  He tidied up everything afterwards and I headed off to teach without starving or worrying about making something after my last student left.  My final student of the day was back at my house, so I finished teaching her by 7:50pm, and then Nick helped me FINALLY take down the Christmas tree.  I admit, I got distracted for about an hour when I was putting it away in the closet and gutted ANOTHER garbage bag's worth of stuff out of there.  I still have to gut the other half this weekend and then our house should be almost totally sifted through for unnecessary junk.  Then I edited and uploaded photos for the group I'm overseeing this year, and we watched Sherlock Holmes together.  Not before Nick ran out to 7-11 and bought $0.05 candies to eat while watching, though :)

January 14, 2014
Today was just one of those really long days.  I woke up tired.  I went to work tired.  I came home tired.  And I watched the clock all. day. long.  Early to bed tonight!

Monday, January 13, 2014

City Lights

Winter where we live is seldom pretty.  When you say "Winter" around here, no one thinks of snow.  The skies are almost continuously overcast with the darkest and murkiest type of clouds and you would be a fool to not have an umbrella on you at all times 8 months out of the year.  This weekend was a little different than the usual drizzle, though.  This weekend it POURED.  But, I didn't actually mind since I was inside almost the entire time.  Besides, night driving and pouring rain makes for some pretty awesome pics!

And because some of my friends complain when I post only pictures and never say what's going on, I'll add a little of what we were up to this weekend and make it a mixed post.  Friday night we were out super late with friends playing some board games and eating appies.  Hence all the rainy driving pictures.

 Saturday, Nick edited a wedding all day while I slept in and spent the rest of the day at worship practice and Saturday evening service:

And Sunday was playing at both services, having a friend come over and haul my old desk away, and then a trip to Ikea to redesign the new space.  We had two desks, so when she took the office one, we moved the second desk out of the master bedroom to fill the space.  Thus, the office still looks relatively similar to what it did before, but the bedroom is a different story.

Here's an old, icky "before picture" from years ago (I promise, it didn't look this organized in real life):

And here's the "after".  Lots more storage space, lots more floor space!