Welcoming the Spirits Home

At this time in 2019, my husband and I traveled to Oaxaca City, Mexico to experience the celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

We’ve never been very good at taking selfies.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday where the souls of deceased relatives join their families for a brief reunion. From October 31 through November 2, the border between the spirit world and the living world opens, allowing the spirits to cross over. The holiday is filled with beautiful symbols, traditions, and imagery. It is a joyful time: the spirits are treated as honored guests as they feast, drink, dance, and play music with their families. Many believe that if you remember them, they never cease to exist.

One of the most recognizable symbols are the alters or “ofrendas” (offerings) that can be found in public places and private homes. Although each colorful alter is unique, they all are decorated with specific components that honor loved ones and provide what they need on the journey to rejoin their families.

Every ofrenda includes the four elements: water, air, earth, and fire. Water is provided so the spirits can quench their thirst after their journey. Air is represented by colorful paper banners.  Earth is represented by food, especially bread. The light from candles helps the spirits find their way. In addition, alters are decorated with pictures of the departed, their favorite foods and drinks, sugar skulls, and marigolds (whose scent and bright orange color help attract souls to the alter).

All of these pictures were taken of ofrendas in public places. The alters created in private homes tend to be much less elaborate, but equally beautiful.

I’m sharing these images from our trip as part of Terri’s Sunday Stills photo challenge, whose theme this week is Indoor/Outdoor Decorations.

Sunday Stills: The Pink Side of Muertos  

Two years ago this month, my husband and I were in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was our second visit to this vibrant and colorful city, but this time we were there to experience the celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Although the official holiday spans just three days (October 31 – November 2), Oaxaca starts to prepare for the big event early. By arriving in mid-October and staying until the end of November we had plenty of time to not only enjoy the celebration but to experience Oaxaca before and after the crowds descended.

Templo de Santo Domingo under a sky blue pink sunset.

Images of skeletons could be found all over the city, many of them adorned in pink.

Some were whimsically pink.

Some were a worrisome pink.

Some were cute-as-a-button pink.

Speaking of pink, the City Centro Hotel located in the barrio of Jalatlaco, is all about pink. Because we weren’t paying guests, I was only able to access the ground floor, but I had so much fun poking around and taking pictures. The next time we visit Oaxaca, I would be tickled pink to book a room for at least a night so we can explore more of the hotel, including its colorful rooftop pool.   

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge is The Pink Side of Life. Click here to enjoy Terri’s photos and see how others responded to the theme.

Sunday Stills: Summer Bugs

We’re lucky to live in an area that doesn’t have too many bugs… at least the type of bugs that bug us.

We have insects:

… and we have arachnids:

But buggy bugs? Not so much.

I was at a loss when I saw that this week’s Sunday Still photo prompt was Summer Bugs, until I thought of my first car: a 1972, chartreuse, Volkswagen Super Beetle. I loved that car, not only because it was as cute as a bug, but because of the sense of freedom it gave me.

Cool car, unfortunate perm

Although that car is long gone, I still love VW Bugs, as my photo archives will attest. Here are just a few pictures of VDubs that I have taken over the years while traveling.  

Bugs found along Route 66

The Bug Farm in Conway, Texas has a permanent crop of five Volkswagen beetles planted nose-down in the ground. It is a parody of the more famous Cadillac Ranch in nearby Amarillo.

In Holbrook, Arizona, just down the street from the Wigwam Motel (yes, each “room” is shaped like a teepee, and, yes, we stayed there), is Kester’s Bug Shop. where they have bugs of unique shapes and sizes.

Bugs of Mexico

Vintage VW Bugs are everywhere on the streets of Mexico… some are in better shape than others.

Hometown Bugs

These bugs were discovered in our neighborhood.

A shy bug hiding behind a plumeria bush
A neighbor is restoring a 1971 Super Beetle

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo prompt is Summer Bugs. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure. If you have some favorite bug images, please join in!

Thursday Doors: Interplanetary Portal

I have had a photograph sitting in my archives for a few years, with vague plans to share it in some future Thursday Doors post. When I read that Dan Antion (No Facilities) had created a Writing Challenge based on door images, I figured this would be a good time.  

Writing Challenge, you ask? Yes – Dan, the keeper of all things Thursday Doors, came up with the brilliant idea of having door photographers provide inspiration for writers.  

I found this door about three years ago while on an artists’ studio tour in Southern California’s high desert, not too far from Joshua Tree National Park. It was on property owned by artist Snake Jagger, who often includes a door very much like this – standing slightly ajar, alone in the distance – in his whimsical surreal landscapes. I love that he built a three-dimensional door that looks just like the doors in his paintings. The structure is no deeper than a sheet of wood. The illusion of depth is created with perspective.   

Please join in!

If you want to participate as a photographer: create your own Thursday Doors post and share your images. Be sure to link to Dan’s post.

If you want to participate as a writer: plan to post your door-inspired writing on your blog anytime between now and May 29th. (I’d be thrilled if you used my door as inspiration but, if space aliens or portals to other worlds aren’t your thing and you’d like to select another door, there will be plenty of others to choose from.) Include a link to Dan’s site and attribute the door image to the photographer.

If you want to participate both as a photographer and a writer: get busy!

For more specific information about how to participate in the challenge, please read Dan’s original announcement.

Sunday Stills: Black and White… and Shades of Gray

Although I almost never photograph anything in black and white, sometimes I find that certain images become more interesting when they are stripped of their color. Patterns, shapes, and textures become more pronounced, and the mood of the photograph can change once the color isn’t competing for the attention of the viewer.

Succulents and other plants that have interesting structure and contrasting lights and darks work well in black and white.

Black and white can emphasize the bold, straight lines of architecture.

You can change the mood of a photograph by removing – or fading back – the color.

Strong shapes and textures translate well into black and white. Pronounced shadows can add even more interesting patterns to your image.

And, not all black and white photographs are really black and white. Although these are color images, the blacks and whites are what first caught my eye.    

I think most of us love photographs that are rich in color. Every once in a while, though, try adding shades of gray to some of your images and see if you like the results.

Do you have black and white images? Join the fun on Terri’s Sunday Stills photo prompt and see what others have shared.

Sunday Stills: Winter(ish) White

Most often, to find images for Terri’s weekly photo prompt, I look in my files for existing pictures that match the theme. This time, I decided to use the week’s prompt, “Things that are White” as the inspiration for a scavenger hunt.

My husband and I woke up one day last week to glorious blue skies and temperatures that were predicted to reach the low 70s. Although it seldom gets too cold in Southern California, a winter day like this – especially one in the middle of the week – begs to be enjoyed outside. We decided to take a quick drive up the coast to the beachside community of La Jolla, to search for things that are white.

Kayak tour to explore the sea caves.

Right away, we saw a whole flotilla of kayakers. There are several local kayak rental companies that offer tours, and each has their own hull color for easy identification. This group, on this day, happened to be in white kayaks. I felt that we were off to a great start on our hunt.

The white cliffs of guano

A little bit further on our walk, we came across cliffs covered with white bird… ummmm… poop. The pelicans and sea lions are fun to watch, but the smell made us move along quickly.

The ocean was relatively calm that day, but we still saw a lot of waves with whitewater foam. If you look closely at the first picture, some of those “rocks” in the foreground are actually sea lions basking in the sun.  

A black and white gull is more interested in treats someone might throw to him than he is in the view.

A white rescue surfboard is at the ready just in case someone gets into trouble out in the water.

White shells embedded in cement.

More white sea spray in the distance. It was an especially low tide this day so there were a lot of tidal pools to explore.

Back up on the main street, we passed by the historical La Valencia Hotel, which was built in 1926. Black and white umbrellas and window awnings are set off against the hotel’s iconic rosy exterior. (Oh, and look: a white SUV!)

And, finally, the white and red hat made famous in the book, The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) was a long-time resident of La Jolla and several local galleries carry his work.

Do you have pictures of things that are white? Join Terri’s Sunday Stills photo prompt to show us your images and see what others have shared.

Sunday Stills: A Pandemonium of Parrots

I wrote a post about our wild urban parrots several years ago. They are noisy, messy… and wonderful. Every time I hear their faint squawks in the distance, my ears perk up and I begin to scan the sky. If I’m lucky, I will soon witness their emerald and scarlet plumes flash above me. As quickly as they come, they are gone.

My encounters with these exotic creatures had always been from a distance—either they were streaking across the sky or a flock would land in a tall tree where I could hear—but not see—them frolicking among the branches.

Then one day last June, a flock of parrots came for a visit nearby… and they stayed and stayed. Our house is on a hill and the top of the palm tree they landed on that day is at eye level with our back deck. When my husband alerted me to their presence, I wasted no time in grabbing my camera. I had no idea how long they would be there but I knew that I had a unique opportunity to capture their magnificence for however long they lingered; squawking and preening, and enjoying themselves in the sun.

Even though Southern California isn’t their natural habitat, they seem to have made themselves quite at home. There are at least 11 species of wild parrots and various theories to explain how they got here. Whatever their history, these parrots are thriving in our mild climate that provides them with plentiful food sources.

Anytime they want to visit my neighbor’s palm tree again, they are most welcome. I’ll have my camera ready.     

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo prompt is Feeding the Birds. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure. If you have some favorite bird images, please join in!

Sunday Stills: The Silver Lining of Clouds

When I was young, my favorite summer days were those when cloudless Southern California skies promised idle afternoons baking my body at our local beaches. It wasn’t until I was older—after inflicting untold damage to my skin—that I started to truly appreciate clouds. Not only do they provide a respite from the heat and help block harmful UV rays, but they can make the sky so much more interesting to photograph.

Although one of my favorite things to photograph is the contrast of colors and shapes against a bright blue – and cloudless – sky…

… I am more often drawn to the interesting shapes and colors that clouds add to the image. Below is the same image with clouds (the original) and without (edited). I think the clouds add interest to the image, but you may prefer a clear sky. Many photo editing tools allow the original sky to be swapped for another so, even if Mother Nature offers one sky, you can choose something else.  

Looking towards San Miguel de Allende from the botanical gardens.

Sometimes cloud formations are so beautiful, they are the focus and there is little need to include much else in the image.

Have you ever seen clouds that are so perfectly situated in the sky, it’s almost if they were painted in that way?  

Ring around the sun in San Miguel de Allende.
Ring around the top spire of the Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende.

Clouds can also add interest to black and white landscape photographs. Without the puffy white clouds, the sky in both of these photos would have been dark gray and black and, I think, less interesting.

Big Island, Hawaii
Big Island, Hawaii

And, as any connoisseur of sunsets will agree, clouds – or the lack thereof – can make or break a spectacular display. After some practice, you can start to guess whether you should have your camera ready or not before the sun drops below the horizon.   

Key West, Florida
Southern California.

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo challenge is Clouds and Fog. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure.

Thursday Doors – Christmas in San Francisco

Back in the day, when we could travel without worry, my husband and I spent part of our Christmas holiday in the beautiful city by the bay: San Francisco. One of our favorite things to do in San Francisco is to walk and, if you’ve been there you already know, that means hills… lots of hills. In fact, I read that San Francisco is considered the second hilliest city in the world, next to La Paz, Bolivia.

The wonderful thing about hills, besides the great cardio workout you get, are the views they often provide when you arrive at the top:

At the top of Lombard Street (the “crookedest street in the world”) looking towards Coit Tower.
At the summit of Telegraph Hill looking out towards Alcatraz Island.

With its sweeping views, vibrant downtown, bustling waterfront, historical neighborhoods, and eclectic architecture, as long as you are in decent shape, the city is best observed on your feet (preferably shod in sturdy walking shoes). By walking rather than driving, you will also be better able to appreciate the Victorian beauties, especially when their doors are dressed up for the holidays. No blow-up plastic Santas here; the decorations are elegant and understated. It just takes a bit of bling to make a grand impression.

It has been a couple of years since we’ve been to San Francisco, but it’s a city that will always call us back. Even though we’ve been there many times, there is always more to see.

Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Dan Antion at No Facilities. Head on over to see his collection and to see what others have shared from around the world.

Wishing you and your family a safe and happy holiday and a wonderful year ahead!

Desktop Travel

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my computer had died and needed to be replaced. Although I wasn’t happy about the inconvenience or expense, I have discovered a silver lining (and, don’t we all need a few extra silver linings these days).

Sometime early last year, I took on the challenge of culling and organizing my digital photos. It took me several weeks to go through them all, delete duplicates and disappointments, and finally create eight distinct topic folders under which my images could be filed. Full disclosure that one of the eight folders was titled “Miscellaneous” but… whatever. I was awfully proud of myself when I finished and have been careful to keep everything mostly organized since then.

Until…

When setting up my new computer, old files were transferred from my two back-up hard drives to my desktop. Although this was done by a “professional,” the way the transfer was made pretty much set me back to square one. Suddenly, my new computer was full of all the duplicates and disappointments I had previously gotten rid of and there were multiples of everything, including several copies of the eight organized folders.

Someone less anal and terrified of losing anything probably would have just kept one complete set of the eight folders and deleted everything else. Not me. I had to go through everything once again to be sure what I was keeping and deleting was what I wanted to keep and delete.

I have finally finished the job and the images in my Pictures folder are all organized in their correct folders. No duplicates and very few disappointments (not every photo is a winner but some of the less-than-perfect ones can still be quite loveable).

I knew the task would be time-consuming; what I didn’t expect was how uplifting it would be. I got to travel again to Cuba, Canada, and Mexico, enjoy a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend, visit the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast, tour San Francisco and Key West, and get my kicks on Route 66.  

I also was able to travel back in time and enjoy dinner parties with friends and family, summer gatherings on our deck, and celebrations – large and small – with absolutely no social distancing, masks, or BYOEverything.

It was glorious.

If you are like me and have a lot of pictures filed away on your computer, I encourage you to do some time travel of your own. Just because flights have been canceled, travel delayed, and planned get-togethers put on hold, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a trip down memory lane.

It might be a good time to organize your photos and make sure everything is backed up, too.