Quoth the Raven “Apricots Forevermore!”

I’m on the road – traveling across country with my sister Karen. While we are waiting it catch a ferry I thought I would make a quick post.

All along the highways in Washington state we have been seeing lots and lots of ravens and crows. They are everywhere. Typically back home they keep their distance, so when we made a stop to check out the view at Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park we were delighted to see one stick around. We tossed him a dried apricot and he decided to stick around for more…

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He seemed to own this grassy patch on the lake shore…

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We noticed that he liked to perch on the parking logs at the edge of the grass – here he gives us his “I’m pitiful” look…

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Next he throws us a pose…

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We placed the apricot on the log at a spot near us and backed off to watch…

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He waddled across the top of the log, occasionally taking a couple of hops…

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As he gets to the end of the first log, he winds up for a big hop…

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And he starts the stomping waddle to his treat…

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At last, it’s within reach…

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And it’s gone…

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He catches the next flight to the tree across the road to see if there are more apricots to come.

Taking my Fisheye to San Francisco

I am a fan of Allan at Ohm Sweet Ohm and was talking with him about shooting the Golden Gate Bridge – he works on it every day –  with a fisheye lens. I have been meaning to put a post together ever since. If you want to see some amazing photography of the Golden Gate Bridge, or some really creative imagery of everyday objects, check out Allan’s blog.

I got a chance to spend the day in San Francisco a couple of years ago – it was the day after my nephew’s wedding and my sister-in-law Karen and I explored the parks with our cameras and our National Parks Passport Books. I took my new fisheye lens along for the trip and experimented with it for the first time. I was getting a feel for how much a really wide-angle can distort things.

The Bridge and the Fort

An eye level shot produces minimal distortion on a ling shot.

An eye level shot produces minimal distortion on a long shot.

The same shot through the gage - notice the extreme bend of the parallel poles near the camera.

The same shot through the gate – notice the extreme bend of the parallel poles near the camera.

A shot directly up from inside Fort Point bents the brick walls of the fort inward.

A shot directly up from inside Fort Point bends the brick walls of the fort inward.

This shot indoors shows how much the perspective can me distorted in an enclosed space - the ceiling is actually vaulted, but not curved.

This shot indoors shows how much the perspective can me distorted in an enclosed space – the ceiling is actually vaulted, but not curved.

The Bay

Lowering my view creates both a curved horizon and posts.

Lowering my view creates both a curved horizon and posts.

A waist level shot curves the parking lines and the chains more dramatically than it does the horizon.

A waist level shot curves the parking lines and the chains more dramatically than it does the horizon.

A shoulder level shot across the bay creates a curved horizon.

A shoulder level shot across the bay creates a curved horizon.

This macro-close shot causes the curve of the red curb to be exaggerated.

This macro-close shot causes the curve of the red curb to be exaggerated.

The City and the Palace

A wide angel lens makes Lombard Street look more compressed and less tall - at this distance there is not a lot of curve distortion.

A wide-angle lens makes Lombard Street look more compressed and less tall – at this distance there is not a lot of curve distortion.

A fisheye lens at a couple of feet can really bend these lines - the horizontals and verticals are actually perpendicular

A fisheye lens at a couple of feet can really bend these lines – the horizontals and verticals are actually perpendicular

A low angle with a fisheye makes columns curve inward as the move away from you. This shot was taken from a foot outside the entrance to the structure.

A low angle with a fisheye makes columns curve inward as the move away from you. This shot was taken from a foot outside the entrance to the structure.

Even though I probably missed out on the classic tourist shots, it was fun to take a lens out and make myself experiment with it. The more I used it the more I got the feel for bending reality to my will. The lens was pretty economical – it’s a conversion lens – meaning that it is an attachment to a standard kit lens. I have used it more tactically since my time in San Francisco, shooting it when I need to get something wider into a narrow field or when I want a curve to be really curved.

This masonry really is almost a full circle - the fisheye lets me show you that because I can get the whole perimeter in the frame. To get this view I would need to be almost underground with a standard lens.

This masonry really is almost a full circle – the fisheye lets me show you that because I can get the whole perimeter in the frame. To get this view I would need to be almost underground with a standard lens.

My experimentation in San Francisco gave me confidence to know that I could make the spring shot above work.

Do you have any fancy lenses or gadgets that you have been waiting to try out? Have you tried something new and added it to your repertoire?

Urban Birding & Wildlife – Las Vegas Style

On my recent trip to my hometown of Las Vegas I was astounded by the variety of wildlife that I encountered. Since I have been focusing on shooting birds and other wildlife for the last year, I thought I would take the opportunity to shoot some of the strange and wonderful species found in the western desert.

I stopped in at Floyd Lamb State Park.

Tangent – you might wonder who Floyd Lamb was. He was the brother of Ralph Lamb, who has become a household name in the US since the premier of the show Vegas last fall. If you watch the show you probably know that Ralph’s TV brother’s name is Jack – me thinks Ralph didn’t want to share the spotlight – that’s OK because Floyd has an awesome park named after him – kinda trumps a TV crime drama if you ask me. End of Tangent.

Back to Floyd’s park – so many birds…

This guy is a white crowned sparrow – I saw these all around Las Vegas…

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So much flashier that my Ozark sparrows…

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But then again it is Vegas.

In a nearby bush I spotted a thrush. Not common in the desert…

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I bet he was probably just visiting.

Over at Floyd’s pond I was overrun by mud hens, or coots as some call them.

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Their feet aren’t exactly webbed…

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Still they work pretty well for swimming…

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And they do the job on land pretty well too.

I noticed some larger birds diving into the pond and coming up with fish…

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I spotted a few of them bracing themselves from the wind up in a tree. These are crested cormorants – juveniles so they don’t have crests yet…

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Their green eyes were pretty striking…

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And they can scoop up a pretty sizable fish with those bills…

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These guys have huge webbed feet with wicked looking talons.

From Floyd Lamb Park I moved a bit closer to home. I get shots of birds at my house all the time, I should be able to get some good shots at my brothers house…

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First I was attacked by this wild creature…

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I stepped back as it assumed a defensive posture between me and the Christmas tree…

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He puffed himself up to make it clear that it was NOT OK for me to pass…

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The scariest thing about this wild beast was not it’s impressive beak, it was its eardrum shattering voice. After a while the Christmas spirit took over and he permitted me to enter the living room.

Not all the wildlife at the homestead was so aggressive….

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Some of the beasts were almost serene…

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Playful…

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Zen like…

Some beasts were a symphony in color…

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I found it hard to imagine a beast more colorful…

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He brings to mind an explosion at a crayon factory…

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All the best colors mixing together.

This creature made me think of a dingy mop…

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Aglow in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.

The last creature I encountered was very unusual…

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Her eyes appeared to be a bit in front of her nose…

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And she had a fierce anger, she tore into the closet…

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And made off with her prey. To the victor go the spoils, no wire hangers for this fearsome beast!

I am glad to be back home in the safety of the woods where I am not accosted by scary beasts that screech in the night or steal my hangers, by my, what an adventure it was.

A Visit to the Fruity Chicken

I spent the holidays with my family in Las Vegas. My brother Max is the author of the often mentioned Fruity Chicken. It’s his blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in Las Vegas. The virtual Fruity Chicken is located on WordPress, but the real one is located at the base of Sunrise Mountain on the outskirts of town. I thought I would use a post to show you around the nearly famous grounds.

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The photo above is the view from the house on the lot adjacent to the chicken pen. The truth is that the Fruity Chicken rests on an acre packed with potential and a house in the midst of a massive remodel. My first day in town Max offered to show me around the new digs. Of course I brought my camera.

I have spent the last year shooting wild birds to improve my ability to make quick decisions with my camera – to get better at catching the shot. A walk around the back of the lot put my practice to the test – I’m accustomed to shooting from my porch, here I was out in the open when I spotted some movement in the oleanders. The bars on the wings reminded me of a jay, but the coloring was all wrong, it was a vireo – only in town on its way to Mexico on its annual migration.

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He decided to some out of the oleanders and look me over.

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Back in the oleanders I spotted some movement and caught a couple of white crowned sparrows.

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We made our way over towards the chicken run when we came across some sentries – the roof pack – Oddy and Michone. They permitted us to pass.

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The Fruity Chicken is filled with lots of types of chickens. I’m fascinated with their eyes. I have no clue what kind these are, but I liked the looks they gave me.

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The Fruity Chicken has a few non-chicken residents as well – there are a small group of ducks as well – some with mohawks like this girl.

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I probably should have taken shots if the orchards or the houses, but I only have eyes for the birds.

Bright Lights – Big City

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I’m spending the holidays in Fabulous Las Vegas – my hometown.

Most people don’t think of a Vegas as a place where people grow up, go to school, or barbecue. On flights home, once someone learns that am a native Vegan, I am often asked where we live – do we live in the hotels?

The truth is that we live in houses and in neighborhoods like people all over the country and the world. We mow our lawns, we bake cookies, and we put up Christmas lights…

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This display was up just a block from my brother’s house. As we left for an evening looking at lights the family was still putting it up – upon our return we saw it in all it’s glory with children dancing in the yard behind the nativity. There’s something so sweet about kids dancing around the manger as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus.

A couple of blocks over we have the neighborhood’s version of the Griswold’s – a spectacle in lights and inflatables…

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A corner lot filled to the brim – extending at least ten feet above the roofline.

Sometimes the details are more interesting that the sum of all the parts….

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Twinkling lights…

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Glowing Santa…

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Needles aglow…

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Lights and garland…

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A splash of color.

Merry Christmas from Vegas!

Max the Second

I’m only here because of a Fruity Chicken.

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

My brother Max started a blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in the arid desert of our native Las Vegas about a year ago. It’s a sweet, funny, and sometimes technical look at what it takes to make things grow in that hostile environment. I followed him via email until he migrated to WordPress and opened an account to make commenting here easier. Of course I was clueless about WordPress and accidentally started a blog and didn’t write anything. Max started leaving me snide remarks about the amazing content of my empty blog that sound startlingly like the stuff the spam bots send us with great regularity. After enough pushing I finally started a blog aimed squarely at sharing my photos with one person on the planet – Max.

Me and Max

Me and my “little” brother Max

I’m the oldest of my three siblings – Max came second. Max was named after our beloved Grandfather – Max the first. He has always worn the “II” in his name like a badge of honor.

I was thrilled at the idea of having a little brother, but Max has never been content in the role of the younger sibling. At about 14 he passed me by in stature, and his demeanor became that of an older brother. Sometimes teasing, sometimes bossing, sometimes protecting.

Snickering Siblings

Snickering Siblings

Max and I had lots of adventures growing up. He was my first playmate. We explored every inch of Isabelle Avenue on our bikes, we played cowboys and indians, and he and our neighbor Paul did their best to blow a few things up. When I was in high school I started working for the Stagehand’s Union – Max was right behind me.

Stylin' in the 80's

Stylin’ in the 80’s – backstage at the MGM

When our Union was locked out in 1984 he and I manned a food bank for union members and cruised the picket lines making sure everyone was OK – he had a hopped-up Ford Bronco that we zipped up and down the strip in checking on our brothers and sisters.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand's Union offices.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand’s Union offices.

As he grew into a man I saw in him the best parts of my mom and my Grandpa – loyalty, responsibility, wisdom, compassion, humor – he worked to make a stable home and family that was very different that the one we grew up in. My grandfather used to marvel at how hard he worked and what a good father he had become. I have always admired his earnestness and commitment to make a good life for his wife and his boys. They have all grown to be the kind of men any father could be proud of.

One of my favorite things to do with Max is to go out into the desert in a Jeep – there is no one I trust more behind the wheel. We have made a couple of trips to the northern Nevada site of a mining claim my grandparents worked in the 60s and 70s. The “Diggins” is located about 60 miles from the nearest paved road. I made this video for him after a trip we took with my nephew Brian summer before last. We both had a tough time after my father passed away, but this trip brought us back together in a very healing way. We listened to this song about a hundred times on the trip so it seemed the natural background for our experiences. I only wish I had been brave enough to record during the really deep water crossings. I loved the adventure, but I loved my camera just a little too much to risk it.

I call this “The best tank of gas ever” and it was. It was a blast to just be together in the wilds of the land we grew up in. We never got to the Diggins – the late spring snows in that year made it impossible, but we had an amazing trip. The song makes me laugh because we are only “southern” in the sense that we grew up in southern Nevada.

Me and Max

Me and Max

All this reminiscing to say that today is Max’s birthday. No one’s known me longer or better.

Thanks for pushing me into this blogging thing, thanks for always being there for me. You’re the best man I know – I love you.

Happy Birthday!

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure

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Back in July my neighbor, Mary Jane, turned 99. Her friends and neighbors pondered about what to give her. Last year we bought her an air conditioner, the year before a new TV, the year before that a digital antenna. She lives simply in a country cottage on dozens of acres with just the basics – electricity, TV, her cats, and some pet raccoons – and at this date she still lives without running water. Typically we buy her something that will make her life easier. The air conditioner was a tough one to get her to accept, but during this years drought she has fessed up to appreciating it more that she had imagined she would.

This year we decided to send Mary Jane on an adventure. We pooled our funds and decided to buy her an all-day train trip. Mary Jane’s father was a telegrapher at the local train depot at the turn of the 20th century and her stories of childhood are filled with tales of train rides and the adventures that comes with them.

Twice a year the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad makes an all-day run from Seligman, Missouri to Van Buren, Arkansas. You meet at dawn in Seligman, which is nothing more that a few business and civic buildings.

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They don’t have a depot there anymore so you board at the end of a path through the woods…

Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.

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There was no hiding his excitement about the Hogs’ chances later in the day!

This is the Dining Car – there are a few options but we decided to go first class! This car dates from the 1940s. There are Coach and Club cars that are about 100 years old. If you want to have a more authentic train man’s experience the Caboose is available too – it’s a restored B&O caboose with no heat or air conditioning included.

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Roomy and nicely appointed.

We settled in and the Conductor and his crew gave us hot coffee and danish. Mary Jane had a cup of coffee before as we pulled out of Seligman.

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Our party consisted of myself, Mary Jane, Barbara, and Sondra – both of whom are long time friends. They have known Mary Jane for years.

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I first met Sondra at Mary Jane’s 90th birthday, she does historical drama – she studies a woman from history and creates a script to convey history in a very believable way. That night she was dressed as Mary Jane’s aunt Meg – I remember she never broke character and I got a better sense of Meg hearing the stories in the first person.

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We had barely started down the tracks when Mary Jane rotated her chair away from us – her plan was to watch every bit of the trip facing forward – up on the East side, back on the West.

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We picked up the caboose at Springdale Arkansas. The neat thing about this excursion is that they hitch and unhitched cars. You get to see first hand the process and shuffling it takes to run the line. The dining car started on the back of the train. Before it was over we would be on the front. Here the family who has booked the caboose waits with anticipation to move into their new digs.

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The conductor turned off the parlor lights as we approached the Winslow Tunnel – the kids in the car squealed as the tunnel lights wizzed by in the windows.

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Next the conductor let us know that he would be able to take a few of us out onto the platform as we crossed the tressels. I jumped at the chance, knowing that this is a view Mary Jane could not get from inside the car.

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As I stepped towards the door I spotted the car brake – these details were really everywhere in the car.

I got out on the platform and leaned over the side to shoot ahead – I grabbed a bit of color and prepared for the tressel coming up.

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You can see the drop off in this shot.

Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.

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Those are treetops below us!

Another angle…

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Looking through the rails below us.

The caboose has a cupola on top….

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Makes a great platform for photography opportunities.

I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.

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Again I hung out over the side of the platform to get a shot of the entire train.

As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…

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The brass hardware on the outside of the car.

After a gorgeous trip through the Boston Mountains we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas. We had lunch, pie, and wandered through a street fair. I set out to shoot a few of the railroad’s details as we relaxed and waited for the train to return to take us home.

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Crossing

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Van Buren reflected in the crossing light.

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Station signal

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Loose nail (as tempting as this one was, I did not pick it up. No nails from this RR in my collection – I swear)

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The switch

While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.

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Mary Jane is actually pretty adroit at working the iPad. She found a few she liked.

I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.

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If I was being honest I’d have to confess to carrying a pocket watch and wearing Union Pacific earrings. I almost put on my striped overalls that morning – good for him, he had the nerve to go there:)

We heard the train whistle in the distance…

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Mary Jane was ready to roll!

Our trained had departed after dropping us off at the station and returned to Springdale to for another run while we enjoyed the afternoon in Van Buren. The trained pulled into the station, dropped off the passengers, dropped the caboose, transferred it to the opposite side, and shifted the engine back to the front.

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Here we get a view of the engine operating as a switch engine.

The light had begun to change…

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Here’s a view of the dining car ceiling fans in the afternoon light.

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Barbara settled back in for the return trip.

Mary Jane found a seat…

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She explained how the switching process worked…

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And turned her gaze forward to take in all the sites on the voyage home.

On the trip home some passengers in our car had a birthday celebration for a family member complete with cake. The children insisted on singing to Mary Jane too…

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The conductor joined in…

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The whole car sang along…

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And Mary Jane ate cake.

She called me first thing this morning to reminisce about her favorite parts of the day. The weather, the cake, beans and cornbread for lunch, friends, photos, the whole day. She said it was just perfect.