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.

Everyone Loves a Parade – Mardi Gras in Eureka Springs

I have done a lot of posts about birds lately so I thought I would change things up. These are a series of shots from last winter taken with what was then a brand new lens – it’s now one of my favorites.

I live in a small village in the Ozarks called Eureka Springs and we love parades! Christmas, St Patty’s, Art’s Festival, VWs, Corvettes, Antique Cars, Diversity, Folk Music and more. Most of our parades are a part of the party we throw for our visitors. We host festivals on dozens of weekends throughout the year. Come see us during VW weekend and we’ll throw a party with a parade and you can be in it! But there’s one party we throw that is unabashedly about us.

In the dead of winter we crown royalty from among our own citizenry and host a week of parties culminated by the annual Eureka Gras Mardi Gras Parade. It’s one of my favorites. Instead of a visitor in a Model T, I get to see our own folk decked out in their best finery with beads-a-plenty. We’re not New Orleans – but that’s OK. Everyone’s welcome, even if you aren’t a Eurekan.

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There’s something uber fancy about adding some beads to any ensemble

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Adding an ostrich feather sets just the right mood.

This year I decided to make myself us only one lens.  No bag, just my camera and a single lens and a strap. I had just gotten a Leica 25mm 1.4 portrait lens and decided it was the one to try out. I shoot a mirrorless M4/3 system so the focal length is equal to double the number so this lens is the equivalent of a “fast 50”.

I love this lens and I love the freedom to just shoot. It was so nice to dive in and out of the crowd and not worry about my equipment. With our parades no one cares if you just jump in so I did and got as close as I could to those in the middle of the action.

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I think this guy might have been a Grand Marshall – I don’t think he got the memo about the dress code.

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I did not realize that I knew this lady until I posted the image on Facebook.

Of course it’s fun to shoot the crowd in between floats. The noise and the crowds make this parade a joy to be a part of and the faces of those in the parade echo those of us who were just watching.

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This is Judy – We both have birthdays near Mardi Gras so it’s just another party.

One of the things I love about this lens is the way it can isolate the subject. Casual portraits are pretty easy to pull off. I love the control I have over the DOF.

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This is my neighbor Lynne – all beads and grins.

As the royal court approaches the beads really start to fly. I was actually hit in the face several times – too busy trying to get the shot to go for the beads.

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A member of the Court tosses beads into crowd.

The next three shots are from a series of a woman who was originally from New Orleans – the gusto she had for the enterprise of tossing beads into the crowd were amazing – these were my favorite shots of the day – Duchess Pamela.

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Wave

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Wind-up

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Follow-through

This Duke can’t quite get the beads free to toss.

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Tangled

This gentleman owns the local Indian restaurant. I love his smile.

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Turbaned Duke

This lens lets you pick a face out of the crowd. This is my friend and co-worker Sharon.

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Beadmobile – the crowd’s looking up because beads are flying down.

This young man was all about the beads – he was focused on grabbing as many as possible.

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This young man was in the crowd with us – his face painting is awesome.

Some of the floats were quite tall so you get a chance to play with the perspective – the King towers above the crowd.

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Here comes the King!

In between the royal floats there were these fellows on bicycles. I love how this lens let me capture the streamers in motion.

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Steampunk Bicyclists follow the royal procession.

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I’m thinking this is a great idea for those who just don’t want to commit to a full sleeve full time.

These kids we part of the Queen’s court – they did the bead tossing for her.

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The Queen’s Helpers hoist beads into the air.

Of course we needed someone to control the crowds and keep the peace.

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A bedazzled officer on crowd control

I typically try to avoid shooting into an overcast sky – but on this day the colors were so bright I shot up to get Alice letting loose.

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Looks like Alice has gone down the rabbit hole and come back with lots of beads.

As the parade ended I got a chance to see some more locals adorned for the day’s events.

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This little guy was worn out. Amazing he could sleep over the brass bands.

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A beaded chapeau

I love the way this lens made me get close. There were moments when I wasn’t just watching the parade, I was in it. Now I don’t consider myself a street photographer – but I do love a parade.

The Azure Blue Waters and White Sandy Beaches of…Indiana?

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A couple of weeks ago I had to make a business trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Airfares are crazy right now so the only economical options was for my to fly into Midway Chicago and drive the three hours to Grand Rapids. It’s an easy drive once you leave the city. At the conclusion of my meetings I headed back to Chicago for a flight the following morning. On the way I stopped at Indiana Dunes National Shoreline to pick up a passport stamp.

For you who are uninitiated the National Parks system in the US offers cancellation stamps at hundreds of locations – you stamp your “Passport” with an actual rubber stamp. The sell different types of passports and lots of stickers you can decorate up your passer with at most of these locations. I try to see if any are nearby when I travel and the Indiana Dunes is in a pretty remote location if you are making a road trip to several parks. I actually stopped by on a similar trip back in June, picked up my stamp and braved 50 mile an hour winds to look get to a spot to see the lake. Grey skies and whitecaps, but not much to see that day. Since I had the time I thought I would stop in and get a Stamp for my Sister-in-law’s mother, Kathy – she sends me tons of stamps so I thought I would return the favor, plus if she logs onto Facebook and sees that I was there and didn’t get her a stamp in a remote location, I’ll feel like a heel.

On this day the weather could not have been better. it was about 85 and sunny with just a slight breeze. I picked up a stamp and a map at the ranger station and stopped at the edge of the parking lot to see this guy perched near a stream that ran through the grounds.

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As I left the parking lot I headed down highway 12 towards the Beverly Shores Post Office to mail Kathy her stamps on postcards. The Post Office was closed for lunch so I turned towards the shore drive and came upon this beauty. It’s a functional depot for the South Shore Line. Go out the back door and press a button near the tracks and the train will stop right here for you.

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If I had known this was here I might have caught a train to Grand Rapids:)

Anyway, I dropped off my postcards and headed for the shore, expecting something akin to a large lake. When I saw the color of the water, my jaw dropped!

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This stretch of shoreline is a part of the National Parks System and has lots of shower and changing locations within walking distance. I was unfortunately in business attire with only dress shoes so I walked in as little sand as possible. Further east there were private sections of the shore (I almost typed “beach” because that’s what it felt like – a beach) that I could photograph from my rental car, since no parking was allowed.

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Beverly Shores and the surrounding area is pretty spectacular. Marshes and field grasses with a mix of wildflowers. Just stunning.

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I traveled further east to Mount Baldy. The ranger said that it was a “must-see” and said nothing else about it. Mount Baldy is an enormous moving sand dune – the park is trying desperately to stop its movement, it’s about to engulf a changing station so they have erected fences and are preventing all hiking on the face of the dune since that causes it to slide further. Imagine the height of these trees if they were not being consumed by sand.

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On my way out of the park I headed back I that spot that was all grey and whitecaps in June. The city of Gary, Indiana fills the horizon – I think this is probably a pretty attractive view of the city of smokestacks.

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Not a bad way to kill some time before heading back to Chicago.

Next time I’m packing flip-flops.

Caption This

In my day job I design t-shirts. Sounds easy, right? Combine something funny or witty with some ink and cotton and “viola” – best seller! Not.

Over the years I have found ways to get my creative juices flowing. One of my favorite things to do is to look at random images and make up captions for them. Bonus points for sarcasm or irony – anything goes. After a day of shooting I will sort my photos and pull aside the ones that make me smile. I can’t take credit for all of these, I have friends who play along. Do you have a great caption for any of these? Share away, maybe I’ll make you a t-shirt!

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Dude! What happened to your ears??

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You look a little fuzzy to me…

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Wink!

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Does this make my butt look big?

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Duck. Duck. Moose.

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It’s your nickel.

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The beginning of the Zombie Apacalypse.

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Where does the seed come out of this thing?

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Habaneros?!?

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Hangover

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Wisdom teef

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Man, you gotta get your head on straight.

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Blue Steel

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Back off!!

Your turn – caption this…

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Pink Sky at Night – an Ozark Delight

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These longer days give me lots of time to shoot in the evenings. Friday I was out on a country road and looked to the west to see the sky looking like it was on fire. I focused on the field grass just in front of the fence to capture this image.

It was about 8:00 so I knew I had a short window to drive to a spot with a good vantage point – a downside of living in the Ozarks is that the hills and hollows can block sunrises and sets from view. I went to an overlook built by the local Rotary – I looks out across all of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I got there as the sky really started to explode with color.

Long Zoom – The 1886 Crescent Hotel at sunset.

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Kit Zoom – with ambient light from the street lamp.

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My portrait prime – last useable shot of the night.

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As I headed out the color lingered, too dark to capture – but lighting my way home. I live in paradise.

Chip Munk-ee Business

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They are startlingly cute, fast as lightning, and cunning little thieves. While I was in Michigan last week practicing shooting birds (with a camera), I saw dozens of chipmunks racing around below the feeders – the one above fearlessly raced across the top of my foot to get to the bounty of sunflower seeds and suet.

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Cheeks so full he is weighted down by them and must rest his weary bones on the metal rail before cramming another 50 seeds and moving on.

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Gazing across the meadow – are their other feeders out there to conquer?

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Master of all he surveys.

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Fitting that last seed into inflated little cheeks – seriously, why not just eat the seeds to make more room in the cheeks?

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A profile pose – balance on the fence rail must require extreme concentration!

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He stops for a rest – and takes a moment to play his tiny harmonica.

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He has had enough and suggests that our photo shoot come to a close.

Alas, so my blog must also end…

Lorri