Salvation Army donation

Salvation Army donation
Nikon FA, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E
Foma Fomapan 200

As I prepare to leave my home of ten years, I asked my sons to go through their things and pile in the living room whatever they no longer wished to keep. A decade of childhood memories soon filled my living room. My younger son was his usual pragmatic self: don’t need this, don’t need that, okay, I’m good. My older son wanted to make sure I was okay if he gave away his twelfth birthday present, a skateboard and all the associated regalia. It’s so like him to want to care for the emotional lives of others. I admire both my younger son’s pragmatism and my older son’s deep heart.

And oh, hey, there’s the TV my friend Steve gave me when I moved into the one-room apartment after my first wife and I separated. I watched dozens of movies on it, all borrowed from the nearby library, as a way of distracting myself from my troubles. My younger son used it most recently to play games on the vintage Super Nintendo system I bought him for Christmas some years ago. He does love his retro gaming.

Film Photography

single frame: Salvation Army donation


Garrett, waiting

Garrett, bored
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8
Kodak T-Max 400

I shot this while we were waiting for his mom to pick him up. She was late, he was bored.

This photo is in my book, Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME. If you enjoy this photo, you’ll surely enjoy the book, which you can purchase here.

© 2013-17 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.

Film Photography

single frame: Garrett, bored


Garrett, down the hall

Garrett, down the hall
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X
Fujicolor 200

Over the last couple years this is the view I’ve had of Garrett most often: him gaming online in his room. We’re a family of introverts, and we’re all geeks to some extent. It’s really common when we’re all home to be involved in separate online pursuits. The house is good and quiet. We like it that way.

© 2017 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.

Film Photography

single frame: Garrett, down the hall


Evening light over the back deck

One evening in May the setting sun cast a warm, brown light into my neighborhood. I grabbed my Canon PowerShot S95 and tried to capture it. I wish all of my cameras had a “capture this just like it is” setting. Frustratingly, the S95 kept wanting to auto-white-balance the light back to normal. I ended up shooting in program mode in RAW, with white balance deliberately set to capture the light as close to right as possible. And then I tweaked the image further in Photoshop trying to fully recapture that interesting, delicious light, and how it shifted the colors of everything it touched.

I love how my growing interest in photography has attuned me to the world. I used to live in such blindness and ignorance of the subtle, the beautiful, the interesting. Not too long ago, even if I had noticed this delicious evening light, I would have shrugged it off and turned back to what I was doing. I would have really missed out.


Captured: Delicious evening light over the deck

Stories Told

An expensive little bug

I have enough experience with small engines to know that the sounds my push mower was making were terminal. I lack enough experience with small engines to know exactly what was wrong. It didn’t matter: the engine made a sudden, sickly “hwangggg!” sound and lurched to its final rest.

Push Mower with Tractor in the Background
RIP, mower in front

Thankfully, I also have a tractor, so I could still cut my grass last Friday evening. As I drove it around the yard, I stole glances up into my trees, which are just starting to bud and leaf. My yard is heavily wooded, trees reaching 60 feet or more into the sky, three or four dozen of them. They veil the house and keep it cool all summer. But on this early spring day, branches mostly bare, I looked up for signs of damage. I saw signs in so many trees. So many.

When I first mowed a couple weeks ago, I noticed a few trees missing bits of bark in large patches. I thought it odd; I grew concerned. So I researched it on the Internet. I learned that this is called “flecking,” and is caused by woodpeckers feeding on insects underneath. The number one delicacy for which woodpeckers fleck trees is the emerald ash borer, a green Asian beetle.

Flecked and tagged

These bugs bore under the bark of ash trees and lay eggs. The larvae feed on the layer under the bark that allows nutrients to flow through the tree. The tree starves and dies.

The ash borer probably entered North America in ash shipping boxes. Its natural predators don’t exist in the United States, so it has spread unchecked across 25 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It threatens to wipe out the ash tree in North America.

I don’t know an ash from a poplar from an elm, but the arborist I brought in does. He told me that I have 21 ash trees, all badly infested with the borer. He told me they’ll all have to come out. He quoted a price equivalent to a modestly equipped new family car.

I drive a nine-year-old, paid-for family car because I’ve been saving to send my older son to Purdue in the fall. I’ve been living frugally for years in preparation, actually. But not frugally enough to solve this problem and pay for college without taking on debt.

Flecked way up high

After I finished mowing, I walked through my neighborhood looking for flecking in my neighbors’ trees. I saw distressed ash trees in every yard on my street and in most yards on other streets in my subdivision. The borer has borne down hard on my neighborhood.

My yard has more ash trees than any of them, though. And after looking closely at all 21 trees, I see some level of flecking in all but a few. My research suggests that this means the trees are too far gone to be saved. So now I must decide whether to remove the most damaged two or three trees every year for the next seven or eight years to distribute the cost — or ask for a steep discount to have the whole job done at once, perhaps over the winter when they’re not very busy.

My little house (crop)
Happy and healthy trees in 2011

I hope to move on from here within two to five years. I’d probably have to disclose this expensive problem to a buyer. It seems like biting the bullet and removing them all is the cleanest solution, if I can scrape together the cash. Paying for it will more than consume the equity I have in my home. In my neighborhood, home values haven’t recovered and may have continued to decline slowly after the housing bubble burst in 2008.

There’s no recovering from this. I’m just going to have to suck it up.

I now have enough experience with ash trees to know that mine are almost certainly terminal. I lack enough experience to know the best course of action. At least this makes unexpectedly needing to buy a new push mower seem like no big deal.

Personal, Stories Told

Warm memories of my first apartment

Does a particular home in your past bring especially warm memories? What made the place so special? I’d love to hear about it in the comments, or better yet, on your blog — especially if you have photos you can share.

Last month I shared this post about my first apartment, with some photos from just after I moved in. That place was special not just because it was really nice for the money, but because I did a lot of growing up there.

I just found some photos from after I’d filled the apartment with furniture and decorated the place, and I want to share them.

Here I am, relaxing in the big brown La-Z-Boy in my living room. I was 25.


Here’s a view of my bedroom. I was never crazy about that wallpaper. The framed Disney images on the wall were gifts from my Uncle Jack when I was a boy. He drew them himself. The dresser was an antique-store find. Despite being probably 50 years old then, it was like new. It was such a pleasure to use! I still have it, but when I got it back after the divorce I was sad to see how battered and scratched it had become. One of these days I’l just replace it with something else that doesn’t come with bad memories.


When I moved in, my bathroom walls were hot pink above the tile. I asked if that could be changed, so my landlady hired a fellow to peel off nine layers of wallpaper, mud the walls smooth, and put up new wallpaper. My dad, who made a living making custom wood furniture, made the cabinet that hangs on the wall. I still use it in my bathroom today.


I used to rearrange my furniture three or four times a year. In the process, I’d clean thoroughly. I took these photos of my living room after one such rearrangement to record the fresh and clean. I had begun to accumulate a little original art. The painting on the left is by Dean Porter, a family friend and former Director of the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame. The painting on the right is by a longtime friend who still paints.


This view from just inside the front door shows the coat closet and the hallway. I always hated that yellow checked wallpaper in the hallway, but my landlady said that it was too new to replace.


Every arrangement of my living room involved my La-Z-Boy being directly across from my TV. Except for the TV and the futon, every other piece of furniture in the room came from used-furniture stores or was given to me. Notice the corner shelf filled with old cameras! I recognize my Kodak Duaflex II and a bunch of Brownies: a Starflash, a Starmatic, a Reflex Synchro Model, and a Six-20. I was fascinated with prewar folding cameras then and several of mine are on the shelf. I also see a couple box cameras. I had probably a hundred more cameras, stored in boxes in a closet.


The apartment lacked central air; a lone window air conditioner was my only defense against hot days. That was more AC than I’d ever had before, though, and I was perfectly happy with it. The doll on my speaker is John Lennon dressed in his Sgt. Pepper getup. The speakers were Infinity Studio Monitor 100s. Audiophiles panned them, but I liked them fine. My receiver, an NAD 7125, could easily outpower these speakers. Still have that receiver; replaced the speakers a few years ago with something smaller and sweeter.


As you can see, maroon, green, and blue was my living room color scheme. Those are such early-90s colors! The coffee table and end tables served for a long time but during my marriage were pretty badly abused. The coffee table came back to me post-divorce in such bad shape that I just threw it away. The end tables were battered but serviceable; I used them until just a couple years ago.

It felt good at the time to furnish and decorate my home. I still feel like I made it look like more than the little money I had available to put into it. I was happy and comfortable in my little home.