People say that the best camera is the one you have with you, but I don’t go all the way in on that.

The camera I always have with me is my iPhone, first a 5 and now a 6s. Both have been fine for everyday snapshots — far better than any snapshot camera I owned even 10 years ago. I’ve even used them to take some pleasing artistic photos. But I muff one in 10 shots because they’re hard to hold steady. And the images go blotchy when I zoom in close. Also, their angle of view (about 60°) is too wide for the close work I like to do.

But before I go to work each morning I step into my garden to see what’s bloomed since yesterday. I pull my iPhone out of my pocket, snap a fresh bloom, and text it to Margaret for a quick morning smile.

That’s what your phone’s camera is brilliant at: instantly sharing images of what you’re seeing and doing right now.

How useful! Margaret likes to grab selfies of us when we’re out and about to record the day’s memory. While we were in New York City earlier this year, I took several snaps with my iPhone to share on Facebook and to email to my mom in realtime. And when I come upon an old car parked, I pull out my phone and shoot the car from every angle so I can later write about the car for Curbside Classic.

I’ve read articles that wring their hands over how legions of photos on our phones will be lost because we don’t properly label and archive them. I’m not sure it matters for most of these of-the-moment photos. They’re much like these flowers: beautiful for the moment, but soon withered and fallen and swept away by the wind.

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Photography

Beautiful for the moment, but soon withered and fallen and swept away by the wind

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Stories Told

What I did on my summer vacation

It feels like summer break is ending today. It’s because when I was a kid, school started the day after Labor Day (as God intended). Even though I haven’t been in school in decades, today still feels like the end of summer break to me!

But this year, I really did get a summer break, thanks to my employer realizing the first of June that it couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I was cut loose, and suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands. It turned out to be wonderful! Here’s what I did with my time:

  • Networked, networked, networked. I knew networking would get me back to work fastest, so I had coffee, lunch, or drinks with someone every weekday — sometimes 2, 3, or 4 meetings a day. Several people I know introduced me to people in my industry whom I didn’t know. One of those introductions led to the job I started the first of August.Schwinn Collegiate
  • Worked a consulting gig. One of those networking meetings also led to a short-term, part-time job advising a software startup. I worked alongside them, evaluating their processes and learning what their pain points were. And then I gave them a lot of advice from my experience about how to ease that pain and execute more strongly.
  • Slept in. Whenever I didn’t have an early networking appointment, I snoozed until 8 or 9.
  • Rode my bike and took long walks. My work- and stress-load had been affecting my health. I’d gained weight and my digestion was seriously out of whack. I felt bloated, sluggish, and tired all the time. So I got out my bike and put on my walking shoes to shake the cobwebs out of my muscles.
  • Took a lot of photographs. I slung a camera over my shoulder on most of my walks and clicked away. I even got to try the color-film processing at Roberts Camera, a longtime Indianapolis photo store. They recently moved to a Downtown location that’s easy for me to reach. It was great to have scans back in a day or two, rather than in a week or two by mail!

I am so relaxed! I can’t remember any other time in my adult life when I’ve felt so little stress. Money wasn’t even a major worry thanks to landing that consulting job.

And the company where I landed has such a laid-back atmosphere. People work hard, but are trusted and encouraged. This is so refreshing after the pressure cookers my last two jobs were! I feel like I’ve stepped into a brighter, healthier future.

But my summer experience planted an idea seed. Advising the startup was great fun. And through my networking, I heard it over and over again: you could stay pretty busy and make good money advising software startups all over town. What if? It’s fun to dream and scheme.

But I’m born of working-class roots — working for the man is my norm, my default. And I’m mighty introverted — I can sell myself in occasional short bursts, but marketing myself all the time is not natural to me. So I will keep networking to build my contact universe and become known in the software startup community. If I can’t manage that, I’d never make it as an independent consultant.

And even if I can manage it, I might just chicken out. And if so, then I’ve landed a job that looks to be really, really good for me. I am astonished by my good fortune this summer.

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Film Photography

Summer flowers on Kodak Ektachrome E100G

For my birthday this year my mom bought me a bunch of new flowering plants for my front garden. She did most of the work planting them, too. What a nice gift!

Daisies

I so enjoy walking through my garden for a minute before I get in the car to go to work. I pull off a few dead flowers, take in the scents of the flowers that have them, and generally enjoy a peaceful moment before getting busy.

More pink phlox

Shortly after all the new plants were in the ground and had gotten happy in their new surroundings, I loaded some E100G slide film into my Yashica-D and shot the whole roll in ten minutes. These, by the way, are the same lilies I featured on Monday.

Yellow and purple lilies

These aren’t the finest photographs I’ve ever taken, but I had so much fun shooting them. I love my Yashica-D. It just feels so good and right in my hands. Everything about the camera feels solid, precise, and elegant.

Lobelia

Mom and I — well, mostly Mom — moved a bunch of my existing plants to better locations. These coneflowers and yellow daisies came from Mom’s garden in South Bend before she moved here. They grew too tall where I had them before, so into the main front bed they went where they can be as tall as they want to be.

Coneflowers and yellow daisies

I bought these hosta at Wal-Mart a couple years ago. My next-door neighbor would probably be miffed if he knew, as he’s a master hosta grower and keeps offering me plants from his prodigious growings, which I usually decline. His timing is always terrible — when he offers, it never fails that I’m up to my armpits in alligators and don’t have time to plant anything.

Hosta

Most years I buy a flowering plant in a pot for my front stoop. This year, it was purple petunias. Purple is my favorite color. Kudos to Kodak E100G for rendering the color right. So many films miss the boat on purple.

Potted petunias

Here’s my favorite shot from the roll. It’s not square because I flubbed up the winding a little bit at the beginning of the roll, and it resulted in the last frame being cut off. I cropped it to the usable part of the image.

Yellow and purple lilies, redux
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Personal

You probably wouldn’t do the things you say you’d do if only you had more time

The tiger lilies and the phlox in my front garden always bloom last. Their annual emergence is my sure sign summer is here.

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solstice_phlox

The days on either side of solstice are my favorite time of year. The days last so long, with 15 hours of glorious daylight. It’s usually temperate in Indiana, with highs in the 70s or 80s. The trees are fully leaved, young bunnies hop all around the neighborhood, and the flowers just keep coming. It’s so easy to feel happy as spring fades into summer.

And thanks to unexpectedly working only part-time right now, I’m getting to enjoy these days like I haven’t since I was a boy. The time I have! The things I can do that I keep saying I want to!

Except that I’m not really doing them. I started a couple long-neglected yard chores but they remain unfinished. Except for a few long walks and one good bike ride, I really haven’t launched that fitness regimen I’ve long talked about. I haven’t finally cleaned and reorganized my garage. I haven’t given more time to the church or to the nonprofit I help run.

What I’m finding is that everything I normally do has expanded to fill most of the extra time — I’m taking things slower. With the rest of the time, I’m sleeping in a little and I’m stopping more often to breathe the air and look at my flowers.

There are two reasons, I think. First, I think I don’t really want to do those things. They’re just things I think I ought to be doing, and I blame lack of time for not doing them. I think we tend to naturally prioritize the things we want to do, within the time available to us. It turns out that sleeping and enjoying a little idle time were actually next on my must-do list.

But second, my life was too busy before. I frequently burn the candle at both ends. Working only part time has let me ease up. It feels like a vacation. I’d like to keep some of this when I eventually return to full-time work.

Does this resonate with you? What do you say you want to do if you had more time? What do you think you’d actually do with that time?

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Photography

Flowers marking the passage of spring

A woman named Verna built my home and lived in it for more than 30 years. My neighbor tells me that a few years before she fell ill and died, she landscaped the yard. The house became a rental for several years after that, and her beds got little love from tenants. When I moved in, one of the first things I did was give them proper care. And while I’m not a huge fan of digging in the dirt, I haven’t been able to resist adding flowering plants of my own.

Spring is my favorite time of year anyway, but I love it even more because of the flowers in my yard as they come and go. My mom gave me my grape hyacinths; they are first to emerge.

Grape hyacinth
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

I bought a single regular hyacinth plant to go with them. They emerge and begin to blossom at about the same time.

Hyacinth
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

While the hyacinths usually come up first, my daffodils are always first to show color.

First color
Canon PowerShot S95

Here’s one that has fully opened. When my daffodils open, I know spring has fully arrived. It’s one of the best days of my year.

Daffodil
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

These Lily of the Valley are relative newcomers to my garden. Mom dug them out of her garden before she moved from our family home last year, and gave them to me. The little blooms don’t last very long.

What are these?
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

I can’t decide whether I look forward more to my daffodils or my peonies. Verna planted three prolific peony bushes. I always cut the flowers as they bloom and bring them inside, filling my home with their fragrance. The flowers don’t last very long — a few days, whether left on the bush or cut and placed in water. The aged flowers don’t just wilt, they rot. The bushes bloom for one to two weeks.

Peony
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Ektar 100

Another latecomer to my gardens, another plant from Mom’s former garden, is this evening primrose. It blooms as the peonies are finishing up.

Evening primrose
Canon PowerShot S95

I know spring is about to fade into summer when the day lilies come up. They keep blooming all summer.

Lily
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

My tiger lilies are always the last to bloom, usually just after the first day of summer. My friend Dani gave me these.

Tiger Lily
Nikon N60, Quantaray 28-80mm, Kodak Gold 200 (expired)

I have other flowering plants in my yard, but these are my favorites. And they’re all milestones in the arrival and passage of spring, my favorite season.

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Stories Told

Gleich aus Deutschland zurück, 30 Jahre her

I spent my 16th summer in Germany. I was in an intensive language-immersion program through Indiana University that gave me a stunning command of the German language. I came away so fluent that even though I’ve had little call to speak German in 25 years and have forgotten a lot of vocabulary, when I encounter a native German speaker I can still make myself understood.

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Me drinking beer in Krefeld

This was also an exchange program. I lived with a kind and patient family in Krefeld, a town in western Germany near the border with the Netherlands.

It wasn’t all language instruction; we did touristy things too. We visited cities all over western Germany and spent a week in Berlin. We toured castles, churches, and breweries, and took a boat trip down the Rhine River.

The trip was a defining time in my life. It gave me perspectives on the world that I would never have gotten otherwise. I had a lot of freedom there and learned both how to handle it and that I was inherently trustworthy with it.

This summer is the 30th anniversary of my trip. This is about the time I returned home, and so I’ve been reflecting on my time in Germany lately. I’ve written about the trip many times before, and all week I’ll be sharing the best of those posts again. I’ll also tell some stories I haven’t told before.

To whet your appetite, here’s a gallery of some of the best scenes from my trip.

I wasn’t much of a photographer in 1984, but I’m sure glad I have these photos now.

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