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A Change in Perspective {Jamaica Mission Trip}
WHAT: Personal, Travel   |   WHEN: June 30, 2012   |   WHERE: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Several months ago I'd been feeling like I was just kinda on cruise control.  Things were generally good with nothing of substance to complain about.  I'd been hanging out in my comfort zone, not stretching myself and not doing much to feel like I was making much of an impact in a way that truly mattered. Call it a rut or maybe the beginning of a mid-life crisis with 40 approaching in November, but I was feeling restless and a bit lost about what to do about it.  

God stepped in.  Not more than a few days later, Cheryl from Chase Oaks Church (the church Kylie and I call home) emailed me and asked if I was interested in going on a couple mission trips to capture the work being done and the relationships being built to help tell visual stories that would hopefully move more people to get involved.  I talked it over with Kylie, and while my knee-jerk reaction was one of hesitancy, Kylie encouraged me to go as it was an opportunity to grow and do something meaningful... the very thing I'd been seeking.  So after a couple conversations with Cheryl and John Stanley (Pastor for External Ministries at Chase Oaks), they felt the most immediate need was an upcoming mission trip to Jamaica, and so almost everything was set.  The last thing to do was to raise $1500 to cover the cost of the trip expenses, and I was blown away how quickly friends and family responded.  Within a week or two of the email, Facebook post, and blog post I sent out, I had all the money I needed. Thanks so much to those that made donations and/or prayed for this trip!!

The trip itself is difficult to summarize in a few sentences.  One night the group from our church was hanging out in one of the couples' room, and Todd asked a simple question; "When you go back home and people ask you 'How was your trip?', what will you say?"  For me, it was some of the hardest physical work (old school manual labor in mid-90s temps in the sun with 100% humidity) and witnessing some of the most heart-breaking circumstances, and I'd do it all again in a second. And I'd encourage anyone one else who's interested to do it, too, because anything I can say still isn't as impactful as experiencing a trip like this yourself.  

God used this trip to make me re-evaluate my own perspective.  We have every convenience we could want here in the States, and for many of us, it's often still not enough.  We got annoyed, if not angry, about trivial things that, in the big picture, really don't matter.  We are a culture of instant gratification, often accompanied by a sense of entitlement.  And heaven forbid Facebook or Twitter goes down for a few minutes.  Of course these are generalizations, and I acknowledge it's hard to blame people that have grown up here in the US for these things because in most cases, it's all we've known.  Ignorance is bliss, so to speak... short of a few commercials asking for donations to help the needy, most of us have never witnessed or experienced a life where each day you depend on the generosity of others to meet just your very basic needs.  Yes, we see it in the news almost daily, but it's because we see the stories so much that it almost just becomes background noise that we eventually tune out because we feel like we can't individually make a true difference or simply because we don't want to think about it.  At least that's how it was for me.  One of the high school students from another church group said something one night as he was sharing that really stuck with me, though.  He said that sometimes we don't feel like we're making much of a dent in all the work that needs to be done, referring to the sites we were at in Jamaica.  But he made the analogy that what we were doing was adding a twig to the camp fire... it doesn't seem like much, but it sustains the fire just a little longer until the next person or group can add more wood.  That' strue whether we're serving somewhere around the world or in our own back yard.  There's plenty of need everywhere.

The kids we visited in Jamaica at the orphanage and the school for the deaf have so very little, nothing compared to our standards, and yet they're so incredibly thankful for even the smallest gifts. In some ways I would say they're more grateful and happy than many of us in the US.  It's an 'ignorance is bliss' thing, too.  They don't know a life of comfort and convenience like we have here, and so they don't miss it or crave it.  For me, the perspective change was how little it really takes to be happy.  Their biggest source of happiness is not the stuff they have, but the relationships they have with each other.  

Sadly, the hardest part is that it's difficult for the hard-working staff at the orphanage and the school for the deaf to give each of the many kids enough attention.  The children crave interaction and a feeling of being loved. It's moving to walk into a room full of toddlers at the orphanage and immediately and almost in unison see their arms go up in the air as they reach out for you to pick them up and spend time with them and love on them.  It's difficult to walk away at the end of the day knowing these children are starved for attention, especially when I think of how much love & attention my own daughter gets each day. 

Finally, to Team Butler, thanks to each of you for making my first mission trip an experience I'll treasure for a lifetime.  Each one of you is unique in the gifts you shared, and I'm proud to have served with such a passionate, fun, inspiring group of people.  Sometimes it's difficult to gel with a 15 person group, but I didn't sense that at all with our team.  Some of my favorite memories from the trip will be the late night "hot seat" interviews where people were willing to open up and be transparent in sharing their stories with the rest of the group.  Powerful stuff.  

And finally, here's a quick slideshow from our time in Jamaica.  Unfortunately the day we spent at the orphanage went photographically undocumented as a recent policy change was made to protect the kids there where cameras were no longer permitted.  There were so many powerful moments that happened that day, and I was really bummed not to be able to share that part of the story with people back home, but I completely understand the safety of the children comes first.  

Hope you enjoy the images, and I can't encourage you enough to find an opportunity to serve wherever you feel led, whether that's half way around the world or in your own neighborhood.

And just to prove I didn't pull the "Hey, I'm just the photographer card" to get out of all the work [grin], here's photographic proof. In hindsight, khaki-colored scrubs maybe weren't the best choice for sweaty work.


WHAT: Cityscapes & Landscapes, Travel   |   WHEN: November 29, 2010   |   WHERE: Princeton, Indiana
Kylie & I just got back from spending a few days in southern Indiana with her family for the Thanksgiving weekend.  We decided to make the 12 hour drive this time instead of fly because we love torture.  Oh, and because we wanted to bring the dog.  Ah, yes... that's why we drove.  Paying $200 (in addition to our tickets) just to allow Mia to sit in our lap on a plane seemed like robbery.  (Although seeing one of those TSA guys give her a pat-down mighta been worth it.)

So we gave me a little doggy sedative, piled in the car, and headed to Princeton (IN) last Wednesday.  Of course we, or at least I, spent Thursday eating myself into a coma with all the fantastic Thanksgiving day food Kylie's mom and grandma prepared.  We ate around noon.  I watched football and checked my eyelids for holes for a couple hours after that, and then we had round two for dinner before resuming my horizontal position in the living room.  I. Love. Thanksgiving.

Friday, Garry (my father-in-law), Bryce (Kylie's brother) and I headed out early to, well, drive around.  And drive around we did.  And around.  And around.  We ended up on some back-country, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods, winding road for a while where - from the back seat of the truck - I nearly revisited my breakfast if you know what I mean.  Funny thing is we were talking about car-sickness just before that, and I told them I was good to go because, well, I was at that moment.  Shortly after, though, I dunno what happened... maybe it was me bragging how I rarely get car sick, but I about lost it.  Thankfully, I managed to keep it all down and everything was fine after our next stop when I got out of the truck and got some coooold air.

Anywho, I took my camera for our drive and grabbed a few images along the way, and here they are.

First up was this round barn Garry and Bryce knew of.  (And for the record, Garry and Bryce know about everything you could ever wanna know about Princeton and the surrounding area.  I joked that in the course of our 8 hour excursion, I think there were only about 3 houses we passed where they didn't know who currently or previously lived there.  Seriously.)  The barn was kinda interesting because, well, who builds a round barn?

This next one was just a drive by image from the back seat. 

Both Garry and Bryce created a lot of build-up for the jug rock.  I mean a LOT.  Like, you haven't lived until you've seen the jug rock build-up.  By the sarcastic tone in their voice, I prepared myself to be underwhelmed, and I was not disappointed.  It's basically a rock... on top of another rock.  (see below right).  Interesting?  Sure, kinda.  Geologically significant?  Debatable.  Worth the drive through "deliverance country" (as Bryce put it)?  My queasy stomach is still deciding.  One of the more fascinating aspects for sure is how little marketing the locals gave this 8th wonder of the world for as much build-up as it gets.  Check out the huge green "Jug Rock" sign below the "Keep Right" sign (below left) pointing out this marvel as your driving down the road.  They spared no expense, eh?

We did also finally find this covered bridge which was pretty cool.  What was not cool, though - as we heard from one of the locals - is that in the last 5 years someone has tried to burn this bridge down twice.  The good news is there's a renovation project in the works to tidy up the bridge and make it fire-resistant.

Our final stop before heading back to the house was in French Lick, Indiana to see the West Baden Springs Hotel, and it was pretty amazing.  This hotel was considered by some to be the 8th wonder of the world back in the day when it was first built because of it's huge dome that many said architecturally couldn't be built.  If you've ever been to a Gaylord hotel, the West Baden Springs Hotel was kinda like a Gaylord hotel looong before there were Gaylord hotels... and much more opulent.  Walking through the hotel kinda felt like what I imagine walking around on the Titanic was like.  Very elegant in it's hay day with unmatched decor, prestige and reputation.  If you're ever in the area, check it out. After a long period of neglect and deteriation, it's recently been completely restored.

Here's an image of the dome covering the atrium.

A view from the library in the hotel.

A chandelier with a beautiful wood ceiling in the main lobby.

A decorative glass fixture hanging in one of the stairwells.  This is actually a combination of 2 images.  I took a close-up image of the fixture in focus, and then took a second image of the fixture out of focus.  Finally I just overlaid the second out-of-focus image on top of the in-focus image in Photochop and changed the blending mode of the top layer (the out-of-focus image) to overlay.  You can see the two original images below the final image.

Back at the house, my brother-in-law's dog, Phyllis, on the left and Mia on the right, both looking out the back door.  I think this photo is the only time during our 3 day stay these two weren't chasing, playing with, barking at or generally antagonizing each other. 

Yesterday, Garry and I went out to find some heavy farm machinery for me to drive around, but we found a vintage tractor pull first at the local fair grounds.

The tractor pull was kinda interesting, but I had one big beef... I wanted to see a little more bling on the tractors.  I mean, c'mon... I know all the tractors in the competition had to be built before 1958 (or something like that) to be allowed to participate, but why not spruce these babies up with some flame paint jobs, blue under-carriage LED lighting, or at a minimum a little chrome?  Huge marketing opportunity they're missing here.  You know, to appeal to the younger crowd.  Anywho.

Finally, Garry hooked me up with a ride in a Terra-Gator.  That just sounds cool... Terra-Gator.  This chick magnet is a beast, and was so cool to cruise in.  He was brave enough (or crazy enough) to let me drive this bad boy out on the open road (with his supervision, of course, and I gotta tell ya... I was honestly a little terrified I was gonna pancake something or someone with the gigantor tires while cruisin' down those narrow county roads at a top speed of 35mph.  I apologize if I ran you off the road.  I didn't mean to. Promise. 

Actually, everything went fine and good times were had by all.  Well, at least me... Garry was probably white-knuckling it the whole time I was driving.  I'm pretty sure I was a natural, though, so if this photography thing doesn't pan out, I might just become a Terra-Gator driver.

All in all, a fantastic trip.  It was great to see Kylie's family and get some down time in.  And now it's back to the grind to finish out the next few weeks strong before calling it quits for the holidays.


New England ~ Vacation!
WHO: Kylie & I   |   WHAT: Cityscapes & Landscapes, Personal, Travel   |   WHEN: October 6, 2010   |   WHERE: New England
Call it a make-up vacation.  A do-over of sorts.  Back in April Kylie and I had a trip planned to visit London and Ireland only to have the whole thing disrupted and ultimately cancelled by - of all things - a volcano in Iceland.  A volcano.  In Iceland.  Fast forward a couple months, and after reconciling the fact I would not be seeing sheep roaming the rolling, lush Irish country side near a 200 year old castle, we both were feeling the need to get outta Dodge for a few days.  The struggles and monotony of daily life had set in and before we knew it, there were days we felt like we were just passing each other in the hallway on the way to getting something else on the to-do list done.  It was time to get away.

After a little bit of indecision about where to go (mostly on my part), we spun the proverbial globe and landed on New England in the fall.  Being a little naive about the popularity of NE during the peak fall color season, we were a little, um, unprepared for how difficult it would be to score places to stay.  I was given the task of planning out the trip since Kylie basically did all the trip-planning for our 11 day honeymoon in Italy.  I thought to myself, hard could a couple days in New Engalnd be?  2 weeks later I was practically begging Kylie for help, and of course, she came through... after rolling her eyes at me a few times.  Hey I did get the first night's accommodations and dinner planned.  Baby steps, folks.  Baby steps.

Little did we know this trip would end up becoming our babymoon when we found out not too long ago that we're pregnant with our first mininicolosi (thanks for the name, Kim).  I didn't even know what a babymoon was until a little over a month ago.  I never saw the chapter on babymoons in my life manual, but apparently that chapter also mentions things like push presents.  Push presents??  Clearly a group of moms have conspired to milk this pregnancy thing for all it's worth.  I kid, people. I kid.  Kylie deserves every bit of pregnancy pizzazz Hallmark and it's cohorts can dream up.

I know what you're thinkin'.... Blah bu-blah blah blah...Man, would he get on to the pictures already??  I'm almost there grasshopper.

So the night before we're supposed to fly out to Boston, I notice I'm gettin' a little achy and a bit of the chills.  Those bit of chills turned into all out shivering while I was trying to sleep, and I woke up with a fever around 102.  I swear I looked like a neanderthal the next morning as I was lumbering around trying to throw some clothes in the suitcase.  I don't remember much of what Kylie said to me that morning, but I think I responded in caveman speak with things like  Ungh... shirt.  Cold.  Jacket good.  Camera heavy.  I just wanted to crawl back into bed.  But this was our babymoon.  Nobody and nothin' stops the babymoon.

Long story short, turns out I had developed phlebitis in my right leg in addition to a nasty skin infection in my shin and calf area on my right leg.  So we spent the better part of the first day at the doctors office followed by a little trip to the hospital.  Good times.  But did I mention nothing gets in the way of the babymoon?  After nabbing a prescription from a doc in addition to a heavy dose of Alleve, we were on our way.

I didn't take as many photos as I thought I would, mostly because I just didn't feel like picking up my camera for the first day or two.  Here's some of my favorites of the ones I did take, though.

These first three were near the House of Seven Gables in Salem while we were killin' time waiting for my first Dr's appointment.

Here's where we stayed the first night in Maine, The Inn at Tanglewood Hall.  This place was freakin' beautiful and inn keepers Su and Andy were so friendly and personable.  I couldn't recommend this place more if you're looking for a B&B to stay in near York.

The next 7 images are random photographs from the inn.

From there we drove the coast of Maine for a bit in search of lighthouses.  This was the last bit of sun we saw for the day as tropical rains parked themselves in the sky over this region for most of the afternoon and evening.

Sorry, no Hoff sightings.

This is the Nubble Lighthouse in York.  I'd seen it before a few years back, but I never get tired of views like this.

It was a little windiliscious as they storms started moving in.

A got the brilliant idea I was gonna get a great photo of the sea gulls by luring one or two of them over towards me with a Fritos Honey BBQ Twist corn chip.  I got a little more than I bargained for.  At the first sight of a snack, I was bombarded a la Hitchcock style with a flock of seagulls.  All I could see and hear was Kylie laughing when I seriously ran for and dove back inside the car.

Here's a view ;ooking out the windshield at one of the perpetrators.

After cycling the windshield wipers, here's a better view of his mug.

While continuing on our drive, we came upon a partially dried up lakebed.  Looked like a graveyard of sorts for some smaller boats.  Stunk as all get-out, but had some great photo ops.

Next several images are from a a beach area somewhere between York and Portland, Maine.  Loved this footbridge.

Mama Nicolosi at 12 weeks.

Then we stumbled upon this place on teh side of the rode that was a freakin' gold mine for collectibles and all things nostalgic.  We were starved and trying to avoid rain, though, so I only spent about 10 minutes here.  I could've easly spent 3 hours.

We finally rolled into Portland, Maine around 4:15pm, and of course the light house we came to see closed at 4.  The trip took a little longer to get there than what we estimated... like 3 hours longer.  Oh, well, still ran out and was able to get this image of the Portland Head Light.  This is an HDR image for any photographers out there that were wondering.

The next 2 days were spent in new Hampshire near Stowe where we visited Cabot Cheese Farm to see how cheese was made, a maple syrup farm to see how pure maple syrup is made, and then Ben and Jerry's factory to see - you guessed it - how they make their ice cream.  Vermont also had a little more color than some of the other areas we visited.

We were also able to find a few old covered bridges in Vermont.


One Person's Junk...
WHO: Me   |   WHAT: Random, Travel   |   WHEN: July 31, 2010   |   WHERE: Canton, TX

... can be another person's junk for the low, low price of [insert your offer here]. 

Yesterday Kylie & I and her parents went to First Monday Trade Days in Canton, TX to get a quick fix for any desire we may have had to have a garage sale any time in the next several years.  In hindsight, I can't think of a better thing to do than walk around 100+ acres of what I can only describe as the world's biggest garage sale in 100+ temperatures.  I mean really, who wouldn't want to walk around for hours with your shirt stuck to your skin and sweat dripping in your eyes while looking at bird houses made of license plates, rusted car parts converted into yard "art", and used spark plugs from 1977?  What can I say?  We're livin' the dream.

Actually I'm being unfair wih the sarcasm; there's actually a fair amount of some pretty unique new retail items in addition to old treasures to be found at Canton.  Unfortunately you won't see hardly any of them on this blog because unbeknownst to me before we arrived, it's actually against the rules to photograph any of the stuff for sale without the owner's consent, and based on all the "absolutely no photoraphing or sketching signs posted in the booths and shops, I'm guessing most weren't in teh consenting mood.  I was politey reminded of this by a gentleman who looked like the kind of guy who could smile and make you feel like his best friend while at the same time permanently disabling you with some Jedi mind trick if he so desired. 

I did manage to sneak a few images in while in stealth mode, though. Actually, it was more like ignorance mode.  All the images posted were taken before I was aware of the strict rules against photography, and even then there were plenty of things to photograph that weren't for sale... I was just too hot to put forth the effort in most cases.

I was really stoked when I stumbled on these old microphones and was all set to buy the one in the front lower left foreground in the image below (with the black slots).  As I was reaching for my wallet to pull out the $35 I thought it cost, I walked just a bit further around it and noticed the "2" I couldn't see from the first angle.  $235 was a bit lot more than I wanted to pay for a non-working microphone, no matter how cool it looked.


Shooting for Yourself
WHO: Me   |   WHAT: Cityscapes & Landscapes, Travel   |   WHEN: July 23, 2010   |   WHERE: Somewhere between Austin & Dallas
On Monday night I was in Austin speaking to the Austin Professional Photographers Association about "Finding Extraordinary in the Ordinary", and on the way back home to Dallas Tuesday I took some time to put into practice part of my message from the night before... carving out time to shoot for for myself.

I had a big long post typed up when technology consipred against me and wiped out the entire thing a couple minutes ago when I went to save and post it. A cruel irony, indeed, when the act of saving erases all your efforts. It's now 3:47 in the morning, and my eyelids and babble filter don't have enough juice to re-write the whole thing at this time.  So, for those of you that never read the books in high school and just used the Cliff Notes to do your book reports, today's your lucky day.  Here's the condensed version...

Unless you do your homework whe you start a photography business - and I clearly didn't - nobody tells you how little time you'll actually spend, well, photographing.  You won't know how much time you'll instead spend reading, learning, marketing, selling, order filling, order checking, editing, client contacting, cleaning, tax prepping, insurance'ing, equipment researching/buying, equipment fixing, scheduling, business plan writing, policy-writing, book-keeping, sample ordering, etcetera'ing.  I remember when I first started out thinking, but I just wanna create great photographs, I don't wanna do all that other stuff!  Truth be told, I still have that same mindset today, but it just doesn't work that way.  (Note:  if it is working that way for you, you might wanna re-evaluate whether you've got a photography business or an expensive hobby.)

To make a long story short (I told you my babble filter was out of juice this late at night), it's easy to get stuck in a rut to where you feel like a robot because all you're doing is all those things listed above in addition to trying to satisfy your clients with great images they'll love.  When that happens, picking up a camera can easily start to feel like a chore rather than a passion.  I'd like to encourage you to find some time to shoot for yourself in order to keep your perspective fresh, your creative batteries recharged and your passion alive, even if it's only for a few minutes here and there.  I promise you your clients will benefit from it as well.

Here's a few of my favorites from the drive home.

These first couple images are just outside of Salado, TX north of Austin.  I can't believe I'd never visited Salado before now; it was a beautiful town with a quaint feel and lots of history and B&B's.  The people here are incredibly nice, too, as I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman named Bob who not only owns the property in this first image, but he told me about the place with the waterfall in the second image.  Had I not met him, I would not have gotten several of the images that follow because most of them were found on the way to the waterfall place.

I had never seen fences lined with old white-painted bicycles before, but I saw two of them near Salado.  Very cool.

Found this old truck way back in the weeds off of interstate 35.  Score!  I love stuff like this, and it was the perfect time to get a little sun flare coming through the truck window.  The whole time I was taking this series of images I was thinking, Please don't get chiggers.  Please don't get chiggers.

This dilapidated house was right near the old truck.  Double score!

Drove through downtown Dallas to get back home and stopped briefly near the new Winspear Opera House to walk around.  These tables were just outside the building in a courtyard.

I like the reflection action going on this last one.  Notice the photographer in the middle doing some senior photography with 3 girls laying in the shallow water.  Triple score!


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