Samhain Blessings! The Wheel Keeps Turning.

Today I turn my thoughts to those who came before me and made the footsteps I follow in. I am grateful to my ancestors for the work they did to provide me with lessons that guide my moral compass on the path I now walk. Today the veil is thin between our worlds and I feel them closer than ever.

As the Sun God and Mother Earth fall asleep and the Dark Ones bring forth the longer nights, I am thankful for the things in my life that keep me moving forward, especially my friends. A new year approaches with new excitement, new obstacles, and new opportunities. Everything changes and this time of the year is a good reminder that nothing stays the same forever.

“To my ancestors
Who mark the path before me,
My breath is your breath.
My bones are your bones.
We are all relations.
I drink water for you.
I take in food for you.

Together we share the fire within.
Together we stand in the light.
The bright stars are what we are from
And the Dark of night is where we return.

Tonight I honor my ancestors
And celebrate the gift of remembrance.
Your blood runs in my veins,
Your spirit is in my heart,
Your memories are in my soul.
May your blessing be upon me.”

My soul speaks with the ones who have passed but my heart beats for the living who surround me. I spent last night with good friends to reflect with, good food to feast on, and the magic of bright fires in all of us. We had a Samhain fire before it rained and gave offerings to the flames, ate marshmallows, and feasted on good cold-weather food while playing a special Halloween DnD one-shot game (I was a werewolf barbarian who had a thing for black cats).

Blessed Samhain, my friends, and have a safe and happy Halloween! 🎃

The Natural World: Interview with Lee Jaszlics

Lee JaszlicsWhen I was 14 years old, my family got our first computer and the internet. As a very antisocial kid who lived in the country away outside of any town limits, the internet caused my social life to bloom. More than 15 years later, some of those people I met in the beginning days of my online life are still with me. Including my best friend Lee Jaszlics, who has been stuck with me since that first giant desktop Dell computer. We met on an art forum – they were in Colorado and I was in Wisconsin – and we’ve been in each other’s lives ever since. We even ended up going to the same college for a short time, living in the same city, and they stood up for me at my wedding. That’s an internet friendship that’ll go down in the history books.

Over the years, Lee has grown more amazing and more talented than ever and I’m so proud to show off their incredible photography for everyone. If you follow me on twitter than you’ve probably seen me promote their photography a lot. It’s for a good reason. Lee is a constant source of inspiration to me which is why I asked them to do this interview with me.

So without further ado, I’ll let Lee do the talking.

01. Boring intro question! Tell us about yourself and how you got into photography in the first place?

I got into photography purely as an accident – I actually bought my first camera to collect research data as an undergraduate, and after I’d finished digitizing several hundred photos of crocodile skulls, I decided to keep the camera, and started shooting on class field trips and around my campus, and I discovered that I loved it.

My first attempts were very, very bad, of course, but I was able to connect with the insect photography community quite early on. I attended the very first BugShot workshop, and that really opened my eyes to a lot of the tools of the trade: how to work with light, think about composition, and even how to put yourself into the right mental frame to take photos of wild creatures.

I’ve sort-of been slinking away from macro and insects over the last few years, but the frame of mind that I took from that – thinking about environment, and light, and how to showcase things from unique and perspectives, has stayed with me through the years.

02. You take pictures of a lot of subjects – spiders, reptiles, birds, landscapes, etc. What are you favorite things to photograph, and, probably related, what are the hardest things to photograph?

I don’t know that I necessarily have a favorite species to photograph, but I do like to focus on capturing personality and mood. Jumping spiders are great subjects; they love to cock their heads and admire their reflections in my lens. I’m also very fond of shorebirds, who are often shy and reserved, so getting a good photo is always a challenge. And I love snakes and monitor lizards – it’s probably the forked tongue.

I actually find that the hardest things for me to photograph are landscapes. I have very strong emotional reactions to places, but, for me, at least, a lot of that is tied up in unphotographable things – temperatures, smells and textures (I have a horrible habit of touching every plant I pass) – and communicating those feelings through color and light is quite challenging for me. I also find landscape compositions much trickier than compositions that are centered on animals.

03. What do your photographic process look like, from start to finish?

I’ll usually start by location scouting. Sometimes I have a good idea of a particular species that I want to capture so I’ll try to find places where it’s been seen. eBird is a really good tool for this. For things that aren’t birds, I usually go through geotagged photos or talk to people who might have some ideas. If I’m not after a particular animal, I’ll aim for parks and wilderness areas, and try to get an idea of what they look like and what the local biodiversity is like so that I know how to prepare for the things I’m likely to find.

Once I have a good area in mind, I’ll usually hit it relatively early. Morning light is good for landscapes and birds, and as the day heats up, I’ll switch over to insects and invertebrates. I do occasionally photograph in the evening or at night, but only if I’m specifically looking for reptiles or want to take sunset photos. But I usually find that working in the morning lets me stretch out my day and get wrapped up in what I’m doing without worrying about running out of daylight, which is nice. I’ll usually have some ideas of the shots I want, so I’ll try to get those done, and while I’m working, I’ll take a lot of photos of things that strike me while I’m working. I hike at a snail’s pace, because I tend to stop every three feet to take a photo. Most of these never see the light of day, but they get me into the right frame of mind to appreciate and focus on everything around me.

After I’m done, I process my photos. Almost everything is done in Adobe Lightroom, but I will break out Photoshop for things that are particularly knotty. While I’ve worked hard to be able to take a good photo straight out of the camera, I think that the ability to process photos well is very important, and just another tool for photographers. I’m not aiming to show you what my camera sensor saw, but to capture the feeling of a place or an organism and what it was like for me in that moment. (At the same time, I do think it’s important for me to disclose when I’ve done anything really egregious in my photo process, like compositing images or photographs of captive animals instead of wild ones.)

04. If you could photograph anything or anyone from history that’s not around anymore, what/who would it be?

New Zealand pre-human colonization, definitely. I love New Zealand, and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, but I think it’d be even better with moas and giant eagles. I mean, everything’s better with giant eagles, right?

05. You travel A LOT – where is your favorite place to take photos and what is your favorite photography memory?

Well, if I have the choice to go anywhere in the world, I’ll always go to Australia. Far North Queensland is probably my favorite region of the country – but ask me again if I ever have the chance to visit Western Australia – the bird life in the rainforest there is incredible, and there are these wonderful giant stick insects that smell like peppermint when you pick them up …

My favorite photographic memory is from there, actually – I was on the road to Cape Trib from Port Douglas when I saw a young cassowary crossing the road. Obviously, I had to pull out and get a photo, and while I was doing this, the young bird got curious, watching me, and coming closer to investigate. I don’t know if you know anything about cassowaries, but they’re huge and they’ve got this massive, dinosaurian claw on one toe … I was a little nervous, especially because cassowaries are raised by their dads, and I though this one might be young enough to still have a full grown, overly protective parent nearby. So, there I was, pressed up against my rental car, trying to give this bird the space and respect he deserved, and trying to get pictures at the same time …

I got the photo, and wasn’t disemboweled by an angry cassowary, so it was a pretty good day.

06. You are, by trade, a digital photographer. What are your thoughts on traditional film photography?

Well, for what I do, let me just say that I am so, so glad that the digital camera exists! I take a lot of shots, especially when I’m trying to catch an insect that’s scuttling around, or a bird in flight, and if I had to pay for film, I’d be really, really broke. I don’t actually understand how people took wildlife photos before the advent of digital cameras, but I admire them immensely – clearly they were far more patient people than me. Plus, the immediate feedback of digital is really nice – taking a photo and then immediately being able to check to make sue your exposure is good and your composition looks nice is hugely helpful.

But film photography is an important art form, and the skillset that goes into it is vast and impressive, and there are a lot of things to recommend film as a medium – you can often get better noise performance and better colors … plus you have a full-frame sensor for relatively cheap! Sometimes, I’m a little jealous. At the end of the day, as long as you get the photos that you want, the tool that you used is unimportant. (But knowing how to use the tools that you have? That’s critical.)

07. AND FINALLY! You take tons of SUPER colorful photos – but what’s your FAVORITE color and does it photograph well?

I love oranges and greens, and they’re both awful colors to photograph. Oranges tend to the gaudy and artificial, while greens tend to turn weird and yellowy. I fight a constant battle with my camera calibration and color balance. One of these days, I might even win.

You can find Lee & their photography elsewhere on the web:
SnakePhotographer.com
SmugMug Print Shop
Timelapse Gallery
Flickr Gallery
Twitter

PAX South Tickets are on Sale!

PAX South tickets are on sale and I realized I haven’t written about my last experience. So here’s my belated thoughts on my second annual January San Antonio vacation.

I was at PAX South for the first time in 2016. This last January, Jake and I returned. PAX South 2017 was everything I needed it to be and I’m so thankful I didn’t chicken out and not go. I was so nervous because not only was it my first vacation/outing out of the city in a year (I’ve been dealing with a lot of medical issues), it was my first outing in a wheelchair. Like I had mentioned in an earlier post, I can’t walk well anymore and I use a wheelchair to get around. I was nervous because I had no idea how accessible everything at the conference center would be, I didn’t know I’d handle the inability to be in control of my own motion (I don’t have a lot of strength in my arms either so Jake pushed me everywhere), and I was worried about how friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile would react to seeing me immobile.

Thankfully my worries were for nothing; the actual trip was above and beyond my highest expectations. The two main reasons for that were: the incredible PAX enforcers who helped me get my medical badge and made sure EVERYTHING was accessible to me; and my beautiful amazing welcoming wonderful friends who greeted me with open flying tackle hugs. It was a long and exhausting weekend and I paid for it in the following week (I slept a lot), but it was worth it. So worth it. Which is why we are going back for Pax South 2018!! To get myself even more excited about 2018, check out my PAX 2017 photos (and friends) from earlier this year:

My handsome husband & I

PAX SOUTH!

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Reflections of a Snailbird as We Head into 2016

Well this was a year of unforeseen life changes for yours truly. It was an incredible year and also one of the most heartbreaking. A lot happened, good and bad, but I think, overall, 2015 and I are on good terms. There was a lot more good than bad at least. Some highlights of my 2015:

  • Introducing Jake to snow (and my family)
  • Running Catan demos at SXGaming for Mayfair Games
  • Getting engaged to the love of my life
  • Attending SDCC and being nerds with a bunch of old & new friends
  • Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time
  • Having my sister move in with us
  • Introducing my sister to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time
  • Seeing Star Wars and having it be GOOD
  • Getting to be home for Christmas for the first time in 6 years

And so many more. Overall, it was filled with amazing experiences. And as a person, I am vastly different from who I was in 2014. I am healthier, at least mentally (my physical health is always touch and go), and have managed to get my life together and organized and that in itself is a pretty big deal. I have a good family, a good job, and a good idea of where my life is going. I’m happy and decided to do a little reflecting on what I’ve learned this past year.

jikki

Reflection One: The Universe is Full of Surprises

2014 saw me entering into a relationship that completely changed my life for the better with a man of all people (first real relationship I’ve ever been in with a man (I thought I was a lesbian for years (I’m still not entirely convinced I’m not but I love him so))). 2015 saw the two of us getting engaged, driving across the country to meet tons of family, flying to California together for our first San Diego Comic Con, and becoming temporary parental figures to my fifteen year old sister. We’ve packed a lot of life into just a year and I am more in love with him now than ever before and I can’t wait to marry him. May 4, 2016 is going to be an amazing day. Not only is it Star Wars Day, but it’s our wedding day as well, and it’s going to be the geekiest wedding the Universe has ever seen.

I never saw myself getting into a relationship with a man. I NEVER saw myself marrying one. But the Universe brought Jake into my life when I needed him most and what I’ve learned from this is that I need to always keep my mind open to whatever the Universe brings into my life because It usually (always) knows better than I do. And the Universe likes surprises.

opa

Reflection Two: You’re Never Ready to Say Good-bye

June 1st I had to say good-bye to one of my favorite people in the entire world, and one of the most important: my Opa. It was hard and I wasn’t ready. The silver-lining is that it wasn’t a surprise and he told everyone he was ready to go. But it doesn’t make it easier. He had been a constant presence my entire life – he and my Oma were there for everything for me and I grew up with them. Ted Jeninga was always there with a smile and a joke and a plate of cookies and my heart still hurts so badly to know he is gone. This Christmas was the first time I was able to go home and it was a shock to my system for him not to be there when I walked through the door. It’s still hard to handle. I wasn’t able to go home for the funeral in June because I was still very sick (I was on short term disability from May till July and couldn’t leave the house except for doctors appointments) but my uncle read the memorial I wrote for him and I know it was a beautiful send-off.

But it still hurts. And even when you know it’s coming, you’re never ready to say good-bye to those you love. I still haven’t really accepted it yet that he’s gone and I’m not sure if I ever will.

jikki-madi

Reflection Three: You are Stronger Than You Know

I’ve gone through a lot in my life. I try to use what I’ve learned to help others. Sometimes, this comes back in very surprising ways. This year, it came back in the form of my fifteen year old sister. I won’t go into details because that is her story and only she can tell it, but back in October she came to live with Jake and I and her strength and dedication and willpower to get through all the things she’s been through has been inspiring. And I know she’s been surprising herself with her own strength. It’s been extremely hard for her, but she has pushed through and every day she is stronger and I am so proud of her.

Because of her, I’ve discovered a strength in myself. I go through moments where I’m scared I’m not enough to help her, but through her I am gaining control of my own fears and doubts and just like her, I’m surprised by how strong I am. A lot of it, for both of us, has to do with Jake, our rock, who has been there for both of us and has kept me sane through this whole thing. We don’t ever know how strong we can be until we are faced with difficult choices.

yote

Good-bye 2015, Hello 2016!

You guys, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited for an upcoming year. Yes, most of it has to do with the fact I’m getting MARRIED next year (almost four months now), but it also has to do with the fact that my life is on track now. Things are going well. For the first time, I’m not entirely in the dark about my own life. Stability is an amazingly underrated thing, and I feel very adult saying that. I love change, but I’m also a fan of having a solid foundation and I have that now. I’ve worked very hard to bring myself back up from a very very low period of time in 2014. So many things have happened this year and I am so grateful for where life has brought me. I don’t regret anything and I would never take anything back, but I feel I am lucky to have come back as well as I have. Things were good this year, despite the sickness and death and rough patches I had to deal with. I know 2016 will have rough patches too but I’m looking forward to it and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all.

2016 is going to be a year of creativity, of building, of community and of stretching the limits of our imagination – it is going to be MY year and I can’t wait to get to work.

Happy New Year, Universe! I’m ready!