some thoughts on cell phone photography (Part 2 – more cameras = greater transparency)


iPhone capture of La Spezia, Italy train station
a big wide world with people coming and going and sharing different viewpoints and perspectives as captured on my cell phone

We all see life and life’s events unfold through a lens that’s unique to our own lives. It’s a lens that’s based on where we’ve lived, our past experiences, those with whom we interact, books we read, jobs we hold, faiths we practice, places we have traveled, etc.   It’s a big wide world out there with many different angles, viewpoints and perspectives.

So maybe it’s not such a stretch to suggest that media organizations also see through a filtered lens or subscribe to particular viewpoints. I know traditionally trained journalists pride themselves on unbiased, objective reporting, yet it seems more and more the daily news (or at least the news that’s emphasized) varies significantly from one media source to another. 

In the early days of cell phone cameras, I remember reading FB posts from some photojournalists saying how disappointing it would be if the major news organizations started relying on amateur photos and video from cell phone cameras instead of their own  professional equipment and training. I’m not sure what these photojournalists would say today, but I do think American journalism is struggling, and cameras on cell phones have little to do with it. I think many Americans today first learn of news from questionable or unreliable sources.

But recently during this period of evolving journalism came one very loud and clear news story: a troubled teen armed with semi-automatic weapons killed 17 and injured many more at a Parkland, Florida high school. And how did this news first break? Through student cell phones, which included still and video camera footage. You know what? That camera footage didn’t present the situation with a slanted, biased, or unvetted viewpoint; it presented the situation just as it played out.

There’s a lot of talk about the harmful effects of too much cell phone usage and with much of that I agree; it’s just that at the same time, I think it’s possible that that “transparency” so often promised but unfulfilled by politicians, is also lacking in many of the current media outlets. You know where you can find transparency?  In the stills and video on your phone.

I’ve thought about posting some of the Parkland students’ videos here but have decided they might be too disturbing for my audience so I’m now turning to discuss another form of camera phone transparency.  Please keep reading – I’m building to a point here.

A couple months ago a friend invited me to join her at a workshop in London. Rather than paraphrasing what Photovoice is all about, here are some quotes from its website:

Photovoice’s vision is for a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story. We work across the world to build skills in underrepresented communities, using participatory photography and digital storytelling methods. We have worked in partnership in over thirty five countries in seventy-three different projects. Photography for social change.

A caveat at this point – Photovoice projects sometimes use DSLRs or point and shoot cameras, but nevertheless often rely on the simplest and most available cameras, which often are cell phone cameras.

In trying to gain a better understanding of Photovoice, I began reading some of the  posts from those who have already put cameras in the hands of the marginalized. The posts which can be found on the website are powerful.

In one titled “Look Beyond – using Photovoice to break down barriers in mental health,” Dr. Maria Quinlan, a sociologist at the University College Dublin, asked a small group of students facing mental health challenges to tell their story – how they experienced life – by photographing their world. One student photographed an electrical socket with a cord plugged in on one side with the other side empty.  His caption read: “Two sockets. One is connected, one disconnected. I have days when I’m connected to society and others where I’m totally detached. Lost, alone. I fight to stay connected, I want to, now stay connected. That is why the connected plug is first. This was not always the way.”  

So what’s the point in all this? The point is that in an age when almost everyone carries a camera with them at all times, there is a greater transparency of what goes on in our world. So while politicians and perhaps the media often fall short on transparency, the news is there, often on our camera rolls. This constantly growing population of cell phone photographers supply us with the footage from school shootings, other people’s thought processes, and worlds we have never seen or experienced before.  

Do I miss the days of the Walter Cronkite type journalism I felt I could trust? Yes. Do I miss mornings where I would search through The Tennessean newspaper for amazing photographs from veteran photojournalists? Absolutely. But am I also glad we now have an opportunity to see a broader, more transparent, more immediate view of the world as captured by a larger group of photographers? Yes.

I am glad both to have lived during the days when people read newspapers and watched the evening news, and to live today where so many have a camera in hand and capture a reality we otherwise might never have seen or understood. Cameras in the hands of just about everyone, not just a privileged few, provide an educational opportunity for us to discover worlds not previously seen or understood, and to act when we discover those in need or suffering injustice.

Thanks, as always, for following my blog.  I won’t be attending a Photovoice workshop this spring, but I will be making an exciting announcement in the near future.  I hope you’ll plug in.





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some thoughts on cell phone photography (Part I)

Just as it seems like it’s a good time of year to clean out your closets, yesterday I spent some time scrolling through my cell phone photographs to see what was worth keeping and what could be trashed. In doing so, I was surprised to find, amongst everything else, a good many keepers. Below are some of these images.

This first set of photographs remind me of the types of photos I would often take as a photography student. They highlight lines, shape and form. These photographs typically convert nicely to black and white, although I left one in color because I liked the pink.

The warmer, golden images below are parts of light fixtures.

The next two photos are abstractions giving a hint or suggestion of a sunrise.

The cloud photo was how the sky looked above the Maryland Farms YMCA when I finished playing tennis a few weeks ago. The shinier sunburst image that I took yesterday morning is largely reflected light from the trash can at the bottom of the image.

So it seems when left on my own I take a lot of shape and form and abstract photos. Not really sure why.

Above you see more light fixtures and these have the bonus of having faces. These I found at the mall. BTW, one advantage to taking photos with your camera phone as opposed to one of your larger cameras is that it reduces the risk of being stopped by security. 🙂 

Anyway, when shooting professionally, I still rely heavily on my DSLRs and mirrorless camera, but the times are changing.  More and more professionals are incorporating cell phones into their photography and cell phone photos and video are used frequently by the media, stock agencies, and yes, law enforcement. Cell phone photos also line the walls of many fine art galleries. 

Certainly the ever-changing technology in camera phones is partly responsible for this phenomenom, but I would maintain that it’s still the photographer and not the camera who is ultimately responsible for creating powerful imagery. It is, after all, the photographer who plans, who waits, who designs, and who clicks the shutter when the moment is just right.

To bring this point home, you might go back and look at the “FIRSTS Project” in one of the September issues of Time Magazine. In that project, Luisa Dorr used her iPhone to photograph twelve covers and 46 portraits of women who “are changing the world.” In doing so, she and the powerful images which came out of her iPhone made history. Here’s a question for you: Was the iPhone responsible for the success of the FIRSTS Project or was it the vision of Luisa Dorr collaborating with the Time editors who used the iPhone as a tool to realize and/or futher their vision? I think the latter. It’s all just amazing, however.

So have you taken a look through your camera phone images lately? Where have you been putting your focus?  Do your photos track or follow your life or something you enjoy?  Is there a photograph perhaps on your phone which is more important to you than a photograph you’ve taken with a bigger or more expensive camera? My guess is maybe so.

And now the end all question which I must ask on behalf of all photographers: Is there now really a need for you ever, ever, ever to ask a professional photographer this question: “Wow! What camera were you using when you took this photograph?” As many professional photographers say time and time again, “the best camera for you and for me both is the camera we currently hold in our hands.”

Thanks as always for following my blog. May you always find joy in your photography, no matter the camera you hold.



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Honoring MLK Day

Exactly one year ago today, Melinda Gates tweeted, “Let’s honor Dr. King by waking up on Monday morning and asking ourselves what we are doing for others.” 

I loved that tweet a year ago as much as I do today and so am sharing it with you now.  No matter how busy we are, I think we can fit that one in.

I think there’s one other thing we can fit in.  It takes five minutes and 17 seconds.

I always get chills when hearing this speech. It also still resonates.

Thanks for following my blog and for honoring Martin Luther King Day in a meaningful way.


RIP 2017

We did something a little different this year for Christmas.  We spent Christmas at Scott’s new home in Tampa and just had a blast. We all needed a little break and the warm weather was a welcome change. 

In looking through the images I took in Tampa, I think there’s enough in the group to pay homage to 2017.

So here we go using Florida’s Christmas photographs to tell the tale of 2017…

Busch Gardens Tampa roller coaster

I’m starting with the roller coaster photograph because that’s generally how I view 2017 – a wild ride. The year was filled with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, and some thrills. Enough said.

orangutan at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

How do I feel about 2017?  Well, despite all the blessings in my life for which I am grateful, when it comes to thinking about many of the major news events of 2017, the country’s current political schism, and all who have been affected by loss or hardship as a result of one of the many 2017 natural disasters or mass killings (and the list goes on), I think I am a kindred spirit with the orangutan pictured above. 

Certainly there were reasons to celebrate during 2017, like the Nashville Predators making it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the very cool total eclipse of the sun this summer. A special highlight for me was a photography trip to Italy.  You just cannot stand in the middle of Florence and not be inspired by Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo. 

So while in Tampa one afternoon during our Christmas break, I ventured to nearby St. Petersburg to tour the Salvador Dali Museum to view the work of another inspiring artist. Dali’s work is, well, surreal. The cool architecture of the building was just icing on the cake. 

spiral staircase in Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

I suggest you visit the Dali Museum if ever in the Tampa/St. Pete area. It contains the largest collection of Dali’s work in the United States and is well worth the visit.  

Before leaving the Museum I stopped in the gift store. Hiding in one of its corners was a colorful Christmas tree which looked a lot like a children’s art project. I picked up my camera and took this in-camera abstract. I’ve always liked abstract photography and experimented with it a lot of it in 2017. 


So what’s a fitting way to bid farewell to 2017? I think a quiet sunset photograph over the Gulf of Mexico, the same Gulf of Mexico that just a few months ago played host to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.


sunset at Honeymoon Beach near Clearwater, Florida

Times do change and it’s time now to put 2017 to rest. 

I hope 2018 brings peace, goodwill, good times, and well-being to all.

Happy New Year!

It’s springerlie weather, Buddy!


Alright, so the actual line in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” is “[I]t’s fruitcake weather, Buddy!”  But … I’m not a fan of fruitcake and I love springerlies so I’ve made a little recipe substitution a la Truman Capote.

Springerlies are German Christmas cookies that are a Schneiter family tradition. My great-grandparents on my father’s side immigrated to America from Germany in the late 1800’s or maybe early 1900’s and died before I was born, but I do have faint childhood memories of PawPaw (my grandfather) making springerlies at his farm in Louisville, Kentucky, and very clear memories of my dad making springerlies every Christmas wherever we/he lived.

My sister and I now carry on the tradition and I learned yesterday from our cousin who has recently moved from Chicago to Tennessee, that she once bought springerlies from a bakery in Schaumberg, Illinois. Buy springerlies?? That was enough to cause me to do a Google search which led me to discover this –  Sweet!

So what are they? Well, they’re really just a mixture of flour, eggs, butter, sugar and anise seed or anise oil which lends the cookie a certain licorice flavor. The dough is rolled to about 1/4 inch thickness with a special wooden rolling pin (you can also use a mold). Once rolled, the cookies are cut and left in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours before baking. After about 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven, you’ve got yourself a pan of delightful little “picture cookies.”

There are several springerlie recipes readily available on the internet, but generally speaking, most springerlies are hard on the outside and have a little “springiness” on the inside. They partner well with a hot cup of coffee. You’ve heard of Dunkin’ Donuts?  Springerlies are the ultimate Dunkin’ Cookies. Oh, and some people paint them which can make them look a lot like Christmas tree ornaments, although we Schneiters always skipped the painting step and just got right to the eating.

Family holiday traditions such as this provide connection, links to your past, comfort, and a sense of belonging. Whatever your family roots or whatever you celebrate this holiday season, I hope you find something in your ancestry which makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.

Frohliche Weihnachten!  Or, as the Brits on my mom’s side of the family would say, Merry or Happy Christmas!





































the Jesus Bakery

When working in downtown Atlanta, my friends and I would sometimes walk down Marietta Street to the “Jesus Bakery” to buy a cake or a pie or some other sinful dessert for a co-worker’s birthday or because we just wanted to.  These bakery goods were the real deal, made from real butter and sugar, all the good stuff, no preservatives.

The bakery actually had another name, we just called it the “Jesus Bakery” because of the inescapable message you received when there. So, for example, if visiting to ask if they could have a red velvet cake ready for pick-up the next day, the answer would always be “if the good Lord is willing.” More than once I left the store with more than I went in to buy. You might think that’s typical of a lot of shopping trips except I didn’t ask for or buy these extra pies or cakes, they just freely gave them to me.

Recently I’ve spent a lot of time driving with my husband through the South: 20 hours to and from Tampa a couple weekends ago with furniture to set up Scott’s new apartment, and 12 hours last weekend to and from South Carolina for Parents’ Weekend at our daughter’s college. These were in no way photography trips. It was mostly a lot of boring interstate with a day wedged in between when we could spend time with our children.

But I always bring a camera and so I took this image of Spanish moss at a rest stop somewhere in northern Florida.

Spanish moss
Spanish moss hanging from a tree in northern Florida

In South Georgia I was struck by the thick white cotton fields alongside the interstate. Don kindly exited the interstate and took a nearby frontage road so I could briefly photograph them.

Georgia cotton fields
irrigation system over Georgia cotton fields
High Cotton
big white fluffy cotton ready to pick in South Georgia cotton field

I say briefly not because Don or I were in any hurry, but because within a minute I realized I was standing in ankle high ant beds with armies of red fiery ants crawling all over and in my sandals. If you think there’s a lot of cotton in that field, I’m thinking there’s at least ten times as many ants.

In South Carolina a week later, Don and Betsy gave me five minutes (bless their hearts) to take a couple photos of the boiled peanuts vendor who is always parked across the street from the local Walmart.

Hot boiled peanuts
Hot boiled peanuts vendor parked outside a Walmart in Greenville, South Carolina

Twenty minutes later, I returned to the car having eaten and learned all about boiled peanuts and then giving Don a bag of roasted peanuts instead. And people wonder why I frequently run late …

Here’s the peanut man getting ready to show me how to open a freshly boiled peanut:

getting a lesson in how to open a hot boiled peanut
How many peanuts have these hands opened?

Here he is inside his trailer posing. Notice the sign above his radio.

this unspoken message
peanut salesman posing in his trailer in Greenville, South Carolina

It’s occurred to me that the South is, in a sense, one big Jesus bakery. You enter it knowing you’ll be greeted by characters you just don’t meet anywhere else and you leave often taking home with you more than you bargained for. Yes, the Bible Belt is changing, but that’s why the real deal needs preserving through photographs.

Photographing the South is hardly an original idea; indeed, there are entire festivals and magazines devoted exclusively to southern photography, but I think, this Mississippi bred girl is going to take it on, slowly (as in years) but surely, if … the good Lord is willing. The landscape is beautiful, the people colorful, the culture intriguing, and … it’s home.

“One place understood helps us understand all places better.”
– Eudora Welty

Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll.





a little Halloween hocus focus

I love Halloween. I love the crisp chill in the air, all the scary movies, ghosts hanging down from trees, spiders taking over my living room, and the last minute rush to carve and light the pumpkin before the first wave of trick or treaters start ringing the doorbell. I love all the trick or treaters, but especially the first-time pink costumed fairy princesses.

But this year, I think a black cat crossed the road when I wasn’t looking because there’s something a little scarier about Halloween this year. You can see it in my photographs.

It may have started with a little double vision or um … “ghosting.”


Initially, I didn’t think too much about it, but then, when another photo went all blurry on me …


I knew I had to do a little problem solving.

So I went out and took a few test shots with a couple scarecrows to figure this whole thing out, and here’s what I got.

scarecrowweb copy


Scarecrow #1 kind of looks blurry and like I’ve got double or octuplet vision.

And here’s scarecrow #2.


Well, you can see for yourself that this focusing problem was spiraling quickly out of control.

So I went to my eye doctor to see what’s up and he said the epithelial lining of my eyes looks like Swiss cheese.

“Holy candy corn conjunctivitis Batman!” I said.


“Is it permanent?” I asked.

“No, but I suggest you take these eye drops along with these other prescriptions and take a little fall break from photography. Limit your screen time.”

So I left his office feeling a good bit dejected until I returned home and was looking around in one of our cabinets and found a little square photograph of the sweetest little pink costumed Disney princess I have ever known. We used to call her “Boo.”

boo copy

Holding that photograph helped me put everything back in its proper focus.  Look at Boo now.


Sometimes the best medicine is not found in prescription bottles or even in laughter but in the smiles we get when thinking of our children or other friends and family. I guess I have a lot to smile about.

So with everything now in focus, let me say Happy Halloween to you, and to you, and to Boo!

And for any of you wondering, I’ll have my camera back in hand and working this weekend.

Thanks for following my blog posts.


Happy Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th has never been a particularly unlucky day for me, nor has it been for most people.  Sure, if I burn the lasagna on a Friday the 13th I might laugh and chock it up to the day, but I just don’t attach any real significance to it.

Some people do, however. In fact, it’s estimated that there’s an economic loss of 700-900 million dollars every Friday the 13th due to people staying at home or superstitiously avoiding certain activities, such as airline travel. Just the number 13 bothers some people.  Lots of hotels and other buildings lack a 13 to press in their elevators.

So for the superstitious among you, I offer these photographs.  They were not taken on a Friday the 13th, but I’ve always been intrigued by the somewhat odd, almost Alfred Hitchcock-ish quality they share in common. I took them with my iPhone on a couple of unseasonably warm days in January 2012, so maybe this is what you get when the weather is out of whack.

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So that’s my photo homage to Friday the 13th.

Now, so you know I do take more comforting photographs that are more seasonably friendly, I’ll end with this one.


It was taken several years ago in Babcock State Park in West Virginia.

Happy October.
















a little cloud therapy

Oh, America. We’re living in some challenging times.

Last night, Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Puerto Rico, hit by two hurricanes in 10 days, is in critical need. East Texas and Florida are still recovering from devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma. Unpredictable and inexperienced world leaders control nuclear weapons. Cyber security has become an oxymoron. Tempers are flaring, divisions are widening, racial tensions are rising, and statements seem to have replaced respect when it comes to observing the national anthem and receiving a gift of Dr. Seuss books.

So what’s a fitting blog post from a photographer?  I’m not really sure, but I think we — all of us — need to pause, take a few deep breaths and begin the process of healing. Look for those things that unite instead of divide or incite us.

Perhaps today’s topic should simply be clouds. Innocent, fleeting, ethereal clouds.  Clouds which force us to look up and be hopeful. Clouds which rekindle our childlike curiosity and wonder. Clouds which have inspired artists for centuries and recently me when attending “Thin Air,” Catherine Erb’s exhibit of clouds at the David Lusk Gallery in Nashville.

So here we go, with a little cloud therapy.

Remember as a child looking up at the sky and imagining the various white puffy cumulus clouds to be a whale or a duck or something else familiar to you?  And as you grew a little older, you started discovering the rich colorful palettes of a sunrise or sunset?  What about all those other times in between when you just happened to look up and notice a quiet or bold beautiful patch of clouds in the sky?  How did that make you feel?

Recently I’ve been reading the poetry of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver.  From her collection of poems titled Evidence (Beacon Press 2009), in a poem titled “To Begin With, the Sweet Grass,” she writes:

… I have become a child of the clouds, and of hope.  I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is. I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned, I have become younger …

And from her poem titled “It Was Early:”

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.

I love that line.

Now consider this sentiment from Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, who introduced us to Snoopy and Lucy and Charlie Brown:

Aren’t the clouds beautiful?  I could lie here all day, and watch them drift by.

Me too.

But I can’t, and chances are you can’t, but we can perhaps now, just for a little while.

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Feel a little better?

I think when we look up and see eye-catching or beautiful clouds in the sky, we should make the most of that moment.  After all, the sky will never have looked quite that way in the past nor will it ever look quite that way in the future.  It’s the present — both “the now” and a gift — which we then hold.  And I think wherever we stand (or whatever we stand for), we should consider that moment not only a gift, but as Mary Oliver says, a blessing.

Thanks for blessing me with your presence today.  I’m looking forward to a busy but beautiful month of pleasing fall color.









when that inner voice might just be a “Godwink”

Let’s be clear.  I am neither a bird watcher nor a bird photographer but …

In December 2015 I went with the American Nature Photography Workshops to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to photograph the annual winter migration of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other water fowl.

I got some nice photographs from the workshop


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yet my general takeaway was that this kind of bird photography, at least with the equipment I brought, is kind of difficult.  Aside from the technical challenges of shooting flying birds very far away in low light, it’s not like you can say, “hey birds, would you mind separating a bit more in your flight so you don’t overlap with one another?”  You just have to take what you get and hope for the best.

I stayed in the area an extra day after the workshop ended and returned to Bosque the next afternoon to photograph a cool tree we had driven by. That tree just happened to be close to a bird viewing platform.

Our workshop leaders had done an excellent job in scouting the birds’ favorite places and behaviors before we arrived.  It’s just that the birds didn’t always cooperate.  I remember standing in the dark one very early morning waiting to capture the epic lift off and landing at sunrise.  We knew exactly when and where the takeoff should occur and we were ready, but I don’t know … we saw a lot of birds flying far in the distance in front of us, but the whole thing just didn’t really materialize, at least not in my camera.

So on my extra day, I photographed the cool tree and then drove to the viewing platform we had never visited and that’s when everything became a little more memorable.

I could hear the birds in the distance and as they got closer and louder I began seeing their approach. It wasn’t long before I realized OMG – this is the lift off and landing our leaders had wanted us to see – and they are landing – swarms of them – directly in front of me.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen or likely will ever see again.  Think 1,000+ birds  – many of them 5′ tall and with a 4-6′ wingspan in diameter – all swarming down to the water directly in front of you. It was loud, chaotic, and lasted for maybe 15-20 minutes or so.  I didn’t really feel I was in harm’s way as the viewing platform was pretty well protected, but I did feel a little bit like I had crossed the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds into Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

With the low light and all the flurry of the backlit birds flying in I decided to take some video – that way I also would be able to record the cacophony of loud bird sounds. I also just stood for minutes at a time and marveled.

As the sun began to set and the birds began to settle in for the evening, I started photographing again.  You can maybe get a sense of the serenity that replaced the previous chaos by looking at the top photo above. Really, the quiet beauty and serenity before me then was just as or maybe more powerful than the chaotic, frenzied landings that had preceded it.  The whole thing was just extraordinary.

So in these past two weeks we’ve seen Harvey flood Houston and eastern Texas, an earthquake destroy parts of Mexico, wildfires spread through the Pacific Northwest, and Hurricane Irma level the Florida Keys, flood many other areas, and leave millions without power. Against this backdrop, we learned that Equifax has been hacked leaving millions of Americans a good bit more vulnerable and, on a personal note, the hard drive on my computer crashed.  In a big way. With unrecoverable data.

Not the best of times.

You know what though?  Some inner voice or perhaps a “Godwink” (defined by Squire Rushnell as a “a message of reassurance from God” kept pulling me back last week to the serene sunset photo of the sandhill cranes above.  So I’d see some heart-wrenching pictures from Harvey and then for some reason, maybe later that day, I’d find myself pulling up the sandhill cranes photograph and feeling a little better. It brought anxious me back down a notch or two.

After viewing the photo from time to time for a few days, I think the larger message of the Bosque sandhill cranes experience finally sunk in.  The sunset photo wasn’t just to calm me, it was to help me understand the bigger picture of these past two weeks, that being:

  • there will always be natural forces much bigger than any of us;
  • despite our best efforts, we cannot control them or even accurately predict what will happen;
  • there are patterns of behavior in nature — sandhill crane migrations and hurricane seasons – that will come and go;
  • accept this fact and stop worrying – God is in control;
  • there is typically a beautiful moment that follows chaos and uncertainty — a gorgeous sunset or people coming together to help others in need; and
  • God is always there to guide and comfort us, maybe even sending a “Godwink” along the way.


I’m glad I had the opportunity to go to Bosque Del Apache.  Thanks for letting me share this bit of self-reflection with you.