Monthly Archives: August 2014

Some Great Things to Know About


So I recently came back from two weeks away, at two different destinations. The first week I was home (the one which just ended) was really a week I could’ve used to recover from my vacation. Before I left, I ambitiously and optimistically jam-packed it with all sorts of appointments and activities I was sure I’d be ready and pleased as punch to conquer.

Foremost amongst them was an appointment for an eye exam; another was a two-hour journey at the DMV for my son’s learner’s permit; another was a well-child check up for another son; another was college tours (which was really amazing, so I’m glad I did that); and then of course: laundry.

The first Monday of my second week away I decided to order three Roz Chast books. One that I’ve seen and flipped through at my brother’s place (What I Hate), another that simply can’t ever be a bad choice (Theories on Everything) and a third, her memoir (Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?), which just came out this summer.

Allow me to interrupt myself: I caught some attention, a’hem, yesterday from a sage family member about the post I wrote yesterday about Mom. It wasn’t a finger-wag, or a lecture, but more of a sweep of a faery wand. This individual hopes I’ve moved on from all the pain of my childhood, and this individual feels as though I haven’t entirely. I’ll also add that my perspective and the concept of “my story” was absolutely allowed and mentioned and even supported, but so was a “will ya get over it??” sentiment. I appreciated the concern, and I want to assure this person and all both of you that I’m really OK. Here’s one tiny example why: if it weren’t for Mom, I’d likely not know about The New Yorker magazine until I was 26, instead of when I was 2. And if it weren’t for that, then I’d likely not ever know about Roz Chast, who is a renown TNY cartoonist, until last Monday. Things with Mom were hard, and I never mean to belabor the point, but a lot about Mom was so incredibly right too. I mean this with no irony at all: if Mom were just quirky and eccentric without the addictions and mental illnesses, she’d just be plain weird, like all moms are to their kids, and we’d likely have a typical relationship that was bristly at times, but infused with trust and love nonetheless. But that wasn’t the journey with Mom. And she had her crazy (really) parents too, so, she played that hand. But all of this and Mom’s brief but meaningful lapses into sobriety and presence considered, it was unlikely I’d end up with much reliability, ever, for more than a year growing up. So when those lapses occured, I put all my chips in those baskets. This is no one’s fault. This is human nature. We are more like squirrels than we realize. When we are dealing with mostly caprice in our loved ones, we will absolutely stock up and dig in and invest in the more stable moments. Those moments of stability become our deeply desired norm rather than exceptions to the rule. So when the caprice returns, we have whiplash with real pain and anxiety which breeds a reluctance to move and grow naturally, so things become staggered and rough, ungraceful. And then those cycles become our norm. I absolutely believe that if Mom had more health emotionally she’d still be here and things would be very much like Roz Chast depicts in her memoir. Mom loved me the best way she could. Things weren’t ideal, but I don’t think any parent in the 60s and 70s really knew WTF they were doing. I watch “Mad Men” and I’m Sally.

I put on about six pounds during my vacations. I ran three times, walked a few times and did yoga thrice. I ate too much each day and slept in too. I read a lot. It was good, really. I spent some much-needed girl time with some amazing women and I feel as though my estrogen-time stores are good for another four months. But I’ll always take more, absolutely.

So the Roz Chast books are absolutely one of the “some” great things I want to share with you. I fell asleep last night with her memoir and I laughed out loud last night (and roused my husband) at one of her panels (the book is 92% cartoons):


So check out that book and prepare to laugh. A lot.

Speaking of TNY, Lena Dunham (a current actress and writer I am too old to really care or know much about, i.e., she’s half my age) wrote a piece about her time growing up in therapy. It’s hilarious and so validating as both an adult human and as a mother. If brilliance means worry, I think I’m grateful? I am obtusely including a link here:

Another great thing (I hate that Martha Stewart hijacked that “good thing” phrase) is an app I recently installed on my iPad. I encountered it on one of my final nights of my second week away when I decided I didn’t want to read anything and wanted to play a game of Scrabble. I had to update several apps so when I went to the AppStore to do that, up came the featured app of the week, “Hanx Writer” (don’t click on photo, I don’t care about learning how know how to link to an app):


Why do I like it? Because it got me typing (and writing, duh) –immediately– during a low time when I thought I’d just give it up altogether. All of a sudden, I ended up writing about what was going on in the room around me. I loved the sound of the keystrokes and the >ding!zxzxzxzzzzzip!< at the end of the paragraph when I'd strike return. I loved watching the letters stamp into the "paper" on their virtual hammers. It made me feel, as I used to, as a writer using a typewriter. For someone like me, who is ancient, and who grew up with a typewriter "banging" throughout the night on our maple dining room table, the sound bouncing off the mahogany walls and walnut floors as my father would write letters, and columns and fill out forms, Hanx Writer restored some of those memories to me, viscerally. I first learned how to type on a typewriter. My first phone could withstand an angry hang-up. I am becoming a Roz Chast character when I say this: I can't really get into the groove of a smooth surface; there is no give; there is no texture, there is no life to me in that. (ha! that was unintended: groove / smooth surface … never mind.)

Another greate thing (assuming you have a smartphone or a computer nearby): Pandora's comedian channels. Go now. Go to Pandora and open a new channel. Type in "John Mulaney" on your smooth glass screen with your fat thumbs and just enjoy. Or try Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia, or if there are no kids around, Robin Williams (God rest his soul). If you've been in a serious mood, let these guys simply remind you of what it feels like to laugh your ass off again. When a smile feels strange on your face, it's a sign you're in need of irreverence. Here, I did it for you: John Mulaney Delta Air Line

So I’m good, really. I get it: don’t be sad about Mom (which is not always easy, and it’s not always difficult either). Including that one interaction with the sagacious family member, most of the comments from that post have been very supportive and sympathetic. It’s life. I just happen to share what I’m feeling. It makes people own stuff and become reflective. That can scare people sometimes… I know. It’s OK though. You survive it.

Thank you.

Grief: Anniversaries, Distraction, Deflection, Freedom


Monday will be the one-year mark for Mom’s death.

I feel like a twerp for even going on about this, given the hurt and chaos in our actual, living world.

But I will indulge and as usual, I will be candid.

I have been on vacation the last couple weeks and I’ll own it: I’ve also been reluctant to write about anything, because I know it will lead me to writing about her. So I rationalized, during my insidious stint of writer’s block, that if I don’t write about anything, then I don’t have to see the reality: that she’s been dead a year, so that way I’m not legitimizing it. I’m denying it. But that’s not fair, because so much of my life, even before she died, was so confused in its balance; sometimes she weighed quite heavily, other times she was like the ether.

My kids each have a different appreciation of me, based on our relationship. It’s impossible to treat them all the same, but by and large, I do try to manage them all equally, unless a situation requires a different influence.

My brothers and I have readily admitted to one another and allowed of the other the basic fact that we each had a very different version of our mother: firstMom, angerMom and then sandwichMom. I had mostly angerMom.

What this past year has given me, with all the ups and downs, all the grief and all the guilt, all the confusion and clarity, all the repressions and all the disclosures is the following: freedom.

My mother, whom I loved very much, but who was a terrifically complicated and distant person, is now dead a year and I am free.

I am free of disappointing her.
I am free of reminding her.
I am free of being dismissed by her.
I am free of conflicting with her.
I am free of worrying about her.

I don’t think she ever wanted to be married. I said that to my father today. He told me he found a picture of her at her brother’s wedding. She had caught the bouquet. She was not smiling. She was grimacing, almost frowning, he said.

This is not to suggest in the least, that I was a mistake or that I was not meant to be here. I can say this with conviction because I believe these things occur, these folds in time and wrinkles of “happenstance” with absolute destiny, with intention. I am one of those people who believes that there are no mistakes in the universe, that everything is as it should be. I believe this because the alternative is folly. That believing there is somehow a better or more appropriate circumstance than what we are experiencing, ever, can be maddening.

Of course we can change our circumstances, once we come of age. And that’s the trick: once we come of age.

As a child, I had no choice. I had to do what I was told, and I had to endure the circumstances before me. When I came “of age,” however, I was not 18. I was more like 23-ish.

I remember when I bought my first car. I came home with it. Home was my parents’ house. I was commuting to college because that was the hand I was dealt. Things were tenuous in my home, regarding my mother’s grip on reality and sobriety, so naturally being the only girl in the house, I took on a maternal energy and tacitly performed the management of the house. Not when I was 23, but when I was 5. That duty stayed with me until I moved out. The day before I married my husband of now 20 years.

Back to the car. After I graduated from George Mason University, I had a well-paying editing and writing job. I was about to be engaged, (but I didn’t know it), I bought financed a used (by 2 years) 1992 Eagle Talon TSi. It was electric blue and it had huge tires; probably 10″ wide. I loved that car. It was fast, nimble, responsive. It had electric windows and a CD player. Its seats made you feel like you were in a cockpit, the dials were abundant and the dashboard lights were red-orange, like a BMW’s. I loved that car. It loved me.


My then-boyfriend drove it home and I drove my parents’ car home so they couldn’t say I let someone else drive their car. It was a Saturday. My father was home, not working.

My mother saw me get of their car and Dan get out of my Talon. She thought he’d bought a new car. She commented to Dan on what a “smart-looking new car” that was and he said something along the lines of it not being his and her eyes went straight to me. I smiled and said, “It’s mine. Isn’t it beautiful?” and she turned on a dime, like a viper, and in minutes, my father came out in a lathering rage, yelling and telling me that I was going to wind up penniless and that I just ruined my credit and that my life would be a wreck because I had acted recklessly and bought such an impractical car.

That was not the reaction I was expecting. I was hoping for something along the lines of “Oh wow, honey. That’s a big responsibility, that’s a big step; are you sure you’re ready?” Not the gesticulating, wild-eyed, operatic invective I received.

I tried to love that car after that evisceration as much as when I first drove it, but I’ll admit that experience muted it for a couple years. Two years later, I was married and out of there and we eventually traded it in for a Ford Explorer in 1997 after we’d experienced an unusually snowy winter and simply couldn’t get to work in a low-profile sports car.

Until we bought the Explorer, I had to bum rides with my boss who drove a 4×4 and was never fired. My husband kept his sports car though. Hrmph. My credit was not ruined. My score is fine. I have not wound up penniless and destitute. Yet.

I mention this story because until my mother died, or until last week anyway, I would’ve been afraid to tell it. I would be afraid even of speaking out in a way that was seemingly against my parents. It’s not speaking out, it’s just telling a truth.

I was speaking with my father the other day about Mom. We were sharing memories and reactions to those memories. I was my usual defiant and candid self. He said, “This sentiment contradicts with what you say on Facebook, when you posted a few months ago, ‘I miss my mom.’ What was that?”

I thought, “you must not read much of what I write” (which relieved me), and I answered, “I have always missed my mom. I have always missed the idea of a mother, a true compassionate leader and balanced supporter. That’s always been missing.” He nodded, seemingly to let it process and said, “Oh.”

I just finished “A Watershed Year” by Susan Schoenberger. It’s about a woman whose best friend and unrequited love dies from cancer and how she goes on to live with his pre-death missives sent to her posthumously via an email program. Inspired by the first of those notes, she decides to adopt a four-year-old boy from Russia. (This is before Putin really went off the deep-end.)

In her anticipation of finalizing the adoption, she waxes about what motherhood meant to her. Schoenberger cites numerous examples: tissues in the purse, band-aids, school plays, under-the-table-with-teddy-bears tea parties and the like. The most poignant example to me was that a mother who’s on a strict diet will share a half gallon of ice cream with her daughter after a jerky college boyfriend dumps her.

I thought romantically about such examples and then was quickly jerked back to reality and cited my examples of the bare minimum I would have liked from my mother: getting out of bed consistently and feeding me consistently. Then they grew on each other: picking me up from camp, not competing with me for my friends, not flirting with my boyfriends, not embarrassing me on the school bus, not cruelly disclosing embarrassing personal events, not asking me about people who hurt me and then telling me she enjoyed their style, or their company, that she saw nothing wrong with them… so many simple examples; but the most simple of which: just getting up. We never had band-aids.

I see this list above I’ve required of a mother and I can say with 100% assurance that I’ve absolutely complied. That in itself is such a fantastic feeling, that I’m really NOT becoming my mother, that I can see now I’ve made it.

My oldest and I finally went to get his driver’s permit last week. This was the day after we toured Georgetown University and bailed on the George Washington University tour. He wants to go to GU. Granted, it’s only the second college he’s ever toured after my alma mater, but he’s in love. He has something to strive for now, a prize to keep his eye on. We will tour UVA and W&M and some other schools up north, and maybe Duke, but I have my sister-in-law to thank for starting this process early, when he still has a good amount of time to apply himself academically and altruistically. I am NOT telling him to stay nearby, I am NOT envious of his friendships, I NOT competing with him in the least. I am NOT telling him he must take care of me in my old age, as my mother did and father has proposed throughout my life. I am free of that comparison now.

Being balanced and normal to my sons is not hard for me. It’s a pleasure. I don’t worry about my being obsolete in their lives one day, I sort of count on it, in a measured sense. I want to play second eighth fiddle. I don’t want them living in my basement all their lives. Trust me. I am free of that specter.

So what this freedom has granted me also is a sense of balance that my feeling guilty for any of the blessings life has given me, is really stupid because I have worked hard for all of them. My presence of mind, my college degree, my jobs after college, the house I own, the kids, choices I’ve made, all of it. I did it all and I can write what I want and say what I want and be cool with the things I have. I have almost always felt gratitude, but not without the weight of Catholic Guilt which requires you enjoy what you have, but only a little, because Jesus sacrificed so much for us and the nuns and priests take these vows of chastity … (I’m a really shitty Catholic.)

My 47th birthday is coming up in a few weeks. It was on my mother’s 47th birthday that we moved into a house in the D.C. suburbs and the fragile, remaining wisps of her functional life broke away, like dandelion seeds, and never ever returned. If ever there was a chance of getting her back, her deep-seated, and languid reaction to our move to Virginia made certain that would never happen.

So yes, Labor Day is going to be hard for me. But not too hard. I will think of her, and of the day, and of the circumstances and of my final vision of her, and how I dealt with it all. I will say a prayer, for all of us whose lives she affected, and then I will move on some more. As I said in my first post after she died, “it’s complicated.”

I have many wonderful memories of my life, even with Mom. I read in Psychology Today last week that the human brain needs five positive experiences to cancel out or compensate for just one bad one; this must be why we tend to hang on to or remember sadnesses more than not. What I’m unsure of (because it wasn’t detailed) is whether the circumstances need to weigh the same. If the good:bad ratio must be with the same person or the same intensity, then Mom is hosed. There simply weren’t enough or enough intensely good times to cancel out the bad. That makes me a little wistful; but this is the deal my soul made with me, this is the life I was given.

I’ll do what I can to ensure that the balance of my life has more positive than negative. I hope five times more positive… wouldn’t that be nice? I think it’s possible. It’s up to all of us to do what we can, always, to see even a potential good outcome from any considered morass. Short of mental illness, it’s about free will. How we perceive everything is all on us.

Thank you.

Guest Post: Inside the Camera with The Aerial Horizon


Welcome to my blog post about another person. This particular person is a friend from high school who’s all grown up now and is a commercial pilot. He is also a phenomenally gifted photographer and all-around nice guy. While his interest in philosophy and life’s riddles share a place in my heart, it’s his imagery from 30,000 feet above the earth that has stolen it.

After maybe a year of viewing, lurking, “liking” and reading his posts, I had to know more. I picked my favorite 5 or 6 shots and asked him about them.

Putting this post together is a labor of love, we started talking about it in early June. Photography guest posts are also really hard to compile because you need to get the photo, save it to your desktop and then upload it… but it was worth it. Amongst our respective vacations, kids leaving for camps, his numerous trips taking him to the ether and touchdowns through turbulence you don’t want to know about, and the excitement in my life in recent weeks, it’s been a challenge and something I absolutely wanted to see through and share with both my readers.

Please welcome my friend Malcolm Andrews, the eyes and thoughts behind The Aerial Horizon where he shares his visions from one of the best seats off the planet. Click on each of the images to see it larger than the blog allows and if you’re able, zoom in…

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Me: Tell us about this image and why / how it started your sharing of your photography. Where and when and how it was The One that took you to where you are now:

Sun Setting on Canyon Walls (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

Sun Setting on Canyon Walls — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH: I shot this photo of Canyon de Chelly in December of 2008 while flying a late afternoon trip from Dallas to Los Angeles. The sun was beginning to set as we approached the canyon at 35,000 feet and I caught something with my peripheral vision that made me look toward the canyon. At that moment the low sun was illuminating the orange canyon walls in dramatic contrast to the snow covered terrain. It was an exhilarating moment and thankfully I had a camera in my bag and I took this shot.

The serendipity of this moment amazed me…the right place at the right time and something makes you look at the signpost in front of you. I shot this with a broken 5 megapixel Canon. Later I posted the image on National Geographic’s “Your Shot” web site and they picked it up in their “Daily Dozen.”

Me: !!YEAH!!

TAH: Until I captured this moment and NG shared it, I didn’t realize how much pleasure I could extract from sharing my perspective with other people. Shortly thereafter, I got a Nikon 35mm DSLR and started shooting in earnest and learning more about the technical aspects of photography. I still have a lot to learn, but I find that, through constantly self-critiquing and practicing the art, I am constantly improving.

The lesson of the broken 5 megapixel camera is that opportunities are always out there to capture something meaningful as long as we are prepared see them, regardless of what equipment we have on hand. I find it ironic that my old “happy snap” camera had far less capability than my current iPhone and yet it captured a moment that lit a passion and changed the way I look at the world around me.

Me: Sigh. How fortunate you are to not only have that moment, but to recognize it and then continue to honor it with more imagery. And have Nat Geo pick it up?! Holla.

Me: Tell us about photo 2: “A Delayed Homecoming” – I love flying home. I’ve never had the view of course that you do from the cockpit, and seeing this image strikes me spiritually — that “it’s all going to be ok” and yet it’s almost like an image from another planet. Why did you select this image, of all the ones you can take on a flight home, to share about coming home?

(c) M.C. Andrews Photography

A Delayed Homecoming — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH: Sometimes I can be struck by a photo that I think is just spectacular and I want to share it. Other times, it is less about that shot than the mood or the thoughts that the shot emotes. In this case it was all of that at once.

To address the coming-home aspect of this shot…Ordinarily, when I’m coming home I am also one of the guys flying the airplane and, though the sights coming in and out of my base are regularly spectacular, doing anything other flying the airplane and ensuring the safety of our passengers and crew is strictly prohibited. The end result is that most of my homecoming images are captured in my memory only.

On this occasion, I was a passenger hitching a ride home after attending my Uncle’s funeral in Boston. After leaving my relatives behind, I was in “go mode” and intensely focused on getting home as fast as I could…that didn’t work out. I missed the early flight and got bumped from the next one. Finally, I got the last seat on the last jet to DC that evening…My mood immediately transitioned from that of the frantic frustrated commuter to that of the relaxed and thankful traveler. The story is relevant because of the mood…

As we approached Mockley Point on the Potomac at about 2500 feet, the golden hour (just prior to sunset) had arrived and the light was spectacular. [This is the ideal time to shoot monuments in Washington as they illuminate in the same golden wash.] I was thankful to be a passenger and able to enjoy the moment. The scene filled me with emotion and I was at once relieved, relaxed, grateful, and reflective…Had I caught the first rushed flight home, I never would have experienced the range of emotions or the joy of the scene…For me it was another lesson in serendipity – Right time, right place, suddenly a purpose… When I looked at this image the next morning, it seemed to tell me that story so I had to share it.

Me: Sigh again. I can’t help but be moved by this; I know so much — we all do — that wonderful punch-drunk feeling of FINALLY getting home and dumping your bags to hug your family and flop on the couch. The gratitude is immeasurable.

Me: THIS PHOTO! I can’t get enough of these colors. Has this been altered? If so, do you have the original? I’d love to see what you’ve done with it. Regardless of any altering, the fantastic chunkiness of the clouds balanced by the trees on the left, the placement of the road, down the right part of the frame but the light in the center… it’s a great image. Very enigmatic and yet serene.

(c) M.C. Andrews Photography

Imagining the Trail — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH: I took the photograph in Culpeper, Va., looking down St James Church Road toward the Brandy Station Battlefield. The purple glow on the horizon drew me off the main road in an effort to get a better look. The sunset was trapped under the heavy cloud deck and the purple haze was very distinct to the naked eye, but only came clear in the photograph once I had applied a 50% polarization to the image and doubled the color saturation. Doing landscape shots like this one, I don’t like to over saturate the color too often as it can really start to look unreal and I start to lose other desired details. The line of buttercups pointing down the road was more distinct in the unmodified photo, but I had to sacrifice that to get the color of the sky back to what I had originally perceived. The other source of light on the right was from the headlights on my car.

Me: The original untouched image is below; I can’t decide which one I prefer. The first one is dramatic, the kind of thing you’d see in a movie. But the one below, the original, places me there… it’s not so impossible to imagine myself standing Right There taking in those buttercups.

(c) M.C. Andrews Photography

(c) M.C. Andrews Photography


Me: This image sends me. I / you / one can see colors in the stars — the blue ones to the right. I used to fall asleep in my parents’  astronomy and space photography books as a child. What’s going on in this image — it looks like cloud formations / or galaxies? And the ground lights — where were you guys? Coming in on a landing? Taking off? It’s fantastic.


Night Lights and Milky Way, (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

Night Lights and Milky Way — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH: I shot this photograph on a cloudless night while cruising over North Texas and the Panhandle. When I wrote about it, I tried to convey the sense of motion and light. There are three elements to this scene: the fixed stars on the horizon, the blurring lights on the earth, and the cloud-like stars of the milky way.

The camera really helps to tell this story better than our eyes do. Our eyes adjust and refocus, so we see each light as a distinct source while the camera focuses once and captures streaks of light. We can only differentiate between the colors of some of the stars and we think of them as white lights. With a long exposure time, the camera captures the broad spectrum of colors in the stars and we see them in the completed shot.

Thinking about photographing these lights is somewhat analogous to dreaming, seeing, and remembering….

We see lights on the distant horizon and they are as crisp and as clear as our dreams, but we can’t always interpret their geometry. When the lights are upon us, we are in the now and our perception of their reality is exact as we see them pass below us. We look down at cities, towns and baseball fields and we experience them in real time. However, as we try to capture these moments, “real time” passes by so quickly that the camera can only capture a blur of light. Meanwhile, on a perfectly smooth night, we look over our shoulders at the oldest lights in the sky and if we are lucky we can capture the blue cloud-like memory of the Milky Way. It’s a pseudo-scientific romantic way of interpreting the night sky, but it works for me. I’ve always loved flying at night and interpreting the lights.

My original post with this photo:

The joy of flying the red-eye is that we get to chase each new star as it rises in the East while racing past the lights that dot the landscape. The chase never ends and the race is always won. But what we don’t always get to see, unless it is very dark, is the Milky Way. Last night, the Milky Way expressed itself so brightly that it looked like a cloud bank we could reach out and touch. In this photograph, a portion of the Milky Way appears high above the horizon to the southeast while the lights of the Panhandle stretch across the dark landscape and reflect off our nose.

And now for the technical…A very slow shutter speed (20 seconds) at an aperture of f/1.8 was required to capture the cloudlike appearance. We were traveling at roughly 8 miles per minute. With a little simple bar napkin math, we can figure out that the lines of light from fixed sources on the ground are each about 3 miles long… fascinating, I know… and now it’s time for bed.

Me: Eight miles per minute … that’s roughly my jogging speed. >snort< And bar napkin math: nope. Not me. I’ll doodle thank you. 

As you can tell from these transmissions between Malcolm and myself, we can easily go meta. I haven’t seen him in at least a dozen years two decades, but when / if I do again, it’ll be very cool. We will need a set of rocking chairs and a blanket (for me) and I’ll play my kazoo.   

Me: I think this was the first image I saw of your photos. I have always had a “thing” for that utterly black expanse beyond the atmosphere. I admire it as possibly the sexiest thing about space — that boundary when we have our shell, our atmosphere that protects us and then … silence, the beginning of it all. It says, “silence.”

What would you say is your theme for when you not only shoot, but when you decide to share an image?

Winter's Approach - An Umber Scene in the Sierras (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

Winter’s Approach: An Umber Scene in the Sierras — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH: The aerial horizon and its curvature provide the dominant theme for my aerial photographs. I started shooting this way trying to get the most unobstructed and reflection free shots out my window. It was due to a physical constraint. Then I started realizing the effect of a longer horizon line in my photos…The curvature of the earth became more perceptible and more interesting. I think there are a couple of factors at play.. the change in orientation of the horizon starts exercising our brains and we stop looking at the horizon with our preconceived notion that it is a flat line, instead we study it and recognize the curvature. We are using both sides of our brain when we look at the scene set upside down…I find that scintillating. Shooting with a wide angle lens can also exaggerate the curve as the lines spread at the edges of the photo.

To get back to the theme, it’s about trying to communicate the scene as the story of a living planet rather than a snapshot of static landscape. When I am editing, I ask myself, “Does this picture draw me into the scene? Is there a motion to it?” I want to make the planet talk, if only in a whisper. I think my better photographs are beginning to accomplish that. I don’t have a set criteria for what I choose to share, but I try to share the shots that I am excited about.

Me: This one, “Settling Skies” — clouds! I LOVE clouds! They look like I could bounce on them down the sky and then fall asleep on them… The composition of the photo with the wide slant and angle of the horizon point … was the sun “setting” or “rising” here?

Settling Skies (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

Settling Skies — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH:  In this shot, the sun is setting as we cruise over a broken cloud deck over South Florida. These clouds are the remains of a failed storm that ran out of energy when the sun began to set. Flying relatively close to their tops, the light and shadows really accentuated the drama of the scene. Turning the wide angle lens at various angles helped me create a sense of motion instead of trying to capture a static sunset. The weather sort of speaks for itself and becomes the story and it is complimented by the light (rather than the other way around). We cruise around between 200 and 500 miles per hour (depending on our altitude), but it feels as though we are moving slowly. The fun part of flying around the clouds is that they are our closest source of relative motion so when we pass a nearby cloud, we get a sense of how fast we are moving and it can be exhilarating. By focusing on the clouds in this shot, I tried to share some of that sensation.

Me: The sun never actually “sets” or “rises” it’s the rotation of earth that makes those things “happen” — speak to that. So, you’re sort of chasing the sun, aren’t you? (Aren’t we all?)

TAH:  You have the right idea…as a pilot, I often find myself riding on a ribbon of light between night and day. We may take off after sunset only to experience it again once we get up to altitude. Depending on our direction of flight, that sunset might last a few hours. When flying to the west coast at sunset, I think of the trip as flying into a “perpetual sunset” as the sun will sit just above the horizon from the time we takeoff until we reach eastern Arizona. Not a good time to forget your sunglasses.

These flights also give us a great look at the shadow of the earth as it moves across the surface. The line it creates is called a “terminator” and it defines the twilight zone with an angular haze of purple light where the penumbral and umbral shadows meet. Avoiding the stare of the sun on these flights, we look left and right and see that we are riding in that twilight zone. It’s very hard to photograph, but the lighting effect is utterly fascinating. This is one of those things we see that make us feel like we have a secret to share.

Me: Sigh. FINAL question: I’d love to ask you questions about how your faith (if you’re OK with that) might be confirmed or chipped away by your experiences in flight when so much of it is science — how do you reconcile it? I see these images and it makes me totally believe in God; then I hear all your technical explanations and terms of art and science and then i swing to the science yet it loses none of the romance of mystery and faith. (Let me know if this isn’t making any sense…)

talk about scientific and technical... (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

where it all goes up and down… talk about scientific and technical… (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

TAH: If anything, I have to believe that my perspective has given me a greater appreciation of the world as a natural living thing. Its heartbeats are expressed in water through the arterial flow of rivers and capillary streams. Its breath is spawned by the effect of radiation on it surface causing variations in pressure combining with Coriolis forces that create ever-changing patterns of wind. Its memory is on display through the forms of landmasses and the geological scars that they bear. Science provides the explanations for the nature of our existence, but faith guides us through the atmosphere as we experience forces that influence our reality. What I find fascinating is that we are all influenced by the same forces, but most of us seek sum up our faith in a single finite explanation to address the mysteries (and science) of life in one tidy package of belief. I believe it’s bigger than that.

The concept of the Holy Spirit provides me more comfort with what I know of the world. The earth may have been born from genius or absolute chance, but the manner in which things intertwine and work synergistically to create a world that supports something as fragile as the life we know leads me to have faith that there are forces in, around, between and through us that, perhaps, represent the work of that Holy Spirit. That spirit sends us on a path that we follow if we are wise enough to see the signs. Putting a face or a name or a language to that force seems inadequate.

I feel a little heretical when I discuss this perspective. I feel as though the metaphysical power of prayer is a true expression of the Spirit between all things and that is more to the root of our existence. Putting a human face or a name on our beliefs satisfies a human need to understand but traps us in a small and divisive view of the world that does more to tear us apart than to better our existence. Rather understanding our environment through science and appreciating the mystery of “why” as being unanswerable leaves us with faith as our guide.

I find great comfort in knowing that all things are connected, but I am in awe of creation (and words cannot express this kind of awe that we feel in our nervous system…it’s butterflies, “pins and needles,” and sheer electricity) and I feel blessed constantly to have the gift of perspective that my work gives me. That is the expression I hope comes through in my photography.

[Aside: This all sounds pretty odd (I know) and I don’t know if it fits with where you want to go with this. On the faith front, I think I am becoming more of a Taoist and reconciling that with my Episcopalian faith…I have recently started becoming very “anti-dogma” and “pro-faith”]

Me: What you said… I get all of that. There is no ONE WAY to define faith for me; it’s so expansive, so to me, also should be my appreciation.

Here’s a picture I just nabbed for the fun of it:

Crossing Over the Moon (New Mexico) (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

Crossing Over the Moon (New Mexico) — (c) M.C. Andrews Photography

These photos are just a sampling of Malcolm’s talent and images. I grabbed mostly his aerial photography because it’s so compelling, but his terra firma shots are absolutely nourishing as well. His official website is here: — check him out before he’s super famous.

Thanks, Malcolm.

Thank you.

30 Days of “A Year of Living Your Yoga” — Day 30: Happiness Now & Driving with Thing 1


This is it! Today is the last day of my 30-day blog series based on Judith Hanson Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.”

I will try to keep these posts to about 500 words.

Here is the quote:

June 17 — Only you can give yourself permission to be happy. We grow up when we realize that no one is going to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Now you have done enough so you can be happy.” Take a deep breath and make the decision that you will connect with your own happiness for the next five minutes. At the end of this time, make the commitment for the next five minutes and then the next. Know that your ability to be happy lies within you, only you, and is not dependent on your circumstances.


Sheesh. Let’s try for fifteen seconds. I don’t mean to sound crass, but let’s be honest.

how much do I love Roz Chast? Um ... a lot. (c) Roz Chast, The New Yorker

how much do I love Roz Chast? Um … a lot. (c) Roz Chast, The New Yorker, Conde Nast Publications.

The other day I let my oldest, who is now 16 and change, drive my massive SUV up the driveway. The only thing he’s ever driven has been his little red car when he was a toddler and then a go-kart every summer in Connecticut. So I pulled the car in front of the house and I said, “You take the wheel and pull it in the driveway.”

He doesn’t have his learner’s permit yet, but he was going to drive all of 30 feet and we live on a private street and it’s August and no one is in town and the squirrels are hiding and there was nothing alive within 400 feet of the car. I thought, “What’s the damage he can do?” (Hit the basketball hoop pole, run over his brother, use the wrong pedal, steer the wrong way, go too fast… they were all possibilities and he’s still teenage knees and elbows, but I surmised that the screw-up potential of this situation was pretty low.)

So before he inserted the key, we had a quick chat about the pedals and the steering wheel and the fact that my Toyota Sequoia is a 2.5-ton killing machine. He strapped in and turned the key. The engine roared. I showed him the tachometer and how its needle responded to the rev of the engine. He revved the engine and thought that was pretty cool because the vehicle raised a little in response. We went over the brake pedal and the turn of the steering wheel. I showed him the gears and that “P” does not mean “passing” and that “D” means “drive” not “down.”  He was ready.

“The gears won’t change until you put your foot on the brake, so remember that.” I said.

“Ok, Mom.”

“Put it in drive,” I said.

He did. Three gears shifted effortlessly.

“Let your foot gently lift from the brake pedal.” He lifted his LEFT FOOT OFF THE BRAKE.

“STOP! STOP! STOP!” I said. “Press the brake. Put it back in Park.”

“WHAT? Why?” he asked, almost in a squeak.

“It’s my fault. You only use one foot to drive, use your right foot, or you will forever drive like Grandma Mimi,” and he laughed. My mother drove so badly that it’s verbally indescribable. You need to ride in the car with me for my rendition.

“Right foot only? Got it.” He tucked his left foot below his right knee in the footwell. “Shift to Drive?”

“Yes. Go ahead. Shift to Drive and release the brake very slowly. The car will roll, you don’t have to TOUCH THE GASSSSSSS… Take your foot off the gas!!!”


“Honey, it’s a V8. I know this likely means nothing, but it’s a very powerful engine. When you first start this engine, it’s all about revving itself, so it’s high tuned at the start. When you shift into Drive, the engine goes down a bit, but it’s still ready to rock… Put it back into Park.”

He was ready to kill me. Matricide was not out of the question. He huffed and put the gearshift back into Park.

I sat and went through any possible scenarios… I repeated just about everything we’d already gone over and I felt at this point we were close.

“Shift it back into Drive.”

Clunk clunk clunk…

“What’s L2?” he asked.

“Never mind that. It’s for hills and snow.”

“Oh, so it’s for Pennsylvania,” he said, smiling at me as his dimples deepened. His eyes twinkled.

“Yes. Pennsylvania. Sorry. I’m tense. I’ll be fine. You’re great. Let’s try this again. Gentle pressure off the brake as you move your right foot to the gas pedal. Then when you feel the car is slowing down, gently press on the gas… you’ll get a sense of it.”

And off we went. A full fifty feet from the front of our house up our driveway. He did alright, until it came to the brakes.

We lurched forward when he pressed the first time.

“AGH! Why did it DO THAT?!” he moaned, mad at himself.

“Because you pressed really hard. You saw the bushes getting closer and you stood on the brake. If you weren’t wearing your seat belt, you’d probably bump into the steering wheel a bit…” I said.

“So this car, this giant thing is like the ultimate training tool for life… ” he said.

I wasn’t sure where this was going.

“It’s like a pound-for-pound reflection of everything I do. If I steer the wrong way, the car goes the wrong way. If I press too hard on the gas, the car goes too fast. If I slam on the brakes, the car knocks my face into the windshield…”

“Yeah, something like that. It’s the ultimate truth-teller: it does everything you tell it to do. It’s trying out a new babysitter. The house might be quiet and tidy, and the kids might be in bed when you get home, but you’ll hear all about how the babysitter was when everyone wakes up and talks about it at breakfast,” I said.

I didn’t go into the fact that some cars, most notably Toyotas and GMs (and the old Audi 5000s and the ironical and aptly named Pontiac Fieros of my teenage years) accelerate on their own or catch fire all by themselves, but he seemed to get the point, that if something goes wrong when you’re driving, it’s very likely your fault.

“It’s frustrating. You can’t lie to a car. There is no easy way… It’s not very easy to do. No wonder they don’t want us texting and playing with the radio. I could barely get it into Reverse without wanting to scream.” (He had lots of frustration trying to just shift one tick from Park to Reverse. I won’t even go into manual transmissions with him yet…)

“No. You can’t lie to a car. They are like small children: they will do whatever you tell them to do and so you have to be really smart about what you tell them to do,” I said.

What does this story have to do with the quote?

Not a damned thing. I just felt like telling that story. It’s hard to share my life in 500 words or less. There’s lots going on these days.

Relative to the quote: Yeah. It’s totally liberating when we realize that:

1) we are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions or reactions — EVER! EVER! EVER! (please, if you read just this post, please please get that into your head),

2) stuff doesn’t make you happy.

3) you make you happy.

4) five minutes of happy really builds on itself and when that happens, you get very protective of your happy; you don’t want to be around people who bring you down… that’s another great sign that you’re in alignment with your happiness (I prefer “contentment”).

Thank you. Thank you for following this series or reading this post or subscribing to my blog or taking a momentary interest in what I have to say. I don’t do giveaways because I’m not that clever, but I do appreciate your being here. I like to think that my giveaway to you is perhaps a loving scrap of insight into your better Self.