Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011!

"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."
                                                                                   George Santayana

Many lessons were learned in 2011 and although some were extremely painful, they were all invaluable in shaping my journey of becoming a photojournalist. Like grapes that grow wildly in their natural habitat of woodland areas, my journey began as an unfocused attempt at healing from many years of self doubt and loathing of the commercial photography industry. I use the analogy of grape growing to describe how the events of 2011defined my path.

Grapevines by nature are lazy. In their natural habitat, grapevines use trees and other structures for support. If given enough water and nutrients, the vines will grow rapidly sending out shoots that will consistently look for something to climb on. The shoots then attach themselves firmly to the support plant by tendrils and put all of their energy into growing leaves and shoots, but not producing any fruit. This "perfect" environment with adequate water, support and nutrition allows the grapevine to live comfortably. The vine will continue to grow and attach itself to whatever is nearby never desiring to do much else. However, when a grapevine is deprived of the basic necessities for life, it must choose to either die, or direct all of its energy into reproducing itself for survival. (The vines really do choose to live or die...Google it.) I fell into the same comfortable existence until the events of 2011 rocked my world.

As I mentioned before, grapes by nature are lazy. I  had become too comfortable in my existence of going to school, working on the weekends and doing a little photography here and there. I began to lose my focus on why I was achieving my goal of higher education. Life was working, comfortably. I was growing, but nor producing. I had become complacent and dependent on the idea of becoming a student for life...that is until the spring semester ended and an undisclosed, undiagnosed illness deprived me of the ability to taste or smell. Additionally, my arms became weak, head hurt constantly, right eye began to droop, the right side of my face became numb and I had difficulty standing for long periods of time. Although these symptoms are typical for a stroke, three MRI's, a CAT scan and several other tests ruled this diagnosis out. I was hospitalized for two days and spent nearly the entire month of June recovering. It was during this time that I began to realize that I was stressed. I began to crave foods that I normally would never eat. Brussel sprouts, ugh!, Corn, yuck!, and chocolate milk.(I am lactose intolerant) Sleeping became a new passion.

 The biggest concern for me was an internship that I had to fulfill photographing the state fair. This would require that I photograph the events of the fair seven days a week form opening to closing. Because of my faith in God, constant diligent prayers and forcing myself to "get better," I was able to photograph 17 of the 19 days of the fair. Afterward, I slept most of the remaining days of summer until school resumed.

During this time of rest, my life came into focus. The Bible says that when we pray, we are to go into a place of solitude so that we can speak openly with God who is unseen. And then God who sees what we have done in secret will reward us. (Matthew 6:6 NIV) Yes, I did go into a place of solitude, but my prayers were anything but silent. I screamed, cried, plead, admonished, and begged God for understanding. I searched for answers, went through the "why me" phase, and at times got pissed off that  the doctors could not figure out what was wrong. Fortunately, the God that I believe in did not smack the crap out of me for this behavior. I had to trust that he knew what was best for me and though I am hard headed, the answer to my prayers would come in his time.

 The experience at the fair allowed me to stretch photographically, and I knew from the endless opportunities to photograph, enduring the mild 100+ degree Sacramento weather and walking more than five miles per day on asphalt from Hell,  that photojournalism would be my calling. I have applied to Grad school to get a master's degree in journalism. I have a focus now, and it feels great! No, it will not be easy, but I do believe that every experience of my life has prepared me for the uncertainties that I will face in a new environment. My grandmother used to say that I always landed on my feet, and I have asked God for the opportunity to fly. As long as he is the pilot, I willingly accept being the co-pilot. (This is good as I am afraid of heights and have no experience in a cock-pit)

 Like a grapevine, we need to prune ourselves of dead branches...sometimes known as people who do not benefit us, jobs that do not feed our spirit, habits that are unhealthy and unnecessary stressors that inhibit our spiritual, mental and emotional growth. By doing this, we shed off our old selves and grow branches that are stronger to support our new found purpose in life. We become more aware of what we are capable of, and we develop a desire to thrive in an uncertain environment. (Nothing like jumping out of an airplane and wondering if you packed your parachute properly. Oh well, God is with us!) Restlessness replaces complacency and instead of attaching ourselves to a stable structure that provides our basic needs, we desire to put our own roots into solid ground. (Grapes grow best in dirt that is nutrient deficient, unrelentingly hard and full of  crappy minerals. Google it) In short, we want to produce good fruit.

With the help and support of my family and a few real friends, ( massive pruning took place), I made it through the fall semester and look forward to graduation in the spring. I am still recovering. Some days are better than others physically, but my spirits are up and I try to hit the ground running every day that I am blessed to awaken. My hope for everyone in 2012 is that we prune our personal vines and rid ourselves of unnecessary dead branches. Find your passion, whatever it is. If you do not know, pray about it. (I have read that God answers prayers, yes, not yet, and, I have something better in mind.) Trust that he will direct your path. Take care of yourself. Nurture your body, mind and spirit often. (Moderation in everything...EVERYTHING!) Get plenty of rest. (Sleep is good. A lot of sleep, not good) Most importantly, be a blessing to others.

May God give you exactly what you need and may you fill in the gap with exactly what you desire.
Blessings and good wishes for 2012. Happy New year!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wine tasting 100. Treat them well, and they will come back...again, and again...

My wine journey begins with a little history about myself. I love wine. Not all wine, just 251 of the 259 popular, but not all, varietals of wine grapes grown in the world. Like many, I began as a sweet wine drinker, gradually moved into white wine and finally embraced all things RED! In no way do I consider myself an expert on wine. However, with more that five years of experience behind the tasting bar, I do consider myself to be quite good at treating people well. This blog is a compilation of stories that were gathered while visiting more than 135 wineries in 2011, and another far, in 2012.  My traveling buddy Denise Gage aka "Road Dawg," travelled with me  80% of the time as we performed educational research (that's how we justified the write off on our tax returns and explained to her husband why we were sometimes late returning) throughout California's vast wine regions. As noted above in the title, there were several wineries that we re-visited (further research needed), and several that we would never return to.

Why would we not return?
Service. There is nothing more annoying than being dismissed or ignored while wine tasting. Yes, I have been ignored upon entering a tasting room. I have a little mental survey that I use called the" ten second acknowledgement." Unless a tasting room is preoccupied with an event or there is a huge number of people tasting, I make firm eye contact first with whomever is working the room. If I am not acknowledged...a nod, a smile, a middle finger (Just kidding) or anything that says, "I see you," I note the offenders name and bring it to the attention of the management. (I especially love when this person is the manager...shame on you!) . Secondly, I allow 30 seconds more of this bad behavior and begin take mental notes of what is going on around me. Understanding that there are several factors involved here, understaffing, untrained staff, staff having a bad day, manager is an idiot, assumptions about me, are just a few of the observations that were noted, regardless of whatever is going on, every customer is the most important person in the world lest they write a blog and crucify the winery!

Ok, that was a bit harsh. But seriously, when one is treated well, one will return. The wine does not even have to be that great. If I am acknowledged, respected and accommodated, I will buy a bottle of wine. If the winery exceeds these basic expectations, I will return with many friends and brag vigorously about the winery. One last point, if the winery speaks against another winery, I will visit the other winery, confirm what was said, and form my own opinions. (This is a big no-no in the industry, but does happen. Shame on you!)

To the best of my ability, I will try to write objectively and responsibly about the wineries we visited. Please enjoy the journey, and leave some feedback.

A votre sante!