Archive for January, 2008

Tree People

I’m now a card-carrying member of the Mason-Dixon Trail system.

The Mason-Dixon trail is 193 miles long and connects the Appalachian Trail to the Brandywine Trail.  It starts at Whiskey Springs, Cumberland County, PA, and follows the west bank of the Susquehanna to Havre de Grace, MD. Across the Susquehanna it continues through Elk Neck State Forest to the Christina River in Delaware, then White Clay Creek in Chester County, PA. It terminates at the Brandywine River in Chadds Ford, PA.

It’s not well-known — I grew up in Chadds Ford and never heard of it until two weeks ago!

For $15 you can become a member, too, and receive a very detailed set of 10 maps with specific instructions by the mile — plus a cool patch for your hat or jacket. Visit www.masondixontrail.org for more details.

The trail seems to follow a lot of back roads but there are sections along old logging roads, through fields and woods, too. I’m looking forward to hiking Map 3: “Wago Junction at the Susquehanna River to Trinity Church Road south of Wrightsville.”  Looks like unparalleled views of the Susquehanna River and the surrounding landscape. 

I’m imagining a foggy morning in June… 

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And Ye Shall Know the Truth

I’m a radio junkie.  I learned the habit from my parents, who always had a radio on in the house or car, and my older brothers who had transistors stuck to their heads as they listened to the big hits of the 60s.  By the time I had my own radio, Top 40 was on FM, but I graduated to prog-rock at the ripe age of 11.  

I love listening to AM, FM, even shortwave.  I have a huge Grundig Satellit 800 on my desk!  One of the reasons I enjoy roadtrips so much is because I get to find new stuff on the “dial” as I travel through different towns.

While driving through New York state last weekend, I heard an AM radio ad for an anti-aging facial cream which was clearly being promoted to women.  An actor posing as a husband said, “It’s like looking at a photo of my wife from twenty years ago!”

If a company uses actors in “testimonials” for their products, aren’t they lying about the product?  (Yes.) Why would anyone believe a paid actor? (I don’t think consumers stop to think they’re listening to actors, especially if they’re inclined to buy the product anyway.)  Why can’t the company use real testimonials? (The product isn’t that good and/or it costs too much to find “real” people.)

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Through the Viewfinder 

If you haven’t tired of the film vs. digital debate, I’m in awe of your forbearance.

As long as we have artists, new mediums will replace old mediums because of technological advances, safety reasons, costs, material availability and whims.   The old mediums don’t die; they simply fall out of mainstream favor.  But they remain revered by some, occasionally to the detriment of the spirit of art itself.

If you learn anything from art history, it’s that great artists transcend their mediums and make any debate about their materials or processes completely senseless.

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Nockamixon Cliffs

I’m on a waterfall kick.  Since doing some research on the health benefits of negative ions, and visiting the falls at nearby Ringing Rocks Park last week, I’m off to find more.

This weekend I’m heading to Taughannock Falls State Park in Ulysses, New York.  It boasts a waterfall with a 215 foot drop, slightly higher than Niagara on the American side but with much smaller volume. It’s the highest drop east of the Rockies. The park’s Gorge Trail, open all year, puts you next to the spray of the falls. According to the Park Ranger I spoke with today, the falls are only partially frozen and water’s still coming over the top.

The falls and gorge create a natural amphitheater and the dense spray rising from the bottom of the falls creates a heavy mist — full of negative ions!

Negative ions are air molecules that have lost an electrical charge because they’ve been broken apart by things such as sunlight, moving air or moving water. They’re in abundance in places like waterfalls, the mountains and the beach. When we breath in large quantities of negative ions, it increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and reduces the amount of the mood chemical serotonin in the bloodstream, creating a feeling of mild euphoria.

At the base of Yosemite Falls in California, there are about 100,000 negative ions per cubic centimeter. (A cubic centimeter is the size of a sugar cube.)  In fresh country air, there are about 4,000 and on an L.A. freeway at rush hour, there are 100 negative ions per cubic centimeter.

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Elk Neck State Park, Maryland

One of my favorite places to take photos is Turkey Point at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland.  Check out its location you’ll begin to see why. 

The tip of the park has a photogenic series of trails that run along a 100-200 foot bluff above the Chesapeake Bay and the Elk River.  There are no guard rails or fences to keep people away from the edge so you can get pretty daring if you have a mind for it.  On Saturday, 60mph winds and temperatures below 20F kept me from a long hike, but I managed a few shots before my face froze solid.  

The negative ions made the trip worthwhile!

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Canada Goose

For Pete’s sake, they’re called Canada Geese, not Canadian Geese.  Branta canadensis Birds don’t have a nationality!

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 Cow Noses

I feel a mixture of amusement, horror and curiosity everytime I read the local Penny Power classified ads newspaper that serves Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley.  A sampling from this week’s edition: 

PETS R KIDS TOO!  Has quality puppies, kittens, fish, small animals.  Feeders.  All animals guaranteed.  New!  Clearance bin.  New inventory arriving weekly.  Stop in and see our specials.

NOW THAT WE ARE on our way into this New Year, what better way to get the year off to a good start than by having some new flooring installed!

FREE REMOVAL of sawed logs, vintage stereo equipment or let’s barter for any power equipment items for firewood. 


THUMBS DOWN to the person who stole two baby cars seats out of my son’s and daughter-in-law’s yard on December 30th.  You should be ashamed of yourself, to steal something that a child depends on for safety is a disgrace.  To go into someone’s yard and just walk off with things that don’t belong to you is just so wrong.  You left my grandshildren without car seats and they were unable to go visiting for the holidays.  If you don’t have a clear conscience and want to return them, please do.  If you choose not to, you are the one that has to live with yourself.  Every time you use them, just think of the children who have no car seats.  Upset Grandmother

MOVIE NIGHT Sunday, January 27, 6pm.  “The Last Sin Eater.”  Cornerstone Community Church.

If you want phone numbers for the ads let me know. 🙂

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No Hanging Out

There’s a review by Holland Cotter in today’s New York Times about a new show at the International Center of Photography called “Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art.”

Holland’s fascinating and glowing review has prompted me to see the show which runs from January 18 – May 4, 2008.  (I’m fortunate to live in such a beautiful, rural area with a 90-minute trip into Manhattan.) 

Holland writes: “Photography, with its extensions in film, video and the digital realm, is the main vehicle for these images. The time was, we thought of photographs as recorders of reality. Now we know they largely invent reality. At one stage or another, whether in shooting, developing, editing or placement, the pictures are manipulated, which means that we are manipulated. We are so used to this that we don’t see it; it’s just a fact of life.”

Of particular interest to me is this exhibit in the show:

“The thousands of images in a looping 36-hour slide projection by Jef Geys would seem to be linked by a firmer thread. They are a visual archive of Mr. Geys’s photographic output of 40 years. Whether they provide evidence of aesthetic development, though, or insight into the artist’s maturing mind and soul, will be known only to the most devoted of viewers.”

(Let’s see… the longest the museum is open on any single day is ten hours, and the longest anyone could realistically sit through a slide show might be three hours. So it’ll take at least 12 well-coordinated visits to see the whole thing!  With $12 admission, that’s $144, but an individual membership at $75 allows unlimited free visits.  Yay!)

Another exhibit in the show by Hans-Peter Feldmann sounds like a thoroughly intriguing study:  a room full of framed front pages of 100 international newspapers printed on Sept. 12, 2001.  To Feldman’s credit as an artist, and to Holland’s credit as a reviewer, both get past the fact that this event is still fresh to us and are able to raise all sorts of questions about image placement, text placement and the manipulation of content from country to country. 

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Jakey’s Gloves and Jacket

I recently recommended an inexpensive but excellent lens to Becky over at Moontree Arts:  the Canon 50mm f/1.4.  Becky’s just getting into the art of photography and it’s a superb starter lens.  But after talking with her, I realized I haven’t used my own 50mm lens since I bought the Canon 85mm f/1.2L (mmm, mmm good) in July 2006! So I put the 50mm back to work to rediscover its charms.

If you’ve sold your soul (and waistline) to zooms and wide angles over the years, or if you’re on a budget, a 50mm lens is worth thinking about. If you need a nudge, consider that Henri Cartier-Bresson used only his 50mm lens for everything from portraits to landscapes.  I think I understand why: the 50mm offers a highly personal view of what’s being photographed.

The great color photographer Ernst Haas said, “The best zoom lens is your legs.”  Why?  Because a fixed focal length lens like the 50mm gets you immediately involved:  you must be entirely conscious of your place and your angle because you can only zoom with your legs.  You must think about your composition with your mind and your body.  The result has a delicious and natural subjectivity, further enhanced at 50mm because that’s the focal length most similar to what we observe with our own eyes.  

A 50mm shot is a personal, physical view — the very voice of a photographer.  That seems like reason enough to use a 50mm lens, but its natural look gives the observer a direct experience as well, as if he or she was there when the image was taken.

Most 50mm lenses are pretty fast (f/1.4 – f/1.8) and relatively cheap.  The ability to shoot in low light with a gorgeous, addictive bokeh and a price tag under $300 make most 50mm lenses a great value for the money.

I should mention that if you’re shooting with a typical DSLR (the Canon Digital Rebel XT, for example) you’ll need a 35mm lens to get the effect of a 50mm lens because of the digital sensor’s 1.5x crop.  Using a 50mm on the Rebel will get you a 75mm view, which is the ideal focal length for portraits.

By the way, here’s a landscape and a dog portrait I shot with the 50mm on my Canon 5D last Sunday.  And the shot of Jakey’s gloves that accompanies this article was shot yesterday with the 50mm on the 5D.

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I love this story in Monday’s Morning Call newspaper.  Thanks to whomever notified the paper and thanks to the editor for running it. How often to you read news stories that offer hope for humanity?

Thanks to Donna Balascak for saving the neighbor’s animals, and thanks to Donna’s dogs for noticing there was a fire in the first place.

Last night I watched a PBS documentary called Dogs That Changed the World. It’s a fascinating look at how dogs evolved from wolves and how humans live better and more productive lives because of dogs.  With a sense of hearing four times greater and a sense of smell 50 – 100 times more powerful than our own, it’s easy to imagine how companion and working dogs extend our own survival abilities.  

Numerous studies show that companion dogs lower our stress levels and help alleviate loneliness.  Simply petting a dog for a few minutes prompts a release of  serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin – the hormones that cause us to “feel good.” 

I think we owe our dogs a lot of love and appreciation — and cookies!

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I’m going to write a screenplay using Scrivener software.  It’s going to take a few years to write, but that’s ok — it would take a decade with MS Word!

Let me know if you use Scrivener, or have an opinion on how it works.

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Bar Bar 

M & M Mars was born in a Tacoma, Washington kitchen in 1911 when candy salesman Frank Mars set his sights on making the best candy bar on the market.  He and wife Ethel made and sold chocolate buttercreams out of their house for nine years.  Locally very successful, they moved their business to a Minneapolis candy factory and by 1930, Mars, Inc. was grossing $800,000 a year selling Milky Way Bars and Snickers Bars.

(Snickers Bars were named after one of the family’s beloved horses and remain the best-selling candy bar of all time.)

Fast-forward: Mars is now ranked America’s sixth-largest privately held company with 40,000 employees and $21 billion in annual sales. (Green M & M, anyone?) Frank and Ethel’s grandson, Forrest E. Mars, Jr. , is a 75-year old retired CEO with a personal fortune of $14 billion (#19 on Forbes’ 2007 Richest Americans list). 

Despite the Mars family’s long-standing reputation for super-secrecy, Forrest made headlines this week as an opponent of an energy company’s plans to tap into a great American wilderness: southeastern Montana’s Tongue River area, which has extensive coal and natural gas reserves.  

Forrest resides in Virginia but owns an 82,000-acre ranch called Diamond Cross near the town of Birney, Montana.  The ranch falls under “split-estate” laws from the (perhaps outdated?) Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916 when the government gave 60 million acres of western land to ranchers, but reserved the mineral rights for itself.  It then leased the rights to energy companies.  

The government has rights to 10,000 acres at Diamond Cross — and a company called Pinnacle Gas Resources has the lease to drill for natural gas.

“Coal-bed methane development” is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground, and it starts in aquifers.  Huge volumes of water are pumped out and disposed of to get to the natural gas.  Forrest Mars opposes the development because Diamond Cross  is in an arid area and requires its water reserves for crops and livestock. 

Coal-bed methane development has put some ranchers out of business. It has also affected populations of wildlife like mule deer and antelope (where the deer and the antelope play!) and may put the sage grouse on the Endangered Species list.

Last Thursday, despite putting his fortune to work in several lawsuits, Forrest Mars lost his bid to keep Pinnacle at bay.  Pinnacle began drilling 90 minutes after a state judge issued a ruling that Pinnacle had a right to drill there.

Tom Richmond,  an administrator from the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, offered a solution to the situation: he said Pinnacle’s stock is worth about one percent of Mars’ fortune, so Mars should simply buy the publicly traded company.

What do you think about that?

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Rural Classified

Machine Shed

Can you determine a newspaper’s demographics by looking through the classified ads under “Articles for Sale”?  Here are some random things I found in today’s Morning Call, a newspaper that’s delivered to my house everyday:

♦ Console Radio / 8-Track Player, $95

♦ Couch (1970 Style), $20

♦ Exercise Machine, Push/Pull Type, $50

♦ Gossip Bench, $45

♦ Kids Pool Table, $50

♦ Shotgun, Like New, $250

♦ 16′ Swimming Pool, 5′ Deep, $50

♦ Man’s Woolen Irish Sweater, Size Large, $25

♦ New Moosehead Barlight, Wall Mountable, $55

♦ Old 4 String Tenor Banjo, No Case, $100

♦ Beer Can Collection, Over 175 Cans, $300

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Geese Over the Triangle

I was so taken with Nicole Atkins‘ performance on the David Letterman show last November that I unabashedly revealed my age by immediately purchasing a physical copy of her latest CD, Neptune City.

You can watch the video here.  Nicole’s band, The Sea, provided impressive backup with cello, violins, grand piano and jingle bells, et al, but Nicole’s voice was like the Southern Pacific Daylight during the Golden Age of Trains. 

Nicole has a gorgeous, strong, emotional and compelling voice that’s been compared with Cass Elliott, Loretta Lynn and Chrissie Hynde – even with Jeff Buckley, Roy Orbison and Rufus Wainright!  Some of Nicole’s songs have an other-worldly, carnival-esque, Brill Building-meets-Wilco sound to them.  I think of Lesley Gore, Connie Francis, Miss Lily Banquette – even Elvis Costello.  In a Rolling Stone interview, Nicole said, “My songs are dark, but you can still do the mashed potato to them.”

Nicole is a muralist by trade and studied painting and illustration at university. Her songs sound like richly colored murals, too. Listen for the stellar line, “In my ears my blood is just roaring.”

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Two Steering Wheels

Frank Deford is an author, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and a commentator on NPR.   Even though I don’t care about pro or college sports, I regularly listen to his sports-centered pieces on NPR’s Morning Edtion. Deford’s distinguished tones are invigorating and he gives an ethereal message about humanity even when he’s talking about doped-up football players.  He’s an admirable thinker and writer.

In 2005, Deford participated in a documentary film about higher education called Declining by Degrees. One of his quotes is worth repeating:

“How can anyone rationally argue that a baseball player should get a college scholarship, but a piano player shouldn’t? What does it say about a college’s regard for art, literature, drama and music if the finest young painters, writers, actors and musicians are not eligible for the same rewards as are athletes?”

What does that say about our colleges and universities?

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Tractor Cat

I find it inspirational to study paintings and films.   I’m informed by the use of style, symbolism, craft, skill, history and light.  Ironically, I’m not often inspired by still photography.  It’s sometimes challenging to find enlightening work outside of the masters of photography, old and new. 

But as I found out this morning, a trip through The New York Times Photo Store is a real feast. You can see (and purchase!) an amazing array of images going back to the 1800s. Of particular interest is the “American Experience” category with riveting photos of American life over the last 150 years. If you’re looking for inspirational still photography, you’ve hit the jackpot.

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Mennonite Man Building Brick Wall

I woke up refreshed and full of purpose.  I had memorized my to-do list, and knew the most efficient order.  My desk was organized and I was ready for business.

I got my son off to school and went for a four mile walk.   I was nearly home when one of the neighbors, a farmer, stopped to talk with me.  I met his new bull (Franz, 780 pounds when he was weaned) and the new puppy (Fritz, the Australian Cattle Dog, four months old).  I heard how 50 head of cattle is too much right now because the hay is running low.   I found out there are now 20 cats at the farm, but not a mouse or rat in sight even though the cats eat two bags of cat chow per week.  I learned that the farmer’s very bright son was accepted to agricultural college and starts next fall with a $7500 scholarship.  That’ll cover a small part of the $24,000 tuition.  

I know a lot about that farm and I love hearing all the news.  I got home an hour and a half later.

As I sat down to my desk, a call came in from another farmer.  I’ve been photographically documenting the process of building their new milking parlour for several months and learned that a new wall was being constructed today, and that I should get over there before the wall was finished.  I did, and it turned out the person building the wall was Mennonite, and as a rule they don’t like to be photographed.  I respect that, having grown up near Lancaster County where there’s a large Amish community. So the Mennonite man and I talked for about 45 minutes.  He was fascinated by my camera and asked many questions about it, and I was equally fascinated by his brick-laying abilities and asked him many questions.  Before he finished building the wall, he said I could take his photo as long as he was working rather than posing.

I got home an hour and a half later.

It’s 3:05 p.m. and I’ve just finished this post that should’ve been done by 10:00 a.m.  And I’ve remembered I need to buy a money order at the post office, from my good friend the Postmaster, Eileen.  I’ll make it home in time to meet the school bus at 4:00 and then start making dinner.

There’s always tomorrow.

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Crow on Old Barn Cupola

The first thing I look for in each new edition of the New York Times is an editorial piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg.  

Verlyn’s ongoing editorial column The Rural Life is always the best thing to read in the whole paper (which is saying something because every edition of the NY Times is a work of art). I’ve been reading Verlyn’s editorials for a few years but it was only today I realized that Verlyn is a man!  Well I’ll be jiggered!  I was going to mention her breathtakingly beautiful, deeply moving, thoroughly visual style of writing in my entry today. I’m glad I did a little research first.

Mr. Klinkenborg was born in 1952 and grew up in Iowa and California. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton and he’s been on the editorial board of the New York Times for ten years. His work has appeared in a gazillion great magazines, he’s won many awards and a fellowship, taught literature at Harvard, and is now a visiting professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He’s written a few books, two of which are on my reading list: Making Hay and The Last Fine Time.

Verlyn lives on a small farm in rural upstate New York.  That’s within stalking distance of Durham Township, right?

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Boston Terrier at the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club Show

I read an excellent article by Kathy Kristof in the Morning Call newspaper yesterday called “Resolve to Spend Your Money on Things that are Truly Meaningful.”  Here’s what stood out to me:

♦ Close your eyes for two minutes and think about what makes you happy.  What gives you energy and fulfillment? Are you in a room full of stuff or a room full of friends? Are you in the wilderness? At a resort?

♦ How close is this to how you live your life?

♦ The room you’re sitting in is probably full of stuff that has to be paid for.  And the picture in your mind might be about people and experiences, not stuff.

♦ Everyone has limited spending power.  When you buy one thing, you’re giving up another.  Are you happy with your choices?

♦ If you don’t have a values-based system to filter the hundreds of marketing messages you get everyday, you can get pulled into acquiring stuff out of habit.  Starbucks on the way to work everyday, for example.  ($5 x 250 days = $1250!)  It’s faster to buy coffee than brew it, but is your life’s goal to get to the finish line first?  Make sure your habits aren’t robbing you of the chance to reach more precious goals.

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Somewhere in Indiana

I read a thought-provoking and lovely quote in the New York Times yesterday by the great photographer Lee Friedlander.  In his new book,  Lee Friedlander Photographs Frederick Law Olmsted Landscapes, Friedlander said of landscape photography: 

“The subject itself is simply perfect, and no matter how well you manage as a photographer, you will only ever give a hint as to how good the real thing is. We photographers don’t really make anything: we peck at the world and try to find something curious or wild or beautiful that might fit into what the medium of photography can hold.” 

Curious, wild or beautiful – that’s the mantra I’ll use as I press the shutter.

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Eat More Bananas Overnight

Never mind that if you spell “resolution” backwards, the ending is “loser.”

I always make one New Year’s resolution in October.  By January 1st, I know whether it’s viable or not and I don’t torture myself afterwards.  That seems like a fine way to start a fresh year.

Based on a poll of 1,000 Americans over the age of 18, about 70 percent make New Year’s resolutions.   The majority vow to lose weight (28%) or work out more (12%).  The others say they’ll quit smoking, save money, get a new job or eat healthier.  One in four say they are “very successful” at keeping their resolution.   Half are “somewhat successful.”

The ones who succeed track their progress by charting and recording their behavior. The more specific the better — a measurable goal is key.  Additionally, they set goals that are reasonable to achieve. 

My resolution in October 2007 was to start a second blog and so far, so good!   The “charting and recording” portion is built into the blog format so that’s one less thing to labor over.  And it feels reasonable to scribble down thoughts from my over-active brain a few times a week.

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House on Applebutter Road Near Bethlehem 

Last weekend I learned that some folks in Durham Township are “scared to death” of my photoblog and my photography.  My first thought was:   Is my work that bad?  🙂 My second thought was: That might be a bit naive.

There’s a misperception that my lovely photos of Durham are going to bring busloads of house-hunters and developers from around the globe, resulting in exhausted water supplies, higher school & property taxes and the destruction of the area’s rural nature, among other evils.  

Perhaps these well-intentioned folks don’t understand that my worldwide influence simply isn’t that great.  (Maybe after my first appearance on Oprah, ha!)  My photoblog traffic is pretty good for a photoblog, but it’s a tiny fraction of overall internet traffic. And I’ve been running the site for five years and still don’t know anyone who moved to Durham because of it.  (I wonder how many people would uproot their entire lives because of photos they saw on the internet?) 

Perhaps these well-intentioned folks don’t understand that my intent is to protect rural areas from development by raising awareness of the natural beauty we have here in Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley.  I want to inspire folks to save the land, to support urban renewal, to vote for open space initiatives and to update their townships’ Comprehensive Plans so when (not if) development comes, it is well-managed and sustainable.

What do you think?

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Happy New Year and welcome!

I’ve maintained a photoblog at www.durhamtownship.com for the last five years.  I’ve loved every minute of it and now I’m starting a second blog to polish my writing skills.

I’ll write about my work and my life, my influences and inspirations, and offer opinions about art, film, photography, literature, music, politics, American life and whatever seems worth scribbling about.

Hope you’ll drop by often!  Please join the discussion by leaving a comment.

— Kathleen

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