Sunday, January 31, 2010

EMPS: My House, Other Houses

For the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #74: Houses Of Worship, I was struck by the inclusiveness of the topic. I decided not to go with my default response of just showing you my church, St. Michael and All Angels. But I did start there!

This is the only stained glass window at St. Michael's. I used my standing tripod for the first time that day, setting it up at several places in the church as a stranger offered helpful advice. I tried a bunch of camera settings, but my favorite was the one that shed a little light on the darkened church.

I took a bunch more pictures of St. Michael's on Wednesday afternoon, but I'll show you some of them another time. As the webmaster and unofficial church photographer, I'm always taking pictures of the place, inside and out. It's actually rather tricky to photograph well, sprawling complex and dark interior that it is. All in all I thought it would be better, this time around, to show you some of the other houses of worship in Tucson that have made an impression on me for one reason or another.

This is Faith Lutheran Church on 5th Street near Alvernon Way, one of the first places I thought of photographing for this, if I could just remember where it was. I love the very modern look of the place, hot pink steeple and all. I understand they have significant problems with upkeep on it, though. Don't we all! I have a book about architecture in Tucson, and this is one of the first buildings I looked up when I bought that.

Up the street from the tres moderne church is the synagogue at 5th and Craycroft, Congregation Anshei Israel. It's modern, but not at all interesting from the outside except for the stylized menorah. My memory from a visit there circa 1993 is that it's rather nice inside. What was I doing there in the early 1990s? I went to hear Dr. Ruth Westheimer speak about the Holocaust and promote her autobiography. At the time she had just been a guest star on Quantum Leap.

Here is the Benedictine Sanctuary of Perpetual Adoration on Country Club Road. What you're seeing is only one part of a rather large building. Love it! I parked in front of somebody's house across the street to try to take photos. When the homeowner saw what I was doing, he smiled and said, "Beautiful, isn't it?"

This is the eastern end of the First Southern Baptist Church on Speedway, one of a pair of twin neoclassical buildings with a long, low building and elevated walkway in between. They had a major fire over a decade ago, but you'd never know it now.

And finally, here is the mosque I spent most of the afternoon tracking down. I misremembered it being on Grant Road, when it was actually on West Speedway. I drove all the way down to the freeway on Grant Road after church this afternoon, turned around, photographed the sanctuary and went home. As I was driving, a friend called on my cell, and I asked if she knew where the mosque was. She suggested I check the phone book. I pointed out I was in the car, and didn't have a phone book with me. She said to go to some business and use their phone book. "That's cheating!" I said. She thought that was pretty lame of me. She probably had a point.

Anyway, I went home and eventually did check the phone book, and Google maps. It turned out that there was a mosque behind Speedway just off Rosemont, between Congregation Anshei Israel and Faith Lutheran Church. I gave in to the dogs and brought them along as I went back out, house (of worship) hunting!

But the mosque near Rosemont was the most anonymous building imaginable. I drove up and down and back and forth, and for a long time found nothing I thought even could be it. Eventually I took a photo of a run down little building that could be an office building, or could be apartments. It was the mosque, but I didn't know that for sure until I looked up the address at home again, hours later. Perhaps they are deliberately keeping a low profile.

Still, that left the one on West Speedway, Mosque Yousuf, also called the Ahmeddiya Movement in Islam. I had high hopes that would turn out to be the pretty, white Moorish building I remembered on the west side of town. And it was! Well, maybe. there may have been another one at one time. On Grant. But I wouldn't swear to it at this point.

Anyway, this one has two buildings side by side, one for men and one for women, I'm guessing. I walked all the way around the complex, not trespassing but taking lots of pictures.

Then the dogs and I headed over to Silverbell Road at the bottom of the Tucson Mountains on the west side. I was looking for the beautiful dog park with the lake view, but it hid from me. So I took the dogs up Sentinel Peak instead, where we wandered the steep, twisty road and watched someone else's photo shoot at sunset. But that's a story for another time.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend Assignment #304: Frazzled! How Do You De-Stress?

This one, like so many Weekend Assignments, comes from my life this past week:

Weekend Assignment #304: How do you de-stress when you're feeling frazzled?

Extra Credit: The Weekend Assignment may soon have a co-host. That okay with everyone? 
(numbering corrected 2/5/10)

Frazzled. It's a word I keep running into lately, and I'm not the only person who has applied the term to me this week. In British English it apparently has a slightly different meaning than here, or at least a broader one. On Doctor Who it's been used to mean "broken beyond repair," or possibly "burnt out" in the sense of electronics. For me, though, it primarily means the way I feel when this is a good visual approximation:

Which I suppose does mean "burnt out," in a sense. But I hope not beyond repair!

Anyway. I've been working on a complex and difficult project at the Church, the sort of thing where I fix one problem and two others pop up. Time has not been on my side, so I've had to scramble frantically to get things done, sometimes on even less sleep than usual, spreadsheets proliferating wildly in my wake. On Friday I was sent home to rest and de-stress, on the grounds that I hadn't had a day off since the 3rd or January, or was it the 1st? It was getting pretty obvious to others that the pressure was getting to me.

So what did I do when I got home?

I worked on the problem a little more, in email, and it helped.

I watched the series finale of Dollhouse. And it helped.

I petted the dogs. And it helped.

I edited photos for the Round Robin. And it helped.

I did laundry. I'm not sure it helped with that particular source of stress, but at least now I have clean clothes!

Then today I met with the church treasurer for several hours. And it helped A LOT.

Generally, there are three things that seem to help me:

1. Sleep. I cannot overemphasize this one.
2. Get away for a bit. Yes, that can be escaping into Facebook or a tv show, but that's too routine to help all that much. Getting out into the mountains with the dogs and my camera is a much better bet for me, as I did last weekend.
3. Solve the problem. That's really the big one for me. It's fine to take a break, but if I can then tackle the actual problem and triumph, even over a small piece of it, that's what really helps me. How about you?

A word about the Extra Credit above. Sometimes the Weekend Assignment, as much as I love it, adds to my stress. After two years of making up the questions, with occasional suggestions for "guest professors," I find it hard sometimes to come up with something that's interesting to write about, not too complicated or obscure, and that hasn't already been asked by me or by John Scalzi before me. To avoid getting completely burned out, I've asked our friend Carly if she's willing to co-host the Weekend Assignment starting a few weeks from now. This means she would be creating and posting half of the assignments, bringing fresh ideas into this old meme. She's already come up with the idea to have a logo for the Weekend Assignment, as I've posted above. I encourage you to use this logo in your own blog. It's available in several sizes besides the big one:

250 pixels wide

220 pixels wide

125 pixels wide

I've included the following link so you can make the logo clickable if you like: We'll have a similar one for Carly's blog once we get going - assuming it's okay with you folks, of course! Or just link to the week's particular Assignment entry - e.g. this one.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at the results of later week's Assignment. For Weekend Assignment #303: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet, I asked whether or not you use Twitter and why. Click on the names below to read the full responses:

Julie said...
I love Twitter as much as it frustrates me. I've had to unfollow and/or block some folks who started off interesting and then suddenly changed into non-stop self-promotion machines of the most annoying kind. Oh, yes: Twitter is a very useful tool for promotion, but, like any other tool, it can hurt you if you use it wrong.

Carly said...
Ok, I admit it. When I first heard about Twitter I had to wonder what the big deal was. Ok, so you can find out in real time that "Henry" in Boise, has just milked his cow. Or maybe you could find out within a matter of seconds that "Simone" in Fairbanks has just finished her breakfast, but really, why would I care? Ok, it did intrigue me that someone famous could share their day, I mean that would be pretty glamorous right? I mean, it's going straight to the source, without all those pesky tabloids to make it all up, or airbrush the heck out of it. So, ok, I could see that as fun. Hmmm, I thought, maybe there was something to it.

Freda (welcome!) said...
I tweet. @fredalicious

Following 434
Followers 566
Listed 24

Mike said...
I know there are a lot of people who think Twitter is stupid or only for self-important people, and they can be right, but it can be useful at times, too. I've learned about several things first through Twitter; earthquakes, plane crashes, etc. Not to mention that J.D Salinger had died. I've never read Catcher in the Rye, but still, it was important. If used right it can be fun and informative and full of spambots, but there isn't much you can do about that.

Duane said...
I was avoiding social networking sites like the plague; they just didn't seem like my cup of tea. Several people told me I needed to get on Twitter, but I kept putting them off. One evening, my wife basically just put me on Facebook, and within a day or two, I finally decided to take the Twitter plunge. Both have worked out pretty well for me. 

So there you are - five responses to last week's Assignment. Will you join us this week, and tell us how you de-stress? Here are the guidelines in case you're interested:

1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, February 5th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better.) I hope to get the next WA posted on Friday night, or Saturday night at the latest. If you get it in before I post, basically, you're golden!
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry. Using the logo is encouraged but not mandatory.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."
6. I haven't run into any unpleasantness with this meme, ever, but just in case it ever happens, know that I reserve the right to remove rude or unpleasant comments (not to mention comment spam), and to leave entries off the linking list if the person has been majorly unpleasant, or fails to mention the Weekend Assignment in the entry.

That's it for now! I hope to hear from you soon.


Round Robin: Water in the Desert - Winter Edition

This week's Round Robin Photo Challenge, Water, happens to coincide perfectly with the lesser of Tucson's two rainy seasons, such as they are: the winter monsoon. The real monsoon is in the summer, but in January, if we're lucky, we get enough rain for get by for a few months thereafter. Note to anything considering a trip to Tucson: the best months to visit us are November, December, February, March and maybe April. Skip January unless you like rain, or are curious about what the desert is like when it's doing its best to approximate winter weather. Given the dramatic weather, the water I'm going to show you for this Challenge is nearly all in vapor form.

From Clouds Over Tucson

Let's start with this shot from last Saturday, the last image from my trip to the Catalina foothills to photograph snow on the mountain slopes. Even with Catalina Highway closed from the worst snowstorm in seven years the night before, the desert floor was dry by the following afternoon. All the water was either deep underground or up in the air as clouds.

By Monday the visible-from-a-distance snow was pretty much gone from the Catalinas, but we were far from done with clouds and rain. Late Wednesday afternoon, when I went to the main post office on Cherrybell to mail 1099 forms, the clouds dwarfed the Tucson Mountains that flank the western edge of the city.

Unsurprisingly, there were also clouds over the Catalinas (on the left in this shot) and the Rincon Mountains (straight up the road here). Incidentally, the two black dots in the sky are fighter jets from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It is extremely common around here to see two military planes in the sky.

Most rain in Tucson happens at night in the winter, late afternoon and evening in the summer. But Thursday we had daytime rain. Here is the scene that day on Wilmot Road by Carondelet St. Joseph's Hospital, one light south of St. Michael's.

The cloud cover was similar to the clouds that amazed us when we first visited Tucson in 1986, covering the tops of the mountains entirely. A right turn at the traffic light shown here takes you into the St. Michael's parking lot.

The drama of the clouds continued in front of the house that afternoon.

Now let's go see everyone else's water!

Linking List
as of 4:15 PM PST Saturday

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Carly - Posted!

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

ellen b. - Posted!
The Happy Wonderer

Mary / The Teach (new blog!) - Posted!
Mary Tomaselli's Photos

Suzanne R - Posted!
SuzyQ421's Photo Blog

Linda - Posted!
Mommy's Treasures


Nancy - Posted!
Nancy Luvs Pix

Teena - Posted!
Teena in Toronto

Sherrie - Posted!
Sherrie's Stuff


carolynUSA - Posted!
Ford Family Photos

Facts from a Fact Woman

Manang Kim - Posted! **Welcome, New Member**
My Life's Journey in Focus

Jenn Posted!
My Muskoka

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Nesa ** Welcome, new member ** - Posted!
Frozen in Time Photos

Rita aka Cashjocky - Posted!
Cashjocky and the Old Salt

Sandy - Posted!
From The Heart Of Texas

Ruth - Posted!
The Scrabble Queen


P.S. The new Weekend Assignment and roundup of the current one, Weekend Assignment #303: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet, will be posted Saturday evening. And don't forget the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #74: Houses Of Worship!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Weekend Assignment #303: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet

This week's guest professor is Carly, subbing for me after I confessed I was stuck for a topic:

Weekend Assignment #303: Do you Tweet? Why or why not?
to which I add

Extra Credit: If you do use Twitter, how many people follow you? How many do you follow?

Back before the 2008 election, when I was newly unemployed (again) and not yet on Facebook, I spent about five hours a day on Twitter. Every day I promoted the day's blog entry (this was when I was still blogging every day), a task made easier when I signed up for Twitterfeed to automate the process. I supplemented this with the occasional 140 character quip or observation or opinion or microburst of personal news.

But most of what I was doing in the weeks leading up to the election was clicking on the links in the Twitter accounts I followed, including a couple of people and shows at NPR and several sections of The Huffington Post. Reading those alone took up vast amounts of time.

Once the election was over, I was no longer as intensely interested in the day's political news, and the time spent on Twitter started to feel excessive. At the same time, I was followed by more and more TwitterSpam (Spitter?) accounts, however briefly, and sorting through the new followers started to get tedious. I soon cut back my Twitter activity. At first I tried to check out Twitter every day, however briefly, but soon I wasn't booting the site at all, unless I posted a photo on the related site TwitPic.

My posts on Twitter continued, however, thanks for Twitterfeed. Every time I posted an entry here or on the church blogs, a blurb and a link hit Twitter. All this automation was great and easy until Facebook was added to the mix, and then AIM. With all these sites feeding each other,  the cross-posting can get ridiculous. Check out the effect of last night's post on my Facebook wall above. Overkill much?

Still, I think it's a good platform, if you don't let it rule your life, or if you have bundles of time and no reason not to hang out on Twitter. I currently have 176 accounts I follow, from friends to actors, news feeds to Doctor Who set reporters (fans) in Cardiff, Wales. And I don't read any of them any more unless I have a specific reason to fire up the program. 160 people follow me in return, and seldom see a word that isn't piped in from the Outpost!

How about you? Do you tweet often, or a little, or not at all? Please tell us about it in your blog, or in the comments thread below.

While you're thinking about that, let's have a look at last week's assignment. For Weekend Assignment #302: Your Favorite Charity, I asked whether you contributed to any charities, and which ones. Click on each name below to get to get to their blogs and read more:

Florinda said...
Some of the causes I support aren't necessarily the first things that come to mind as "charities." For example, I'm a sustaining "Star Member" of KCRW, one of the LA area's NPR stations, which means they automatically get $10 from me every month. I was a member of the Memphis Zoological Society for several years after I no longer worked for them (or even lived in Memphis), and I feel guilty about letting it lapse. My support for them comes from personal knowledge of what they do, and I really should get around to joining again (especially since several of their member benefits are reciprocated by other zoos).

Julie said in comments...
Hi Karen, I'm swamped again this week, so I'm answering in the comments. Accept my apologies. I figure this is better than not doing it at all.

I support several charities. I can't say that I have a favorite. Amongst those I support are The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and local food banks. My last charitable donation was just this week. Several of the local food stores participate in the "Souper Bowl," which supports local food banks. All someone has to do is grab a bag and take it to the checkout along with the rest of their purchase. I do that often during this time of year.

Your turn! Here are the guidelines:

1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, January 29th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better.) I hope to get the next WA posted on Friday night - no more of this Sunday night stuff!
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

I hope to hear from you soon.


Our Winters Are Not Like Your Winters

Unless you live in Tucson, of course!

Pantano Wash, dry but with gullies from last night's rain.

From the Picasa album The Desert in Winter

I deliberately waited all week for the right opportunity to take photos for the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #73: Winter Landscapes. Partly I was really busy at church, preparing for the parish's annual meeting that takes place later this morning; but also there was the weather to consider, and access to a really nice landscape. I spend most of my days in the city, and although it's fairly suburban it's not ideal for dramatic pictures of nature. Also, it's been raining several evenings this week, including over an inch on Friday night. I was hoping to get photos of the local washes with actual water in them, and explain about winter rains in Tucson. And if I was really lucky, I might be able to get some snow pictures as the temperatures dropped.

But I got a late start out the door today, from sleeping in, from messing around online, and from more last-minute stuff on the financials for the parish meeting. By the time the dogs and I headed out, Alamo Wash was dry. The rain has been spread out over several days, with time to soak in and replenish the parched ground.

Next we headed over to Pantano Wash, also called the Pantano River. As you can see from the photo above, the story was the same there. The river bed was gouged from a flash flood, but held no remaining puddles, much less a river flow.

The good news - for photographic purposes, anyway - is that there was a fair amount of snow on the mountains, especially the Santa Catalinas above the 3500 foot elevation. So we headed out to Catalina Highway to take a look. But when we got to the base of the mountain, it was blocked to all traffic. From what I read later online, Friday night's storm hit Mount Lemmon hard, with high winds knocking down power lines and leaving the mountaintop village of Summerhaven in the dark. Not good news for them!

Well, okay, so I couldn't drive even partway up the mountain, where I had hoped to show Cayenne and Pepper some snow. I turned west on Snyder Road, hoping to at least photograph a few snowy mountain vistas. And I did!

Snyder Road dead-ended into a small neighborhood I've photographed before, years ago. I turned back and headed north on Bear Canyon Road. This dead ended less than a mile later, into a short dirt road at the Bear Canyon trailhead. We're here, puppies! Everybody out!

The dogs did not see the bunny or the quail, or even the pit bull in the truck next to us. But they did a lot of sniffing. I expect they smelled dogs, and at least one horse. They probably smelled bunnies, too.

We went a little way up the trail, but I didn't have the time or the proper shoes to go very far. It sure was pretty, though. We met a woman with a timid dog, and a few other hikers. And that, Carly, is Tucson's idea of a winter activity - hiking!

It was late in the day, not quite sunset, when we headed back.

I had work to do in the office, or I would have stayed for sunset.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

I'm Going to Gallifrey!

Remember how halfway through August 2007 I suddenly didn't have a job anymore? That was when my employer, First Magnus Financial Corp, folded essentially overnight in the mortgage crisis. I had a vague idea that cash flow was tightening up, but it was still a shock that morning when, on my way to work, I saw a front page newspaper headline outside McDonald's: "FIRST MAGNUS HALTS LOANS." The payroll for my last 15 days on the job got frozen up in bankruptcy court, although I and other local employees got a "gift" check to tide us over. In 2008 I got a partial payment of something like $67 for those two weeks of work. Meanwhile, the millionaires who founded FMFC were back in business under another name. Just sayin'. Disgruntled ex-employees sued, because apparently it's a federal law that you can't shut down overnight with no warning. You have to give your employees as much notice as possible. The lawsuit dragged on for years, and I did not opt out of the class action.

Clouds over the former First Magnus building
From the Picasa album Clouds Over Tucson

Fast forward to Christmas week, 2009. One of the volunteers who help out at the St. Michael's church office told me he'd read in the paper that settlement checks would be sent out to First Magnus employees by the end of the week. I alerted John to watch the mail, but nothing came in - until today. (This past day, I mean. It's well after midnight, and may be quite late by the time I fight through the lousy cable internet connection and get this posted.)

John brought in two pieces of long-awaited mail this evening. One was a paycheck for $186.72, more than tripling what I've been paid to date for those two weeks of work in 2007. The other was for $706.43 after taxes, in settlement of the lawsuit. It's not quite as much as I'd hoped, but it will do!

No, I'm not going to that Gallifrey!

A week or two ago as we were waiting for the settlement check, John reluctantly agreed that if it came in and was for a decent amount of money (that is, more than $500 or so), I could use part of it to go to the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles in February. It did and it was, so I am. John may or may not come along, just to share the hotel room and hack around L.A.. There was a time when he loved to drive out there every couple of months to shop in Japanese bookstores or watch minor league baseball games. He's been working a lot of overtime recently, and hasn't been out of town in a years. He needs and deserves the break more than I do.

But I have been working hard, almost full time the last week or two, keeping odd hours as I struggled to enter 2009 figures from one program into another, reconcile the resulting balances and prepare financial statements for this weekend's annual parish meeting. I won't go into the details here, but it's been challenging and time-consuming work, and a bit of a learning curve coming to grips with fund accounting for non-profits. There were several occasions that I took spreadsheets home on my flash drive and worked on them well past midnight. But it's been worth it. The financials are printed for Sunday, and the new church treasurer is an internal auditor by profession and a great guy. I only met him by phone and email today, but I can tell already that I'm going to learn a lot from him.

Thursday night was weird, though. I was finishing up in my office at church around 7:30 PM, with the door locked and apparently nobody around. Then I heard bagpipe music. This continued intermittently for some time. I had to stop myself from rushing out to investigate.

But when I finished work I set the alarm, locked up and followed my ears to the former Parish Center, where about seven or eight bagpipers were practicing together. The one who did most of the talking when I poked my head in was Neal, one of the United Whovians of Tucson from the 1990s. It was great to see him, even though I was only 99% sure it was him! One of these years I need to talk to him about John's desire to have bagpipe music (but not Amazing Grace) played at his funeral. John and I joke about outliving each other, but we are old enough now that we really should have a will or two, and start thinking about what arrangements will need to be made in the fullness of time.

Anyway, I went home after that, and for once I did not work on accounting stuff at home. Then just before 2 AM, my cell phone rang! Alicia called to ask whether I had just left the church. Plausible enough, but no. It turned out the alarm had gone off. Alicia decided to drive over there, at two in the morning in the pouring winter monsoon rain, and see what was going on.

When she got there the police were directing traffic at 5th at Wilmot in front of the church. There had been a power failure, and the traffic light was out. That also explained the alarm. Nevertheless, the police checked out the church property thoroughly to make sure there were no intruders. Nope! And that's a good thing. Evening bagpipers are welcome. Late night burglars, not so much.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Weekend Assignment #302: Your Favorite Charity

This week's question was inspired by the recent earthquake in Haiti:

Weekend Assignment #302: What charities do you donate to regularly, if any? Why or why not?

Extra Credit: Do you remember what you most recent donation was for?

Donated medical supplies for the St. Michael's Guatemala Project, Summer 2009.

Obviously, I'm heavily involved with St. Michael and All Angels Church these days, both as a parishioner and as a part-time employee. I probably would not endorse all churches, synagogues and mosques as necessarily the best use of your charitable dollar, but I thoroughly approve of St. Michael's on all sorts of levels. Aside from the spiritual and fellowship aspects of the place, St. Michael's has food bags for the poor, makes sandwiches for a local soup kitchen every fourth Friday, and is tuned in to a number of social causes, such as the tendency of people crossing the border illegally to die in the desert long before reaching Tucson. A delegation from St. Michael's goes down to visit communities of displaced Mayans in Guatemala every summer, bringing health care to people who have been uprooted and made to live in a mountainous region where their usual crops won't grow. Above you can see some of the donated supplies for one of these trips.

I donate both money and time to St. Michael's on a regular basis, and wish I could help out more.
There's a lot the parish needs, such as air conditioning for the church. That probably sounds selfish on my part, me just wanting not to be hot in church in the summer. But the church legitimately needs to replace its outdated boiler and swamp coolers, not just for our personal comfort but for energy efficiency, a smaller carbon footprint and to entice potential new parishioners. After all, who wants to sit in a strange church when it's nearly 90 degrees inside? (Not that I know the actual temperature in the church in August. I only know it's hot enough that people have actually fainted from it.)

They didn't hire me, but that's okay.

The other charity I give to more than once a year or so is the American Red Cross, although most of my donations come from my veins rather than my checkbook. I like that I absolutely know my efforts help to save lives. Occasionally I hear rumblings to the effect that the Red Cross is not perfect at all times in all places (for one thing, they didn't hire me when I had a job interview with them last year); but what is? It's hard to fault an organization that helps to ensure a safe blood supply, teaches water safety and CPR, and helps disaster victims when there's a hurricane or earthquake.

Relief needed.

The International Red Cross, parent organization to the American one, is in the thick of Haiti disaster relief efforts right now. That's no surprise. Wherever and whenever there is a disaster, they'll be around, assuming the local government doesn't keep them out. They also inspect prison conditions around the world and do  other good stuff.

Yes, I gave money to the International Red Cross last week, and on Tuesday I'm giving blood again, if my veins cooperate. So yes: aside from St. Michael's, they're my charity of choice.

How about you? Did the Haiti earthquake move you to donate money somewhere, or is some other cause more important to you; or do you not give to charities much at all? Please tell us about it in your blog, or in the comments thread below.

While you're thinking about that, let's have a look at last week's assignment. For Weekend Assignment #300: Eyes or Ears?, I asked which was more important to you, your vision or your hearing, and which you were more satisfied with. Click on each name below to read the full response:

Florinda said...
I have been told by several eye doctors that I have the worst uncorrected vision they have ever seen.(no pun intended). (Trust me, there's an award you don't want.) I began wearing glasses when I was just three years old. I switched to contacts at 18, but since it's now established that contact lenses can slow the progress of nearsightedness in kids and adolescents - because the corrective lens is placed directly on the eye - I wonder if I should have changed sooner.

Mike said...
My ears, at least so far, are much better. Sure, they suck after going to a concert, but I've never had a problem hearing anything. Ask Jenn, she'll tell you how quiet I need it to be in order to sleep. The thing that drives me crazy is when there is a car outside idling. That noise drives me nuts.

Julie said in comments...
Oh, gosh. It's Friday and I haven't even had time to think about this.

I'll make it short: I have very bad eyes. If it weren't for the contacts and reading glasses combo, I'd be unable to work. However, I have two hereditary loss of hearing on both sides of the family. And I've priced hearing aids. Oh, I am SO scroooood.

Your turn! Here are the guidelines:

1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, January 22nd at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. ) You never know; I might start getting this posted earlier in the weekend again!
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

I hope to hear from you soon.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Round Robin: Holy Fire (entry 2 of 2)

Here is my second of my two Round Robin entries on the topic of Candlelight. For this one, I'm going to share some of my archived photos of candlelight at The Episcopal Parish of St. Michael and All Angels.

This was the scene on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), December 13, 2009. On each of the four Sundays, the evergreen wreath is lowered from on high, and the priest celebrant (in this case Father John Smith) lights one more candle than the previous Sunday. There's some symbolic reason why of the third candle is rose instead of purple, but I don't remember the details at the moment. Wikipedia claims it's meant to be the combination of Advent purple and Christmas white.

April 11, 2009: Easter vigil. For part of the service, the congregation sits in relative darkness, little candles in hand. A single large candle is processed up the aisle (nave) by a priest, intoning "The Light of Christ!" The congregation sings back, "Thanks be to God!" The large candle lights the torchbearers' candles, which are used to light someone's candle in each row of the congregation. The light is then passed from candle to candle, until all are lit.

Usually there's at least one baptism during Easter Vigil. During that rite, the priest hands a candle to each newly-baptized person, or their parent if it's a baby or small child.

This very tall candle is the Paschal Candle. First lit at Easter Vigil, it is used until Pentecost Sunday, and on certain occasions thereafter. This shot is from June 28, 2009, when another baptism took place. I often sit right behind this candle. The baptismal candles are lit from the Paschal Candle.

And here's a shot from July 2007 that I suspect I have used before. Back then, the candlesticks ("torches") I and other acolytes carried on Sunday held real candles. Our church only has evaporative cooling, not true air conditioning, so in the height of Tucson summer the church gets quite hot. But if we used fans to keep the acolytes from becoming ill from the heat, the candles burned down quickly and unevenly. Sometimes I even got wax in my hair! The church then invested in new $800 candlesticks, featuring refillable oil-based plastic candles. They present a completely different set of problems, as I detailed in another entry in 2008.

Even on an ordinary Sunday, there are lots of candles to light. This was last Sunday (January 10, 2010).

Now that I've applied my typical overkill to this topic, let's see what the other Robins have come up with!

Linking List:
as of 11:15 PM MST, 01/16/10

Carly - Posted!

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Hip Chick
Hip chick's photos

Linda - Posted!
Mommy's Treasures

ellen b - Posted!
The Happy Wonderer


Vicki - Posted!

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

carolynUSA - Posted!
Ford Family Photos

Sherrie - Posted!
Sherrie's Stuff

Lana G - Posted!
Above the Clouds

Sandcastle Momma

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Julie - Posted!
Julie's Web Journal

Brianne **Welcome, New Member**
All Kids & No Play

Sandy **Welcome, New Member** - Posted!
From The Heart Of Texas

Jen - Posted!
My Muskoka

Ruth - Posted!
The Scrabblequeen Knits, Too

Peggy - Posted!
Holmespunfun Memes and Themes

Freda Mans - Posted!
Day One

You can also scroll down to see my other, non-religious Round Robin entry. And don't forget our other memes...

Monday Photo Shoot (A New Photo Shoot assignment posted each Monday)

Weekend Assignment (A New Weekend Assignment posted each weekend)


Round Robin: Cinnamon Fire (entry 1 of 2)

I'll be doing two entries for this week's Round Robin Photo Challenge: Candlelight, as challenged by Carly of Ellipsis. For this first entry, I made my first serious use of my new tabletop tripod, pointing it at a "cinnamon & nutmeg" votive candle I bought in a pack of four at Christmas. Normally we get bayberry, but apparently that's not boutiquey enough for places like Walgreen's to carry any more. Anyway, I took a number of shots, fussing with the settings a couple of times along the way. Here are some of the results, in the order taken:

None of the above shots have been lightened or darkened or saturated, just cropped in a couple of cases. But I can't resist doing just one FX edit. This uses the solarization effect in PhotoStudio, followed by a negative effect. Cool!

The next entry will follow shortly, and include links to the other Robins. Stay tuned!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ways to Help

People in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, were suffering even before yesterday's earthquake. The most efficient way for us to help is with a cash donation to a reputable charity that is prepared to do what is needed. Here are links to donate to several such organizations, copied from a forwarded email I received from someone deeply involved in providing help for people in the developing world:

Donations to earthquake relief
Partners in Health: This is the organization co-founded by medical Anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer (This I Believe story, Health is a Human Right) There are also links to updates on the situation.  Their main hospital is on the plateau and was not seriously damaged; they are asking for medical supplies  donate online or send your contribution to Partners In Health, P.O. Box 845578, Boston, MA 02284-5578. 

Charity Navigator has a listing of organizations at its website, including

Doctors without Borders has 800 people available to help, but is figuring out how to get mobile field hospitals there, after their three hospitals were damaged.  donate online or toll-free at 1-888-392-0392.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  USA Headquarters 333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY  10001-5004 

Oxfam  has 200 people on the ground in Haiti.  To support Oxfam's response in Haiti, please donate to the Haiti Earthquake Response Fund.  Donations can be made at, by phone (1-800-77-OXFAM), by fax (1-617-728-2562) or by mail (Oxfam America, Haiti Earthquake Response Fund, PO Box 1211, Albert Lea, MN 56007-1211).  Oxfam Team in Place for Haiti Earthquake Response

Yele Haiti, established by singer Wyclef Jean,  or text “Yele” to 501501, which will automatically donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund and be paid through your cellphone bill.

Text the word HAITI to the number 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts. It'll show up on your phone bill. Or donate online at
Be nice!  Give!
I would add that the server processing Red Cross online donations seems to be overwhelmed right now - I've tried and failed twice to get my donation to go through. I'll try again later. They also have a phone number, 1-800-RED-CROSS.

I looked into donating to Doctors Without Borders, but their minimum online donation is $35, a bit more than I can reasonably afford right now, part-time employee that I am. If you can swing it, though, I encourage you to support their good work.

Update: the donation went through on the third try. Hooray!

Oh, and let's not forget

UNICEF. Donate online to help the children of Haiti.

Which group or groups you donate to is totally up to you. But please, if you can, do something.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

EMPS: Pairs of Glasses, Visualized

Don't faint, Carly: I'm posting my response to Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #72: Pairs. at the beginning of the week instead of at the end of it. Hey, it's not even Monday here yet!

As it happens, I took two photos tonight of my current pair of glasses, for use in the entry below this one. (Go ahead - take a look!) On top of that, an optician at LensCrafters took two photos of me trying on two different pairs of glasses. She did this so that I could see, on the camera viewfinder, how each pair of eyeglass frames looks on me. My uncorrected vision is so poor, you see, that I have to put my face right up a few inches from the mirror to see my face with the no-prescription frames on, which is not ideal. Also, this way I had a picture to take home and show John. He has definite and exacting tastes when it comes to my glasses. His too, I suppose.

So let's see what fun we can have with these photos. First, here is the shot of me in the pair of frames I didn't buy, taken by the LensCrafters employee but edited by me. This was my attempt at duplicating the Doctor's "brainy specs." It didn't work.

And here are my current glasses:

But that's boring, isn't it? Well, then, let's see that rather blurry photo in grayscale, with a charcoal effect added:

Or we can give it the psychedelic treatment. For this one, I used a neon effect, selectively changed the hue and saturation in spots, and then turned the whole thing negative:

And here's the shot that made me decide to do this entry right away, while I was all enthusiastic and inspired and stuff. You can see the full color original in the entry below this one, but here's the grayscale version. I fussed with the contrast and brightness a little.

That's it for now. I reserve the right to do this EMPS again though, at the end of the week! Not that I'm promising or anything, but it could happen.