Back When I Used To Be Good At It

A few years ago, I used to be good at photography.

I say that with tongue-in-cheek  because I know it’s not true.  I simply fell from grace in the world of Skip Hansen Photography, ie, lost interest, lost motivation, lost the enthusiasm for what I was doing.  Part of that photo-apathy was do in no small part to the time I spent doing some weddings and portraits for money.  Although the money was decent, the misery was almost overwhelming.  I had finally realized why photographer blog posts continually stated they could no longer withstand most of the egregious conditions and total lack of appreciation and satisfaction that come with that end of the ‘business’.

I still find a total and complete fascination with photography, always have, always will.  My affection for this art lies in that word: art.

I did something this morning that I have been dreading – starting my dredge through the photo archives living within a few different hard drives and two separate computer systems.  Why have I dreaded it?  The usual.  “What if I found those old photos to be, well, not any good?”  The George McFly line from Back to the Future rings true here, “What if nobody likes it.  What if I’m no good!”  Sometimes I feel I have become the personification of George McFly – maybe I always have been.  Self confidence non-existent…dork…geek…personna non grata.  Miles Raymond and Charles Bukowski come to mind here as well!

But…however…my internal spark is still there, somewhere.  Doused by recent medical issues (pain), a job-for-money not representative of my loves, talents, and desires, the spark still twinkles.  In fact, it has been reignited by my initial foray into the archives.  Damn, I used to be pretty good at it!

Jen and Roth visiting us a few years ago (pre-Seattle I think, definitely pre-Rowan).  Roth cooked, Jen and I photographed.  We actually took some great shots of the wonderful food that Roth knows how to pull off with what appears to be little effort.  He’s a great chef and food stylist.

He made some Asian Spare Ribs, Hummus, Spring Rolls, and a Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna dish.  They were all elegant and, yes, flavorful.  We set up photo lights and did it all right.

I have hundreds, if not thousands, of archived photos that need to be reviewed and organized before I jump back into the photography spring like I should.  Most of the so-called good stuff is fine art, still life, food, and land/seascapes.  These are the subjects that bring me the biggest thrill and satisfaction.

If someone wants a portrait from me, I will consider it.  A wedding?  Heavens, no! Bridezillas are only overshadowed in their unrelenting desire to get something for nothing by the mothers-in-laws that lurk in the backgrounds.  By the way, the last wedding I did about six years ago tainted me forever.  The bride continually called and harassed me for making her butt look too big.  My fantasy response (which I never uttered to her face), “Have you looked in the mirror?  You are homely and you have a big ass, lady!  Deal with it.”

I am still good at it.  We photographer types, though,  are notoriously horrible at the business end of this art.  We sit in darkened offices in front of glowing computer screens, editing, reviewing, and degrading ourselves.  While we should be spending more time photographing things and relishing the idea that we have something to offer someone.  And, of course, sending it out beyond the confines of our hard drives.  Who knows, maybe somebody will like it!  Perhaps that’s my biggest fear – success.

Like most artists, we are of the starving variety.  Starved of money and recognition.  However, we do not want for desire.  I have never lost that.

A link to my flickr page if you are interested in seeing more.  Of course, it’s only the top of my iceberg.

This is not your Father’s S.O.S.

Mom and Dad used to make S.O.S. every once in a while, pretty much a staple of comfort food in our family.  I’m guessing most of us in my age group of Northern European ancestry are familiar with it, sometimes called Chipped Beef on Toast.  I know my father ate it a lot when he was in the service in the forties and early fifties.

S.O.S. (we’ll leave it with the abbreviation) is not hard to make, takes no time at all, and doesn’t cost much.  Consisting of a little flour, some sort of fat (probably Crisco back in the day, though I used butter here), some milk, salt, pepper, and a small jar of chipped beef (cured beef, thinly-sliced into little postage stamp pieces), and, of course, white bread toast.  The chipped beef was salty and the small amount went a long way.

Any aficionado of cooking like myself knows that the simple white sauce in this dish is one of the five Mother Sauces of old traditional French cuisine – it’s called bechamel.  What I did here is more of so-called veloute sauce (another of the Mother Sauces) that uses broth instead of milk – I just use both milk and broth.

While it may sound like I’m getting much farther into this chef thing than is needed, I digress.  A bechamel or white sauce is an incredibly versatile, simple, and elegant base for many comfort food dishes.  Like I said, my Mom and Dad made S.O.S. a lot when I was growing up.  And although they were both great cooks, they were not chefs.

In a conversation on the phone with my mother just last night, we talked about, what else, chipped beef on toast.  “Oh, yeah”, she beamed, “I just had some the other night.  Stouffer’s makes it”.  “Really!’, I chimed back, “Does it come with the toast?” That question elicited a response of, “What?  No, you provide your own toast silly!”  I paraphrased her response, but I could hear the eye-rolling in her voice.  I’m sure the Stouffer’s boil-bag/microwave version is a tasty, easy, nostalgic substitute for a scratch version (with way too much sodium).  I still like to whip it up myself on occasion.  My version in the photo incorporated a few other culinary accoutrements not found in my Dad’s well-loved original, such as a smidgeon of grated, Vermont white cheddar, a tiny bit of fresh-ground nutmeg, a splash of sherry, and few other judiciously added (secret) spices.  No jar of chipped beef here.  I simply used some thin-sliced deli top round chopped into small strips.  The bread is San Luis Sourdough cut into crustless triangles then grilled on a griddle with a tad of unsalted butter.  The toppings are sourdough garlic croutons (made from the removed crusts), smoked paprika and a little grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.  If I could make this for my father, he would first shake his head, roll his eyes, then eat it…pause, click his teeth and say, “Not bad”.

Is this a low-fat menu item?  I think not, though this portion sans any other fatty side dishes would not be shameful to eat for dinner.  We’re talking warm, flavorful, easy-to-make comfort food here – with some not-so-fancy upgrades.

Chipped Beef on Toast – it’s what’s for dinner!  Need I tell you what S.O.S. stands for?

A. Pismo Clam doesn’t live here any longer

Loretta and I hadn’t been on a vacation for longer than we care to admit.  It was time to get out of town for a few days, so we planned (and re-planned) a little getaway.  Settling on a couple of days in Pismo Beach, we moved forward and made some reservations.

Why Pismo?  We used to live there until 1997.  We have family that still do live there.  We love the ocean.  And we can’t afford the Bahamas right now.  Good reasons for us anyway.  Monterey was also an option as we have always had great times there.  Pismo won out.

We had been planning on ferrying our new bicycles and riding up and down Price Street in close proximity to the motel.  Weather didn’t cooperate so we had to nix the bike idea.  That worked out fine since both of us were battling colds.  I still am working through mine as I write this, aggravated no doubt by the cold sea air and almost constant drizzle we encountered.

Our little room at The Cottage Inn had high ceilings, big windows, and a fireplace…not to mention the obligatory reefer and microwave we used for cocktail storage and a couple of in-room meals.  Did I mention the towels swan sculpture? It was a very comfortable stay.

We did manage to hook up with one mother, one sister and brother-in-law, and a couple bowls of our favorite clam chowder.  Another sister and a son were no-shows.  They all still live on the Central Coast where I resided for most of 25 years.  I took a lot of photos with Loretta’s little Pentax point-and-shoot and our mission was mostly a success.  There is never enough time to do everything.  And since relaxing was at the top of our mission statement, all was well.  We mostly did a lot of nothing other than staring at the ocean with morning cups of coffee and afternoon cocktails in hand and enjoying a nap or two.

We didn’t have much time or energy for a lot of exploring.  We walked the mile and half to downtown Pismo then back by way of the beach (and the 100 foot stairs).  Being a few weeks shy of Memorial Day, the huge throngs of summer tourists had not yet arrived.  So, as always this time of year, us “locals” have  the beach and town pretty much to ourselves.  When we lived here, we avoided the beach and Pismo like the plague on weekends.  Too many people.

Pismo has always been known as the “Clam Capital of the World”.  Back in the early seventies when we first moved here, one could go out at low tide and dig huge clams with pitch forks.  They had to be a certain size or larger (5 inches I think) and there was a limit as well.  Now, it’s not very likely you will find clams that size.  Pismo and nearby Avila Beach also used to be haven for abalone…not so much any longer for that as well.

You’ll find clam chowder on most every menu there.  It’s pretty much a given.  some good, some not so good.  The Splash Cafe’s chowder is so-called award-winning.  You won’t find much argument from me, it’s the best I’ve had in a long time.  Get it in a small cup or a large bread bowl, it’s always steaming hot, it’s always good.  A. Pismo Clam would be pleased.

Dinner Tuesday night at Steamers, a locally owned seafood place overlooking the ocean, courtesy of my Mom.  We got to visit with my sister Kim and husband Rick (who started out as a best friend of mine in ’74, stolen away by Kim!).  I had a calamari steak, though flavorful, had the texture and consistency of the soul of a pair of Keds.  The free drinks by the manager, an old friend and co-worker from way back, made up for the chewy squid!

These times always come and go much too quickly.  The 247 mile drive (one way) from Modesto is always tedious.  In the summer, it’s totally heinous when the weather is sweltering the first 150 miles.  This time, the weather getting out of the valley wasn’t an issue.

We most always pass by the James Dean memorial near the junction of Highway 41 and 46 where he was killed in his Porsche in 1955.  A few hundred yards from the actual junction there sits a metal structure with his name on it.  Just below it are several large metal plates with his story etched on them.  This was paid for and is still maintained by stalwart Dean fans.  If you mention the James Dean memorial to folks here in Modesto, most will assuredly ask about the sausage, “Oh!  James Dean, the sausage guy, right?”  I just smile and roll my eyes.

So, our time in Pismo has come and gone.  Loretta returns to work today, I do Saturday.  It was simply a couple of days out of town in a place we used to live.  We may live there again someday soon.  When the time is right, we will make that move.  You see, the ocean view is free when you are there full time.  The sand and waves are there for the asking.  The peace of mind that comes with all that is, of course, priceless.

There’s no time like the present.

There’s no time like the present.  I’m not sure who originally penned or spoke that line, but it will never get old nor will it ever seem inappropriate for anyone to speak or follow its premise.

We baby-boomers have continually reinvented ourselves over the year.  Through the ‘Wonder Years’ of the 50’s and early 60’s to the turmoil and confusion of the late 60’s and early 70’s (etc, etc), most of us relish those good-old-days, but really wouldn’t want to relive them if given a choice.

As I approach the age of 62 (just a microscopic mark in time), I still find myself reinventing myself, not by choice, but by necessity.

I feel like a teenager most of the time…until I look in the mirror.  The soul that dwells inside of me must be a young one, but when I gaze in the mirror or see myself in a reflection somewhere, it’s always a bit of a shock.  When I roll out of the sack every morning, which, by the way, becomes more of chore as each day goes by, I always stop and ponder:  how did I get HERE and, where am I going…and, is this really me?

I have no illusions that the image staring back at me is not what it should be.  I am living on borrowed time, have been since 1986, or earlier.  A miocardio infarction in ’86 set the tone for the last 25 years.  Many hours flying in a combat zone in Vietnam, and coming home without a physical scratch set the tone in other ways for last 40 years.  I still haven’t reconciled (or figured out the purpose for) that period of time in my life.

Have I made mistakes?  Do I have regrets for anything?  Absolutely.  But therein lay my torches to carry, mostly buried deep inside.  The details of which privy to only a small few who care to listen and empathize and will undoubtedly become fodder for future scripts on a blog site, my memoirs, or my eulogy.  And herein lies one of my biggest challenges:  getting past, forgetting about, and working through the regrets.  Ya’ can’t go back and have ‘do-overs.  Mulligans are only allowed in golf (spring rules only).

One of my few regrets open to scrutiny?  I wish I had taken better care of my teeth.  There, I said it!  If I had gone to dentist more or brushed my teeth more often, or, heaven forbid, I had flossed…maybe things would be different.  For this personal dilemma and regret, at least there are solutions.  But getting one’s dental health in order is much more superficial than those deeper, emotional issues for which there is no easy fix.

For anyone reading this under the age of forty, I have two excellent tidbits of wisdom.  Go to dentist at least twice a year.  And, start saving money right nowthat you never touch.  Beyond those, I ain’t got nothing more for you.  Except, keep your feet on the ground, keep reachin’ for the stars…(blah blah blah)…screw it, go out and have fun as long as you can.  Evidently I did!

See ya’ in Pismo the next couple o’ days!

And so…I begin.

Today I will begin writing (again). It has been a while since I’ve had the courage to write anything, a couple of years at least. Why? Don’t really know. It doesn’t matter…or perhaps it does matter, ie, figure out the why of it to help me move forward.

My inspiration for sitting in front of a new computer screen and a new blog comes from several sources. For now, I will just say a couple of very old friends unknowingly got me going in this direction. These individuals will comprise an initial audience of two. Not a bad start as some people write for years and no one but themselves ever read the words put down.

Besides, doing this new blog will give me something else to do at 5am besides watching informercials about exercise equipment, over-priced camera gear, and miracle bras!