Making Things Pretty

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve

In the summer of 1974 my parents invited my erstwife and me to a dinner. They explained that my dad had made a serious amount of money recently, much more than they needed. There could be no happier use of that money, they said, than to send us to London “all expenses paid.” We wouldn’t need to spend a dime of our own money for two weeks of touring London.

Of course we were thrilled. We were grad students eking out a living with on-campus jobs at the University of Minnesota. This gift would let us live like rich people for two weeks. Even better, we realized there was enough money enough to allow us to travel around the United Kingdom. Instead of staying in a posh London hotel, as my parents had anticipated, we could sleep in B&Bs in the countryside. The money saved would cover a cheap rental auto. We could travel wherever our whims directed.

Our two-week vacation in September featured a week of exploring London and a week of bumbling about the country. We visited Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon and Dorset. We nipped into Wales briefly, which was funny. The Welsh were astonished that tourists would intentionally enter their country. They had no infrastructure to accommodate us, and we didn’t stay long.

We took hundreds of photos. Photography was trickier then than now. We shot slide film, a touchy and unforgiving medium. Our Fujichrome slides weren’t as pretty as Kodachrome, and they had gobs of grain. The British weather did us no favors, raining every day. The fugitive sun made a brief appearance three times. When not raining the skies remained overcast and harshly bright. Our slides were drab, with unpleasant tonality.

You can’t view slides without a slide projector, screen and dark room. Several years ago I hired a company to scan our slides, converting them to digital files. When I got the scans I was dismayed. The scanning process was crude. All the scans were underexposed and grainy, with ugly colors and tones.

A few weeks ago I came across those scans where they’d been hiding in a remote file on my computer. I opened a scan in my photo editing software. It was easy to brighten the image. I made some areas of the image darker, lightening others. I tweaked some colors. I tamed the harsh sky. My editing software has ways of reducing grain. Soon I had a new version of the slide that was pretty, or at least prettier than it had been. Some scans were too compromised to salvage, but that left nearly 200 scans that begged for a beauty makeover. With a big grin I began editing the 1974 trip images.

That kicked off three of the happiest weeks I’ve known. Because my computer is attached to good speakers I could stream an internet folk music broadcast while I worked.

Photo editing is tricky. I kept returning to images I had edited earlier, tweaking them, and often making my edits more subtle. Of course, no amount of editing can make fuzzy images sharp. Many things can go wrong in photography. I was puzzled by an icky color cast in pictures of suits of armor. I finally figured out that the armor was in a room lit with fluorescent lights, giving the metal a green cast. Aha! That could be fixed. In the end I produced 189 pleasing images.

The project was emotionally complicated. I was having so much fun I tuned out the horror show of our national politics. It was a joy to revisit moments from that extraordinary trip 44 years ago. Each image presented unique challenges, old memories and surprising rewards. Christmas—actually, a splendid Christmas—came and went. I was almost too absorbed with editing to pay it much attention. I was too busy making ugly things prettier. What is more rewarding than that?

Do you have ways to add beauty to your life?

60 thoughts on “Making Things Pretty”

  1. Just music editing/compilations. Take a theme and record the musical pieces that fit. For example, Opposites includes California Dreamin’/New York State Of Mind. States: North To Alaska, Moonlight In Vermont..Cities: Tallahassee Lassie,

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Very nice. Thanks Steve.

    One of the simplest ways to add beauty is by always having music around me.
    I joke that I do theater so I can listen to music. Working on a show this week and often alone with the music loud.
    Course anytime, one can find joy and beauty anywhere as long as you’re open and receptive too it.

    Heading off for a Tech rehearsal today. Blegh. It will be ok. Just the anticipation of it is challenging….
    (It’s where we add all the lighting and sound cues into the show the first time. They can be fun… or not. Lots of personalities will be surfacing today. )

    Liked by 7 people

        1. Watch a Donald trump news highlight and find beauty. I challenge you. Life shouldn’t be so hard to get the easy stuff right on but we are getting lots of help showing what is the wrong way. Is here beauty in being shown the wrong way so blatantly?

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  3. A couple of days ago I managed to catch the sunrise out my east windows. It was gorgeous – bright clouds across the sky. The same day the sunset was also colorful and beautiful. There have been so many dark and cloudy days this fall and winter that the splashes of color across the sky were thrilling.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Yesterday we had a big dose of SW beauty. We went hiking with my son and his GF at Lost Dutchman State Park. I wish I could post a photo of the four of us high on the “moderate challenge” trail. It was 2.4 miles long and was to take us 1.5 hours. The highest part of the trail—about 3/4 of a mile is my guess—was steep and rocky. It took us about 2 hours. Interestingly, we met three women from Netherlands on the Lost Dutchman trail. For Christmas I had purchased for Lou and I, two telescoping walking sticks. Those were so helpful, causing me to feel so smug about the gift. We are a bit sore this morning, but not as much as I feared.

    The highest point of the trail featured a stunning view across the Valley formed by the foothills/mountains of the Superstition Mountains which also hold the Theodore Roosevelt Lake and Tortilla Flat/Apache Trail.
    So my answer today, is that noticing the natural world is often my ticket to beauty. This morning, on our first of the day dog walk, I saw yellow grapefruit on a tree, a hummingbird, pink mountains and clouds in the East.

    That means, Edith, I am cheering on your medical treatment, for both the preservation of life and health, but also because your photography is such a unique window to the beauty contained in the natural world.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Jacque, I like your noticing Edith’s “unique” eye for beauty. I’ve studied photography and worked with photographers for half of my life. Edith is truly unique among all the photographers I’ve known. She can identify beautiful patterns, colors and shapes that other photographers would never consider worth looking at.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Gosh, you guys. I really can’t think of anything to say, except thanks. I don’t know that I deserve much praise since it seems like I can’t help noticing beautiful patterns, colors, and shapes, at least when I’m outside with a camera in my hands. Some people have told me that they notice more beauty in nature after seeing my photos and that makes me happy.

      Jacque, I liked the description of what you saw on your dog walk today: yellow grapefruit, hummingbird, pink mountains, clouds. Even walking the dog can be a beautiful time.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I have music on, usually MPR, but also lots of music from our cd’s. I have recently become very fond of the music of Jancek, especially his work for cello and piano called Fairy-tale. I found a recording of it in a set of 12 cd’s by the English cellist Steven Isserlis. The whole set cost $28, a real deal in my mind. I like cello music.

    Husband is more of a visual person, and it is important to him to have visual loveliness around. Daughter is like her dad, and gets excited decorating her apartment.

    Christmas was put away in boxes yesterday, and the Christmas tree went to the landfill. Now I have restored some order to the house, which is beauty to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I asked that question about how people include beauty in their lives, I had one strong sense of what Baboons would say. And NONE of them have! Proves me to be a dummy. Renee, you spend countless hours making beauty while gardening! I’m so impressed with the way you and others make things lovely with gardening that I am ashamed of myself for never really giving it a try!

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        1. It is hard to think of gardening at this time of year, especially since we have no indoor plants since no house plant is safe from the depredations of our Luna cat. I especially love irises for beauty.

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        2. It was not lack of enthusiasm. I just could not believe I did not say gardening. But as Renee says, It is difficult to think of it in January.

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        3. It’s hard to judge tone of voice on the blog. I took it to mean “Oh yeah, gardening” in a monotone. But you probably meant it as “Oh yeah! Gardening!” in an excited tone.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. If you like the cello, Renee, are you familiar with the work of Jacqueline du Pré? A brilliant English cellist whose career was cut short by MS. A very complicated and interesting character, she died at age 42. Here’s a link to a short film about her:

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        2. She was fabulous. I believe she also was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which could have been a manifestation of the cognitive damage from the brain lesions that MS sometimes causes.

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  6. I’m moving away from gardening. For six months after the transplant, I’m forbidden from gardening and then I have to always wear gloves. Every single time. I’m not exactly heartbroken. I have found that gardening is not something that is necessary for my soul’s happiness. Although I like having fresh berries and herbs, I’m not crazy about the actual gardening part of it and already had plans to cut down on the various flower beds that are all over my yard so as to have less to keep up.

    Several baboons have mentioned music as a way of adding beauty to their lives. I’m currently working on making a playlist to put on my iPod to bring to Rochester, which involves listening to most of the music on my computer and adding the songs I want to the playlist. I’m up to the O’s in the alphabet, which brings me to Odetta, particularly Odetta Sings Dylan. I can recommend that album.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Check into pandora. A playlist that starts with a song or an artist gets stuff added that relates. It’s how I find new stuff, new artists, new connections. You can have several stations so you don’t have to mix the jimI Hendrix with the yo yo ma unless you want to.

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      1. I might do pandora sometimes, but I don’t want it to be my main playlist. Their idea of what I should like, based on what I really do like, is often off, which I find annoying.

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  7. Many have been mentioned – much of what I see in nature, much of what I hear in music, and even the beauty of a cleared space that Renee mentions. Also fire – I can look at the beauty of a fire for hours, be it in a fireplace, campfire, candle, and even my little fake fireplace.

    Winona continues to provide beauty on the river, which I get to occasionally and would like to seek out more often.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. When I lived in Oregon I added a new way to sweeten my life with beauty. I got into bird watching. It started as a sort of accident. My apartment had huge windows overlooking a small opening in some trees. It was pretty, a sort of dramatic stage surrounded by leafy green. I arranged the furniture so I could see that opening whenever I was in the living room. I put up a hummingbird feeder and a large bird feeder. The birds fell on both and fed ravenously, giving me a nonstop show. Even better, the birds were not the ones I’d known in the Midwest. Juncos and song sparrows and nuthatches and chickadees and scrub jays and thrushes . . . it just went on and on. Best of all were the hummingbirds with their gorgeous colors, totally unlike the rubythroated hummers I’d known in Minnesota. It was spectacular!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. We have juncos and chickadees and nuthatches (white breasted and rose breasted) all year round. Juncos remind me of hooded executioners. They have been eating grapes off of our vines in the deck.

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    2. We are watching desert quail—very funny little birds with a curly crest on their heads. They are very nervous and shy, running away in a group at the slightest move. Also green hummingbirds are everywhere here. A lot of people hang hummingbird feeders on the decks, then we watch the hummingbirds methodically go up the three floors of each deck. They do not miss one deck when they are looking for the feeders. Funny.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Oh yes, I enjoy sitting at our dining room table watching birds on the feeders. 🙂

      This year I have a chipmunk getting into our well house. He’s chewed a hole under the door, gotten inside a wall, nibbled a bit on some electric wires and added quite a stash of walnuts inside the wall. They hardly make good insulation.
      Today, being such a nice day, I spent some time with flattened tin cans patching holes and stuffing insulation inside the holes.
      Though now that I think about it, this summer there was an bucket in the well house filled with walnuts. So perhaps it isn’t new, but I must have plugged his hole from last year. He’s very determined…

      The Battle is on!!

      Liked by 4 people

  9. Two things.

    Although our trip to the UK was a “once in a lifetime” gift, we went back the very next year. A friend of my wife’s family donated that to us. On that trip we explored more of England and took a remarkable trip to Scotland. We shot even more slides than before. I’m gleefully editing those images now.

    I am aware of several other ways TB regulars incorporate beauty in their lives. Sherrilee makes Ukrainian eggs and gorgeous cards. Jacque creates little things of clay, polymer clay, I think. She also makes books. Renee makes music in several ways, including with her family (which has always been a fantasy of mine). We all remember Clyde’s paintings. My apologies to those whose creativity I’ve not mentioned.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ive mentioned my trip to the uk where i was hanging out in the lake district and had the good fortune to have the mapmaker for the hiking trails daughter as the guide who directed us to the coolest places bbased on our descruiption of the prefered terrain and level of difficulty wetc. it was wonderful. the cotswolds were so cute it was like visiting disneyland. wales was incredible. scotland distinctive. today is a preferred business partner for it because of good workers good wages english speaking and such a wonderful overall world with potential to do more more more.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I stayed up way too late this morning finding beauty and joy in music and lighting and old movies.
    Started with Austin City Limits and ‘Trombone Shorty’. He did circular breathing and held a trumpet note for maybe 2 full minutes!! It was really fun, jazz with a rocking, grooving band and a fantastic light show. (Yep, Trombone Shorty plays trumpet too).

    And then was a movie called ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ with Henry Fonda, Joanna Woodward, Paul Ford, Burgess Meredith. Course with our network TV they took an hour and a half movie and stretch it way out with commercials every 10 minutes. About 3AM I gave up, looked up the ending and went to bed. But it sure was fun and gave me joy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve seen Trombone Shorty several times at the Minnesota Zoo summer concert series. He is amazing, but at this stage of life, I like hearing him recorded, so I can adjust the volume to a more comfortable level than when hearing him live. I am seriously old, I guess.

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    2. if you hit the reord button you can watch it later with no commercials idf you can remember to fast forward when they come on. my sonmstarts shows late so he can buzz forward and not be bothered by it

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  11. i make the everyday choices beautiful if i can. the clothes i wear is a big deal. a shirt, sports coat shoes and pants make a feel for the day with a hat to top it and a topcoat to finish it off sets a tone . the food i eat the music i listen to the art i am able to surround myself with and participate in (painting playing guitar harmonica) doing artsy variations on the choices as they come up. the scenic route home, the better choice when there is a choice is the key for me. i always smile because i generally know my choice when there is an option and laugh because i dont know why they offer all those other choices. other people dont have the correct in choosing the beautifyul choice or they wouldnt need all that other stuff
    i miss gardening with a choice of plantings being lost when you dont own the damn ground.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. i do have hosta stashes at my sisters and my moms. i will start collecting bunches to stick on my leach lake property and get them ready for splitting ever 3 or 4 years. i love hostas and lilies and ferns in perennial land, there is no such thing as too many.

      Liked by 6 people

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