All posts by littlejailbird

Lifelong Minnesotan. Favorite thing to do is wander around outside, taking pictures of beautiful, often overlooked, things.

Not a Good Fit

Many years ago I had a 3-week job in May planting trees in Superior National Forest. This year I am in the midst of a 4 ½ week job scoring standardized tests. Can you guess which job is a better fit for my personality?

The current job is basically sitting and staring at the computer. All the time. Besides breaks and lunch, there is absolutely no need to get up and move or look at something besides a screen unless you want to stretch or go to the restroom. I keep thinking about the tree-planting job and wishing I could do something like that instead of what I’m doing now (although my body would probably have a harder time planting trees all day for three weeks than it did when I was 18). I told a co-worker about the tree-planting job and she said something about not having to think very hard at that job. And I thought to myself: you may think it wasn’t that stimulating mentally, but my thoughts were free because I could think anything I wanted instead of focusing only on 3rd grade English essays – and what can be better than all that fresh air and exercise? This current job is slow torture for someone like me.

What things do you do that are not a good fit for your personality? Or that are a good fit?


My Day Trip

Today’s post is by littlejailbird.

Until last fall, I had never been to Banning State Park. I had driven by it dozens of time, because when I head up to my sister’s house, I always turn off 35W and take Highway 23 into town. I didn’t know much about Banning, but when I was looking for a day trip, it seemed to fit my needs perfectly.

First, I wanted a park where I could drive there and back in one day without getting too tired. Second, I wanted a park that didn’t involve driving several back roads, because I knew that I would be driving in the dark due to the shorter fall days and my night vision and sense of direction is bad enough that I would get lost unless I kind of knew where I was going. And third, I wanted a state park because I had a state park sticker and wanted to use it as much as possible to get my money’s worth out of it. Banning fit all of those qualifications. Plus it has a waterfall, which is a big plus in my book.

So, off I went, one sunny morning in October. When I arrived, I stopped at the visitor center to get maps and ask where the best spots were. I was so excited. It seems that often when I go north, I am early for the fall colors and often find myself driving home just a few days before “peak”  and this time I was not too early! I said something about that to the woman at the desk (while trying to not jump and down in excitement) and she shook her head woefully and told me in a discouraging tone, “You’re going to see LOTS of brown out there.” Gee thanks, way to burst my bubble.

Of course, since I drove all the way up there, I figured I better go on the hike anyway even if I would see mostly brown. I drove to the parking area and when I stepped out of the car and looked up, I knew it was going to be a good day (see header photo).

I hiked all the way to the falls and back and shot lots of photos. It was an incredibly beautiful day: that clear, deep blue sky that you only seem to see on autumn days and – surprise! – lots of colorful leaves on the trees. It can be a challenge shooting in bright sunlight, but I was so overcome by the beauty of it all that I just took that in my stride. There was that wonderful northwoods smell in the air – pine trees and dead leaves. Nothing like it! and nothing else invigorates me like that does.


It was getting pretty cool and the sun was going down quickly by the time I was heading back on the trail but the golden evening light only made things more beautiful and the colors more intense. I went home pleasantly tired and very happy and glad that the woman’s prediction of “lots of brown” wasn’t true.


When has someone’s dire predictions not come true for you?

Looking at Clouds

This post is from littlejailbird.

Barbara in Rivertown’s comment on Name That Carrot: “It’s kind of looking at clouds…” inspired this post.

My mom is a big fan of looking at clouds and seeing various things in them. She has told me, more than once, of how, when she was a kid, she liked to lie down outdoors and just see how many things she could see in the clouds. I suppose when you grow up in Iowa there is a lot of sky and clouds to look at.

This penchant for looking at clouds has apparently passed down to other generations. One day, when the twins (her great-grandchildren) and I were outside, they were looking up at the sky. We talked about what the clouds looked like. Twin 2 said, “I see a…BUTT!” and they both dissolved in laughter.

Tell us something funny that a child you know has said or done.

Not Feeling It

Today’s post comes from littlejailbird.

A couple weeks ago my friend from Vermont stayed a few days with me. The first full day she was here, she took the light rail over to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul to do some research for a book she is writing, but the rest of the time (Tuesday mid-morning to Friday evening), we spent most of our time together.

Those of you who know me at all know that I have a strong tendency toward introversion, which means that I get tired out by spending lots of time with other people, even people I like. So you may not be surprised to learn that, after planning our activity for Friday, I went upstairs to bed and moaned to myself, “I really don’t feel like going anywhere tomorrow.”

But, because she is my friend and because one of the things we’ve always liked doing together is take walks, in the morning off we went to Wood Lake Nature Center. We saw some egrets and either two great blue herons or the same one twice, a turtle, a muskrat, and some egg masses that my friend got very excited about (one of the books she has written is about salamanders). So I ended up being glad I went, especially since one of the egrets was close enough that, even with my not-very-long telephoto lens, I was able to get a couple decent shots.


Also, the great blue heron flew in close enough that we got a good view of it in flight. I snapped some shots of it, not expecting to get anything very good, because I’ve never been able to catch birds in flight, but I just couldn’t not try and sometimes it’s fun to try even if you’re pretty sure you won’t succeed.

When have you been glad you went somewhere or did something when you didn’t really feel like it?

Photos and Pizza

A little while ago, I got an email from Jacque. She needed a “decent, professional photo” for a guest post she had submitted to a therapy blog.

Now I don’t think of myself as a “people photographer” but I thought that I could do an okay job. I have no studio lights or flash, much less a studio, and Jacque didn’t want a studio photo anyway, so we arranged to meet in her backyard.

I consulted with Steve, the photography expert in our baboon community, and he gave me some tips and suggestions, several of which confirmed things I had learned through photography classes. I made a list, using Steve’s tips and my own ideas:

  • Shoot in burst mode (in order to capture fleeting expressions)
  • Background should be contrasting, dark, and uninteresting
  • Jacque should be far enough away from background so that it is out of focus
  • Subject does not have to smile – she can look thoughtful, serious, intelligent
  • Subject should be in the shade, never the sun
  • Bring a stepstool since I am short and Jacque is not and a portrait pointing up at the face is not very flattering
  • Focus on the EYES
  • Meter the brightest part of the face and then set f/stop and shutter manually so there are not blown out highlights
  • In each new area where I shoot, make the first shot be of a gray card so I can easily get the white balance perfect

When I woke up the morning of our “date,” I was thrilled to see that it was an overcast day. Bright sunshine is the enemy of good outdoor portraits and a cloudy day would make it easier to get a good shot.

When I shot the portraits, I made a few mistakes.There were some stray rays of sunshine (that I hadn’t noticed while shooting)  on her neck in some of them that wrecked an otherwise good picture. I had her too close to the background on some shots, so there were distracting details behind her. But I ended up with enough good shots for her to choose one with which she was happy. And I enjoyed the process, which mostly had to do with how easygoing and nice Jacque is and a little with the realization that I that I could do this.

A week later, Jacque treated me to lunch at Black Sheep Pizza. We ordered the Oyster Mushroom, Smoked Mozzarella, Rosemary & Garlic Pizza and, man, was that good. Even better was a chance to sit and talk. I feel that I had the better part of the deal: I got to shoot pictures of a beautiful person and then enjoy a meal with her.

When have you done a favor for somebody and felt that you benefited more than the person you helped?

Powerful Possessions

This post is from littlejailbird.

As many of you know, I have twin grandsons (I also have two other grandchildren but they live several hours away so I don’t see them as often). I will refer to these 3-year-old boys as Twin One and Twin Two in order to protect their privacy.

These glasses you see in the photo are powerful glasses. While they may not have lenses, they can still enhance a certain little boy’s vision.

Twin One uses these glasses when he watches TV (things like Daniel Tiger) because, as he says, “They help me see better.” And the other day, he said, as he headed upstairs after dark,“These glasses help me see in the dark!”

Twin Two sometimes wears these glasses but he does not seem to gain the same benefits from them as Twin One.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories about people using their imagination?

Gathering for Winter

Today’s post comes from littlejailbird.

Fifty years ago, an author/illustrator named Leo Lionni had a picture book published, titled Frederick. A field mouse,  Frederick is part of a family who is preparing for winter. Everyone gathers corn and nuts and wheat and straw – that is, everyone except Frederick. Frederick prepares for winter in a different way. He gathers three things for winter: sun rays, words, and colors.

I live on a city street that seems especially bleak in the winter. Most of the houses are shades of tan,beige, or gray. Snow is pretty, but a few days after it falls, it is an ugly gray, getting darker as the winter wears on, until it is charcoal-colored. Most of the boulevard trees are oak trees and the leaves that cling to the branches are a dull brown.

It is then that I wish for the third thing that Frederick gathered for winter: Color.

While the other mice are working at storing up food for the winter, Frederick stares at the meadow. When the other mice inquire what he is doing, he replies that he is gathering colors because winter is gray.

One day last November, I was already feeling the lack of color. It was a gray day after many gray days and I went in search of color and patterns outside. I found what I was looking for and I am trying to keep those colors stored up inside me for when I especially need them.

Do you do anything to make winter a happy season?

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night…

This post is from littlejailbird.

The city of Minneapolis has a wonderful thing going where you can get a free tree for your boulevard. You just have to make a request before November and the following spring you will have a tree planted in front of your house, no money or labor from you required.

Many years ago, I requested one of these trees and subsequently had a pin oak tree planted on my boulevard. I don’t know if the city still does this, but back then it took care of watering the tree for the first summer. They must have had a schedule where the watering truck would go around and water the new trees.

They were very good at following the schedule and didn’t let pesky things like bad weather interfere. They could have taken the motto often associated with the U.S. Post Office and tweaked it to reflect their dedication to the tree-watering schedule: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays theses tree waterers from the swift completion of their rounds.”

I know this because one day there was quite the deluge outside. It was pouring so hard that a person would have been totally soaked in approximately 2 seconds. I was nice and dry indoors and while I watched the rain pouring down, a truck pulled up in front of my house. Soon the tree-waterer had the hose out and was diligently watering the boulevard tree. I was impressed with his dedication…and amazed at a system which would send someone out to water trees when it seemed the tree was already getting plenty of moisture by natural means. I’m sure the tree-waterer felt his job was redundant that day.

Tell us about something you’ve done or witnessed that turned out to be totally unnecessary.

Seize the Moment

Today’s post comes from littlejailbird.

In a comment on a recent post, Ben encouraged us to “seize those moments.” Coincidentally, I was in the middle of doing that very thing while he posted his comment. I left the chores and responsibilities (cleaning, laundry, paperwork) that were demanding my attention and went OUT.

I visited Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden (EBWG) and also the Quaking Bog (QB) across the road from EBWG. It was mostly deserted. I assume people weren’t outside because it was cloudy and drippy, and because the fall foliage experts have declared this locale as “past peak” (brown on the fall foliage maps, giving the impression that there is no longer any color in our lives, only drab browns and grays, and it will remain colorless until May).

Well, I’m here to declare this “past peak” business silly, because it was a day filled with color and beauty. Both EBWG and the QB have tamarack trees, and those trees glowed, bright and golden. Many trees still had leaves – some had just a few and others had a lot – and the various shades of russet, orange, yellow, and red stood out against the gray sky and dark tree trunks and branches. Many leaves had fallen and carpeted the path and lay on the water in pleasing, colorful patterns. I would have been content when leaving the garden if that had been all I saw, but when I went across to the quaking bog, all I could do was stand and stare at the beauty. Words and photos don’t do it justice…. the white birches and golden tamaracks… mushrooms growing in the moss…spots of boggy water littered with leaves….scattered golden leaves peeking through a curtain of small, bare trees…cattail rushes turning yellow with golden tamaracks standing just past them. All with the rain dripping down, bringing the colors alive. It seemed a magical place. I want to go back tomorrow, but I’m afraid the magic might be gone.

Have you ever been to a place that seemed magical or extra-special?