Category: Thoughts

Big Stereotypes

Big Amos
Big Amos

This is Big Amos, the Barefoot Amish Giant and he stands at the Hershey Farm Restaurant in Strasburg, Pennsylvania misleading tourists and locals that know nothing about the Amish culture.

The definition of a stereotype is a widely held and oversimplified idea of a particular type of person or thing, and like all stereotypes this is as wrong as wearing a straw hat backwards.

First of all Amos is fifteen feet tall, very few Amish men are that size except for a few on the big, big farms where they spend most of their time making giant chairs and scaring the cows.

Amos also stands there and smiles while you take his photo, which does not happen in real life. Some Amish men will let you photograph them but they look at you like they know you stole their chickens but can’t prove it.

This kind of misinformation only confuses tourists who expect all Amish men to look like this and leads to disappointment when they discover that the average farmer is normal sized and wears shoes or boots (very important around well fed horses).

It’s been said that ignorance is bliss, which brings to mind the story of the Amish farmer and the tourist. Pay attention because there’s a moral in there somewhere.

A tourist stopped in at the farm where old Elmer Yoder was busy pumping water with his hand pump. “Where’s route forty?” the tourist asked. Elmer ignored him, continuing to draw water. “Where’s route forty?” the tourist now shouted. Old Elmer continued filling his bucket. “Are you ignorant or deaf?” the tourist shouted next. “Both,” Elmer said, finally turning around. “But at least I’m not lost.”

Signs That Horses are Intelligent

Give them a sign
Give them a sign

Back in 1966 Mister Ed went to college to become a veterinarian so he could help his friends beat the high cost of medical care. 50 years later here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania most horses are home schooled, which is more convenient and much less expensive.

Although not all horses are taught to read at a college level, the ones that pull the buggies are encouraged to develop basic skills including the ability to read signs. This is almost a necessity these days with all the confusing traffic rules like turning right on red.

You can lead a horse to water but if he finds it himself he has a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance. Note: we don’t know if horses are color blind but for the ones reading this I felt it was better in black and white.

Buying the Farm

The Farm
The Farm

As I get older I find myself thinking a lot about buying the farm. There are two ways to do it: one is to quit your job (if you have one) and literally buy a farm in the middle of nowhere, the other way is to stop breathing.

I know that everyone will buy the farm sooner or later and to deny it is futile, but I have to wonder what it will be like. Will it be an endless succession of meaningless working days like Sisyphus rolling a rock uphill for eternity, or will it be more like Green Acres?

I like to imagine that being on the farm with my wife Lisa will be frustrating but there will still be good times. Mr. Haney will finally sell me a washing machine that works. Sam Drucker will eventually get those seeds I ordered, and the girls from Petticoat Junction will move into the guest house (Lisa is fine with it).

And one stormy day while sitting around the general store, Eb will ask me if I think the rain will hurt the rhubarb. And I’ll smile because I learned the answer to that question long ago working with a Polish house painter. Not if it’s in the can Eb, not if it’s in the can.

The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour?
The Golden Hour?

The golden hour, also known as the magic hour, refers to the period just after sunrise or just before sunset, and its length depends on where you are and what time of year it is.

Some say that the golden hour is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. It seems as easy as falling off a log, just show up at the right time and your photos will be amazing right? No.

The afternoon is a lot easier for several reasons. You can see where the sun is and decide where you want to be. You can also decide if it’s worth waiting around or if the clouds will block out all that beautiful light. Also there’s a good chance you’re already awake.

I prefer the morning because I’m a masochist, and because it’s usually much calmer. But instead of finishing dinner and heading out late afternoon I have to set my alarm, fortunately I have insomnia so I’m already up.

If you’re taking photos in your backyard you can wake up at first light or slightly earlier, otherwise you need to give yourself a few hours. Consider the drive, stopping for coffee, reflecting on the meaning of life (should be done while it’s still dark) and time to set everything up.

So today I got up at 3:30, decided to go out at 4 and was in place with coffee reflecting by 5:00. I watched the sky get light, the clouds open up then close again before it got darker and a few minutes later it rained.

Of course you can take photos anytime, especially if you’re not shooting landscapes, you just won’t have that warm, magic light that photographers crave, you also won’t have to get up knowing it might rain on your parade.

Walt Whitman once said: “To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.” It may help to tell yourself that while waiting for the storm to pass and realizing that you could easily be in bed dreaming of rainbows and unicorns.

Note: rainbows only happen near the golden hour when the sun is low in the sky and unicorns are rarely found in the daytime, plus you need a virgin to lure them in close enough for a good shot.

Between a Fence and a Hard Place

On the fence
On the fence

I saw these huge flowers this morning which I now believe are Hibiscus, also known as dinner plates. The light was fairly good and it seemed as calm as a lake in heaven, until I set up my tripod. Then they started to move.

I’m not sure why, I didn’t shoot down on them and tried my best to show their good side, but no matter what I did they swayed back and forth slowly like a drunk sailor (no offence to sailors or drunks). After about a half hour I was about to give up when I saw one on the fence.

The dictionary definition of being on the fence is to be uncommitted or undecided in a controversy. I believe the controversy here was whether or not to let me take some decent photos and the majority decision was not to. But she was wedged in tight and we both knew it.

There’s probably an important lesson to be learned here about resistance. Suzy Kassem said: “When you keep hitting walls of resistance in life, the universe is trying to tell you that you are going the wrong way.” On the other hand, Constance Friday said: “Resistance is a sign that shows you’re going the right way”

Next time I hold them in place or find one on a fence. For a fraction of a second I considered picking some and bringing them home but that would be wrong on too many levels. Karma is a bitch.

Were you born in a barn?

Barn find
Barn find

When I was growing up my father was very fond of the phrase: Close the door, were you born in a barn? I felt this was rhetorical so I never answered, but I always wondered about the barn lifestyle.

It must be a great place to live I thought, because for one thing you apparently didn’t have to close the doors. But we lived in Levittown, Long Island in the 60’s and there were no barns anywhere to be found.

Later we moved further East to Setauket, and in the woods behind our house was a real barn, doors open and everything. The owner was said to be insane and shooting trespassers was not out of the question so I never had the nerve to see it up close.

Here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania there are almost as many barns as soccer moms who drive like Indy Car racers. And I still wonder what it would be like to live in one. I have a feeling it’s probably cold in the winter, hot in the summer, smelly and buggy.

Of course some people renovate old barns to perfection, complete with heat, air conditioning, windows and even doors that close and lock. But I think that most of the people who can afford that were born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south. The simple things I see are all complicated, I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.

Is Power Napping Right For You?

Al takes a power nap
Al takes a power nap

I met Al at 7:00 on a morning that was already close to 90 degrees. He looked at me, thought about his obligations and decided to take a power nap right where he was. This will likely improve his attitude and restore his energy for the long day ahead.

There’s a whole science behind power napping and many books have been written about it outlining the basic principles as well as the benefits. For example; a power nap is a sleep session that happens during the day and lasts for between ten and thirty minutes.

Research has shown that even six minute naps can improve declarative memory (a type of long term memory that helps recall facts and knowledge). There are no hard and fast rules but some tips can be helpful to new power nappers.

For example: be consistent and keep a regular schedule. Prime nap time falls in the middle of the day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. This may slightly conflict with your work schedule so if you get fired buy one of the books and consider a lawsuit.

Make it quick. Set your cell phone alarm for 30 minutes or less, for longer naps you may need to find a quiet place such as a sleep room if your company has one or a nearby hotel. Note: a nap hotel may be a legitimate business expense so save your receipts.

Author Stefanie Weisman wrote: “A lot of high-profile companies are recognizing the benefits of power napping…it’s like kindergarten all over again.” It may not be exactly like kindergarten because things will never be that good again, but after a quality nap you’ll probably play nicer with the other kids.

Don’t Shoot Down on Flowers

Level the field
Level the field

The first really helpful book I read many years ago was The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby. It’s very basic but he covers a lot of simple things that people often overlook.

One is not to shoot down on flowers. He claims that this will produce a boring shot because people are used to seeing flowers this way, so get down and dirty with them: “well, at least your knees anyway,” says the merry prankster.

He may be right, he may be crazy, but he overlooks a very important part of the photographer/flower interaction. If you look down on flowers they sense the condescension. How is that a problem you might ask?

Once they get the feeling that you think you’re better than them they will mess up your photos every time. Even on the calmest day, a day that’s as calm as a convent they will move just enough to blur the shot, especially closeups.

If you use a tripod and the self timer they have you by the stamens, because then they know exactly when to shake it off. It may sound crazy but I’ve seen it over and over again.

The Buddha allegedly said that if we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change. You might want to mention that to them right from the beginning.

What Dreams May Come

Dreaming of Jupiter
Dreaming of Jupiter

I was walking the streets this morning thinking about the relationship between dreams and depression. I know that when I have dreams about having nowhere to go and nothing to do I wake up depressed.

So I see a young man soundly sleeping on a ledge right off the busiest intersection in the city. I decide to take a quick photo for my study and discuss this with him when he wakes up. His friend comes along after a few minutes and says: “Dude-wake up, this idiot is taking your picture.”

Then he looks at me and says: “Why man, why?” I told him about my study and he looked at me like I was an idiot. So I decided to leave without even explaining my conclusion so far, which is that things never are as bad as they seem.

In a nutshell, dream when the day is through, dream, and they might come true. Things never are as bad as they seem, so dream, dream, dream.

House Arrest

The Dark Horse
The Dark Horse

Where I live it’s not unusual to see horses in the Walmart parking lot, but they’re always tied to a hitching post. I went there to look for some Cogswell cogs this morning and saw two beautiful horses grazing in the tall grass all alone, freer than a jailer, or so I thought.

It seemed odd and I figured maybe they escaped from a local farm or just lived on their own, until I saw the ankle straps. All I could think of was that for some reason they were under house arrest, but what could they have possibly done to deserve this?

Once came up to me to say hello and let me pet him, contrary to myth they don’t all bite your fingers off. They he looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to ask why? I had no idea until a woman walking her dog came up and said that the straps prevent them from running away, and they were taking a break from a long ride in the trailer.

It just goes to show that things that seem crazy at first might be completely normal. The girl at Walmart actually thought I was crazy when I told her if they were out of Cogswell cogs I’d be happy with Spacely sprockets. They didn’t have either; maybe Target has some in stock.