Tag Archives: photography

Finding My Zen

In the midst of all the hate-filled rhetoric and fear going on right now in this country I have found a greater need to spend time out in nature in order to ground myself and find peace.

My goal is to share the beauty of nature with others so that they too might find that same peace and be encouraged get out and commute with nature themselves.

So, here are a few of my favorite Zen moments from my journeys.

All photographs ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.


Fall Colors

It has been quite some time since I have posted on my blog. I have been very busy teaching and exploring. I decided it was past time and wanted to share some of the beautiful fall colors I found while on a hike in the Sierras the other day.




Introspective Landscapes Exhibition


Just a quick post to announce an upcoming gallery exhibition. Two of my iPhone photomontages were selected for the Academy of Art University MFA Photography Alumni exhibition opening May 5th.

I am thrilled to be a part of this exhibition along with some of my favorite former instructors and fellow students. The show will feature work by Marico Fayre, Shannon Ayres, Amanda Dahlgren, Eliot Crowley, Trace Nichols, Weston Fuller, Marc Ullom, Tamara Hubbard, and myself.

Details:

AAU Galleries at 625 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA

Exhibition:

May 5-29, 2016

Gallery Hours:

Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm

Saturday, 10am-5pm


Little Cabin in the Woods

  
At the outer edges of my noisy world exists a little cabin in the woods. A place where my soul can go to rest and reconnect with Nature and all of its beautiful gifts. 

 Whenever I go there it’s as if my soul does a giant exhale. A spewing out of all the damaging stress to make room for peace and healing.

   

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

   

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir

  

  
 

“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” ~ William Shakespeare

 

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

     “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson

  
 

**All photographs and videos were taken on my iPhone. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.**

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Purchase a copy of “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” here.

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Ode to Spring

  

“Ode to Spring” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

March is a time for renewal, when the first buds of early Spring begin to push their way towards the surface. The days become a bit longer, less dark and bleak. Flocks of birds begin to fly overhead and make their way north after a long winter layover. Their excited squacks and cackles instill a sense of hope in my soul, but also a feeling of sadness that I never took the time to visit them while they were at rest here in our valley. My soul was tucked away in front of the warm fire, wrapped in reflection, which is where winter often sends me.

I stand in my backyard as a family of Sandhill Cranes ride a thermal right above me. Their giant wings glide in circles as their gutteral call rolls from their beaks in an ecstatic chorus. They circle and glide, resting for the long trip ahead, a momentary pause in their journey as if saying goodbye. A tear escapes my eye as I look up and wish them a safe flight.

The sun sneaks out between big white clouds and leftover raindrops that have settled on the new blooms begin to shimmer. My focus shifts from the vast expanse of the sky above back to the tiny things below me. The longer I stare, the more amazed I become. This micro world of color and light comes alive as if the entire universe exists in this few inches of earth within my vision. Life and death begin and end there. Spring approaches to remind us it is our job to live, to let go of the darkness, emerge from our coccoons and acknowledge the beauty in all that we have been given.

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Pick up a copy of “Zen in the Garden” here. 


The Party’s Over

  

“The Party’s Over” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

My take on the current political environment and the 2016 elections. This was shot on my iPhone and edited on my iPad using the Juxtaposer and Procreate apps.


The Jungle

  
“The Jungle” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

Just a quick post. This is a new photomontage I created today. It is my homage to the dangers of life in the big city. I shot all the elements on my iPhone and edited it on my iPad using a variety of apps including Juxtaposer, PicFX, Pic Grunger, Stackables, and Procreate.


Constructing Reality Through Photomontage

  “Connected” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

My imagination has always been very vivid. As a child I used to create stories in my mind, spending a lot of time daydreaming and constructing a new reality that was far better than the one I lived. As an adult, that imaginative mind and story construction is most often expressed through my art. Photomontage work is one of my favorite ways to decompress and become lost in a world of my own making.
These two new pieces are my creations from the past two days. I shot the background in each image in Northern Idaho this past year and the Native American subjects are from a photo shoot I did at the Kootenai Pow Wow. All images in each piece were shot with my iPhone and combined and edited on my iPad. 
“The Blessing” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.



Timber Men

  
The Timber Men. The burly men. The axe and chainsaw wielding men. The arbiters of a healthy forest.They prune and lift and fell when needed, like surgeons with their trusty tools.

  

  

  
  
At times they climb trees like Spiderman with their lengthy webs of rope. Just a little bit slower, and a lot more cautious. they face danger without much pause. 

 

  
Determined, they continue their dance towards the top.

  
  
Like Goliath, they possess a super human strength…

  
Whatever is taken, is given back , in order to enrich the cycle of life…

  
The Timber Men. The burly men. The axe and chainsaw wielding men. The super heroes of a sustainable forest.

   

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Pick up a copy of Zen in the Garden here:  


Street Visions

  
I wander the streets of the city and capture the quiet things that call to me in the midst of all the noise.

  
  

  
The messages are sometimes cryptic, sometimes clear.

  

  

Trust Your Struggle…

  
  
  
  
Shapes and patterns and colors all hold me spellbound. Mindful meditation magnets that drown out the noise and movement pollution all around me. I am sucked in, wondering whose hands painted, created, imagined the things I see.

  
  
  


2015 Mobile Photography Awards Results

  
I am beyond thrilled to receive an Honorable Mention in the Visual FX category of the 2015 Mobile Photography Awards for my photomontage “Mama Gaia.” Since it’s inception it has grown into the world’s largest mobile photography and art competition and touring exhibit. My congratulations to all winners and mentions! It is an honor to be among such amazing mobile artists.

To check out all the winners and mentions in all cetegories click here: 2015 Mobile Photography Awards.


The Strangers I’ve Known

  
I met “Gypsy” at a rest stop at the top of a mountain pass. He was wearing a woman’s dress and had a scarf wrapped around his head. He sat barefoot on a bench with a bottle of Windex and a rag politely asking people who passed by if he could clean their car windows for a small donation. “Gypsy” said he has lived in his car for several years because he prefers to travel and be free from the expectations of a society he “doesn’t fit into.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

I think often about the strangers I have met. They come to me in different places on their journey; the young, the old, the worn, and the tired. They each have a story to tell, written in the pain along the edges of their faces and the in shadows that have settled in their eyes.

Nikolei, Jamie & Spike in Old Sacramento, CA, 2010. This photo is from the first time I met Nikolei and Jamie. Nikolei, 20, was laid off from his job at FedEx and began living on the streets after he could not find another job and could no longer pay rent. He had been homeless for 6 months. Jamie, 16, was kicked out of her parent’s house 2 months prior and felt safe hanging out with Nikolei and Spike. She sold her skateboard the week before so they would have some money for food. The two had plans to make their way up to Washington where Nikolei hoped to find work. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

There is something that draws me to them. Some distant feeling of recognition. I understand their pain, their sorrows, their fears. A piece of me wants to ignore them and move on with my day in search of beauty. While a part of me feels drawn to stop and talk to them, it is at the risk of revisiting those dark memories hidden away so conveniently inside my mind.

They are a reflection of all that can go wrong with this life, with the mind, the heart, the body, and soul. Lost in the shuffle of humanity and caught in a downward cycle of demise, they exist on the other side of the thin veil between a successful life and some sordid alternate reality. The mirror they hold up forces us to look into ourselves and question our 

own choices and circumstance, and causes us to wonder why this world can be so incredibly cruel. So we divert our eyes, walk on by, and pretend they don’t exist. 

  I met Charles on K Street, Sacramento, CA, 2011. Charles grew up without either of his parents. Both of them were incarcerated from the time he was a baby so he was raised by an aunt and uncle who abused and neglected him. In his early twenties he got married, had two children and began using drugs and alcohol heavily. He divorced and ended up homeless on the streets. Charles now suffers from chronic liver disease including Hep C and cirrhosis of the liver. His abdomen was swollen and painful and he had recently filled out the paperwork to receive medical assistance. He chooses to sleep in the woods. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

Are they there because of the choices they make? Or have their lives been dismantled by ugly circumstances beyond their control, by the terrifying things we cannot see? Who are we to judge them? Really. We are all human beings. That is our common ground from the beginning. 

I am always surprised when I take the risk and reach out to talk with those strangers who cross my path. Some of their stories are harrowing, some extremely sad. While others admit to choices that have lead them to where they sit, others are like free spirits who choose to remain there, like gypsies, unbound by societal demands. Some are clearly in need of help for both physical and mental ailments but lack the resources and the ability to seek it on their own. 

 I met Christina and Ears on Market Street, San Francisco, CA, 2010. Christina had been homeless off and on for five years. She suffered from bipolar disorder and at one point suffered from Neutropenia related to the psychotropic medication they gave her in the hospital. She turned to self medicating with heroin when she ended up on the streets. Christina was passionate about rats and bred and raised them to sell the babies to pet stores. She was receiving Methadone treatment for her addiction to heroin at the time I met her. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

Some have been well educated with degrees and plenty of job experience. I have met teachers, artists, musicians, and even a former attorney. Each one had a different story surrounding the tipping point that lead them out onto the streets. Many have spent their lives running from the shadows of an ugly childhood, and like the many Veterans I meet, are struggling with the horrors of PTSD.

 I met Malcolm on L Street in Sacramento, CA, in 2010. Malcolm had been homeless for four years. He had to leave home when he was 18 and when he couldn’t find a job to pay rent, he decided to hop freight trains and see the country. He had visited 48 states and was on his way down to Florida with his two dogs and his girlfriend. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.


Thanks – You Are Steller!

  
Just a quick post to say thank you all for your support for my recent post about my favorite mobile storytelling app Steller. My Steller story “Pow Wow” has received over 24k page views and yesterday it reached the #2 position of Most Viewed on Steller.

Now let’s see if it’s possible to double that! https://steller.co/s/5EeDxX32fH6

If you have already had the chance to view “Pow Wow,” here is a link to check out my latest, “Timber Men.” https://steller.co/s/5FwPcK3KhyH

 


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Steller

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There is a wonderful visual storytelling app for both Android and iOS mobile phones called Steller. I happened across it while doing research for a course I am writing for the Academy of Art University and recently downloaded the free app to give it a test drive. Steller allows you to create beautiful visual stories with photos, video, and text and the process is straight forward and absolutely seamless.

The design is fairly minimalist and very elegant in appearance. There are currently eleven templates to choose from for designing your stories. Each one has a different look and offer several choices when it comes to the layout of your individual pages.

  

The first step is to choose a template or theme for your story.

    
You will be prompted to choose 20 videos or photographs to import into your story. You can always rearrange and edit design layout or swap out photos and videos before publishing.

 
You will choose a title and subtitle if you have one and can change the layout of your title page as well as the image that appears here.

  
You can add additional pages as video, photo or text. The recommended length of a story is around 20 pages, however you can certainly make it longer if you feel the need.

  
You can add text below images by choosing different layouts for each page.

  

Or have multiple pages of straight text if you are feeling a bit more like Mark Twain.

   
Steller is also a wonderful community filled with talented individuals and you can create collections of the stories you like and name your collections anything you desire. You can also share and comment on other Steller user’s stories and follow them, similar to Instagram.

Once you hit publish, you can share your story within the app to your plethora of social media accounts and watch the magic happen. If you are lucky and the Steller gods are smiling down upon you, your story might be handpicked by Steller’s editors to be featured in one of their collections. When this happens your exposure increases exponentially and you might even find your story going viral.

Below are a few of my own Steller stories. You will find links to view them underneath each image and if you already have the Steller app, you can find and follow me here: http://steller.co/TracyJThomas

  

My most recent Steller story on the Kootenai Pow Wow in Bonners Ferry, Idaho made it into the top 10 most viewed stories this afternoon with over 6,140 views and was featured in both the Stellerverse and the Most Viewed collections. You can view the story here: https://steller.co/s/5EeDxX32fH6 

  

This Steller story highlights some of my quirky mobile photomontage pieces. It was featured in Steller’s Creative Collection and received over 5,000 views. You can view this story here: https://steller.co/s/5EK56vcWwGH

  

This is a story I created on the California drought that illustrates the dire situation at Folsom Lake, the reservoir that provides drinkng water for nearly half a million residents across the Sacramento region. This story also received over 5,000 views. You can view this story here: https://steller.co/s/5DuPxgdv3Xz

Overall, I am truly impressed with the quality and ease of use of the Steller app. The only thing I don’t like is the fact you can’t embed the stories directly into WordPress blog posts. The app provides the embed code for each story, but so far the code gets stripped every time I try it and pasting a straight link into the blog does not bring the story in either. My hope is the app’s developers will soon decide to work with the WordPress embed guidelines so Steller stories will be easier to share in all their glory.

Now go out and get your free copy and start creating your own Steller stories! http://steller.co


The Port

  
One of my favorite places to wander and take photographs is along the Deep Water Channel across from the Port of Sacramento. The shipping channel was built in 1949 and is 30 feet deep and 43 miles long, running from Suisun Bay to an inland harbor in West Sacramento. The port was opened to deep sea traffic in 1963. Too shallow for container ships, the channel accommodates ships that carry bulk products like corn, rice, barley, almonds, and wheat as well as cement, lumber, clay, and metals.
Every time I visit I see something new. Whether it be another ship in port, a crew rowing a sculling boat, a fisherman paddling a kayak, or a calm reflection on the water, I am drawn to pull out my camera and capture the moment. 

   
    
    
   


Night Wanderings

  Tower Bridge, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
It has been awhile since my last post due to an incredibly busy life. I have a lot of catching up to do since I have been doing a lot of shooting and little posting :). So until I have more time to sit down and write some thorough posts, here are a few recent night shots I took with my iPhone for you to peruse. I also wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very Happy Holidays!

 A quiet walkway in Old Sacramento along the Sacramento River. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

  The approach to the Tower Bridge along Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
  The “Money Building” and CalSters reflecting in the Sacramento River, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
  Downtown Sacramento and lighted Palm Trees. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Camera+ for Macro Shots

I love macro photography. It forces me to slow down and find the astounding beauty in the small things. Details and activity that aren’t always apparent to the naked eye become revealed when shooting macro. 

In the past, the majority of my macro photographs have been taken with my DSLR and a special 90mm macro lens. This setup requires patience and a good tripod to capture the images I desire since the camera and lens combination are heavy and a bit bulky. 

On my most recent sojourn into the woods, I decided to forego my DSLR and shoot exclusively with my iPhone6. I had planned to focus on landscapes, wildlife, and documentary work at a Pow Wow I would attend. This was a partial experiment in minimizing as well as a true test of the capabilities of my iPhone.

While wandering the property one day and shooting landscapes I noticed a beautiful Dragonfly sitting on a leaf. I wished at that moment that I had my DSLR macro setup with me. I played with one of my go-to camera apps and zoomed in on the insect but the quality of a straight zoom wasn’t as sharp nor as close as I desired for the beautiful detail of the Dragonfly. Then I remembered a recent post someone made on Facebook about the Camera+ app and its macro option. I opened the app, chose the macro option and was immediately amazed at how close I was able to zoom in on the bug and the sharpness of detail it provided. Additionally, there was great DOF and even some Bokeh or lens flare effect in certain lighting conditions.

The downfall of using an app for macro with the iPhone and no lens attachment is the lack of extreme sharpness. The fact you are using digital zoom causes the focus to fall off a bit and throws in some pixelation. Printing out macro photos in large scale with this technique would not provide you with the best quality. However, smaller prints and posting digital images can offer some very compelling imagery.

Below are a few screenshots of the app and its macro mode followed by a series of images I shot at the cabin.

**This screenshot is of an Iris through the Normal mode of Camera+. Even in this straight shot there is some nice depth of field and Bokeh in the background.**

  
**When you click on the “+” symbol to the right of the shutter buttonthe menu including the mode buttons appear.**

  
**When you click on the Macro button, the app zooms in on your subject. Note the “Stabilizer” button. I played around with this feature but do not recommend using it in Macro mode especially if you are trying to capture something that may move out of your frame quickly like an insect. When you have the Stabilizer on it won’t allow you to take a shot until the camera is very still (the shutter button turns red when not stable, yellow when you are getting closer, and green when stable and you can take the shot). This would be a great feature when you have your iPhone secured to a tripod and are shooting something that won’t fly away from you like a flower, but I found it frustrating to use when stabilizing by hand and attempting to get off a quick shot before my subject buzzed away into the sunset.

  
**Once you take your first shot in Macro mode, a zoom slider appears to your right which will allow you to get even closer to your subject. The photo below is of the Iris in Macro mode with 3x magnification. What appeared with my naked eye to be a discolored spot on the drying flower petal turned out to be revealed as an interesting little striped bug when I shot in Macro mode. (These screenshots are not the sharpest of images because it is pretty difficult to hold the phone steady when trying to simultaneously click the power button and the shutter to capture the image on screen, but you get the idea, right?)

  
Below are several of the macro shots I captured with this app while at the little cabin in the woods.

  A bee collects pollen on a wildflower. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. 

 Tiny Spiky Galls created by Wasps surround the stem of a Wild Rose. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

 A Dragonfly suns itself on a Thimbleberry leaf. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

Overall I believe the Camera+ Macro feature is a great one especially for the photographer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money and time on expensive cameras and macro lense setups. The downside is the falloff you receive when using digital zoom as opposed to shooting with a sharp add on lens with optical zoom. Rumors have it that the next iteration of the iPhone (iPhone 6S) will have a dual lens array which means it will have optical zoom built-in. Now that will be a killer combination with any macro app.

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Free Kindle Book

IMG_2189 You can download a FREE Kindle version of “Zen in the Garden” today and tomorrow only on Amazon. Here is the link to learn more about the book and to grab your copy: http://amzn.com/B00TN2GQHM. If you have already read it, please feel free to share this post or the link with your followers and friends.

You can also enter to win one of three signed softcover copies of this book on Goodreads. The giveaway ends on July 24th. Just click on the image below to enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Zen in the Garden by Tracy J.  Thomas

Zen in the Garden

by Tracy J. Thomas

Giveaway ends July 24, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

I will be journeying back into the woods for fifteen days beginning this Wednesday. I will post regular updates about my journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Periscope (search Tracy J. Thomas on Periscope app) so follow me on any and all for some peaceful nature photos/videos, hopefully some amazing wildlife shots, and quite possibly the Aurora Borealis if they all decide to cooperate ;).

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Do you like handmade Boho Chic jewelry? Then visit my Etsy shop and receive 50% OFF through 7/1. Just enter coupon code SUMMER15 at checkout: http://www.etsy.com/shop/ZenInTheGarden

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Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Big Lens

  

 

One of my favorite mobile photography apps for editing product photos is Big Lens by Reallusion, Inc. Since I am exclusively an Apple finatic, I can’t speak to the Android version of this app, however the reviews on Google Play are just as solid as they are on iTunes.

I can’t quite agree with the Developer’s claims that this app will “turn your iPhone into a professional SLR camera.” Sorry, but there is currently no app on the market that can do that. There are indeed apps that will allow you to have some similar capabilities or at least mimic fairly well the capabilities of a lower end SLR, but the bottom line is there (currently) is no comparison between an iPhone or Android and a high-end DSLR. 

There are many in the mobile photography world who would argue vehemenently against the above sentiment, however, when it comes to straight shooting there can be no argument about the quality of the end result when comparing the unedited photos side by side. The high-end DSLR will win hands down. 

The beauty of the mobile photography movement lies in the ability to edit on-the-fly. Once a mobile photo is brought into a mobile app and edited by an experienced user it then becomes more difficult to distinguish whether it was shot originally on a mobile phone or on a DSLR.

When shooting product photography, depth of field becomes an important factor if you desire professional quality and a compelling photograph. In the past I have shot product photographs for Francis Ford Coppola’s Napa Valley wineries among others. Those shoots entailed blacking out my studio windows, positioning multiple lights, scrims, reflectors, and a plethora of high-end lenses mounted on my professional DSLR. This type of job required this type of equipment since the final images needed to be sharp and of the highest resolution possible. My iPhone would definitely not have been an appropriate tool for that particular task.

At this juncture in life, like many other crafty people, I have an Etsy shop. I like to keep my store stocked up with a variety of my handmade products so this requires a lot of product photos. Now I could go the route of spending all day setting up my studio and shooting each piece with my professional setup then spending hours on Lightroom and Photoshop editing my RAW files, but honestly, I don’t bring in enough money through my Etsy shop (yet) to pay for that type of precious time committment. So I shoot with my iPhone 6 and use wonderful apps like Big Lens to edit them into more professional looking images.

I utilize Big Lens primarily for its depth of field tools and occasionally its filters. There are several camera apps that allow you to adjust DOF in-camera while shooting, however I like to take straight shots in order to edit them any way I desire post shoot. Below I outline the process for how I use this app to edit a photograph of a piece of my handmade jewelry.

  
You can shoot with the Big Lens app but I prefer to shoot with ProCamera. When I am ready to edit my product photos I bring a photo into the Big Lens app by choosing “Load Photo” and import from my camera roll. The “Basic” and “Advanced” buttons are your choice for masking. I always use the “Advanced” button since it provides me with fine control over what I want masked in my image. 

  
Before I begin to mask, I choose the “Brush” tool in order to adjust the size of the brush. This allows me to better control the edges of the mask.

  
In the above screenshot, for the sake of example, I am only masking a portion of my bracelet. You can utilize the “Eraser” button to be even more precise with your edges or boundaries of your mask if needed.

  
I personally like to mask some of the foreground in order to create a leading line from bottom of the image towards the focal point.

  
The above is an exaggerated example of how the masking feature works. With the current settings The DOF is extreme and the transition is not very smoothe. The leading line is sharp focus and the edges fall off the cliff into an extreme blur.

  
This blur transition and intensity can be adjusted via the “Aperture” setting by choosing different F-stops and adjusting the slider until you are satisfied with the result.

  
Above is an example of the change from 100% in F1.8 to around 30% in F2.8. A bit smoother transition.

  
Once I have the DOF adjusted to where I desire, I then add one of the filters. I usually choose the “Vivid” filter so the colors will pop a bit more.

  
The colors are now popping after adding 100% Vivid to the photograph.

  

The app also allows you to adjust the “Lens” style. In other words you can create a circular blur, star-shaped blur, heart blur, etc. if you feel so inclined.  Additional tools allow you to adjust for focus and amount of blur.

  
 

There is also the ubiquitous “HDR” button on the top of the app. While some people like this feature, I do not like it in this app because it provides you with few options to adjust the intensity of the HDR effect such as contrast. Although the bright pink color is nice in the above photo, it is not true to the piece itself so I would not use this result to post on my shop.

  
One of the last wonderful things this app offers is the ability to save your images in full resolution. A very important feature when you want to present sharp, professional images.

Overall I would rate this easy to use app as a 4+. It is user-friendly, intuitive, and fun to use!

Oh, and you can purchase the handmade, hemp braided, beaded, Boho Chic, friendship bracelet featured in these photos on my Etsy shop along with much more here! 🙂

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Click here or on image to purchase your copy today!

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Birch Bark – The Gifts of a Fallen Tree

  
I adore Birch trees. The light coloring of the Western Paper Birch with its unique peeling bark and lenticels catch my eye immediately when wandering the forest. Their foliage turns a brilliant yellow during the Fall and the leaves make a beautiful rustling sound in the wind. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and 1-2 feet in diameter over 80+ years. 

The Native Americans utilized the Birch tree for a number of things. They used the outer bark for the skin of their canoes and to cover their wigwams. They made bark containers for collection and storage of food as well as for cooking. The wood of the Birch was used to make musical instruments, toys for children, and hunting and fishing gear. The bark was also woven into baskets and incorporated into their beadwork. 

  
Birch bark can be used for tinder to start a fire (even when it’s wet), as paper to write on, and can be woven into a hat or a pair of shoes if you find yourself lost in the forest. The sap from the Birch tree can be made into wine or beer and the leaves and inner bark can be turned into a detoxing tea or medicinal cream for issues with the skin.

It is never a good idea to peel the bark from a live, standing Birch. It can leave the tree vulnerable and sometimes it will die, especially if some of the protective inner bark is cut and removed during the process. It is best to remove bark from a fallen tree. Where there are Birch trees there are usually several that have fallen due to disease, high winds, or snow load. Occassionally a larger Birch may become a hazard tree and segments begin breaking off of the top and falling onto whatever is below. If the hazard tree is near a home or building or in an area with a frequently travelled trail, then it should be removed. 

While on our recent trip to North Idaho, a large Birch needed to be felled since it was close to a cabin and had lost several feet from its top, most likely due to disease.

  
As much as I do not like to see trees cut down for the purpose of encroaching on the forest for development, I do understand certain trees need to be removed when they become a hazard to people and other things in their surroundings. 

Although no longer standing, this lovely tree still had many gifts to give. We decided to collect the bark to use it for jewelry and other crafts. The trunk will be cut into slices to create beautiful side tables for the cabin and the main log will be milled into lumber for later use. Some of the smaller sections will be used to heat the cabin and the rest will decay over time on the forest floor to provide shelter to small animals and insects and nutrition for new seedlings to grow.

Below is a series of photographs illustrating the process we used for the Birch bark removal. You can use a carpet knife to score the section of bark you want to remove then use the same knife to carefully pull away the edges from the inner bark. Once the outer bark begins to release, slowly peel the sheet from the log. Store the sheets flat or use water and a heat gun later to flatten any curled pieces. And of course remember to thank the tree for its beautiful gifts :).

   
               

Here are two examples of pieces of jewelry I have made from this bark over the past few days.

The first is a necklace where I used pieces of bark that had lichen growing on them and incorporated it with earth-toned beads and silver wire.

  
The second is a pair of earrings I am still designing that mixes bark with metal and alcohol inks.

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Lost in the Woods

  

I just spent ten glorious days “lost” in the woods of North Idaho. This was my first vacation in over two years since dealing with West Nile Virus and then treatment for skin cancer. It felt so good to get far away from the house that had become my hermit’s cave and sanctuary during my illness and treatment. The beauty that surrounded me in Idaho seemed magnified tenfold and I couldn’t stop exclaiming “It’s so pretty here!” As those who have read my book “Zen in the Garden” know, I have always found peace and healing through nature. Following my recent struggles, that desire to reconnect with the earth for a bit of healing has been foremost on my mind.

  

It was so nice to sit in a quiet place void of the noise pollution of an urban environment for hours at a time. The sound of birdsong and of the wind as it rustled through the pines created the perfect symphony for my tired soul. Each day I could feel my body relax even more than the day before as the stressors of everyday life became nothing more than a fading shadow inside my reawakened mind. I felt present. Mindful. Embraced by what truly matters in this life. I felt alive and happy as I touched the earth and opened my eyes to its simple yet elegant gifts.

  

As we wandered the woods that surrounded our little log cabin I knew without a doubt that this was where I belonged. It all seemed so familiar to me. It was as if a piece of myself had spent my entire life wandering under that beautiful, peaceful canopy while the other parts had struggled to exist in the chaos of a world quite foreign to my soul. My childhood was spent in an environment similar to this place but I chose to leave it at the age of 18 to pursue a college degree and make my way out in the “real” world. That world has proven to be both rewarding and cruel. I have often felt myself struggle to fit in when my heart keeps telling me to run back into the woods where I belong.

  

This trip into the woods healed me in more ways than I can explain with words. It brought me peace and it brought me hope. It provided me with a renewed sense of motivation. The wheels are now in motion to make my way back into the woods for good where I can embrace nature for the remainder of my life. No matter how long it takes to reach that goal, I now know it is going to happen. I can’t wait…

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Photomontage – The Butterfly Effect

Here is a new photomontage piece, “The Butterfly Effect,” I created with the mobile photography apps Juxtaposer, Pixlromatic, and PicFX. The elements for this image are all from photographs I shot with my iPhone in recent years, combined in Juxtaposer and texturized in Pixlromatic and PicFX. You can read my review of Juxtaposer in my last post here.

 **”The Butterfly Effect” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.**


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Juxtaposer

  
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One of my favorite mobile photography editing apps is Juxtaposer. This app is the mobile photomontage artist’s dream app. It was Juxtaposer that first opened the doors of my creative imagination when I transitioned to shooting and editing with an iPhone. For years I had used Photoshop for traditional DSLR photography editing and had played with a few montage creations. However, I found the use of PS for this type of editing to be time consuming, tedious, and it had a steep and somewhat complicated learning curve for the tasks involved.

I first noticed a number of mobile artists creating amazing photomontage work on the iPhoneArt.com website back in 2011. I was blown away by what these artists were creating on their iPhones and ultimately iPads. I followed several conversations and soon learned about the Juxtaposer app. From the first day I downloaded the app I was hooked. At the time the app was iPhone only and the iPhone screens were not nearly as large as they are today. So imagine me bent over my miniscule iPhone screen erasing details of photographs in order to save one small piece as a stamp to combine with another background photo. Talk about tedious! But the fact I could use my fingers to pinch and zoom and an inexpensive stylus to touch up the details made the experience fun and a lot cheaper than Photoshop and a Wacomm tablet. Plus I could say that I created these pieces from start to finish on my iPhone!

 **A few of the pieces I have created with the Juxtaposer app and favorite texture apps.**

As time went, on my iPhone photomomtage pieces all created with Juxtaposer and a few texture apps, began to place in competitions and find their way into galleries, private collections, and publications around the globe. After taking a break from several productive years creating mobile art, I have recently migrated back to using Juxtaposer on my iPad to create illustrations for a new book I am in the process of writing. The fact I can edit with this app on my iPad has improved the user experience ten-fold. Below are some of the steps I took in the app when creating a piece for the book. **Note: this piece is far from finished but I thought it would be fun to share a work in progress while highlighting this app.**

First I chose the base elements that would go into my photomontage based on a concept I had in mind.  

 

**This is the background photo I chose. I shot this several years back in Baja, Mexico.**

 **I decided I wanted this baby carriage as part of the scene. I shot this photo in a vintage auto parts store many years back.**

I opened Juxtaposer, started a new session, and I chose my bottom and top images and imported.  

  

I needed to erase everything on the top layer but the baby carriage. To do this I chose the eraser button and began to pinch and zoom the top image in order to get in close to the edges for detail.

  

When I was happy with the results, I saved the top image as a stamp so I could use it again in the future. I also decided to flip the carriage so it angled towards the cactus for better composition (another tool I love in this app).

   
   

After saving my newly created base scene, I added my main character, The Borg, from my saved stamps.

   
  

 

I then began to add more stamps to the scene, in this case the hat and pacifier.

   
      

Now that I have incorporated all my main core elements I will continue to touch the scene up by adding shadows to anchor the carriage a bit better to the ground so it doesn’t appear to be floating plus a few more items to finish the scene to my liking. This will be followed by importing the piece into a few of my favorite mobile photo texture apps.

A few of the other tools in Juxtaposer are the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, opacity, blend modes, and brush settings. my favorite feature of all is the unerase button which comes in handy when attempting to erase close to the edges. Unlike a reset button, it allows you to unerase small parts of your top layer and does not reverse all the work you just painstakingly labored over.

  
All in all Juxtaposer is a fun app with an intuitive interface for both the beginner and advanced mobile artist.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Zen in the Garden by Tracy J.  Thomas

Zen in the Garden

by Tracy J. Thomas

Giveaway ends May 24, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win


Mira Mobile Prize and Author Interviews

  **”The Red Shoes.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.**

It has been awhile since I have entered my photography in a competition. For several years I was on a roll and found great success in international competitions while building my portfolio. Alas, that all came crashing to a halt when I had to deal with sudden health issues. Fortunately I have had a respite from those concerns and I am once again back on the creative path.

I recently entered the Mira Mobile Prize competition “Ruas do Mundo” (Streets of the World) and was ecstatic to learn one of my iPhone photographs was chosen by the judges to be included in an electronic display to be shown at the Mira Forum in Porto, Portugal. This display was shown alongside the featured printed work of the top 50 finalists. That news made my week.

 

I have also recently had the pleasure of two author interviews regarding my book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” The first interview was conducted by the inimitable Melanie Rockett for her website Proof Positive. You can read the interview here.

  

The most recent Interview was for the website “Writer’s Interviews” and can be viewed here.

  

It was a year ago this month that I was diagnosed with skin cancer. That diagnosis resulted in an intense journey of treatment and healing that has literally changed my life. When I reflect on it now I can honestly say there were many gifts that have come out of that transformational  journey. The first being a reevaluation of what is important in my life and the decision to spend more time writing. I am honoring that decision and have four more books slated for publication this year. My hope is each one of you reading this blog post will follow your hearts and begin to live your lives with passion and peace.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 4 – The Wisdom of Trees

  

I have been a tree lover since I was a child. During summer vacations we spent hours building tree forts in the field behind our housing tract with scavanged boards and nails from a construction site. The trees were a combination of old gnarly Oaks and towering Cottonwoods that offered much needed shade to a herd of cattle and a few horses that grazed in the field.

The tree fort was my favorite place to sit and daydream. It also served as my escape from a not so pretty home life. I remember the feeling of freedom it gave me to sit up high, lost in the cover of this massive tree. I felt safe and protected by its branches. If I sat still long enough I could hear what sounded like a chorus of ancient voices drifting through the leaves as they rustled in the wind. 

Trees are truly amazing gifts of nature. I have often pondered the thought of their longevity and wished they could tell us the stories of all they have seen over time. Some have been silent witnesses to centuries of history. Others, like the Ancient Bristlecones, have been on this earth for more than 5,000 years. Oh the tales they could tell.

Trees provide shelter and shade for birds and mammals. They help to cool the earth, remove particulates, and provide oxygen for us to breathe. Studies show that hospital patients who are in rooms with a view of trees heal faster than patients who don’t. Also, communities that lack trees have a higher crime rate than those that have them.

I proudly consider myself a “tree hugger” yet I do have a balanced understanding of the need for a percentage of trees to be cut and utilized for human needs. But I become saddened at the thought of our rainforests being decimated with abandon and cringe when I hear about large trees being removed for a development in my city.

If only the trees could impart on us the wisdom they have absorbed over time. Maybe we would understand the need to treat nature and other human beings with more kindness.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Periscope by Twitter

  

So there’s this new app by Twitter called “Periscope.” It is not a photography app per se, but it does utilize your iPhone’s  video camera and opens up the world of on-the-go live broadcasting. Normally, I am not an in front of the camera chat type. As a photographer I would much rather hide behind the lens unless I am connecting with clients over Skype or giving an online lecture or interview. But there’s something different about Periscope that has enticed me to jump head first into the world of live broadcasts.

The first thing I loved when I downloaded the app was the easy to understand interface. It is very intuitive with just three simple icons across the bottom. 

  

The first is a television icon which is naturally where you watch live and recorded broadcasts. 

  

The next icon is what appears to be a camera with a small red dot which when pushed takes you to the broadcast screen. The third is your standard people icon that provides you with a list of your Twitter peeps and those on Periscope who are currently the “Most Loved” (those who have accumulated the most likes over time).

  

When you are ready to broadcast, you push the camera icon. On the broadcast screen you will see a Google maps button if you want to broadcast your location, a lock icon if you want to invite specific followers to a private broadcast, and a Twitter button so a Tweet will be sent out to your Twitter peeps letting them know you are doing a broadcast. 

  

At the top of the broadcast screen you type in an enticing title or whatever you want, then click “Start Broadcast” and off you go, instant live streaming 

  

During your broadcast if you have been lucky enough to garner followers and users who see your live broadcast listed on Periscope or Twitter, their names will begin to pop up on your screen as they join in to watch. If they like what they see, your watchers can tap their screens multiple times and little heart bubbles will suddenly begin to appear and float up towards the top (kind of like a standing ovation). This of course is a great motivator to continue your broadcast. Your audience can also text you questions and comments while you are recording and you can interact with them instantly with your spoken voice.

   

   

 

When you are finished with your live broadcast all you do is swipe down on your screen and choose “Stop Broadcasting.” Your video will then save to Periscope and will be viewable for 24 hours under the television icon for people to view later. You can see the number of viewers that watched your saved broadcast when you click on the video in Periscope under the television icon. 

 

If you want to, you can choose to save all your broadcast videos to your own camera roll automatically as well. The only thing that won’t appear on the videos That are saved to your phone are all the hearts, user names and comments. So if you did a broadcast and had lots of verbal interaction with those written comments and you decide to post that video to your YouTube channel, you might want to preface it with a bit of explanation so viewers won’t think you have lost your marbles. Or not. It’s your seemingly one-way conversationS just might go viral :).

I encourage you to download this app and give it a try. I am having great fun with it and believe it to be an invaluable way to connect with your readers, followers, clients, or audience. The tagline for this app is “Explore the world through someone else’s eyes.” We each have our unique way of seeing and I look forward to experiencing the world as you see it. 

Feel free to follow me on Periscope. My user name is Tracy J. Thomas. I can use all the hearts you are willing to give. You can also connect with me on Twitter: @tjthomasphoto.


Zen Moment 3 – Connecting With the Gifts That Nature Gives Us

  

** Raccoon wading through the wetlands, Yolo Wildlife Area, Davis, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

“When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.” – Lao Tzu

I am constantly surprised by nature’s little gifts. A few days ago I went on a walk at the Yolo Wildlife Area and chose to head up the gravel road I have walked dozens of times. There are wetlands that hug each side of this road and it provides a great view of a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

It was a typical Spring morning where I spotted and photographed Egrets, Blue Heron, American Coot, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers, Ibis, Stilts, and Avocets. I walked and stopped every now and then to capture another photo and marveled at the chorus of birdsong and the beauty of this oasis so close to the city where I live. I felt grounded and thankful that I was able to begin my day in such a wonderful way. 

While lost in the moment, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned towards a tall Thistle plant on the edge of the water and was amazed to see a Raccoon slip into the water and begin to wade towards a small island of reeds. In all my trips out there I have never come across a Raccoon, especially not in daylight since they are nocturnal creatures by nature. 

I stood there amazed at the scene as it unfolded before me. The Raccoon was equally amazed to see me standing there and for a moment we held a silent vigil as our eyes locked on to the other. I raised my camera slowly and took a few photographs and video of this amazing creature and tried to reassure it through my relaxed demeanor that I meant it no harm.

My original intent that morning was to get some exercise in with a nice brisk walk, alas, the Universe had a different plan for me. This unexpected gift found me standing there for a good hour just watching and waiting as the Raccoon waded from island to island and searched the reeds for Crawdads to eat. Every time it would finish its search it would peek out at me from between the reeds then enter the water and make its way towards the next island.

The entire time I stood there watching I felt a smile spread wide across my face. There was nothing else but me, the Raccoon, a Hallelujah chorus of birdsong, and my giant smile. Any stress I felt at the start of that morning was dissipated. It was exactly how nature intended it to be. The two of us, lost in the moment of our surprising communion as we danced our pas de deux to the music of this magical Universe.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 2 – Go With the Flow

  

 

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free.” – Chuang Tzu

I have always been drawn to water. Whether the reflection of the clouds in a calm lake, the peaceful sound of a trickling brook, the hypnotic repetition of waves hitting the shoreline, or the breathtaking sight of a waterfall as it cascades down the face of a mountain, water relaxes me and clears my mind of all the clutter.

Water cools, refreshes, both gives and sustains life. The human body is more than 60% water. Without it we would die. For many, water symbolizes emotional energy, the subconscious, growth, and creative potential. For me it represents the rhythm of life. Water ebbs, it flows, it sits calmly, it roars, it carves canyons out of solid rock, it falls gently from the sky and touches the petals of a rose. 

Whenever I have the chance I make my way towards a body of water and I watch and I listen. The song is never the same. The message always different. At times it feels as if it passes right through me, renews me, saturates the parts of me that had dried out from neglect. 

If water were to serve as a metaphor for anything in my own life it would be one of change and growth. My most life-changing decisions and moments of growth have occurred when a body of water was present. Whatever water may mean to you, I hope you make the choice to incorporate it into your life on occasion. Walk along the beach and watch the ocean stretch out before you. Put your bare feet in a cool creek and feel it run over and through your toes. Listen to the magnificence as it roars down the side of a mountain. And more than anything let it set your mind free.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Embracing Those Zen Moments

  

Sunday morning I went to church. But this was not your typical preacher at the pulpit, dressed in our Sunday finest, we seek forgiveness for our multitude of sins, here’s five percent of my paycheck, followed by breakfast at Denny’s type of church. It was instead my personal choice of places to go when seeking communion with the Divine. My church of choice is Nature.

I grew up in those traditional houses of worship, but as an adult I find them uncomfortable and often filled with hypocrisy. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not harbor disdain for those who choose a traditional church as their place of worship, but I personally have been unable to find my own peace there. 

When I walk in nature with my feet planted firmly against the earth, embraced by the breeze and serenaded by bird song, I become instantly relaxed and at peace. In those moments I feel closer to a God than any other time in my life. Everything makes sense to me as I walk along and see the beauty before my eyes.

Yesterday I had one of those little “Zen Moments” where I felt connected to everything and found beauty in the simple things. My hope for each of you this week is you will find your own Zen moments as you navigate this noisy life.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


For Every Ending There is a Beginning



** A Dandelion flower in the fall as it begins to dry out and die. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014-2015. All rights reserved. **

I have been thinking a lot lately of endings and beginnings. I suppose my reflection is motivated by several events that have occurred in my life. My age for one. The older I get the more contemplative I become as I slither towards that inevitable ending with this dance on earth. Yet I do realize life can become extinguished at a moment’s notice and not necessarily at the point when one is old and wrinkled and worn out. 

The second motivator has been my health challenges over the past two years. First it was West Nile Virus followed a year later by treatment for skin cancer. Both were stressful physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Illness brings you face to face with your own mortality and changes you in ways you could never imagine while in good health.

When friends die or face serious illness or debilitating accidents, especially when they are younger than myself, it causes me to pause and take a good hard look at how I am currently living my life. Over the past month one of my friends and former Aikido Sensei’s, Denise, died from a sudden illness. She was eleven years younger than me. This was followed by the news of my friend Julie’s accident that has left her locked in a coma. Two very valid reasons why thoughts of the precarious balance between life and death have been brought to the forefront of my mind.

Nature is the perfect reflection of endings and beginnings. Within it there are many. It is the place to come to an understanding of the fluid nature of life. When you take a walk in the forest evidence of the cycle of life is everywhere. Out of the decomposing duff created by a fallen tree, wildflower and tree seedlings spring forth. The end of one thing makes possible the other. And on and on it goes.

Spring approaches quickly and the evidence is mounting. That which has passed before has allowed new life to arise. People die and babies are born. A flower wilts and another opens its petals to the sun. One door closes and another one opens. Life continues and ends right in front of us every single day. Whether or not we live the moments we are given fully, is our own decision. Whatever our choice, there will continue to be endings that turn into beginnings and beginnings that come to an end.



** Lupine growing near Bassi Falls, Eldorado National Forest, California. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon.


A Dance in the Spring Rain



This morning I woke up to a cleansing Spring rain. Unlike the east coast, things have been extremely dry here in California so any bit of moisture that falls from the heavens is welcomed with open arms. 

So in the spirit of my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature,” I decided to start my morning off by donning my rain boots and doing a little puddle dance. It was so refreshing to stand in the rain and feel the drops fall on my face. I immediately felt more alive, awake, and cleansed.



For me the rain makes a perfect backdrop to focus on my writing. The remainder of my day will be spent working on one of several companion books to “Zen in the Garden.” The first one I am writing is about growing and harvesting herbs and spices for health and healing.

I will of course take many breaks throughout the day to stand in the rain, take photos of the new blooms in the garden, Look for the rainbow, and refresh my soul. My hope is each one of you will find a bit of time for yourselves today to sit quietly somewhere in nature and renew your souls.


Reflections – Finding Beauty in the Small Things



** Snowy Egret, Petaluma Wetlands, Petaluma, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

There are days when I find it difficult to concentrate. My mind feels pulled in a million directions and I become frustrated with my inability to accomplish the things I need to get accomplished. This is simply part of being human in this day and age of overstimulation. Too much information coming at us from too many sources. It becomes difficult to filter and discern what is important and what needs to be discarded.

When I feel overwhelmed I know it’s past time for me to get out into nature. One of my favorite places to go is a local wildlife area that sits on the Pacific Flyway. Migratory birds of every flavor take refuge there. Some of these birds fly thousands of miles to reach their Winter or Spring destinations. They amaze me. Flocks of Snow Geese, Swans, and Sandhill Cranes fly right over our house this time of year while headed north to their Spring breeding grounds. Some nights I hear groups of Swans in the distance and if I am not too tired I stand in the darkness of our backyard and wait for their glowing white v-shape to appear over the rooftops. They fly So low you can sometimes hear the whooshing sound of their long wings as they pass overhead.

The Cranes fly by during the day and on several occasions I have watched them catch a rest on a thermal. Their distinct sound becomes more animated as they coast on these circular winds. At times they use them to wait for a few straggling family members to catch up to the group. Their cries become louder as the stragglers catch up. It’s as if they are overjoyed to be together again.

What amazes me the most is I can stand in the middle of this city and be touched by nature as long as I am open and willing to find it. It makes me wonder how many times in my life I have failed to see its beauty or hear it call out to me when I am lost in some shallow reaction to the self imposed stressors of my life. I can choose to be present each day while I am on this earth and embrace all the wonders that bring my soul peace. Or I can remain locked in a fruitless battle with the things that bring me angst and frustration.

As I sit here and reflect in the quiet of the night I realize how lucky I am. My life has not been one of ease. Like many, I have weathered my fair share of trials and tribulations and learned more lessons than I care to share. Yet I am thankful I can stand in awe of nature’s wonders and still find beauty in the small things.


Walking in the Forest With My Eyes Closed



Have you ever stood still in the forest for a moment to listen to the whisperings of all that surrounds you? Have you ever closed your eyes while walking on a trail for a few steps then opened them to see something new you had failed to see just moments before? If you haven’t, I suggest you try it. If you have, then I think you will agree it is a great way to “see” and experience things differently.

Our days are filled with noise pollution and visual stimuli that tends to overwhelm our senses and shut us down to what surrounds us. A self-preservation mechanism that can backfire by blinding us to the beauty that also exists in our everyday environments. In our busy world most of us have lost touch with ourselves and the connection we each had to the earth when we were children.

The simple joy we felt as children has been replaced by mounting stress. The willingness to explore our natural environment with inquisitiveness and a feeling of wonder has diminished over time and been replaced by the shallow demands of life. How sad that we become so lost as adults we forget about the beauty that exists right in front of us.

Life should be about living. Life should be about happiness and joy. When we take a few moments each day to discover and reconnect with the beauty that is in nature we can begin to change our perspective. We can find balance and a renewed sence of peace. It can really be as simple as walking out your door and smelling the flowers for a few minutes before you climb into your car to head off to work. Take a short walk at lunchtime and make a point of finding one beautiful thing in nature that you haven’t noticed before. You don’t have to be in the middle of a forest to find it. You can even find it in the middle of a busy city. Feel the cool breeze on your face, smile at a puffy white cloud in the sky, breathe in the fragrant smell of a flower bed, be inspired by the flowering weed that has pushed its way up through a crack in the sidewalk. It is all around us every minute of the day. So go on. Enjoy!



This is the last day to download the Kindle version of my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing in Nature” on Amazon. You can download it here: http://amzn.com/B00TN2GQHM

Edit


Breathing My Way Into Spring



This morning I decided to heed my words from my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” Being self-employed, tax season is always a stressor. Add to that the demands of work I perform for clients and my attempt to self-promote the launch of my new book and you have the perfect recipe for a potential meltdown.

But if I have learned anything on this journey it is the importance of placing a damper on stress, or at least the way my body reacts to it, before it has a chance to impact my life and most importantly my health. Today I woke up with a long list of to-do’s in my head. Not a good way to start the morning. I didn’t even take a moment to say “Hello world!” My first mistake. But since I have a forgiving heart, I gave myself a hug and decided to go out on a walk at a local nature trail for a quick attitude adjustment.

“Ahhhhh…” 

The minute I stepped out of my car and placed a foot onto the trail I felt relief spill over me. I could breathe again. There was a cool breeze that placed a kiss on both cheeks and the morning sun warmed the top of my big floppy hat. Whatever stress I carried when I left my house was instantly replaced with a calm peace as I began to notice the beautiful Spring blossoms that had begun to grace the trees. I felt a smile begin to creep across my face. This is how life is supposed to be. We are meant to be happy and to experience the joy And beauty of simple things.

As my day continues forward I carry that peace I found this morning and feel a renewed sense of groundedness and the ability to focus on my tasks. Do yourself a favor. When you begin to feel stress creep in take yourself out on a walk and find at least one thing you think is beautiful along the way. Take a mental picture, or if you have a camera take a photo and revisit that image throughout your day.

You can still download “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” for free on Amazon through tomorrow.


The Little Kindle Book That Could



Life amazes me. Constantly. It is a roller coaster filled with ups and downs but it’s the positive moments that tend to surprise and help me to move past the more difficult times. One of those surprises has come from this little book I wrote and published on Amazon.

Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” was my way of moving on from recent skin cancer treatment. For those of you who followed my treatment journey you know it was not a pretty nor positive time in my life.  In the beginning stages of treatment I spent a lot of time taking photographs out in my garden and in nature. Once I became housebound during the eight weeks of topical chemotherapy I made a point to revisit my nature photos to remind myself of the beautiful things in life. 

Nature has always been the one thing in life that grounds me and gives me peace. When I initially began my career as a photographer my focus was on the nature and wildlife genre. That is where I have felt the most comfortable and connected my whole life, so it made since my foray into serious photography would be in that genre. It also makes since that I would circle back to my beginning, to my happy, healing, peaceful place to move forward from this unpleasant chapter in life.

When I wrote this little book it was a healing experience for me but I also had hope the words and photographs would speak to others. So I am amazed at the positive reception, reviews and comments it has received so far since its release. I am even more amazed to find it currently sitting in the #1 spot in two Kindle categories on Amazon.com. It has miraculously reached #1 in “Spiritual Healing” and #1 in Self-Help. 

** Screenshot from the book’s Amazon page and its current ranking. **



Zen in the Garden is now FREE for download in the Kindle store through March 4th. You can also purchase a paperback version if you prefer to hold a book in hand. If you do download it I would love for you to leave a quick review on Amazon. Even more I would love for you to share the link with all your friends :). 

You can get your copy now here: Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.


FREE Kindle Book Download – Zen in the Garden



This morning I woke up to find my little motivational book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” had moved back into the top 100 in three categories on Amazon. It had reached #6 in Spiritual Healing, #9 in Self-Help, and #25 in Short Reads Self-Help. This amazes me and makes me feel very thankful. I wrote this book after my experience with cancer treatment and my hope is it will prove helpful to others who may be experiencing stressors in their own lives.



** You can download the Kindle version for FREE until March 4th here: Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature. Please feel free to share this with your friends or anyone else you think might benefit from this little book.


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Tintype by Hipstamatic



** “Santa Clause is Dead” – Shot and edited with Hipstamatic’s Tintype app. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Since I shoot a lot of mobile photos I decided to start a series of posts where I chat about my favorite mobile photography apps. This first post will focus on my current fave, the Tintype app by Hipstamatic. 

From the first day I downloaded this app to my iPhone I fell in love. It is a basic point and shoot app that captures in black and white and adds plate grain and depth of field with no on-the-fly in-camera adjustments. The true magic happens after you shoot your photo with the ability in app to edit such things as style (black and white, color or sepia), crop square, adjust plate grain, sharpen the eyes if it is a portrait, and adjust depth of field.



** “The Ticket Booth” – Shot and edited with Hipstamatic’s Tintype app. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

I have used this app quite a bit for shooting landscapes and portraits but lately I have been using this camera app to shoot street photos. It has caused me to slow down and become a more deliberate shooter since it takes some time to save each photo to the camera roll. It gives me time to think about composition and to keep my eyes open to what is happening around me.



** “The Red Shoes” – Shot and edited with Hipstamatic’s Tintype app. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

The app does not shoot well in low light. Under those circumstances, if you shoot with another camera app such as Manual or 645 Pro where you can make ISO or Apeture adjustments you can pull the photo into Tintype to edit and apply this wonderful vintage look later.


Writing is Good for the Soul



From an early age books swept me away to better places where magical things happened to innocent children. Where mean giants were slain, frogs turned into princes, and even a poisonous apple was not enough to keep love from prevailing over evil. 

I learned to read books about “Green Eggs and Ham” and as a four-year-old pondered the question “Are You My Mother?” Later in my pre-adolescence Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Little Women, and Watership Down became my goto books for validation of a better life outside my mini-Universe.

These books stirred something deep inside my soul that felt like a perfect fit. I secretly longed to be a writer that would make a difference in someone’s life. For years I wrote in the confines of my private space, rarely sharing my words with others. These words were an integral part of me and who I am. I was terrified at the thought of releasing them for others to read. The idea left me feeling vulnerable. In ways it was as if I was offering up my soul on a platter to sacrifice for anyone who dared.

Jump forward to three years ago when I was handed an opportunity to contribute a piece to an anthology that was going to be published by Seal Press. I was asked by one of the Editors, Hollye Dexter, who had become aware of my writing through my blog, through the writing community of She Writes, and a few other places where I had become brave enough to post. I was humbled and blown away to be asked. The topic of the anthology was shame. God knows I have had plenty of that in my life. Haven’t we all?



The book “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small” was published by Seal Press in 2012. My piece shares the pages with some extraordinary women. 0Being a part of that book has lead to some amazing opportunities for me like becoming a member of the faculty and speaking on the “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2013. But the best thing to occur was my newfound sense of confidence in my ability to write.



** From left to right: Samantha Dunn, Brooke Axtell, Sarah Stonich, Laura Davis, Amy Ferris, Hollye Dexter, Suzanne Braun Levine, Tracy J Thomas, Brooke Warner. “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel, San Miguel International Writers Conference, 2013. Photo by Jon Ware. **

I definitely don’t strive to be the next literary genius nor to make it onto the New York Times Bestsellers list with anything I write. Those amazing writers are few and far between. My only hope is to entertain and help others through my words. That alone is my greatest reward. Although of course I would be happy with any royalties that roll in so I can continue to pay my bills :).

I was thrilled this morning to find my little motivational Kindle ebook, “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” had moved up into the top 100 in the Kindle paid store for three categories on Amazon. It was perched at #32 in “Spiritual Healing,” #68 in Short Reads “self-Help,” and #78 in overall “Self-Help.” I am fully aware these rankings are precarious and go up and down on an hourly basis but am still giddy with excitement every time I see these numbers.



Whoever said “writing is good for the soul” was correct. Whenever I write I am immediately transported to my happy place and my soul feels renewed and quite often vindicated when I give it a platform on which to speak. My photography is on an even plane with my writing in regards to the cleansing of soul. Whenever I have the opportunity to combine the two I reach that elusive state of Nirvana. 

If you would like to download “Zen in the Garden” you can do so here: Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.

I welcome any reviews and would also love it if you would gift it forward if you feel so moved.


Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature

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So I wrote and published a short little Kindle e-book called “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” I wrote it after my recent journey with skin cancer, surgeries, and chemotherapy. It is meant to provide inspiration and motivation through a combination of written words and my photographs. It also contains some gardening tips and nature challenges.

It was published on Valentine’s Day and has already reached the top 100 Amazon Best Sellers Rank in the category of “Spiritual Healing.” All I can say is “wow!” I am humbled and happy and hope this little book can touch the lives of those who are open to its message.

Here is where it ranked last night. It was at #43 in Spiritual Healing:

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If you would like to read a copy it is currently only $2.99 and can be purchased here on Amazon: Zen in the Garden. If you do purchase it I would love it if you will take a moment to give it a review. Even better, if you can think of someone in your life who might benefit from its message please gift it forward. You can do this by choosing “Give as a Gift” on the Amazon book page. Or simply share this post with your friends if you feel moved to do so :).

You can also view my Amazon author page here: Tracy J Thomas.

Here is an example of one of my photos that appear in this book combined with a snippet of my writing.

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Wandering the Streets Once Again

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** “The Red Shoes” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

It’s been a long few months but I am finally back out on the streets shooting again. For those of you who followed my journey through the end of 2014, you know this moment could not have come fast enough for me.

I was so happy to wake up to thick fog this morning. Not a typical response for most but in light of the fact I need to limit my UV exposure I was ecstatic. As I wandered the streets in this thick, wet, soupy veil of gray I felt more alive than I have felt in a long time.

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** “Old Choo Choo” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

People say cancer has that effect on you, well at least after treatment. It most certainly has proven to be true for me. Everything seems so vivid and tangible now. My senses are on high alert with these “new” eyes. Things I once failed to notice now grab my attention with an immediacy that I shrugged off before. Life looks different and it is.

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** “Gun to the Head” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **


Skin Cancer Treatment – Fluorouracil Day 2

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Day two on Fluorouracil has been pretty uneventful. Last night my face tingled a lot and it felt like I had a mild sunburn (oh the irony). I sleep on my side so my pillow case kept sticking to my cheeks every time I went to turn over. I hear it is even more fun when your face begins to bleed and fester. Plastic covers under the pillowcases anyone?

This morning my face was still pink but the day was mostly uneventful with the exception of the fact I felt slightly irritated. More than likely not a side effect of the drug at this early juncture but feeling a little trapped by the thought of being a slave to this chemical for the next three weeks and not certain how intensely my skin is going to react.

There are a few tiny red spots that are already beginning to pop out on my forehead but nothing worth taking a photo of yet. So I decided to post some photos from my last nature walk this past Sunday instead.

It was my last chance to get in a good walk before starting the Fluorouracil. The medication makes you extra sensitive to UV rays. I have seen the photos of people who used the drug and made the mistake of going out in the sun. Even with sunscreen and short exposure times, their faces became terribly inflamed. Thus I have decided to become a vampire and go on walks after the sun goes down. It makes life more exciting that way :-).

So for now, here are a few iPhone photos I shot using the Tintype app by Hipstamatic. They were shot along the Barge Access Canal across from the Port of Sacramento.

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Honoring The Artist Inside

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Art has always been an integral part of my life. Through it I can make beauty in the midst of something ugly. Without it, I feel completely lost and void of purpose. With it, I feel at home, as if my purpose for living is tied in somewhere to the act of creating.

For me art takes on multiple iterations. Sometimes the vehicle for expression comes through my writing, sometimes it comes through the capturing of an image with my camera, and lately it has surfaced through working with clay.

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No matter which tool my soul chooses, I feel grounded and happy when lost in the moment of creation.

Since my diagnosis and surgeries I have experienced an extra strong desire to focus on my art. In the midst of these past few stressful months I found myself exploring macro photography, delving into play with clay, and most recently I have been drawn back into burying myself in words through the NaNoWriMo challenge. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, here is the description from the website:

“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.”

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I have had two novels simmering in the background for quite some time and 10 days ago I made the commitment to attack one of them by hammering out 50,000 words and the first draft by the end of November. I am already a few thousand words short of halfway on day 10. The accountability of recording my daily word count on the NaNoWriMo website has worked wonders for my writing habit. I have also felt a bit of urgency to write as much as I can to get ahead before I begin my topical chemotherapy today (more about that in my next post).

The majority of my freelance and published work has been in nonfiction. This is definitely my first serious push into the world of fiction. I have to admit, I am enjoying the journey. I believe I am enjoying it so much right now because it provides me a daily escape from reality and I am allowed to construct a world where my characters are free to roam without boundaries.

If I wanted to become all psychoanalytic about it I could probably tie it into my sudden lack of control over my physical body and the need to feel like the Captain of something once again. But meh, let’s not go there today and just say I am having a great time living in an alternate reality for around 2,000 words per day.

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I am definitely not a traditionalist. I have always struggled with being confined to an office in a corporate setting. Money never made me happy when I had a lot of it and the stress of the crazy corporate work hours just about did me in.

Of course I never wanted to be a “starving artist” but I have always wanted to make a living with my art. It is what fulfills me the most and definitely what makes me feel the happiest.

So here’s to always honoring the artist inside of you no matter how he/she decides they need to show themselves to the world.


Hipstamatic Tintype

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This is just a quick share of some photos along with a quick update. I will write a longer post in the next few days with what I have been up to lately as well as a skin cancer update.

Since my surgeries I have not been out very much to take photographs. And honestly, I have also felt a certain lack of motivation and inspiration in the area of photography for a few months prior. A very normal part of the cycle of being an artist. There are times when I just need a break from the camera so I can begin to see things differently again.

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This short break away has been a good one for me. I find myself gravitating back towards my original love of black and white. I also recently discovered the new Tintype app by Hipstamatic and I adore it.

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These four photos were shot over the last two days with the Tintype app. I love the dreamy, vintage feel this app creates. It has also helped me to slow down again and really think about my composition before I shoot. If you love mobile photography and have not yet tried this app I highly recommend it!

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Of Frozen Peas and Prize Fights

Frozen peas are my friend.

Frozen peas are my friend.

Today I look like a prize-fighter. Fortunately my opponent looks far worse than I do at this moment in time. Yesterday’s surgeries went well. After a six-hour day of needles, scalpels, bandages, blood and stitches, I can now say I am cancer free. So this week I am focused on healing. Bags of frozen peas have become my best friend for reducing the swelling and controlling the bruising. Once I am fully healed I will move on to the topical chemo in a few months to eradicate any hidden gremlins that might be lurking in the shadows.

The scene of my Mohs surgery.

The scene of my Mohs surgery.

Thank you all for the kind words, prayers and positive thoughts you’ve sent me while I travel down this inconvenient but hopefully short side road along this occasionally convoluted journey we call “life.”

The reconstruction surgeon, Dr. J., who made me all pretty again.

The reconstruction surgeon, Dr. J., who made me all pretty again.


On the Eve of Mohs

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Tomorrow morning I have the Mohs surgery to remove the rest of the tumor on my eyelid (Medial Canthus). The length of the surgery is dependent on how wide and deep the roots of the cancer have grown. The surgeon will take a slice, bandage me up and send me to a waiting area while he freezes the sample and looks at the cells under a microscope. If the margins are not clear he will take another slice and repeat. This process will continue until he views clear margins. They told me it typically takes from three to five hours with most undergoing three passes of the scalpel, some much more.

Once the margins are clear he will inject a longer-lasting anesthetic, bandage me up again and send me on my way to the Oculoplastics surgeon for reconstruction and closure of the surgery site.

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After the surgeries I will have to ice my eye/face 20 minutes on/off for the first three days followed by warm compresses until the stitches are removed, keep the area clean, and put artificial tears in my eyes four times a day. I will have to sleep in a recliner to keep my head elevated and cannot lift much of anything, am not supposed to bend over nor do any exercise. Basically I am supposed to rest and let it heal.

My biggest concern is of course in which direction he will have to cut to follow the cancer. I am hoping it is away from my eye. My second concern is the amount of time my eye will remain swollen and how soon I will be able to wear my glasses. I am pretty blind without them.

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The surgery site on my back is healing well with minimal pain although I have been experiencing daily headaches. Yesterday I was able to go on an easy hike around Sly Park lake for a bit of pre-surgery nature therapy. It felt good to get out in nature but I was not feeling well by the time I got back to the picnic area.

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Tonight I am understandably a bundle of nerves. I am trying to keep myself grounded and positive but I don’t like the fact there are so many unknowns right now. Of course it will all become clear as the surgeon begins his task and I will walk away at the end of the day knowing without a doubt that all the cancer has been removed.

I will update you all as soon as I get to the other side :-).

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And So It Begins…

Surgical Lights. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Surgical Lights. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

So yesterday was surgery #1 for the cancer on my back. After a long discussion with my doctor I chose one of three removal options. The options were by excision, through Immunotherapy drugs, or by Curettage and Electrodessication.

Since it is a larger basal cell, with an excision he would have had to cut about ten inches in length and go pretty deep for clear margins plus I would have quite a few stitches to contend with and the pain that accompanies it. The second option was Immunotherapy via Imiquimod used to treat advanced basal cell carcinomas. The drug uses your own body’s immune system to kill off the tumor but the regimen would require daily topical application for six straight weeks with pain and discomfort accompanied by flu-like symptoms. The third (which I chose) was the Curettage and Electrodessication method. It would not require a large incision or stitches nor the yucky chemo side effects. He used a sharp curette (a spoon-shaped instrument) to scrape and scoop the tumor out then used a machine with an electric current to burn away any excess cancer cells surrounding the tumor spot. So now I have a semi-deep, open spot on my back that simply requires cleaning, application of ointment and bandaging for the next several weeks. It stung quite a bit after the local wore off but I slept well last night after taking an Extra Strength Tylenol and today I only feel it a tiny bit along with a headache.

The surgery room. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The surgery room. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Although it does not have as high of a success rate as the Imiquimod, I decided the C&E method would be the best choice since I will have to also deal with the healing process, discomfort, etc. of the upcoming surgeries on my face which will be more involved and require stitches.

My lollipop following surgery.

My lollipop following surgery.

I also had another pre-cancer (Actinic Keratosis #20) frozen off my forehead right before the surgery. We discussed moving my topical chemo regimen forward to the end of October following my Mohs instead of waiting any longer since I have so many “spots” of concern on my face. So I have five weeks of possible Hell to look forward to after all this surgery. The level of that particular Hell will depend on how many sub-dermal spots turn up when I use the Fluorouracil. Common side effects of this topical chemotherapy may include: skin irritation, burning, redness, dryness, pain, swelling, tenderness, or changes in skin color at the site of application. Eye irritation (e.g., stinging, watering), trouble sleeping, irritability, temporary hair loss, or abnormal taste in the mouth may also occur. Oh goody!

Paraphernalia to make the owie all better.

Paraphernalia to make the owie all better.

So the lesson in this is WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN and those big, sexy hats. It’s not “just skin cancer” that can be cut away and forgotten about. It is real, it costs time and money, and it wreaks havoc on one’s psyche.

That is all for now…


Respite in Yosemite

El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Last week I was “kidnapped” by my lovely partner and held hostage in a Yurt for three days right outside the entrance to Yosemite National Park. It was a much-needed respite in nature as my surgery dates approach.

The Yurt. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Yurt. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I grew up near Yosemite on the Eastern side of the Sierras so I have been there many times. I never get tired of the beauty and majesty that this park bestows. I am always in awe and am often brought to tears by its magnificence.

A very dry Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A very dry Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Our days were spent hiking and taking photos. I felt completely energized and renewed while there and wanted to continue hiking and climbing even when I was at my most depleted state due to the higher elevation and lack of oxygen.

It was a wonderful escape from reality as well as an opportunity to reflect on the beauty in life.

The view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from on top of Glacier Point. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from on top of Glacier Point. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This morning I am feeling tense again so I decided to look through my photos in order to go back to my “happy place” and ground myself a bit. That is a big part of photography for me. The ability to relive those moments captured in perpetuity. When I view them I can feel the wind on my face, the smell of the pines, the warmth of the sun (protected by SPF 50 of course), and am embraced once again by a feeling of reverence and an overwhelming silence.

"The Fallen." - Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome with a view of El Capitan and Cathedral Spires in the background. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Fallen.” – Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome with a view of El Capitan and Cathedral Spires in the background. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow it all begins with my back surgery followed 10 days later with the Mohs surgery on my face. I expect tomorrow to be pretty straight forward with an excision and stitches followed by the waiting game for the pathology report. The Mohs surgery on the 8th is a different story. Too many unknowns for my taste. But I will try to stay focused on the beauty of nature and look forward to more trips to Yosemite in the future.

A Mule Deer in the forest. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A Mule Deer in the forest. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The majestic face of El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The majestic face of El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Bridge over the Tuolumne River. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Bridge over the Tuolumne River. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Granite and trees near lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Granite and trees near lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


A multitude of rock cairns below Half Dome near Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A multitude of rock cairns below Half Dome near Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Sentinel Dome from below. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Sentinel Dome from below. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hiking down from the top of Sentinel Dome with Half Dome as the backdrop. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hiking down from the top of Sentinel Dome with Half Dome as the backdrop. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Yep, that's a selfie on top of Sentinel Dome. Yosemite National Park.

Yep, that’s a selfie on top of Sentinel Dome. Yosemite National Park.


The Waiting Game

"Upside Down" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Upside Down” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The past few weeks have been spent focused on design projects for clients while finding ways to keep my stress levels under control. Burying myself in “busy” is a great way to forget about the cancer but it doesn’t necessarily bode well for subconscious stress management. We have been having quite the heat spell here in California so I have not been spending as much Zen time out in the garden with my camera. Instead I have been starting my days off by making my way to the air-conditioned gym to pedal, lift, and sweat away all those ugly stress bugs.

"Cradling the Moon" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Cradling the Moon” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The surgery to remove the cancer on my back is now scheduled for August 27th. The back surgery should be relatively straight forward with minimal recovery time. A lot will depend on the pathology report a few days following the excision. If the margins are not clear, then I will need to go back in for more. If they are clear then I will have 10 days to recover before the Mohs surgery on my face.

I am the most nervous about the surgery on my face. Most of that comes from all the unknowns that are tied in with this spot. They won’t know until they begin to cut away, freeze the tissue and look under the microscope how much they will need to remove that day. It could be anywhere from a few passes to an all day affair. It all depends on how far the cancer has spread beneath the surface. Once the surgeon gets clear margins I will then need to have reconstructive surgery with the Oculoplastics surgeon that same day. Again, how much reconstruction I will need is an unknown until the cancer is removed.

Hibiscus flower - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hibiscus flower – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Tuesday of this week the U.S. Surgeon General for the first time ever issued a call to action to prevent this disease. This warning is long overdue. Hopefully it will have a strong impact on how people think about UV exposure and the real threat it has on their health. I know it took my own diagnosis to shake up my world and clarify for me the real dangers of tanning, whether it be from the sun or in a tanning bed.

Please wear your sunscreen and those big, floppy, oh-so-sexy hats. Protect yourselves and the ones you love. Pale is definitely the new sexy.


Fine Art and Good Wine

"Palapa at El Paraiso" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Palapa at El Paraiso” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I don’t often do this but think this is an awesome promotion put together by Fine Art America and NakedWines.com. It also provides me with an opportunity to shamelessly promote my work for sale. Of course any purchase of my work helps to offset some of the costs I am incurring for cancer treatment above and beyond what my insurance currently covers.

SHAMELESS PROMOTION

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If you are a wine and fine art lover or you know somebody who is, if you purchase any one of my prints (any size and style) during the month of July from the link below you will instantly receive a $100 OFF certificate for NakedWines.com. To use the certificate you must be a new customer to NakedWines and it can only be applied towards wine purchases of $160 or more.

Even if you don’t drink wine you can always re-gift the certificate at the holidays. Better yet, give your loved one a fine art print and you can put your feet up and drink that $160 worth of wine that you bought for just $60 (plus whatever you spent on the print) :-).

DESCRIPTION FROM FINE ART AMERICA

“When you place an order on Fine Art America, we’ll e-mail you a $100 gift certificate from NakedWines.com… instantly. It doesn’t matter how large your order is on Fine Art America. If you order a single greeting card, you’ll still receive the gift certificate.

Once you receive the gift certificate, all you have to do is visit NakedWines.com, enter in your gift certificate code, buy some wine, and you’re done! Then, just sit back and wait for the wine to arrive on your doorstep. If the logistical stars are in alignment, maybe your wine and your order from Fine Art America will arrive at the same time!”

Below is the link to my Fine Art America store where you can order prints. I have also included the promotion information link on FAA. Who knows, you might also find some other wonderful artists’ work on the Fine Art America site worth collecting or promoting.

To buy a print and receive your certificate click here: http://tracy-thomas.artistwebsites.com/

For more information on the promotion click here: http://fineartamerica.com/winepromotion.html

NOTE: I most definitely will not hold it against you if you decide to share this blog post with all of your friends across the globe and on every one of your social media accounts. Honest I won’t and cheers!


The Better To See You With…

ophthalmologists Phoropter - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Opthalmologists Phoropter – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Last week I had my appointment with the Ophthalmologist who will be my Oculoplastics surgeon directly following the Mohs surgery. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I came to his office for the pre-op consult and examination. He examined my eyes closely with a numbing yellow dye and a split scope then took a ton of measurements of my face from my eye up to my hairline, from my eyelid to the area of the lesion, and across the bridge of my nose. He then took a lot of photographs of my face, especially of the area where the cancer lives.

Split Scope - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Split Scope – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Dr. J as I will refer to him explained the difficulty of the surgery based on the proximity to the eye. He told me when cancer is found on the midline of the face it is considered high-risk. The face is made up of different types of skin cells so grafting to the area where my cancer grows with skin from somewhere else on my face (i.e. behind my ear) would not do very well. Instead he will be pulling a skin flap over the open region with adjoining healthy skin. This may mean skin pulled over from my top eyelid, bottom eyelid, or down from the bridge of my nose or forehead to the area of the medial canthus. Part of the difficulty of reconstruction for this area is the fact it is a concave pocket and skin likes to grow in a straight line from point A to B especially when they use a graft from another area of the body. However skin cells used from adjacent areas can more easily conform to the natural concave shape of the area.

Anatomy of the eye - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Anatomy of the eye – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

We discussed the unknowns including the fact they won’t know how much skin will be removed until the actual day of the Mohs surgery. Therefore Dr. J does not know how much reconstruction will be required until I make it to him following the first surgery earlier in the day. Such is the nastiness of skin cancer. It likes to take root and grow just under the radar beneath the surface of the skin. The beauty of Mohs surgery is their ability to remove a layer, freeze it, look at it under a microscope to determine whether or not they got clear margins all in the same day. That way you don’t have to wait two days and come back for more surgery. They just keep cutting away until the margins are clear.

I can’t honestly say my anxiety was relieved by the pre-op appointment. There are still too many unknowns at this juncture. I did receive the date for my Mohs surgery and reconstruction the day after my pre-op so at least I now have a target date for which to mentally prepare. The cancer on my back will be removed first in a few weeks by my Dermatologist, most likely through excision. I will then have a month or so to heal before my face surgery occurs on September 8th. Relieved to have a date, however the intensity of it all gave me one big headache.

Me getting rid of my headache with my Spa Comforts lavender eye pillow.

Me getting rid of my headache with my Spa Comforts lavender eye pillow.

Dr. J gave me a handout with post-op care instructions before I left his office. There will be a period of time I most likely will not be able to wear my glasses due to inflammation, swelling and tenderness. This is not a great thing since I am pretty reliant on my glasses to read and see. They told me to expect redness, bruising, and swelling to not only my eye area but my face plus the possibility of bleeding into the white of my eyes for a period of 4-6 weeks. I will need to sleep with my head elevated (yay for brand new, über comfy La-Z-Boy recliners) and I won’t be able to do any heavy work, bending over, lifting or exercise. In other words I am going to be bored for a bit :-).

However boredom is the perfect trade-off for becoming (fingers crossed real tight) cancer free.