with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Thinking Small Living on the Road

One of the biggest challenges of living in an RV on the road is space. Fitting it all in. Now that we are living in a home without wheels, space means something else, but every home is challenged with space issues.

A student of mine found a video showcasing modular and flexible furniture from Italy imported into the United States that features some of the most innovative uses of space. Wish I’d had some of these tricks up my sleeve in the trailer!

In Case of Emergency: Use Your Library Card

Example of dummy library cards to remind you to take your library card with in in case of an emergency.

My local library sent out a newsletter stating the following:

Making a personal emergency plan and kit does not need to be all consuming. Take it in manageable bits—add to it each month until you have all of the components assembled. There are many easy items to add from the outset to pack in your kit…

Library card, yes your library card will make it easy to contact friends/family or do business on-line at the library after an emergency

This is brilliant.

In addition to all the basic survival gear and paperwork, including identity and insurance cards tucked into a water tight zip lock bag, add your library card. Makes complete sense.

While a local library may be facing the same disaster circumstances you are, they might be among the earliest refugee and emergency shelter locations to be back up and running. With your library card, you can get online and communicate with friends and family, contact authorities and insurance agencies, but also research how to handle the situation.

Libraries are fantastic resources, so keep a copy of your library card in your emergency kit. You never know, and if you need to know, a library is the place to start learning.

September 11 – Twelve Years After

Israel newspaper front page news of the World Trade Center Attacks in New York.
It’s incredible to think that it has been 12 years since I published my experience of what has become known as 9/11, the day the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon was attacked by terrorist in the United States.

Three weeks after the attack, I wrote of the hope we all had for our future, a united future against terrorism and violence, and the reality of life on the ground in Israel, home of daily terrorist attacks.

How far we have not come since.

As I write this today, we are debating involvement in a civil war in Syria. Iran and Afghanistan are a mess from former President Bush’s attacks and blame for 9/11, to which little or no evidence has been found to support the original “proof” that both countries demanded international attacks.

We are a couple years past the hope of the “Arab Spring,” an uprising against the corrupt leaders in Tunisia which spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, as well as other countries in the Middle East. The hope of that uprising and the resulting government overthrows shakes as governmental and military powers continue to control these countries, and the uprising became a civil war in Syria and elsewhere. It was a ripple of hope that will continue to weave in and out of a territory not known for peace.

Like the Arab Spring, the United States felt tremendous hope when a black President was elected. Obama’s election was a sign of change, change for the better, change for the good in all of us. The United States had come of age and finally had a non-white in power.

Re-elected again, a clear win against a ridiculous opponent, Obama is proof that such hope doesn’t mean much when there is little or no follow through or support for such an intransigent government.

Like 9-11 and the Arab Spring, it was hope. Hope dashed, but hope all the same.

How far has the world come since 9-11? Not far enough.

How far have I come since that fateful day when I stood shell-shocked before dozens of televisions in a store in Tel Aviv?

We left Israel just as Arafat was finally declared dead in Paris, weeks after he was really dead, his wife, 34 years younger than him, holding his body hostage for more money, security, and control from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Arab governments for her quiet and cooperation.

We survived the terrors and wars of the Middle East to land in Mobile, Alabama, and be greeted by one hurricane after another. We survived them all, from A through W and K wasn’t much fun, death and destruction around us.

In 2006, I brought my father to stay with us in the warm winter and he died the end of that year. A month or so later we moved in snow to Gaston, Oregon, and today, we live not many miles from there in a permanent home, a fixed residence as full-time travelers call it, in North Plains, Oregon, just 30 minutes from downtown Portland.

I joke that after surviving the human terrorism of the Middle East, mother nature terrorism on the Gulf Coast of the US, it’s nice to be in a place where the local terrorism consists of earthquakes and traffic jams, and the occasional flood.

As I look back on September 11, I see now that our lives were already broken by violence in Israel, only complicated by September 11 and its aftermath of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hurricane Katrina and the other storms smashed our spirits but we survived.

We always survive. All of us. Humans are famous for that. In spite of terror, in spite of violence, in spite of ourselves, we survive.

I’m actually rather proud of that – and us.

The Art of a Moth

Moth on pine needles on ground, photography by Brent VanFossen.

Brent has a beautiful eye for capturing the essence of a photograph. This moth is perfectly framed on the pine needled covered ground at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park.

Moths are amazing. There are over 160,000 species of months, nearly ten times the number of butterflies, so sayeth Wikipedia.

We love photographing moths. Their colorful and extremely diverse wing patterns, the soft fuzzy heads, all the sizes. They can be mesmerizing – and pests at the same time.

The Attacus atlas moth is the largest in the world, their wing span reaching to over 10 inches – the size of birds.

The Bombyx mori is a silkworm moth which makes the silk we so love wearing. Wikipedia states that as of 2002, these months produce over 130 million kilograms of raw silk a year. About 2,000 to 3,000 cocoons are required to make a pound of silk. That’s incredible. How did someone come up with that as a clothing idea?

In the Pacific Northwest, there are thousands of moths. We have a moth identification book just for this area. As I dig into what type of moth this is, just enjoy the image.

Photography Technique

Brent used a tripod and 200mm lens with an extension tube to capture this moth. It remained still enough that he could bounce some light into the dense forest floor area with a gold reflector, adding warmth to it as well.

The camera equipment was Nikon.

Visiting the Doctor Who Shop Vicariously

My new friend, Janet of Janet’s Notebook’s, visited The Isle of Wight and the Doctor Who store there recently and sent me scrapbook virtual postcards of her trip. Please forgive the indulgence as I share them with you and preserve them here so I can look at them forever!

As a major Doctor Who fan, I’m so jealous of her trip.

Doctor Who Store virtual postcard sent by Janet Williams to Lorelle VanFossen - picture set 1.
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The Spider That Thinks He’s a Flower

Yellow Crab Spider sits in the center of lupine leaves, awaiting dinner. Photography by Brent VanFossen.

Many years ago, Brent VanFossen was hiking around the Olympic National Park in our favorite area of Hurricane Ridge during the beautiful alpine wild flower season. He spotted this plumb yellow crab spider poised perfectly in the middle of lupine leaves like the yellow center of a flower.

It’s arms were outstretched, waiting for dinner to appear, and as he watched, so it did. A bee showed up to collect the lovely pollen it thought it would get from such a flower, only to be caught in the clutches of the awaiting attack spider.

Nature in all its glory and intricacies never fails to impress me.

Photography Technique

To capture this closeup, macro photography moment of the spider in the lupine, Brent had his 200mm lens on a tripod pointed down at the spider.

The foreground area was distracting with ground clutter, so he leaned a blooming lupine into the foreground close to the front of the lens so it would be out of focus, masking the distractions. This also helped put the focus on the spider, making it appear to be lurking, awaiting its prey.

The camera equipment was Nikon. No flash was used, just ambient light with a little bounce from a gold reflector.

My Father Helps Me Fill in the Blanks of Our Story

In going through stacks of papers from my father’s home more than a year after his death, I found a manila envelope with my name on it. Inside were printed copies of emails I’d sent out in 1996 onward before we had an easily-updated website.

Emails I sent out about our early travels kept for many years by my father - Lorelle VanFossen.When we left my father’s driveway in Marysville, Washington, I was saying goodbye to more than my ancestral home in the Pacific Northwest. I was telling both of my parents, especially my father, that they were going to have to do some growing up and get along without me for a while. It was my time to walk by myself.

This is a bit dramatic, yet looking back, this is part of my experience.

It would be six years before I saw my father again.

For many years I knew my father cared about me, but his caring manifested by pushing and shoving, bad jokes, and tiny moments of appreciation with the occasional grasping hug and push back, as if it hadn’t happened. He wasn’t a man to hold your hand, though I have many pictures of him doing just that when I was tiny. As a grown-up, he struggled with emotions and appropriate behavior when it came to expressing love. I knew that. I understood that. Intellectually.

In my heart, intellectual understanding didn’t hold you close and tell you it would be okay when you cried yourself to sleep.

Finding the stack of emails was amazing, and delightful. Over the years of hard drive crashes, email accounts shut down or changed, servers crashed, and viral hacks of our websites, data has been lost. The stories of our first adventures on the road had evaporated. I had pieces, but not the whole story.

Here in my hands were most of the lost emails. I wondered what happened to them and asked one of my father’s friends.

“Those emails. He’d be so proud. He’d bring them into the pancake house and read them to us, laughing at all the crazy things you two had been up to.” The pancake house was our euphemism for the breakfast cafe my father and his cronies hung out at daily, a second home, or first home for many of the guys who were retired, out of work, and near to living on the streets. “If a guy really liked one of the stories, your old man’d give him the pages.”

That is just like my father. That explained the missing pieces, but there was enough for me to work with.

I released “Journal: December 18, 1996 – Friday the 13th The Journey Begins” and recently edited it again as I continue to work on our autobiography, thanks to the holes filled in by my dad.

As I go through the stories and journal entries of those early years, long before we had an easy-to-update website like this, I wonder what else got lost along the way.

The older I get the more I think that life is a journey of discovery and rediscovery.

Flying, Driving, Walking: Changing Our Perspectives on Traveling

Pair of Arctic Terns on beach, photography by Brent VanFossen.

The Arctic Tern has been found to have the longest annual migration of any animals in the world, traveling 44,000 miles in ten months, the equivalent of three round trips to the moon from earth in its lifetime of about 30+ years.

When I think about how much and how far we’ve traveled, the Tern ain’t got anything on us.

We kept track of the miles for the first few years on the road full-time. I think we got to around 100,000 miles in the first two to three years.

Driving miles, not flying miles.

Driving miles are more torturous than flying miles, at least for humans. I’m sure the Terns face horrible obstacles on their flying treks around the globe from pole to pole. Still ain’t nothing to a serious case of Mississippi back-breaking pot holes and a bad case of truck butt.

Living in Europe and the Middle East, we walked just about everywhere. A mile hike through town to get to an event or a meeting was a nothing for us. We slogged many miles pounding pavement as we traveled around, leaving the car parked for weeks on end.

Back in the states, I was stunned to be in the car with someone who pulled into the front parking spot of a store, went in, got what she needed, got into the car, backed up, moved over three parking spots to park again, get out, and go into the store immediately next door to the first one. The entrance was maybe 40 feet from the first.

Now that we live “in the woods” as many describe it, we tell people we are thirty minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon.

“Oh, that’s too far!”

This same person thinks nothing of taking a bus or the train for 45 minutes to get from one part of Portland to the other, or sitting in traffic for an hour to drive 6 or 8 miles from home to work or an event.

It amazes me how “travel” can mean such different things to so many people, as well as to myself. Now that I’m in the states, walking that mile or driving it, I choose to drive.

I think about the Terns and the ease at which they flit through the air. Flying looks easy when it’s sport. If your life depends upon it, you might want to drive instead of fly.

Example of File Gallery WordPress Plugin

Cell phone on desk next to coffee mug with Doctor Who logo - photography by Lorelle VanFossen.

The following is a demonstration post for the PDX WordPress Meetup Plugin Ignite Presentation. I will be demonstrating the File Gallery WordPress Plugin. The lorem ipsum text is courtesty of Fillerama: A Filler Text Generator, the Doctor Who version. This post is a tribute, in its own twisted way, to the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.


The Pandorica Opens

doctor who - river song - hitlerYou know how I sometimes have really brilliant ideas? You hate me; you want to kill me! Well, go on! Kill me! KILL ME! It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’! I’m nobody’s taxi service; I’m not gonna be there to catch you every time you feel like jumping out of a spaceship. Did I mention we have comfy chairs? It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezes are cool.

World War Three

Saving the world with meals on wheels. You hit me with a cricket bat. Heh-haa! Super squeaky bum time!
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My Not-So Secret Passon for Tea

Pearl of the Red Robe Cafe serves gongfu tea ceremony at Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon - photography by Lorelle Vanfossen.I’ve always been a tea nut. Not just any old tea, but exploring all parts of tea – my own way of tea.

I first explored tea through the herbals, seeking improvements in health and energy. Along the way I ran into the legends of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and other history, recipes, and ceremonies around this powerful Asian plant, .

In the past few years I’ve dived even deeper into Asian teas, exploring the culture, ceremonies, tea equipment and supplies, agriculture, and, of course, the tea itself. A friend living in China brought over the most incredible green tea as a gift, a tea very expensive here but cheap there, and my passion for tea reignited as I researched the source of the tea and what is known as the Way of Tea, a form of spiritual journey that comes with a passion for all things tea.

I’ve built up quite a collection of knowledge, as well as equipment. In this post, I want to share some of the fun links to online resources I’ve uncovered.

  • Chinese tea – Wikipedia: A good starting point for learning the basics of Chinese tea.
  • History of Tea in China – Wikipedia: Wikipedia’s basic history of tea in China is a great introduction.
  • Gongfu Tea Ceremony – Wikipedia: Gongfu is the type of tea ceremony and service that I am truly attracted to. I love it among all the different ways tea is served and now do it most evenings for a last sip of tea before bed.
  • Chinese Tea: Drinking, History – Travel China Guide: A commercial guide to China, they have a good article on the history of tea and tips for service and consumption.
  • Chinese Tea – History and Types of Chinese Tea – About.com: About.com is a long-standing resource for quality information and their Chinese Tea and Liquor expert offers some great information on the basics of Chinese Tea.
  • How To Buy Chinese Tea by Daniel Lui: A clear and easy-to-read guide to buying Chinese Tea that has helped me make some wise choices.
  • How to drink Chinese tea | CNN Travel: CNN Travel did a great step-by-step article and guide on how to drink Chinese Tea, whether you are in China or not. Great resources are listed as well as solid coverage of the basics.
  • The Gong Fu Style of Drinking Fine Tea – In Pursuit of Tea: “In Pursuit of Tea” has amazing resources and their article on the Gong Fu technique is a good one.
  • Gong Fu Cha – Reddit: I was a bit surprised to find a group covering GongFu Tea on Reddit. It isn’t very active but has some great links and resources in the list.
  • The Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony and Part 2: River Tea has a great article series on the Gongfu traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony.
  • The Japanese Tea Ceremony History and Steps Explained | Teavana: Teavana, the national chain of tea shops found in malls and shopping centers, explains the history and basics of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
  • The History & Origin of Tea | Teavana: Teavana tea store’s version of the history of tea, a condensed version of the history.
  • Poetry in Tea: A site dedicated to Asian teas and ceremony, as well as the tools and history of tea.
  • Shipwrecked: Story of why one tea pot is better for a specific type of tea over another. Results: Get one that thrills your heart and makes you return to it over and over for more tea and joy.
  • Steep.it – the simplest internet tea timer EVER This site serves as an online steep guide with a chart featuring different types of tea and the appropriate temperature and steep times. Very handy.
  • Teaware Museum: Link to the famous Hong Kong Teaware Museum, a place on my travel list to visit!
  • Buying Your First Tea Utensils: Fumiyaen – Japanese Tea Ceremony Utensils: As the article states, this describes the first tea utensils and supplies you need for the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the reasons behind the choices.
  • Tea Blog | Official Blog of the English Tea Store: This tea blog is not limited to only English teas. It features extensive articles on all aspects of tea. It’s regular tea gadgets feature is an eye-opener on all the gimmicks and gadgets for tea. One of my favorites was the museum exhibit for tea in space during the early days of the space flight program.
  • The Dragon's Well ?: The Dragon’s Well blog is only a couple of years old but already this tea enthusiast and blogger is making his mark in the tea world online. His articles on Yixing Zisha teapots and other references and resources are wonderful. His most recent post on the Tea World Festival 2013 in Seoul features excellent pictures of the exhibition.
  • Tea Masters: Tea Masters Blog is by a Taiwanese tea student learning from a Tea Master, sharing the tips and techniques of tea.
  • Tea Journey – A journey through tea from a member of the board of the Tea Guild of Canada. The author is working on her Tea Sommelier Certification and sharing the lessons she is learning along the way.
  • Daruma Magazine » Glossary: This is a glossary from the Japanese Art and Antiques Magazine with the names for things you may need to know about studying the Way of Tea.
  • Chado Encyclopedia: This wiki takes one through the entire process academically as well as procedurally of Chado, the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Great resources and historical information. It is a work in progress.
  • Koicha Dialog – Chado Encyclopedia: This is a phonetic pronunciation guide with English translation of the Koicha Dialog of discussion and admiration of the various equipment and details of the Chado, Japanese Tea Ceremony. A handy guide for travelers to Japan and those studying the Chado. It includes links to more information on some of the words and concepts.
  • SweetPersimmon: It’s tagline explains it all, “The Art and Practice of Chado, Chanoyu, and the Japanese Tea Ceremony.” Based in Portland, Oregon, this is a school to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and it gets high reviews. It’s on my to do list! The blog is packed with fantastic information and resources on the ceremony.
  • Chanoyu to wa: A tumblr blog by Daniel Burkus, a dedicated fan of The Way of Tea and the study of it, and the work of Rikyu, Zen, and the tea ceremony. It includes scrolls and translations as often found in tea houses and tea ceremonies, explaining the history and details of the works.
  • Tang Dynasty Times: This site is not focused specifically on tea but includes many references to the Tan Dynasty and their love of tea which influenced culture, art, and way of life. Excellent academic references and resources.

If anyone is interested, I’ll share more tea tips and information as I keep learning more about the art and way of tea. Do you have any favorite online resources for your tea?

Time Counts

I’ve been helping Noah Weiss with his WordPress.com site and found his article on countdowns triggered a memory for me.

There are many forms of countdowns in our lives. Counting down as a warning, to prepare for launch, to time a game. There are also many ways to count up, counting to ten to control anger or prevent anger, control the length of an event, and measure your life in either direction. There are so many ways countdowns also represent times, times in our lives, counting up or counting down, measurements of moments.

One of my most memorable time countdown moments was in Israel. There are two holidays that rip me up every time. Holocaust Day and Independence Day. Both are started and ended with a siren that lasts two minutes. Everyone and everything in the country comes to a complete stop during those two minutes. Cars stop on the highway. People stop walking. People stand still no matter where they are. Trains, buses, everything comes to a complete stop throughout the entire country and silence falls dramatically (Israel is a noisy place).

The first time I experienced it, it hit me with a wave of discomfort. I didn’t know how long it would last and it felt like it lasted forever. I looked around at all the people stopped, standing next to their cars on main roads, and was very uncomfortable with the silence. I understood the significance, but I didn’t understand. I think I didn’t want to understand. Two minutes was a countdown representative of an eternity in that moment.

The second time, I had a better perspective on the reasons for the moment. I looked around and noticed people standing still, tears quietly flowing down their faces. Grim faces. Some people holding hands or each other. A young child grasp in arms squirming until the adult snuggled down into the child’s neck and both became still.

Years of history flowed into those two minutes. History representative of horror and destruction. Of loss. Of death. Of live. Of birth. Of renewal. Of faith. Of courage. As George Carlin so eloquently described it, “I say life began about a billion years ago and it’s a continuous process. Continuous, just keeps rolling along.”

In those two sets of two minutes, I felt a part of something, connected to the past and the future. It’s a countdown that goes in both directions. How long since when and how long until when – the when is a big question and it will happen whether or not we ask the question.

As you move through your life, pause for a moment and consider the moments when time counted for you. Stopping time to remember time is a powerful thing.

Letter to Those Desiring a Career in Nature and Travel Photography

Brent VanFossen balances his long camera lens on roof of car while photographing big game animals from the road. Photography Lorelle VanFossen.

On a regular basis I get emails and comments from students attracted to the photography bug. To them, photography represents the exotic, exciting, and adventurous. While there are some aspects that involve travel, adventure, and excitement, for the most part photography as a hobby is fun. Photography as a business is hard work and boring.

A couple years ago I created the following form letter in response to the quantity of requests for advice and help with a photography career in travel and nature. I’m updating it but I thought you might enjoy the older version for posterity.


Brent VanFossen balances his long camera lens on roof of car while photographing big game animals from the road. Photography Lorelle VanFossen.Dreams of a nature and travel photography career is a good dream, but one that requires an education first.

I know I sound old, but I wish I’d had the photography, art, and business training I needed before I first hit the road with my camera. Traveling costs money, but it also presents a lot of opportunities I could have turned into income which would have allowed me to spend more time exploring and expanding my art and skills rather than taking any job I could to pay for the next trip. No matter how you look at it, photography is expensive.

School is boring. Go Anyway.

School really doesn’t teach you what you need to know to succeed in life. Still, you have to have the piece of paper that says, “This is proof I know how to complete things. I know how to suffer and make it through it.” There is no photography career you can take on without that piece of paper if you wish to do more than run your own business. Even then, a fine art or graphic arts degree is a minimum. A business degree is a requirement.
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Water Droplets on Sheet Web

Water droplets on sheet web - photography by Brent VanFossen.

Water droplets on sheet web - photography by Brent VanFossen.

Just as there are many types of spiders, there are many types of webs. A favorite of ours is the sheet web.

Lying flat across plants and grasses, Brent and I are impressed by these diligent web makers as they work on the horizontal rather than vertical. Our front “yard” filled with knick-knick, Oregon Grape, and sahlal, native Pacific Northwest plants, is a haven for sheet web-making spiders.

In the fall, the rain comes down, drenching these sturdy webs with water drops. Brent was able to get in close to capture the droplets without disturbing the web.

I love the patterns, the wet texture, and the lovely colors of nature in this photograph. Made into a puzzle, this one would be a tough image to put together.

Backlighting Devil’s Club Overhead

Devils club leaves photographed by Lorelle VanFossen backlit in the forest.

Traveling to Seattle, a friend and I went to the John Bastyr School for one of their health and herbal festivals. A nature walk through the forest next to the campus intrigued me. It was incredibly informative, discussing how to use plants in the wilderness for medical treatments and health.

The Pacific Northwest forest was dappled with sunlight and the treacherous Devils Club hung over our heads at one point in trail. I worked around the group trying to get a good angle on the plant to capture the details with the strong backlighting.

The Devil’s Club is one that I’ve run into since a child digging around the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and trust me, this is one you do not want to stumble into. Called the Devil’s Club or Walking Stick, it can grow up to 16 feet (5 meters) tall in rainforests and damp environments to which Western Washington is well equipped. Spines are found not only on the stems but the leaves, making it a painful experience to touch in any way, even brush against.

According to our guide, Native Americans used Devil’s Club for medicine to treat diabetes, tumors, chapped lips, and tumors. It can also be used as an analgesic, though it isn’t as strong as traditional aspirin. It can be used in herbal teas and he said that they ate it as food. He didn’t clarify which part they ate, from the red fruits that form in clusters off stems that look like clubs, or from the leaves or root.

For me, this is a plant I’ve endured most of my life, having spent too many hours pulling its little thorn-like spines from by arms and legs and out of my dogs. Still, it is a magnificent examples of the unusual in the world. A plant I think of when I imagine what plant life was like during the dinosaur times.

Love Letters of Wood

Photograph of a large piece of Douglas Fir wood for a workbench with sale sign. Photograph by Brent VanFossen.

A text and a chat alerted me to Brent getting way to excited about sharing something with me. I was driving, so it had to wait until I was in a safe place. The alerts on my phone instructed me to check my email for a love letter.

This is what I got.

Lorelle:

I checked the beams in the garage last night. The first two I checked were at 34% moisture content – which is the maximum my meter will read. I also measured 24% and 20% depending on the piece.

I went to Restore again today. I found a beam that is thick and straight and dry and already glued up. 6″ x 15″ x 18′ for $2 a foot = $36 total. So I paid for it and will pick it up tomorrow. I’ll cut it in half with the chain saw. The wood inside is beautiful, looks like Douglas Fir, and the grain is all vertical, very tight and as nice as or nicer that the beams we got from the barn.

Photos attached.

Love you!

Brent

This is my version of a love letter from my husband. Sure, everyone needs mushy words of love and devotion, but after twenty years together, I get excited more when he’s excited. For the past two years, anything made of wood gets his passion flowing.

I love it.