Archives for the month of: December, 2013


If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I lost my sister, Marion, to cancer in July. It was quick; she was officially diagnosed on June 4 and died on July 3 (though, in hindsight, there were signs prior to the diagnosis).

We didn’t come from a “cancer family.” But during my last mammogram in September, I was told “now you do.” The vast majority of our ancestors died of heart attacks, strokes, old age or congestive heart failure, with some pneumonia, a couple of suicides, and other things thrown in. There were one or two lifestyle cancers, but no genetic history.

A friend recently posted how life in 1905 differed from today, including the main causes of death. Cancer was not on the list. What has changed in a century to make cancer such a pervasive cause of death in our lifetime?

I recently read one article in which a young man was diagnosed, and I’m attaching a quote from what he was asked by his doctors:

“The researcher began reading from a list, which turned out to be long. Some things I had heard of, many others I had not. Metal filings? Asbestos dust? Cutting oils? I didn’t think so. What’s a cutting oil? How about gasoline exhaust? Asphalt? Foam insulation? Natural gas fumes?

Where was this going?

The words kept coming. Vinyl chloride? I wasn’t sure. What was that? How about plastics? Are you kidding? Everything is made of plastic. Dry-cleaning agents? Detergents or fumes from plastic meat wrap? Benzene or other solvents? Formaldehyde? Varnishes? Adhesives? Lacquers? Glues? Acrylic or oil paints? Inks or dyes? Tanning solutions? Cotton textiles? Fiberglass? Bug killers or pesticides? Weed killers or herbicides? Heat-transfer fluids? Hydraulic lubricants? Electricfluids? Flame retardants?”

Cotton textiles?? Really, I would have sworn wearing cotton would be our best choice in fabric!

Haven’t we all been exposed to these items, pretty much on a daily basis? My drinking water comes in plastic! Living in Southern California, breathing in gasoline exhaust is a rite of passage.

In what started as a question of how cancer has affected all of our lives, today I read a post by a man whom I admire, who is suffering from stage 4 brain cancer. His words…I cannot even paraphrase. They hit me in the gut and in my soul. When is enough, enough, he asked (

He asks the eternal question: when he transforms from this world, what will it be? Below is an excerpt:

“I am truly excited for the next step. Together, Susie and I have tried to envision a butterfly’s metamorphosis. As I transform from this world, I hope to be thrilled by what I experience next — but it’s difficult to imagine what that will be. Will it be bright lights and loved ones? Will I be returned to some place I’ve been before? Or is it simply ashes to ashes?

It is the eternal question, and in spite of one’s religious beliefs, the truth is, we don’t know. Personally, I think (but I don’t claim to know) that our spirit of energy continues on in some realm. I like to believe we see the loved ones who have passed before us in those bright lights he mentions. Just before Marion died, her husband, Whitey said to her “you’ll soon be with your father again” (she was the ultimate daddy’s girl). She had a bright light in her eye one last time when he said that.

I don’t know anything, but I take comfort in that Marion, on her death bed, had one last light in her eye about the prospect of seeing our dad again, and all those we have loved and lost.

On that note, enjoy every single day you are given. It is truly a gift.


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Sometimes I think I would like to live the life of Moose Peterson (, a world-renowned wildlife photographer. The man has more patience than most humans, plus some super huge lenses. I admire his work immensely. I don’t think I could spend hours in a cold, damp place just waiting for that elusive shot he manages to capture over and over. His work is not as luxurious as some might imagine; he braves the elements and takes risks to get the images he captures. But he creates the most amazing photos on the planet.

Today I captured a hawk (with my camera, of course). The hawk came to my backyard, so it was the lazy person’s wildlife adventure. I’m still trying to perfect my animal shots, and have a long way to go. Just as trying to photograph dogs in silly holiday costumes, shooting wild animals requires much patience, luck, fast equipment, long lenses and exacting talent.

I will never be Moose Peterson, but I will continue to shoot as often as I can and continue to learn and grow in my photography. As Moose said in one of his books, “great photography is a lifetime in the making.” I know that’s true.

The real joy in photographing animals is the quiet moments of interaction with nature. It’s a sacred connection to mother nature.

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We don’t have kids, and thus we tend to coddle our dogs (3) and cats (2) the way many people treat their babies. We are those crazy people you hear about who dress their animals in holiday costumes. But we have a very good reason.

The pets hate it. They get annoyed and tear the items off. The husband gets frustrated trying to direct them in poses as I take the photographs. He swears a lot. Nobody is happy. But then I upload the photos and find a keeper here or there, and it seems worth it. And now is when you think we are truly crazy – why go through that for a cute photo of the dogs in holiday costumes? Who cares? Why record this drivel? For one very good reason — marketing.

The husband used to send holiday letters out to his clients each year. Then a few years ago, we started dressing up the “kids” (as we refer to them) in holiday gear and photograph them for holiday cards. The simple truth is that the husband’s holiday tips went up significantly when we included cute photos of our dogs and/or cats. His clients appreciated them much more than a letter of thanks. Many of his clients have pets of their own, and they enjoyed getting a glimpse into our family life (even though the majority of our family members get fleas in the summer).

So it’s all about marketing that resonates with his clients. This makes me think: can I deduct the cost of the dogs for business purposes since they are doing the work bringing in the holiday tips? I know our CPA would say no, but more importantly, the IRS would frown upon that. The husband has to pay taxes on those holiday tips, but still, there is enough left over for a nice meaty rib bone for each dog. After all, they did their job in looking cute (but annoyed).

Thomas and Shela

I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing an amazing man in El Cajon, Thomas Weller (and his dog, Shela). My story about him was published today in the East County Magazine. I’ll let the story speak for itself:

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