Archives for posts with tag: life

Roberta Steampunk

There are people we meet in life, through business, social situations, family and friends — the ones who are the loud, boisterous people who dominate a room. They speak to hear themselves speak and try to impress anyone who will listen. Then there are the quiet ones. Those who don’t say a lot, but once you get to know them, they awe you with their talent, their intellect, their kindness, and their humanity.

Roberta Niederjohn was one of those quiet ones. She was so amazingly talented with her art, her writing, her Photoshop skills, and her love of animals, that she left you in awe. She was incredibly quiet. Humble. Kind. Gentle.

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So much so, that I didn’t know she passed away a year ago until just recently. She didn’t announce her cancer; not a word was ever said. She didn’t announce her absence from work. Nobody at SDSU, where we were colleagues, ever said a word about her sickness. And sadly, nobody said a word about her passing. She didn’t get the major hoopla those in the power seats get. Not the major news story. Not a single word.

She was one of the most gentle souls I had the privilege of working with. A kindhearted human who did not speak ill of anyone. She loved animals, probably more than humans — but what sentient human doesn’t?

Roberta won many awards at the Del Mar Fair for her artistic endeavors.

Roberta, you were loved, admired and appreciated more than you know.

Top photo: Roberta received an Honorable Mention at the 2014 San Diego County Fair for this Photoshop portrait of herself in a Steampunk fantasy land. She titled it “Madame Awaits Her Airship.”

Bottom photo: Kim Lamke Calderon, Sharon Penny, and Roberta Niederjohn after presenting at the SD/PEN Program Meeting in July, 2014.






What can I say? I have been smitten and this girl is my favorite model now. I can’t tell you the joy of being able to watch her grow, learn and change.


I love spring for all the possibilities and the new life it brings. In spite of all these weird weather patterns we’re having in SoCal (unprecedented early Santa Anas = fire hazards), spring has sprung. Because it has been warmer earlier than before, we were able to plant our summer vegetable garden in early May vs. end of the month.

The picture above was taken on May 3. Steve planting his annual vegetables. Today we spent starting clearing the brush from a fallen tree from the Santa Anas. Steve is tending his garden every day.

Overall, a great day back in the biggest part of our house: our yard.

To come: tomatoes, herbs, zucchini, yellow crook neck squash, eggplant, various bell peppers, corn and Swiss chard.





One recent job I completed was for the Cleveland National Forest Foundation’s Transit San Diego website.

If you read the website, the first question everyone asks is why would a forest initiative care about urban public transportation? As I’ve learned working with these amazing people, without a functional city and less dependency on automobiles, the forest is doomed to sprawl, which equates to climate change.

I’m sure you’ve experienced major weather change recently. We sure have. Climate change is real. It is not a debate. It is.

I hope we can make some significant changes to our cities. Bordeaux, France is an example of what can be. We have mighty forces against doing the right thing (energy companies, automobile companies, status quo city planners, etc.). For the sake of this younger generation coming up, I hope we can change.




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I’ve been lagging on my blog and falling short of my goals. Time to get into gear, Sharon. No excuses. Just do it.

Today gave me a good reason to blog: some photos from a seminar I attended today.

Part of my problem is I am scattered. Unfocused. AADD. I love doing this; wait, there is a nice, new shiny thing to do. Let’s go there. I want to be a photographer on the scale of Annie Lebovitz; a writer like Mark Twain; a jewelery maker; a potter; a gardener; a glass artist; a weaver and knitter; an interior decorator; a master carpenter; a biologist; a bird watcher; an astrophysicist; and of course, a rock star (but I can’t sing or play an instrument).

Since semi-retirement, I think I have all the time in the world, but each day only holds 24 hours, and they really fill up quickly. I know, I “p’shawed” all those retirees before me who said that. But I am busier than ever. Again, I realize part of that is the AADD aspect of my personality.

Today was great. A nine-hour photography seminar. I loved it. It seemed like three hours. I want to continue to grow and be better at it. I need to stop letting all the other distractions get in my way. I learned a lot today and had the chance to briefly photograph two beautiful models.

Goal this weekend: practice, practice, and then practice again. Oh wait, there is something new and shiny over there.





Nice day today with Lisa running errands down the hill, checking up on our brother in his new home, and visiting our brother-in-law, Whitey. Both the guys are doing okay, so that is a huge plus in our lives.

While giving blood at the Blood Bank, I read a story by Andrew McCarthy in the AAA “Westways” magazine. Yes, that Brat Pack Andrew McCarthy, but I didn’t know it at the time.

This was after the nurse taking my blood pressure and iron levels told me her great story of a trip to Costa Rica during the rainy season. I was enthralled hearing her details of jungle visits, rain storms, lightening and good food. It made me want to book a trip to Costa Rica soon.

In the magazine, Andrew’s story was on a trip to Paris with his wife, but instead of beckoning to all the tourist sites, they just settled into a neighborhood and became a part of it for a week. I loved the idea of that.

When Steve and I were in Paris last August (for four short days), we spent time doing laundry and other menial things, and friends told us they were sad we were doing that on vacation, especially in Paris. We didn’t feel that way. It made us feel like residents, getting to know neighborhoods, meeting locals to help us understand the machines and environs, and just being. I think that was my favorite part. We pulled up to a wonderful cafe with our clean clothes for a well deserved lunch.

Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story today. Enjoy the journey. Bon Appetit!

Mon Paris

from Westways January/February 2014

Living like a local in the City of Light

By Andrew McCarthy

We weren’t drawn to see the Impressionists at the Musée d’Orsay or tempted by Mona Lisa in the Louvre. We felt no need to stroll down the Champs-Élysées or climb the Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame didn’t beckon. No. My wife, Dolores, and I had a different agenda.

You see, some of the best days I’d ever had in my hometown of New York, days when I’d experienced the city at its fullest—the buzz, the characters, the food, the serendipitous encounters— were days when I never traveled more than a few blocks from my home. I seemed to capture everything I love about living in Manhattan in the microcosm of my neighborhood. So it followed that the same might hold true somewhere else— like Paris.

Our requirements were minimal: Be located near some green space and, since we didn’t plan to cook for the week, some good restaurants. This being Paris, the second demand didn’t worry us. As for the first concern, Dolores and I had fond memories of an afternoon walk through the Luxembourg Gardens in the sixth arrondissement.

Since we wouldn’t be using the kitchen, we decided to forgo the potluck of renting an apartment (the kind of surprise we hoped to encounter were the delights of used-book stores, not the peculiarities of someone else’s plumbing). Besides, we thought, let someone else make the bed for a while. With little effort we found a small, not-tooexpensive hotel tucked along a narrow street, just a few blocks from the southwest entrance to the gardens. The neighborhood held no must-sees, none of the “greatest hits” of Paris were within sight. The relief was palpable.

Café Society
The first, the most crucial, matter of business that needs to be sorted out for a contented life in any Parisian neighborhood is the selection of the local café, the one that will be your base of operations; where you find your croissant and take your morning café crème, where the petulant and surly waiter with the long sideburns and pompadour remembers your order after your second visit. Café Vavin, a 60-second walk from our front door, fulfilled all these criteria, as well as the most important of all requirements.

Since it was located on a corner and sat across from a busy patisserie (which sold excellent pain au chocolat), there was constant foot traffic, making Vavin ideal for the No. 1 Parisian sport— people watching. Lingering over coffee and the newspaper, I saw a teenage boy so excited to see his buddies that he forgot his beautiful girlfriend standing by his side, arms folded, pouting the way only a beautiful young French girl can pout. Across the street, a couple pressed up against a wall and kissed with passion as an old man leaning on a cane shuffled past without glancing their way, while above, a woman with long, loose black hair watered blue and white flowers that spilled down over the window boxes of her third-floor apartment.

After such a strenuous morning, a walk in the park was in order. Down a block, past the children’s clothing boutiques and the gelato shop (which I frequented only after dark), the Luxembourg Gardens pulsed with the rhythm of the day. Each morning, joggers puffed beneath well-ordered rows of elm trees while stooped and wrinkled women talked urgently to the small dogs that pulled them along. Afternoons brought young children sailing remote-control boats in the Medici Fountain, which hours earlier had been surrounded by moody-looking men slouching on chairs, smoking, reading Le Monde. Everywhere, trim, well-dressed women strutted as if late for important rendezvous.

In a corner of the gardens, I stumbled upon the Musée du Luxembourg one afternoon. The few rooms were nearly devoid of people but were filled with the bold and playful colors of Chagall, the exhibit all the more satisfying for the spontaneous nature of my visit.

Around the Arrondissement
Similarly rewarding surprises abounded in the neighborhood. Two doors from our hotel, a small man with a round face worked in a cluttered shop, creating men’s shoes. I went in to be fitted. Without measuring, Monsieur Altan examined the peculiarities of my feet. He pressed, poked, and squeezed. He frowned, then probed my arches some more and disappeared down a circular set of stairs. I could hear him rummaging. He eventually returned and produced a long tapering shoe.

“This is the only shoe that will fit you.”

It fit well, very well; but looking down, I thought the shoe seemed too long, almost clown-like. When I told him as much, he raised an eyebrow and held my gaze. Then he shrugged. The shrug seemed to say, What I have given you can be found nowhere else in the world. I am an artist and this is perfection, but it is unimportant. The French shrug.

Most nights, Dolores and I walked into whatever restaurant grabbed our attention. La Coupole, the large and boisterous art deco Parisian institution around the corner, welcomed us without reservation, and Le Timbre, a few steps from our hotel, found room for us when it seemed not another person could be shoehorned into the tiny storefront.

After dinner one evening, on impulse, we climbed three flights of steps to see a play at Le Lucernaire, Centre National d’Art et d’Essai. My nearly nonexistent French liberated me from following the proceedings on stage too closely and the time slipped past. Afterward, we went to the Vavin for a late drink; the actor we had just seen perform arrived and sat two tables away, brooding.

The days rolled past, and I began to feel that same sense of understanding I have in New York, when the accumulation of small daily details gathers to produce a deep, bountiful experience.

Then Dolores called her ex, a Frenchman living in Paris. We arranged to meet him and his wife for a picnic on the banks of the River Seine. It was time to leave the neighborhood.

We bought cheese and bread and fruit at the market around the corner. We walked through the Luxembourg Gardens and out—farther than I had been in a week. We made our way down to the river. I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. We all settled beside the water just across from the Île Saint-Louis, looking up at the flanks of Notre Dame. The sky faded to purple as glass-walled riverboats chugged past like floating fishbowls. We talked of our kids—how liberating it felt to be away, then how much we missed them. My wife and her ex relived some of their glory days. How very modern of us all to be so broad-minded, I decided, how French.

Long after the sky had turned black, we hugged and kissed and parted. Dolores and I strolled along boulevard Saint-Germain in silence, hand in hand. Then up boulevard Saint-Michel. At the Luxembourg Gardens, the gates were locked. We had a late coffee at a café across the street, watching the moon rise over the black trees. We paid our bill, then made our way past Hôtel le Sénat, past the Musée du Luxembourg, up rue de Vaugirard, and took the long way home.



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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.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
Bob Marley

One of the greatest pleasures of life is music. As a kid, I spent most of my allowance on records. And I still buy a lot of music, but it has been a few months since I purchased anything worthwhile.

Two of my favorite artists released new albums in the past week, and I went right to iTunes to purchase them both.

I Love Lucy:


I discovered Lucy Wainwright Roche when I went to a conference in Boston in 2009. I walked by the Orpheum Theater and noticed one of my favorite bands, The Indigo Girls, would be playing that night. So I stopped by the box office to see if one lone seat was available and they sold me an 8th row center seat. The opening act that night was Lucy, and I was deeply impressed her. Her latest album, “There’s a Last Time for Everything” is really good. Actually, I love all her albums, but this one is superb.

And I Love Amos:

Amos Lee has been at the top of my list of male artists for a few years now. I just love this guy. His new album, “Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song” is another gem.


I’m happy when I discover one great album every couple of months.  I found two really good albums in the same week. That’s a sign that it’s going to be a good month.

Have you found any new music that you’d recommend? I’m always open to recommendations.



As I’m just beginning my freelance business after a summer off, and as a huge fan of “Breaking Bad”, I enjoyed reading this blog about how “Breaking Bad” has some solid career advice for entrepreneurs.

I’m not going to get into the moral and ethical questions of the show, which are the most interesting and what keeps fans obsessed with this program and its final outcome on Sunday night. Watching meek Mr. White (almost Mr. Chips) turn into Heisenberg (almost Scarface) has been such an interesting, thought-provoking moral dilemma. When do (or did) you stop rooting for Mr. White to win?

But on to this solid career advice, which is actually, pretty sound. It doesn’t say so, but first rule is never show up in your tighty-whities for a business meeting:!


Brazen Career Lessons from Breaking Bad


Say what you will of Breaking Bad’s protagonist Walter White — and there’s plenty to say. He’s a ruthless, sociopathic meth lord whose quest for power has wrought death and destruction we’ve yet to see the end of.


But he’s also one hell of a businessman.


Note: If you aren’t currently caught up with your Breaking Bad episodes, you may want to come back to this post after you are to avoid any potential spoilers. If you are caught up, and you’re eagerly awaiting the series’ final two episodes like 5.9 million other fans, let’s indulge our mutual obsession by exploring yet another way to dissect this endlessly intriguing show.


While I’m not suggesting a life of crime is the way to go, there are some things we can learn from the man known as Heisenberg when it comes to blazing our own trails and pursuing our goals with unstoppable determination. (Click here to tweet this idea.)


Here are four of the big (legally and ethically acceptable) lessons we can learn from Mr. White — and one warning we’d be wise to heed.


1. It all starts with quality


There wouldn’t have been a show if Jesse and Walt’s early days in the RV had resulted in only mediocre product.


Would they have made some money? Sure. Would international drug cartels and super meth lords like Gus Fring be desperate to get their hands on that product (and its creator)? Nope.


Walt would have just been some middle-aged chemistry teacher cooking drugs in his skivvies in the middle of the desert. His rise to mythological levels of power and notoriety started off with the one thing all wannabe entrepreneurs have to have: a solid, high-quality product. Walt’s meth was the purest in the marketplace, and his customers (and competition) recognized that — and that’s what gave him the leverage to build an empire from nothing.


Would-be business mavens, take note: unless your product or service is top-notch, all the advertising strategies and killer branding in the world won’t take you very far. It all begins with offering something consumers or clients can’t get enough of.


2. Brand matters


“The blue stuff” is Heisenberg’s trademark. It’s how you know instantly that you’re getting the best. When Walt leaves the biz behind, new meth lord Lydia insists that substitute cook Todd figure out how to replicate the trademark color, because that’s what people on the street are asking for. She isn’t nearly as concerned with the purity level of the new batch as she is with making sure their product retains brand consistency. It’s so critical it’s saved Jesse’s life (for now).


After you’ve got that top-notch service or product, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace — whether it’s a look, a feel or a certain brand personality. When you see an Apple product, you know it’s an Apple product. From the sleek design to the packaging, you can tell it apart from every other gadget vying for similar market share.


So, what’s your “calling card” going to be? What will let consumers know you’re different, and how will they be able to spot your “stuff” from the competition’s?


3. You are who you say you are


Walt first dubs himself “Heisenberg” in the episode where he shaves his head, confronts local drug lord Tuco and makes it clear (via surprise explosive device) that he isn’t to be messed with. It’s one of the first times we see Walt fully embrace his darker ambitions — he’s not just doing this for his family; part of him loves the power and fame, and he’s officially declaring his pursuit of that. As the debris settles, we as an audience know that he’s rounded a corner, and the streets of Albuquerque know there’s a new kingpin in town.


Whether you’re a meek chemistry teacher, an entry-level clerk or a college dropout turned startup owner, you create your own destiny by acknowledging your goals and going after them full-throttle. It doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t take you seriously at first; they will once you show them what you’re made of. Believe in the potential within yourself, act like you’ve already made it, and the world will start to respect.


4. There’s always a way out


Cops impound your car containing a laptop full of incriminating evidence? Get a gigantic magnet, b****, and erase that evidence in a way no one will believe actually happened. Kidnapped in the desert for days and not sure how to explain your absence to your family? Strip naked in a convenience store and pretend you’ve been in a cancer-induced fugue state the whole time.


The lengths to which Walt will go — and his utter refusal to believe he’s ever painted into a corner — are pretty damn impressive, and one of the reasons fans admire his ingenuity, even as they denounce his actions. He will not be stopped. He will not be beaten. While each cliffhanger episode leaves you full of dread and anticipation, you always secretly know that somehow, Walt will find a way out of it.


No matter what challenges, setbacks, or failures you face in your professional career, you have two possible solutions: lose hope and give up, or put on your thinking cap and figure out a way to tunnel yourself free, in whatever way possible. Nothing is ever truly hopeless if you’re determined enough. Never underestimate the power of creativity and resolve.


5. Know what you’re doing it all for


And now, for the warning.


Walt got involved in the whole meth scene out of a desire to provide for his family after his cancer diagnosis. As the series progressed, we’ve watched him devolve into a creature driven by greed, ego and a thirst for power. But he still seemed to have soft spots — for his kids (definitely), for Jesse (sometimes), for his wife Skylar (maybe?). It was one of the things that kept people rooting for him long after he’d clearly gone from hero to anti-hero.


Now that the show is winding down, the big question in everyone’s mind has been: Which Walt will be left when the smoke clears? Does he have any humanity left, or has Heisenberg taken over completely?


The most recent episode seems to lean towards the latter, but you never can tell with Walt. His motives have become so muddied he’d give up his entire fortune to save the brother-in-law who could turn him in — yet he has no qualms about kidnapping his infant daughter to “teach his wife a lesson.”


Walt’s two competing drives (and selves) are ultimately what’s done him in. Trying to walk the impossible line between taking care of his family and looking out for number one, he now stands to lose everything he fought for. One self is suffering for the other self’s choices. Wherever he’s going in that beat-up minivan, it’s not to celebrate his grand victory.


Don’t let an internal tug of war derail your own happiness. When it comes to your career, you need to be able to sit down with yourself and honestly identify why you’re pursuing what you’re pursuing.


Regardless of what everyone else expects of you, regardless of what you think you “should” be doing, what’s your real driving force? If you’re not clear on that, or you’re chasing something else but pretending you’re clear on it, even the most “successful” of careers won’t ultimately make you happy.


It’s your choice. Which way are you going to break?



This week has been very challenging for our family. A story not for me to tell, but nonetheless it has shaken our world and brought us all back to what truly matters.

Today I read this article which made perfect sense to me: finding the joy in every day, even the crappy days. Because even the crappy days are here on earth, and that’s something to celebrate and thank the powers-that-be.

One piece of advice from this article that I’m going to try upon meeting new people: instead of asking them “what do you do?” ask them: “what do you like to do?” Big difference. I don’t know if that kind of question is confined to our culture, but finding out what someone likes to do as opposed to what they do to survive can open up some real human conversations.

So tell me, what do YOU like to do?

And let me know what you think about Laura Munson’s article from The Huffington Post about finding the joy in every day.

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