Never Waste Tears*

24354498Never Waste Tears by Glorida Zachgo

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 406 pp

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Year: 2014

Set in the late 1860s, Never Waste Tears is the story of Nathaniel Jacob Carter, a young man whose desire it is to find peace after the war, a life with a woman he loves, and the companionship of the friends he meets along the way. Dated April 12, 1861, the story starts with the journal entry of a young ten-year-old Rebecca who expresses wonder as to why her home town is so suddenly somber. Thirteen-year-old Nathan’s journal entry follows with the description of how, on his birthday, his family changes forever when his father and brothers leave to join the War Between the States. Through the personal journal entries of these two characters, Zachgo builds their relationship, and the relationships with their families. The conflicts Rebecca faces and the reasons which compel Nathan to leave his home behind soon become apparent, making the story of the young couple’s journey deeply personal.   

Soon after their marriage, Nathan and Becca begin their adventures. They join a wagon train west with hopes of homesteading land in the New Frontier. Initially, the young newlyweds set Nebraska as their final destination, but after making a bonding friendship with another young couple, Carl and Hannah, Nathan decides to head for the Kansas territory instead. What awaits the young settlers turns Nathan’s life inside out. Zachgo’s use of historical facts and descriptions of the everyday joys and hardships faced by the pioneers adds to the realism of the time period and of the settling of the United States, west of the Mississippi River.

Zachgo moves the story forward through the use of journal entries of five different characters. Doing so provides a deeper understanding of the personal lives of pioneers, and the emotional bonds they form in order to survive.  While the use of personal narrative through the journal entries is an interesting method of moving a story forward, the technique was initially confusing. The confusion was short-lived since it turned the story into a page turner that prevented me from setting the book down for even a moment.

Never Waste Tears is an interesting story about the post-Civil War settlers who traveled west in search of a new life. Zachgo does an excellent job developing characters that are true to the time period and the settling of the post-Civil War American West.

*This is a guest post by Cathy Smith. 

Catch-Up: Early American and Post-War novels review*

Title by Author

Layout 1Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness by Beverly Scott

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 308 pp

Publisher: SWSM Press

Year: 2017

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness is a story of Sarah, a mother who is widowed at the turn of the 20th century, left with five children to raise. Feeling alone and abandoned, she decides to make the journey from the barren New Mexico territory back to her home in Nebraska. After settling back in with her extended family, Sarah soon discovers that her deceased husband, Sam, had lived a different life before their marriage. This secret life not only haunted Sam when he was alive, but it also affects Sarah and her children after his death.

The author does well weaving historical facts into the three story sections that unfold the tale of Sarah’s and Sam’s lives. From the descriptions of the barren New Mexico desert to the wild streets of Dodge City, Kansas, Scott paints pictures of the past that bring life to the story’s characters and their frontier adventures.

Growing up west of the Mississippi, and being fortunate to have heard the stories of the late 19th century and early 20th century women in my own family helped me to appreciate the struggles faced by this young mother who was left to raise five children. Each chapter was a reminder of how women helped to define the true essence of the pioneer spirit.

Although the story came together eventually, the transition from the first section which describes Sarah’s journey home to the second section which provides back-story about Sam was initially puzzling because the second section describes Sam with a different name. It was toward the end of this second section that the puzzle pieces of Sarah’s life are realized. After reading the second section, I reread the first section with more appreciation and understanding.

In general, however, the story was an insightful tale of one woman’s journey and the experiences she had that defined her strength. It was easy to feel compassion for Sarah as she overcame obstacles and found ways to succeed throughout her life. 

36161409Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity by J. L. Oakley

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 526 pp

Publisher: Fairchance Press

Year: 2017

Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity is a powerful story of two people’s lives, their joys, and their heartaches. When Jeannie Naughton Pierce leaves England and journeys to the Pacific Northwest of the 1860s, she hopes to find peace and a life free from the meddling banter of friends and family.  Jeannie turns to the one person in her life, her deceased aunt’s husband, for support and a chance to start anew.  Once Jeannie arrives to the Northwest Territory with her young son, the one person Jeannie does find in her new life is Jonas Breed, her heart’s true love.  Their forbidden romance spans decades and takes readers on the unexpected journeys of the two star-crossed lovers.

The author does an exceptional job weaving the events of the time period into the conflicts that create the adventures experienced by Jonas and Jeannie. Oakley opens the readers’ eyes to the struggles of the native cultures, the discord between the immigrant cultures, and the sea faring trades that are shaping the future of the territory. Not only does Oakley capture the strength of the people, but she also captures their weaknesses. Her knowledge of the 1860s generate a passion and hope in her readers that Jeannie and Jonas eventually find a way past the worldly disputes of the time to find their everlasting fairytale ending.

What everlasting means in a fairy tale is wholly different to what it means in a story mirroring characters that could have lived in a real place and time. As much as an everlasting fairytale ending would be stereotypically satisfying, Oakley stays true to her story. She respects the realities of life and stays true to the story’s theme, and the meaning of mist-chi-mas.

Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity is a story that dives deep into the human psyche.  It is the story of how a young boy rises above his fate to become the master of his destiny.  It is the story of a young woman who overcomes the ideologies of her society to free her inner soul to become the woman she was born to be.  It is, in short, a wonderful story!

I read it as an:

Narrator:

Source: HNS* Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: pp/time

Publisher: Year:

Catch-Up: Victorican Era and Pirate novels review*

36269117The Brotherhood of the Black Flag: A Novel of the Golden Age of Piracy by Ian Nathaniel Cohen

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollickat Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 260 pp

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Year: 2017

In an action-packed, heroic story, Michael McNamara leaves Bristol, England, in search of himself. McNamara starts with a dream to become an officer in the Royal Navy. When an opportunity presents itself, he is accepted into the navy as a volunteer – per – order, after providing a reluctantly written letter from his father. When McNamara is then drummed out of the navy, he uses his skills with a small sword to become a fencing instructor, only to be let go from this position a year later. He then decides to pursue a fresh start in Kingston, Jamaica. Once McNamara arrives there he finds himself in a duel with a group of ruthless Caribbean pirates and thus is set in motion a series of events that leads him to the magnificent Dona Catalina Moore Viuda de Caldeira and her infamous fiancé pirate, Captain Stephen Reynard.  What happens next takes our hero on a journey that comes to define his purpose in life through his experiences with The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and this is where the real story begins.

Cohen does an excellent job building a fast-paced story that moves McNamara’s adventures forward with vivid descriptions of battles and fights that take place on land and at sea. His knowledge of 18th-century weapons, specifically swords, helps readers to visualize the time period and the character’s personas. Readers feel McNamara’s tenacity and commitment to life by Cohen’s balance of the accuracy of facts with the originality of his fictional story.

Throughout the book, readers come to respect McNamara for his loyalty and duty to those in his life. The character builds relationships and establishes his reputation as a strong, principled individual who holds steadfast to his ideals. Equally, readers also come to know and understand the beautiful Catalina, whom McNamara comes to love; and the pirate Reynard who appears to be working on changing his swashbuckling lifestyle. When Cohen moves the story into a sudden and unexpected twist of events, readers wonder whether they missed something along the way – but soon realize the author’s masterful writing skill.  

The only thing that lets the book down is the cover. The narrative is exciting, the cover isn’t – for young adults or a children’s book it would have been fine, but not for an adult read.

The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is a must read for anyone who is captivated with the Age of Piracy. Cohen has done a remarkable job developing a story that places readers in the middle of the action, and into the heart, soul and spirit of the hero, Michael McNamara.

An excellent read.

34526009Hooks & Eyes: Part 1 of The Ambition & Destiny Series by VL McBeath

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 442 pp

Publisher: Valyn Publishing

Year: 2017

Set in 1846 England, Hooks and Eyes by V. L. McBeath is the story of Mary Jackson, a young widow, and the journey she takes to ensure that she can aptly raise her two young children during the Victorian Age. After the death of her husband, Mary decides to leave her in-laws’ country home to live with her deceased husband’s Aunt Lucy and Aunt Rebecca in the city.  Determined to make her own choices about what is best for her family, Mary, against the advice of her aunts, marries William Wetherby, her former employer, a bully, and a womanizer.

Throughout the novel, McBeath intertwines the lives of multiple families while incorporating accurate historical elements into each chapter. She touches on how the non-mechanized businesses transitioned into the mechanized factories of the Industrial Revolution. Most importantly, McBeath opens the reader’s eyes to the difficulties faced by widowed and older, unmarried women during the mid-1800s.

The author did a good job capturing the emotional struggles faced by the women throughout the novel. Readers will sympathize with Mary’s emotional and psychological pain. Seeing how women could choose to support one another, as Mary’s aunts try to do, was enlightening. Unfortunately, some of Mary’s choices do not set well with her Aunt Lucy.

Instead of using Mary and Wetherby’s marriage to focus the many subplots more effectively into the central narrative of female strength, McBeath moves the story forward by introducing multiple characters to create short, family dramas that are frequently left unresolved or are irrelevant, and because of this, the one storyline that moves the main idea forward is unresolved. Had it been, it could have given Mary profound insight into her original choice, creating a smoother transition into the final scene.

Hooks and Eyes starts with a narrative that captures the emotions of the main character and the journey she takes because of the death of her true love. The subplots are interesting and build a sense of the period, but  they fall a little short of connecting that main storyline introduced in the beginning of the novel, with the climax in the final paragraphs.

However, an interesting novel for those readers interested in this period.

The Year the Swans Came is a tragic story for anyone who wants to become captivated by the lives of two girls who are literally polar opposites of each other.  It is a story of one girl’s love of herself and her physical world, and the story of another girl’s unconditional love for the people in her life. It is a story of passion and a story of anguish. Spencer has done a wonderful job subtly showing how magical realism is a real part of the mythologies of a culture. 

**This is a guest post by Cathy Smith. 

Round-Up: Christy Nicholas books

One of my favorite authors, still sadly an obscure name, is Christy Nicholas. I had the good fortune to review a few of her books for Discovering Diamonds. A few of her other books are also reviewed on DDRevs by my fellow reviewers which I didn’t read, but they are worth checking out for sure. One reason I enjoy Nicholas’s books so much is because she imbues them with so much feminine power. They are accurate within the scope of their timeframe, yet the women in each one are strong, bold, as feminist as possible. She pushes the boundaries of creating feminist characters and isn’t shy to use mythical characters, such as The Morrigan, to be more feminist. I fucking love it. 

Below are a couple reviews, submitted as a guest post by Cathy Smith, who is also a reviewer at DDRevs. My own reviews of Nicholas’s books that have already been posted can be found both on DDRevs as well as on this blog. 

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Legacy of Hunger: Druid’s Brooch Series: 1

Reviewed by: Cathy Smith

Read it as a: digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 306 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2015

Legacy of Hunger, book one of Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch Series, takes readers on an unforgettable quest from the shores of 1846 America to the distressed Irish countryside of Valentina McDowell’s ancestors. Driven by her mother’s legends and a desire to find an old family brooch, Valentina finds early on in her quest that she will discover friendship and come to realize the betrayal of enemies. She will see beauty and face tragedy. Guided by her mystical visions, Valentina’s journey is filled with joy and sorrow as each step of the quest prepares her for what awaits at the end.

Nicholas does an excellent job developing the story by painting detailed descriptions of the characters themselves, their past, and their present. Readers also feel the intensity of the characters’ personalities through the descriptive images of the ship’s voyage across the sea and of the Irish villages and countryside. Nicholas stays true to the history of 19th century Ireland. She uses this history, as well as the legends from the ancients, to provide readers with a real-world sense of Valentina’s adventures.

As I experienced Valentina’s journey to find the answers to the mysteries that haunted her from childhood, I thought of a time when my own father told me the story of his grandmother who came to America as an indentured servant during the An Gorta Mór – The Great Hunger. He told the story of how she met my great-grandfather while working off her servitude in a well-known Colorado bar.  As I read Nicholas’ story, I realized that the legacy of hunger is a legacy that affects generations of people even into the 21st century.

Although Nicholas provides closure in the last chapter and epilogue, the happily or not so happily ever after resolutions of the individual character stories left me with deeper questions.  It is my hope to see future novels that develop some of these characters’ journeys.

Legacy of Hunger is the story of the Irish people who suffered during the Great Hunger.  It is the story of how Valentina McDowell journeys to find her strength, courage, and inner soul by overcoming the challenges to complete a quest that reveals her destiny.

Other books by Christy Nicholas:

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Legacy of Truth: Druid’s Brooch Series: 2I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review of this one.
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Legacy of Luck: Druid’s Brooch Series: 3. I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review for this one, either.
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Misfortune of Vision: Druid’s Brooch Series: 4. You can read the review on my blog, since I’m the one who wrote it for DDRevs. 
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Misfortune of Song: Druid’s Brooch Series: 5. I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review for this one. I should see about getting this to do a review.
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Misfortune of Time: Druid’s Brooch Series, 6. Again, you can read it on DDRevs, linked above, or the exact same one on my blog since I wrote the review for them. 

Nicholas also has a standalone novel that I reviewed for DDRevs as well, Call of the Morrigu. The full review is here, as I forgot to post it to my own blog before now. 

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Call Of The Morrigú

I read it as a: digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 217 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2017

In late 1700s Ireland, rebellion against oppressive English rule was on the rise. In one quiet corner, however, society was still relatively peaceful. Theodosia “Dosey” Latimer lives with her grandfather in their family’s country estate of Strokestown. On the property, they discover a mysterious cave filled with ancient carvings and decide to try to excavate it. In the process, they accidentally awaken The Morrigan. Yes, that Morrigan. The mythical Irish war goddess. Now it is up to Dosey and her grandfather to teach Morrigan how to behave like a proper 18th century lady – and keep her out of the rebellion coming their way.

This was, simply put, a remarkably fun read. Author Christy Nicholas weaves in mythology and history smoothly throughout the narrative. Readers are given glimpses of Celtic myth alongside bits of information about the 1798 Irish Rebellion, led by Wolfe Tone. Parts of the story were surprisingly funny as well. Morrigan learning 18th century table manners is exactly what you would hope for.

The parts of the book that I most appreciated were its many feminist elements. Feminism was a necessary component of the plot for Dosey to be able to grow as a character and a woman. She also was a product of her time and none of her actions were unbelievable or out of place in the story. However, it’s hard for me not to cheer and fall in love with characters who make comments like “I do not understand the shame your society has for the body. It is a glorious thing, full of life and pleasure” or “You are power. You are woman. All woman are power.” Here, Morrigan was reflecting what was understood to be the typical pre-Christian culture of ancient Ireland (or at least the author’s interpretation of it), but it remains highly relevant in today’s society where women’s rights are still challenged and threatened by the patriarchy. Having a mythical character speak the words makes them no less relevant, and allows a certain safe distance from which we can examine our modern morals and values. I loved it.

My only criticism is that I felt some of the secondary characters could have been developed a little more. I wanted to get to know Nan better, and Cillian and Marcus. They were fine, but they felt like they were placeholders or extras just playing a necessary part in a formula. However, they were not totally flat or one-dimensional, either, and they served their respective purposes well enough.

Overall, I loved this book and look forward to reading more by this author. Strongly recommended for anyone who is interested in Irish mythology, history, or the influence of women on either subject.

Fear: Trump in the White House

41012533A Review by Cathy Smith*

It was 1974, and we were all standing around a small television in the lobby of a hotel in Mexico City. President Richard Nixon was resigning from the office of President of the United States. My uncle turned to my mother and asked her thoughts about Watergate and President Nixon. Mom was not a big supporter of Nixon. For her, it was personal. During the 1950s, we lived in Bolivia. My father was one of the chief advisers to President Paz Estensoro and was involved in all the diplomatic meetings with any state officials from the United States. It was during one of Nixon’s visits to Bolivia as Vice President of the United States that things got very personal for my mom, and both my parents lost all respect and support for Nixon.

It is funny how the mind works, and how certain memories come back when watching current events in the news. In this case, all the memories of Watergate, Nixon, and my parents surfaced as I followed, and continue to follow, the drama of the Trump administration from the elections leading up to 2016, the midterms of 2018, the Mueller investigation, and Bob Woodward’s latest book Fear: Trump in the White House.

Bob Woodward is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose most notable work was with colleague Carl Bernstein when the two men blew the lid off the Watergate scandal with their investigative reporting. Their book, All the President’s Men, chronicles their work on Watergate. Woodward has worked for the Washington Post for over 45 years. Of his 19 authored or coauthored books, 13 have been number one national non-fiction bestsellers, and nine have been on recent U.S. Presidents (Woodward, n.d.). Fear: Trump in the White House was sold out before the book’s actual publication date. I initially bought the Audible version of the book, and later picked up a hard copy I found hiding in a stack of books at the local Costco. When going through checkout, the cashier told me I was lucky to have found the book because all the local bookstores sent representatives into Costco on the release date to purchase the Costco copies. He was surprised they had missed one. According to Woodward (n.d.) Fear: Trump in the White House has “sold more than 1.1 million copies in its first week in the United States and broke the 94-year-first-week sales record of its publisher Simon & Schuster” (para. 1).

Fear: Trump in the White House presents readers with a report of the Trump White House based on “multiple deep background interviews with firsthand sources” (Woodward, 2018, “Source Notes” pp. 363-390). Woodward presents readers with an inside look at what seems to be a White House in chaos. The story starts eight months into Trump’s term as President of the United States. Woodward opens with an account of a letter draft to the President of South Korea which would pull the United States out of KORUS, the United States – Korea Free Trade Agreement (Woodward, 2018, p. xvii). Woodward (2018) continues to explain in detail how Gary Cohn and Rob Porter “worked together to derail what they believed were Trump’s most impulsive and dangerous orders” (p. xix). From this example, Woodward takes his readers back to the beginning of the Donald Trump story, his rise to power, and how the White House drama of this administration continues to unfold in the headlines today.

Before the campaign, there was Steve Bannon, a scruffy looking, unkempt, right-wing media executive and strategist who was executive chairman of Breitbart News prior to becoming a chief strategist and senior counselor for Donald Trump. Bannon is a nationalist and holds to his America-first viewpoints. Bannon’s America-first viewpoint became the foundation for Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign, which included three points of focus: (1) to end mass illegal immigration (2) bring manufacturing back to the United States, and (3) get out of unnecessary foreign wars (Woodward, 2018). Bannon also encouraged the Trump campaign to focus on the fact that Donald Trump was not a politician, and that the campaign should focus the attention mostly on the Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Throughout the book, Woodward provides example after example as to how Bannon influenced the campaign and the policies that laid the foundation for the White House we see today. However, even Bannon’s influence was limited when it came to Trump’s real inner circle, which is inclusive of the Trump family that include his wife, Melania; his son, Donald (Don) Trump, Jr.; his daughter, Ivanka; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. In an article from CNN, Betsy Klein (2018) reports, “In a White House where the loyalty of some is in question, family members are among the very few Trump trusts completely” (para. 4).

In the first part of his book, Woodward describes a situation where Melania strongly refuses to sit to one side of Trump, with Ivanka on his other side while he makes a tearful apology about misogynist comments made years earlier. Although Melania did not sit next to Trump for this staged apology recommended by Kellyanne Conway, Melania did release a statement to the public expressing her dissatisfaction with his comments, but also shared her forgiveness in hopes that the public could do the same (Woodward, 2018). As I read this section of the Woodward’s book, I remembered the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. I thought about how this played out in the media when this story broke and how it continued to haunt Hillary Clinton throughout her Presidential campaign. Later in his book, Woodward then describes the West Wing’s views of Melania Trump and President Trump as having “sincere affection for each other” even though “she operated independently” (p. 174). According to Woodward (2018) “They ate dinner together at times, spent some time together; but they never really seemed to merge their lives” (p. 174).

Don Trump, Jr., who took over his father’s private businesses when his father took office, is said to be Trump’s most vocal advocate (Klein, 2018). Woodward’s mention of Don, Jr., focuses on his meetings with the Russians at Trump Tower in the middle of the presidential campaign. Closer to the inner workings of the Trump White House are both the first daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Woodward references this power couple throughout his book, illustrating the influence they have on President Trump. Woodward clearly leaves his readers with the impression that although Ivanka was on the President’s staff, she did not see herself as a staffer. Woodward describes an altercation between Bannon and Ivanka when Bannon calls her out on working around the Chief of Staff, and not following protocol by working through him. Woodward (2018) states that Ivanka was not shy about using her title as the first daughter when she assertively shouted at Bannon that she was not a staffer, but the first daughter. According to Maxwell Tani (2017), Jared Kushner, as one of Trump’s senior advisors, was “tasked by his father-in-law to solve some of the world’s most complex and confounding political problems domestically and abroad” (para. 2). Throughout Fear, Woodward makes mention of Kushner and his involvement in the Trump White House.

Outside of Trump’s immediate family, Woodward’s list of players, who seem to come and go, is extensive. Woodward does a great job weaving the narratives of the various players into the story of this White House administration. Woodward discusses the campaign, the Mueller report, immigration, trade, and the role this administration plays in the world and at home. Woodward paints a picture of how Trump was selected as the Republican candidate and then molded into the image of what the powers in control of the money wanted as the President of the United States. The chaos exposed by the reports from Woodward’s deep background interviews reflects not only the fear that some Americans may feel from reading his book, but is also reflective of the fear that individuals may have from working in and with the current White House administration.

After I finished listening to the book, I found that I needed some time to process and digest everything that I had just listened to. I decided to turn on the radio. The 1968 Simon and Garfunkel song “At the Zoo” was playing.

The monkeys stand for honesty | Giraffes are insincere| And the elephants are kindly but they’re dumb| orangutans are skeptical | Of changes in their cages | And the zookeeper is very fond of rum | Zebras are reactionaries | Antelopes are missionaries | Pigeons plot in secrecy | And hamsters turn on frequently | What a gas, you gotta come and see | At the zoo… (Simon, 2018, lines 16 – 29)

The timing of the song was a perfect ending to a well-written book. The Trump White House, as Woodward describes it, was (and still is) a zoo. As I continue to follow the news and the current state of the nation, I remember Watergate, and the scandals of a President my parents did not respect. I turned off the radio and sat in silence for a few seconds until another song/poem came into mind titled “‘The Ballad of the Skeletons’: Allen Ginsberg’s 1996 Collaboration with Phillip Glass and Paul McCartney.” I wondered about the agelessness of the songs and poetry of the Fifties Beat Generation and the Rock music of the Sixties. My mind finally wandered to Bob Dylan and I asked myself are the times “A-Changin”?

 

References

Klein, B. (2018). How Don Jr. became the President’s most vocal defender. CNN Politics. Retrieved on December 10, 2018 from https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/15/politics/donald-trump-jr-defender/index.html

Simon, P. (2018). At the zoo. Paul Simon. Retrieved on December 5, 2018 from https://www.paulsimon.com/song/zoo/

Tani, M. (2017). Here are all the duties Jared Kushner has in the Trump administration. Business Insider. Retrieved on December 10, 2018 from https://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-jared-kushner-do-in-trump-administration-2017-4

Woodward, B. (2018). Fear: Trump in the White House. Simon and Schuster: NY, NY

Woodward, B. (n.d.) Bob Woodward. Retrieved on December 5, 2018 from http://bobwoodward.com/

 

*Cathy Smith is a Full-time Faculty member at the University of Phoenix. She has taught at all grade levels, from kindergarten through college, as well as ESL. She herself is a bilingual citizen and advocates for Dreamers and DACA. She has many Things to Say about politics and the current Agent Orangenikov currently invading the Oval Office.

Guest Post by Leslie Key: Looking and Seeing: Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography

51eje8r2i8l-_sx398_bo1204203200_Title: Looking and Seeing: Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography by John McQuade and Miriam Hall

I read it as an: eBook

Source:  Leslie Key’s own collection

Length: 6 hours/more if using as reference

Publisher: Drala Publishing

Year: 2015

 

A Poem

Staying in One Place

Could it be that we like to stay

where it’s comfortable even to our dismay?

What turns the tide to rescue us?

How many turns must we pass,

before we choose the Way?

Sea Sand Stone and Shell 1 CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Sea, Sand, Stone and Shell 1

This poem and image were created during the moments of reflection on an experience I had with contemplative photography.

The book Looking and Seeing was my first formal introduction to the idea of contemplative photography, which is a focused and mindful visual experience with intention. Looking is the moment of perception that takes you into seeing, creating the personal connection. With my camera as my tool, it is a Way of Seeing the world around me, a perceptual wonder. McQade and Hall describe a Way as a path or practice to perception (seeing) (2015). In the second section of Looking and Seeing the authors explain what it means to have “view, motivation and intention” as it relates to capturing images through experiencing them with mind, body and spirit. I have used and am using this concept for several photographic projects now.

For example, over the 4th of July this year I visited friends in San Diego, CA. Every year they head down to Ocean Beach and typically arrive around sunrise to ensure they land a good spot near the pier. This year I decided to commit to Ocean Beach on the 4th of July and join my dear friends Benny and Shari each year to follow. I’ve also committed to visually capturing Ocean Beach in each visit during the wee hours of the mornings of each 4th of July. The images I captured in July of 2017 proved to be different than what I saw during my July 2018 visit.

This year during these wee hours the sea shore showed me places that were soon hidden by the high tide. I had several hours to capture the shore at low tide. I titled this photographic project “Staying in One Place.” The first image below captures the crevasses and streams of sea, sand, stone and shell. In contemplative photography I take the time to experience the environment that I plan to capture with my camera. This year I spent about two hours walking, listening and standing still with my eyes closed to listen carefully to what this place could show me. This is when I can hear what I see. McQuade and Hall call this a mind-set of practice using “view, motivation and intent” to be “fully human and awake” (2015, p. 19).

My view or orientation of the scene is when I can understand the journey in capturing the image. This is how I captured the image below and my perception when I clicked the camera shutter. As I angled my camera and tripod securely on a mossy and somewhat slippery stone, I began to compare the elements of sea, sand, stone and shell to people; people (including myself at times) who have decided to stay in their crevasses and still water, passing every opportunity to move on.

How many times in life are we forced to move and change? How many times is our positive, yet painful change forced by circumstances we are in through choices we have made? This can sound dreadful yet is a natural path to discovery.

The following three photographs are from my photo project “Stay in One Place.”

Sea Sand Stone and Shell 2
Sea, Sand, Stone and Shell 2

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Sea, Sand, Stone and Shell 3

 

Tidal Force CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Tidal Force

Another recent photographic project I titled “From My Car Window” gave me a new Way of Seeing.  I focused on using contemplative photography on a recent road trip to Ottawa, Kansas. Because of a short time-frame and urgent need to get to my destination, I realized my car window was my only chance to capture some incredible scenes with full intention of using the “discipline of relaxation,” which McQuade and Hall describe as a moment of contemplative practice or intent. Here are a few images that I captured from my car window. The experience offered me a “Way of Seeing” while moving fast enough that if my camera settings were not perfect, the image would not display what I saw. In other words, I synchronized.

The following four photographs are from my photo project “From My Car Window.”

Cumulus LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Cumulus

Traces CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Traces

Two Horses CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Two Horses

High Desert CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
High Desert

McQuade and Hall frequently refer to a “flash of perception” through synchronization or creating a state where eye, mind and world all come together at the same time (p. 21). To prepare for this experience, I ensure that my camera and equipment are ready to be put to use, a time when my logical, organizational mind begins to prepare for the contemplative photographic event.

In the final chapters of Looking and Seeing the authors give me a chance to put the concept of contemplative photography into practice. McQuade and Hall bring me into a world of new perception and thinking about what a miracle vision really is. The authors call it an unconditional miracle of “sheer manifestation” (p. 32). For example, we see color every day, right? Using the concept of contemplative photography, I first contemplate the color by first looking, then seeing (perceiving) the color, to making an image of the color. This same exercise is applied to light and shadows, texture and patterns. This is a process, an exercise in contemplative photography.

In closing I would like to say that I love capturing what I see and feel. I love the idea that sharing images for the sheer pleasure of sharing, is my goal. This book is for all types of photographers, from film and digital, to iphone, to the snapshot wonder. Looking and Seeing is a form of mindful meditation through a Way of Seeing and capturing the world we live in.

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Leslie Key is, by profession, a full-time faculty of higher education. By hobby, she is a photographic hobbyist who loves to capture what she sees and feels, with intentions of becoming a professional nature photographer.

As a full-time faculty with the University of Phoenix, Leslie teaches courses in critical thinking, and general life and study skills to first year college students. She finds that she connects well with these students who are either returning or new to college. She identifies well the struggles to balance family, career, and college because this is what she did.

Returning to college at 45 years was interesting and scary, but Leslie achieved her goals and earned a master in adult education and learning theories. She then began her second career in higher education and has worked in student services, academic affairs, administration and now as full-time faculty.

Her background in photography started at age 5 when her father introduced her to a point and shoot camera, so she could take photos alongside him. Her interest continued through the years photographing people, places and things. Today, her intentions continue, and her focus deepens.

Leslie hopes you enjoy her guest blog post and photographs. She is in the process of creating her professional website, which is now under construction. In the meantime, please check out her Photography Profile