I wanted to immerse myself in every chance I could to explore creativity on our once in a lifetime trip to Spain. On our first walk through the quaint town of Bot, I immediately noticed the beautiful doors and windows. I made a mental note to take advantage of some free time to explore the area with my camera. The opportunity came one morning when I woke up early to go for a run on the via Verde near our hotel. Tom was still sleeping and we didn’t have plans until the afternoon.
I grabbed my gear and headed out to explore. I roamed the city streets listening only to the sounds of the town coming to life— roosters from a local farm crowing in the distance, vans and trucks making their morning deliveries and the occasional Buen dia as someone strolled past me. I could truly get used to this way of life!
The variety of doors was staggering. Every single door was different. Most of them were wood, but they were in no way cookie cutter. Some were arched. Some were wider. Many were very colorful. A lot had ornate metal details or unique handles/knockers. Each entrance had its own unique personality.
I know it is easy to say that something is better because you are in a far-away location. Coming from suburban Chicago where everything looks exactly the same, the variety was truly refreshing.
This was an excellent exercise to find the beauty in the everyday.
We knew as soon as we received the invitation to Matthew and Cassandra’s wedding we would do everything possible to attend. After all, how often do you receive an invitation to an intimate wedding in the rolling hills of Spain? Once we negotiated all the chaos of traveling internationally near the tail end of a global pandemic, we were ready to get our fiesta on.
Everything about this wedding fits the challenges I set forth in my post about a creative mindset
Listen to music. Nine different countries were represented at the wedding. The bride and groom asked everyone from outside the US to share a few songs for the DJ to play during the reception. It was so unique to hear songs from India, Sweden and Ukraine. I never would have heard these songs otherwise and I’ll always smile when I think back on the reception and dancing to them.
Keep an idea journal. The food at the reception was out of this world and it had me making notes to try and find recipes to try back at home. From the camembert bites in blueberry sauce to the vegetarian paella and quinoa salad, my creative juices were flowing!
Talk to other creatives. This was a very small wedding- only 38 guests. When we talked to the bride and groom about the guest list they admitted that they were drawn to the same types of people— people with a sense of adventure and creativity. After all, most of the guests were traveling thousands of miles to attend the festivities.
Embrace failure. The bride and groom were extremely thoughtful in how they arranged guests at each table. There was a mixture of people who spoke only Spanish, only English and both English & Spanish at each table. Pedro, a local farmer at our table, tried to engage the Spanish learners at our table with children’s riddles using farm animals. The three non-Spanish speakers at our table stared at him with zero comprehension of what he was trying to communicate. The bilingual guest translated, we laughed and postulated an answer. Time after time our language and creativity failed us. We laughed it off and kept trying.
Be a lifelong learner. I knew as soon as we decided to make the trip that I was going to do everything to learn at least basic Spanish. I spent countless hours and gave up daily lunch periods to practice on Duolingo. There was no way that I would be fluent in time for the trip, but I did get a healthy dose of creative use of my limited language skills.
Expose yourself to new environments. The entire wedding fit this challenge. When most people travel to Spain they go to the big cities— Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, etc. The ceremony was held in the middle of the Spanish countryside in Arnes on a stunningly beautiful vineyard that no one has ever heard of. It was an all vegetarian/vegan menu that tantalized our taste buds with each bite. We knew the bride and groom and none of the other guests- which forced us to meet and interact with new people.
Have new experiences. The wedding festivities continued well into the night. We danced and laughed and celebrated the beautiful couple like it was the last thing we would ever do. The joy carried into the next day when a couple from India shared the Holi festival of color with the wedding guests. We piled into cars and headed into the mountains with huge packets of colored powder. After a short hike down to the river, the color madness started. Everyone grabbed packets of powder and smeared them all over anyone within arms reach. Joy and laughter was radiating from every single person. Before we knew it everyone had jumped into the river and the colors were just a memory.
I know that traveling to exotic destinations is not an everyday (or in our case even an every year) occurrence. We did embrace every chance we could to make the most of this special opportunity and to recharge our creative batteries as much as we could.
We recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to Spain. We spent eleven magical days enjoying the Spanish countryside and soaking up every last drop of life spice. It seems hypocritical to talk about feeling inspired after taking a dream vacation, because who wouldn’t? It makes me think of the time I had the chance to ask world-famous photographer Art Wolfe to tell me his favorite place to photograph. He responded with Myanmar. Only someone who is able to travel internationally regularly would give such a response. Because it will be a long time before we are able to take such a trip again, I did reflect on the aspects of our trip that inspired a creative mindset so that we can try to recreate those types of experiences here at home. Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of blogs about our experiences in Spain. Here is a sneak peak…
Our food experiences were by far the most amazing. For years we have been asking for recommendations in restaurants. Check out my post Why I’ll never order off a menu again. We continued to do so while in Spain. We tried so many foods that we never would have ordered on our own—duck, partridge, clams, mussels, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and much more. I now know that my day is always better if it starts with a café con leche. As soon as we got home, I decided to host an international potluck. Everyone is bringing a dish from their heritage to pass. Foodie potluck
New experiences are obviously easier when you are in a new place where everything is new. Our adventures started with the invitation of a lifetime— one we could not turn down. Some of our explorations were simple (Spanish doors) while others were much more elaborate. One of our most memorable days was when our friends took a day to share their “favorites” with us. What would be on my favorites list if someone were visiting us? We did something similar when my bestie and her husband were in town for the day from Connecticut. Could I ask others to suggest an itinerary for a day in their area? Staycations
Music makes my heart skip a beat. Matt and Cassandra asked their guests from 9 different countries to share 3-4 songs for the DJ to play during the reception. I don’t have any of the names of the songs that were played, but I remember how much I smiled when I heard music from Ukraine, India, Mexico and even Sweden. My Pandora stations are so perfectly curated that they play only songs that I know and love. This, of course, is a double edged sword. I need to explore some new music avenues. Music
Learn something new. We ended our trip with an Airbnb Experience to learn how to make paella, which combined our love of food, culture and learning. Paella. While we cannot take a cooking class every week, I do have a stack of recipes from a great book I checked out from our library called The Kitchen Without Borders. It features stories and recipes from immigrant and refugee chefs from around the world. Our Foodie Map is eagerly awaiting more pins.
The best thing about vacations is how they make you appreciate home. This trip was no different. While we would love to figure out a way to have our “olive farm” right now, we have ways to inject joy and creativity into our lives every single day.
In December of 2017, I was finishing up my book, The Many Faces of Elgin. I had spent two solid years hardly touching my camera except to photograph the people featured in the stories I was writing. I had completely lost my photographic mojo. I randomly stumbled upon a mention of a weekly photography challenge called 52Frames. It had two simple rules 1) you must take the image 2) It must be taken between 12:01 AM Monday and 11:59 PM EST Sunday. Each week there is a new theme and that’s it. I didn’t blink an eye and I signed the manifesto and looked at the first challenge.
That first week was almost my undoing. Really— a self-portrait? There was a reason I spent so much time behind a camera— I hate pictures of myself.
I still remember someone from the Facebook group telling me to get over myself and take the picture because no one was judging me. I won’t lie. It was hard, but I survived that first week. I went on to do something I had never done prior to joining 52F. I shot consistently through the winter- every single week! Tom always teased me that I was a fair-weather photographer and that if I just opened my eyes to other things I could shoot year round. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into!
With the submission of my photo Jumbo Hot Dog Ketchup Only I became a 4X warrior, which means that I submitted a photo every week for 4 straight years (209 weeks!). It is hard to put into words what these last four years have meant to me, but I’ll try here.
Lessons I have learned:
Just show up. The leader of my running club gave me this advice when I was first considering becoming a winter runner. He told me that if I just got myself to the store that the rest would take care of itself. Maybe I would run five miles and have an epic life changing run and maybe I would run/walk two miles. It didn’t matter because I showed up. The last four years have shown me that this is true for 52F as well. Some weeks are epic and some weeks are meh, but the average of the last four years are photographs that I am pretty darn proud of.
Make making art a priority. I’m lucky. I’m a teacher and I get my summers off. That means that for approximately three months every summer, I have the flexibility to shoot whenever I want. If I want to spend three days hammering out the best shot to meet a challenge I can. During the school year, I am lucky if I have fifteen minutes on a Saturday afternoon to shoot, process and submit my picture. But I make making my image a priority every single week. It trains a part of my brain to know that it matters and that it is worthwhile.
It’s only partially about the photograph. I absolutely learn something about my photography each and every week, but the lessons I have learned from 52F more often than not have come from the people that make up this amazing community. I have learned about culture, history, life and much more from all over the world through the stories people tell with their images. I look forward to reading the stories almost as much as I do seeing the images. But most of all, I love interacting with incredible people all over the world who share my love for photography.
There is beauty everywhere. In 2020 when the world shut down, I was forced to figure out how to shoot from the comfort of home. When I created my 2020 52F photo book, I discovered that ALL but FOUR of my 52F images were taken in our house or on our property. Never in a million years would I have imagined making 48 images in our house before joining 52F.
Everyone has their own why. Each and every person joined 52F for their own reason. They are on their own photography and life journey and we are lucky that they let us all be a small part of it. Maybe you see a picture in the album that appears to not fit the theme at all. There are a thousand reasons why this could be the case and none of them matter because each person is on their own journey and who am I to judge? I try to approach each image with empathy and that keeps me centered.
Inspiration comes in many different forms. If you have read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with the idea of needing to fill-up your creative cup regularly. I like to think of it as a bank account. If I withdraw more than I deposit things go sideways pretty quick. I try to get in as much creative inspiration as I can and from a variety of sources. I keep an extensive Pinterest board with photography ideas, but I also use all my other interests to help me keep that creative cup filled. Try new recipes. Listen to energizing music. Engage with other creatives. Check out my blog post on having a creative mindset. Many of those principles apply directly to my 52Frames journey.
Some people hunt for images. Others farm their images. I have strayed from hunting and am trying to find my way back. After a year of being stuck at home, I am ready to start hunting again. Check out the blog post I wrote about this topic last year.
Gear doesn’t matter. This is such a polarizing statement. There are so many people who crave the latest greatest lens or body or gadget. My Dad had a high-end DSLR that he kept set to auto and he took such incredible photos with what essentially was an expensive point and shoot camera. There are SO many Framers in the group who shoot exclusively with their phones. The gear might make some types of shoots easier, but in general it just doesn’t matter. If your gear isn’t meeting your news, then by all means change. There was recently a fascinating blog post by world renowned photographer David DuChemin about his decision to completely change his gear to a different brand. I’m still using my Canon 7D that I got in 2011. I have gotten multiple 52 picks with that camera and more importantly, I have created images I am proud of.
You get out what you put in. 52F isn’t for everyone. It’s that simple, but you do get out of it what you put into it. Joining a mini group completely changed the experience for me. I had a regular group of photographers to help me decide which image to submit, give me feedback and then also comment on my image in the weekly album. From there, I joined the group of Framers who comment weekly on 25 random images. That opened my eyes to images in the album I might not ever have seen otherwise (in four years, I have only gone through the entire album ONCE when I was asked to select the banner for that week.) I have gotten to know people. I have my favorites, whom I follow. I have my friends and then I try really hard to engage with people via the Facebook group.
This world is made up of some incredibly freaking cool and talented folks. It’s that simple. The people are 100% the best part of this group. Of course, I love the images, but the people rock my world week after week with their stories, their comments and their friendship. Just yesterday I received a care package in the mail from a framer in Australia. We had decided to work our way through The Artist’s Way together and explore our creative journeys together. How cool is that?
Awesome experiences I have had because of 52F
Zoom call with multiple framers spread across the world. Technology is incredible.
Discovered that a fellow-framer in Israel is also a painter, so we did a virtual pour painting together and have met multiple times since then virtually to chat about creativity and art.
Did a photo walk with some members of the local Chicago group at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. We were a small group, but it was so lovely to meet some fellow Framers.
A fellow Framer saw that I had started doing paintings on fan blades, so she sent me a set of blades from a fan she was replacing so that I could repurpose them into art.
Developed incredibly special friendships with framers all over the world. People I would truly visit if life were to bring me to their part of the world.
During COVID 2020, 52Frames was an anchor for me. It was something I could rely on and use to connect with others. I cannot overstate how much it helped me through some of my darkest hours.
Explore the book The Artist’s Way with a fellow Framer on the other side of the world.
I am sure there are many more that I am not remembering. What I do know is that I can’t imagine my life without 52F in it and for that I am eternally grateful.
When we returned from Spain I was craving new food experiences and conversation with new people who shared my love of food, new recipes and travel. I have belonged to a local Facebook foodie group for a few years. So when I conjured up the idea of an international potluck, I asked them first if […]
Yesterday I had coffee with a terrific friend at a new-to-me cafe called Kava Diem. Jen and I met during a Dick Pond Saturday morning run almost five years ago. We are affectionately called the Wonder Twins. We have the same name. We run at the same pace. We are goal driven doers. We love […]
A few weeks ago, the 52Frames challenge was “Break the rules.” I think the overall spirit of the theme was to break a compositional rule. However, I felt that I was not master enough in the different rules to intentionally break one, so I took a different spin. I broke a rule that all people […]
I wanted to immerse myself in every chance I could to explore creativity on our once in a lifetime trip to Spain. On our first walk through the quaint town of Bot, I immediately noticed the beautiful doors and windows. I made a mental note to take advantage of some free time to explore the […]
One of the tenants of a creative mindset is learning new things. What better time to do this than while on vacation in Spain? For as many times as we have stayed in an Airbnb, we had never tried out an Airbnb experience. I think that in my heart I knew that Barcelona was not […]
One of the pillars of the creative mindset is music. The guests at Matt and Cassandra’s wedding represented nine different countries. In an effort to have everyone represented during the reception, they asked guests to share 3-4 songs from their homeland. We heard music from India, Sweden, Ukraine, Mexico and of course Spain. Hearing all […]
As I mentioned in the first post in this series, not everyone can just pick up and spend eleven days in Spain. However, one of our most memorable days in Spain was when Matt and Cassandra shared their favorite places and experiences with us. It gave me the chance to look at our hometown with […]
We knew as soon as we received the invitation to Matthew and Cassandra’s wedding we would do everything possible to attend. After all, how often do you receive an invitation to an intimate wedding in the rolling hills of Spain? Once we negotiated all the chaos of traveling internationally near the tail end of a […]
We recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to Spain. We spent eleven magical days enjoying the Spanish countryside and soaking up every last drop of life spice. It seems hypocritical to talk about feeling inspired after taking a dream vacation, because who wouldn’t? It makes me think of the time I had the […]
I haven’t had as much time this year to engage in the Sketchbook Revival funness, but I have selected a few sessions to try out. Two in particular lead to crazy fun shenanigans. Create Like a Kid Again! with Charlie O’Shield. I loved his playful spirit so much and got such a kick out of […]