Tag Archives: photography

Arkansas, America, and Art

Last week I told you about the great restaurant we found in the Ozarks, along the White River bank. But we did more than go to that restaurant. We kept my uncle going every day! It had been decades since we had been to northern Arkansas. When we last visited, there were so many ancient Ozark-style log cabins tucked into the woods on the side of the road that the flavor of the land was everywhere you looked. If you don’t know what those are, they are small slightly rectangular box cabins with a peaked roof and a front porch with roof (imagine a wooden rocking chair and Pa with a corncob pipe just about now). Typically, the cover to the porch is a different pitch than the main roof–and best yet, the roof is generally tin. There aren’t very many left, but the remains of the ones being slowly claimed by the forest can be seen. Also, some have been refurbished with aluminum siding. Some new houses are built in the same style, to reflect the traditional architecture.

The reason I don’t have photos for you is that most of my Arkansas photos are crap, having been taken through a car window. It was too hot and humid to keep rolling the window down–and the so-called highways (NO freeways at all) are winding and long. It’s way out in the country, y’all. Anyway, the gardener drove, and it exhausted him so I didn’t want to distract him by rolling the window up and down–or asking to stop where we could have been run over IF someone else had driven there just then (that’s a big IF).

This part of Arkansas must be well within the Bible Belt. In Mountain Home (population 12,448), the Wednesday newspaper had a listing of churches in the immediate area.

I counted FORTY-ONE Baptist churches. There are also a lot of other denominations, including LDS, Jehovah’s Witness, and even Bahai! There is no synagogue, and I don’t think there is a mosque. Also, there are only two Catholic churches–one in town and one in a nearby town. The one in town is my uncle’s church. You might wonder then how my uncle ended up in Arkansas. He was born and lived in Chicago. After a horrible crime touched his life (story coming tomorrow in thefamilykalamazoo.com) he moved his family to rural Illinois–and eventually to Arkansas. He wasn’t alone–there is a whole “expat” group of Chicagoans who live there. They like being away from the hubbub–and a lot of them like to fish. That–and some Californians who have escaped the west coast–probably makes up the majority of people who attend the Catholic churches.

Let me mention that my favorite church names are the cowboy churches. Notice that this listing shows Bar None Cowboy Church. We flew into Tulsa, OK, and drove to Mountain Home. On the way, we saw other cowboy churches, like the Cowboy Gatherin’ Church in Inola, OK, and Crooked Creek Cowboy Church in Harrison. Apparently “cowboy churches” are a thing and are scattered across the country. Who knew? Well, I sure didn’t.

Speaking of Harrison. It’s only 48.4 miles from Mountain Home, but there’s a big difference. Mountain Home, as I said, has attracted people from Chicago and California and is close to reknowned trout fishing near the Bull Shoals dam which links Bull Shoals Lake with the White River. People think of pretty Ozark country when Mountain Home is mentioned. Harrison’s reputation comes from being known as the most racist city in the country. I got that from Wikipedia. So who knows the accuracy. Apparently, between 1905 and 1909 white citizens threw out all the African-Americans who lived there and established their city as a “sundown town.” That means just what it sounds like: no non-white people in town after dark. You think things have changed?

The city has been dubbed “the most racist city in America” because of its high presence of white supremacist organizations. Kingdom Identity Ministries, a white supremacist organization, was founded in 1982 in Harrison. Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, maintains his office near Harrison in the outlying town of Zinc and uses a Harrison mailing address for the organization. Combined with the history of the 1905 and 1909 banishment of unemployed railroad workers and all other African-American residents, this incidental connection to the KKK has given the town a negative image.

The article goes on to say that there are people who are trying to combat that image by speaking up against racism. Of course, all this just made me want to visit. The writer in me, you know. But that’s an easy call as a white woman. As the white mother of Asians, I would not have suggested we visit if they were with us.

When we got to town, I saw the pretty historic theatre where events are still held.

Love the neon sign!

Harrison is quite a pretty small town, and there wasn’t much to hint at a dangerous undercurrent of racism. Then we stopped at an antique shop for the gardener.

My eye was drawn to certain things. I started to feel uncomfortable.

I realize people collect Mammy this and that. Raised in Kalamazoo by my northern relatives, I will never feel comfortable with this stuff. In fact, in Arkansas, I had to keep reminding myself it used to be a slave state. I’ve never lived in a state where slave-holding was legal.

And then there was this little section.

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of items? The Rise and Fall swastika, desperation, a book called Rifles and Shotguns, Rhett Butler, and the fragility of that ruffled porcelain atop the stack. I figured we’d been in town long enough. Time to go!

Next day we visited my cousin’s home in the mountains. He is an orchid farmer by trade, and they live way out in the middle of nowhere (yup, it’s probably even called that). He always loved cacti and orchids, and it’s kind of cool that he’s made a living all these years doing what he loves.

He’s got such cute grandchildren, too. So much fun playing with them!

One day we visited Mystic Caverns. I guess northern Arkansas has a lot of underground caves. Many have probably not even been discovered yet.

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Close to Mountain Home is a tiny town called Norfork. There you can find the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site.

The site includes the main house, which was the territorial courthouse, built 1825, as well as some outbuildings. Seeing how the men “roughed” it even inside the courthouse really made me think of what the settlers went through. During the day, court was in session, and at night, the men spread out their bedrolls where they had been sitting in court earlier.

As we left Arkansas, the gardener and I stopped at the Osage Clayworks because the area has been known for pottery for quite some time. They had some good buys on “seconds,” and I bought my daughter a garlic thingie to use for her rings on her dresser.


The Photography of Justin Hamm

If you like seeing small towns and the fading past of America, you need to check out the photography of poet and photographer Justin Hamm. He’s also the editor of the museum of americana. I love Justin’s photos. Rustic images of old cars, barns, that kind of thing. Gorgeous. Click here for his Instagram. Here are the photos on his website. Look at this photograph of an old Ozark barn, care of Justin. He’s been in the Ozarks recently so I am watching for all those shots I imagined but couldn’t pull off.


The Art of Len Cowgill

On the subject of beautiful American art, I want to tell you a little update on the work of Len Cowgill.

Many, many years ago, when Len, the gardener, and I were all very young, Len gave us a series of three pieces as a gift. This was before he knew about archival materials, and over the years in the hot sun of California, the drawings faded. Here is one of them–see HOW faded.

Upon hearing about the fading, Len kindly offered to repair all these drawings. Look out great they turned out! In the first one, he changed the static brick wall to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” and then followed the theme for the rest of them.

I’m so blessed to have such thought-provoking and breathtaking art in my life. Thanks to Len and thanks to Justin both for sticking with your passions and making the world more beautiful.


Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Art and Music, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, History, Nonfiction, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel, travel, Writing

Book Review of Jen Payne’s “Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind”

To help heal our planet and ourselves, we first have to look outward to go inward. Jen Payne’s new book of poetry and photographs inspires us to do just that. Using the unique and cohesive symbol of the pocket dental flosser, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind explores nature and our place within our environment.

While it is not unusual to find a book’s theme related to nature and loss, Payne’s book turns loss personal and unnecessarily tragic by showing the wastefulness inherent in our actions. Payne directs the focus on the environment by her obsessive collection of photos of discarded dental flossers which serve to remind the reader of our most common actions and the consequences of those actions.

Shaped like little coping saws, the flossers are depicted lying where they were found—on pavement, pavers, dirt, concrete, and rock. Such common objects become centerpieces of individual works of art, but in their careless beauty, there is a glutted feeling of unwellness as if we, in our thoughtlessness, are too much for nature.

Payne’s poetry is the nuanced, living force of the collection. What drives that force is a love of nature’s beauties, a love that Payne wants readers to experience.

I will preach from the pulpit,
soar reconnaissance with the pileated,
nursemaid a wood duck’s brood,
survey the marsh with an egret,
meditate with the painted turtles
on a rock or the pine felled in a storm,
no matter, my profit immeasurable.

Though readers can feel the redemption of going inside ourselves to be at one with nature and the spiritual force, Payne continues to remind us how close we are to losing it all by our wastefulness.

On a personal level, once I finished reading Evidence of Flossing, I felt more in tune with nature and more mindful, but also began to notice what I had never spotted before: little plastic-framed flossers lying on the ground. Here is the flosser I spotted in the parking lot at the bank the morning after I finished the book. That was the first of many.

Soon after, I visited my dentist and told him about Payne’s book. He said that when we invented the flosser (and he did say “we”), we thought, as with much technology and “progress,” that they were an improvement over pieces of dental floss, never foreseeing that they would add to the waste on our planet. He wondered if birds get their bills caught in the flossers. Since I have been cutting apart plastic six-pack rings so that wildlife do not get stuck in them my entire adult life, I saw he was right about the dangers of the design. At least loose dental floss can be used by birds as material for their nests.

Look how Payne’s book got me thinking about the environment and sharing with others. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is inspirational, lyrical, instructive, and not to be missed. It is a book to be shared with others in a groundswell of caring for Earth and all our planet’s inhabitants.

Click on the book cover to purchase through Amazon.

Photo Credits:


Book Cover, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind (Flosser No. 007-1214 – Diner, Connecticut, December 2014, by Jen Payne)

About the Author:


Jen Payne is inspired by those life moments that move us most — love and loss, joy and disappointment, milestones and turning points. Her writing serves as witness to these in the form of poetry, creative non-fiction, flash fiction and essay. When she is not exploring our connections with one another, she enjoys writing about our relationships with nature, creativity, and mindfulness, and how these offer the clearest path to finding balance in our frenetic, spinning world.


Very often, her writing is accompanied by her own photography and artwork. As both a graphic designer and writer, Jen believes that partnering visuals and words layers the intentions of her work, and makes the communication more palpable.


In 2014, she published LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, a collection of essays, poems and original photography. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is her second book.


Jen is the owner of Three Chairs Publishing and Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993, based in Branford, Connecticut. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Branford Arts and Cultural Alliance, the Connecticut Poetry Society, Guilford Arts Center, the Guilford Poets Guild, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.


Installations of her poetry were featured in Inauguration Nation an exhibition at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven (2017), and Shuffle & Shake at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (2016). Her writing has been published by The Aurorean, Six Sentences, the Story Circle Network, WOW! Women on Writing, and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.


You can read more of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing, http://www.randomactsofwriting.net.


A big thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for including me in this blog tour! 


Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Essay, Nonfiction, Photographs, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection

Do Writers Need Headshots?

If you’re a writer, sooner or later, you are going to need a headshot.

Until recently, I’d been using a regular pic from my camera for a headshot. That’s what you see on my Gravatar. It looks like this:

Here’s a secret about this shot. This is only half the pic. The other half is my kind and wonderful and pretty friend Trish.  I callously cut her out of the photo just to have a headshot to use for blogging!

This is still one of my favorite photos, but it is 2 1/2 years old and there have been a few times recently where I was asked for a headshot–and I didn’t have a real headshot.

I couldn’t ask my husband to take a pic of me in some fun, engaging pose because he has a problem with cameras. He’s the smartest guy I know. He can do all kinds of dazzling thinking and make amazing mechanical repairs. His range of knowledge is genius. But put a camera in his hands and he gets a befuddled, almost frightened, look on his face. My daughter is an actor and after a performance of the musical Chicago I handed him my camera, showed him which button to press, and posed with my daughter and another performer. He brilliantly captured three sets of feet!

So I knew I needed a professional photographer if I was going to get a headshot. Finding him was easy because I used my daughter’s most recent headshot photographer, Christopher Barr.

I put off scheduling the appointment for weeks. OK, I actually put it off for months. I thought I was going to lose a little weight before the photos, but all I did was add a few wrinkles to the face in the meantime.

The thought of being in front of the camera instead of behind it was more than I could comprehend. After all, I’d been a dance and theatre mom for years, always there with the camera and camcorder, recording every step, every line, every note. I was the writer, observing other people and writing about them. I even have to impersonally observe myself in order to write stories about my life. I can wear my old yoga pants and hoodie while I write. My own hair can be a mess and my makeup non-existent when I’m photographing others.

Finally, I decided to jump in with both feet and schedule an appointment. The photographer’s assistant Jane said all I had to do was fix my hair and makeup and bring a couple of outfits to use. Maybe some bright colors, nothing “busy,” and no black.

Whew. I figured we were in the home stretch.

I have a big closet. While I am not a “clothes horse,” I have more clothes than I can possibly “wear out,” especially since I don’t have to dress up every day for work. But when I tried them on, nothing looked right in that small area that shows up in a headshot: wrong neckline, wrong color, wrong texture, too busy, too worn out looking (me or the top, not sure which).

I sent phone pix to my daughter. Surely she would tell me I was being silly. Nope. She agreed that none of those clothes would work.

So I had to go shopping–and I hate shopping like Alexander hates lima beans. I found two tops, one was black (remember I was told not to bring black), and the other was so-so. But I quickly sent pix to my daughter from the fitting room, and she gave me a thumbs up for those two.

At home the new tops looked horrible on me without something at the neck. I found some necklaces which would work with both, but nothing seemed quite right. And I was still bringing the black top.

In a stack of clothes I was getting rid of, I found an old knobby cream sweater that looked perfect and wondered why I hadn’t tried that first. But when I put it on the turtleneck was so thick and tight it looked as if it were squeezing my neck and causing my head to pop out of the opening.

It was twenty minutes to my 1PM appointment by the time I was finished getting ready. My hair turned out good for once (yay, something positive!) and the makeup was kind of “meh.” But the clothes were freaking me out. At the last second I grabbed a couple of bright print sweaters and a soft scarf that is so blah it goes with everything and ran out the door.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled out my clothing and jewelry to show the photographer’s assistant and she did that thing you read about sometimes in novels: she “blanched.” I’m such a reader that when I saw her face, I thought “blanched,” but I had to look it up because I didn’t really know for sure what it meant. It means to turn pale, which is what it looks like it means if you’ve had any Romance language training. The connotation of blanched is “turn pale” + “look aghast.” That’s what I saw on Jane’s face.

Apparently, I wasn’t wrong that my clothes are dead wrong for being photographed in. I suspected that meant that I was right about my wrinkles, too.

First Jane had me try on the cream turtleneck and then just as hastily begged me to take it off and try something else. Chris didn’t believe us and made me try it on again later, but alas, the comment I was left with was, “Who would buy that sweater?” You see, by then we were friends, so anybody could say anything.

After we figured out which were the least horrible outfits (the scarf came in handy and is almost the only thing you can see in my headshot), I was asked to pose. Did you ever feel one of those hard plastic dolls that are impossible to pose or even to hug? That was me.

Not too far in to the shoot, Jane said, “What’s that rash all over your neck?!”

I had to sheepishly admit that when there is any attention on me I get that rash. I used to get it teaching. I get it when I go to the doctor. Very embarrassing. Especially when someone points it out to me.

Chris tried to set me at ease by telling me I was doing fabulous. He would put me in a pose and then tell me to turn my head to the right and I would have to move very slowly. My movements were jerky and rapid. Or he’d say to turn to the right and lean down gradually at the same time, all the while keeping my hands doing something that felt as if I were in an extreme yoga pose.

I figured out there are tricks to being a professional photographer. One trick was that he showed me how I looked in the first photo right on the camera, but it was so small I couldn’t see the wrinkles and jowls and all that. So that false image of myself cheered me up so that I could relax a little more for the posing.

After two hours of this posing stuff, I have to admit I never got good at it. But eventually it was over and Chris buckled on his leather chaps and took off on his motorcycle while I stumbled to my car, dazed by stress overload.

Another trick that photographers use on somebody like me is that when they email you the proofs link, they call and in a panicked voice say, “Don’t worry about how they look! We ALWAYS do re-touches.”

So, yes, Chris used a little eraser to tone down the ravages of real life on my face because, I have to admit, I couldn’t bear to handle the whole truth.

Proud of my new photo which looks like me with droopy eyes and all, but with softened wrinkles and jowl, I sent it to my mother.

You know what she said?! “Is that what you’re doing instead of cosmetic surgery?”  Hahaha, Mom.

My mother is having surgery this month to fix her droopy eyes. But I am sticking with mine. Cosmetic surgery sounds even scarier than getting my headshot taken.

Luanne Castle

Luanne Castle

This is the new headshot and I first used it for my interview on the blog of The Missouri Review.


Filed under Blogging, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

Millions of Cats

I feel like talking about cats today. It’s true that I’m always posting here about writing and stories and art and nature. But my four cats* are important to me, and I interact with them a lot. Interact means pet, kiss on the mug, talk to, and talk for. The latter two go something like this:

Mom, I’m hungry again.

Sweetie, you’re not hungry. You just think you want food. What you want is a big hug.

Mom, I don’t want one right now.  Mom, stop!  You’re slobbering on my fur and I just bathed!

Ooh ooh ooh, Mom lubs you!

Oddly, both my cats and I have high-pitched new-mom-type voices.

In addition to Macavity, Pear Blossom, Felix, and Tiger, both my kids have cats–one each.

The other day my son sent me a video of his kitten dreaming. Meesker, a solid black spunky boy, lies on his back to sleep. In the video, he was eating and licking his chops–obviously dreaming of a delicious meal. Hilarious. This is the kitten who walks on a leash.

My daughter and her cat are living with us temporarily while she (not the cat) performs in a regional show. The cat, Izzie, is a good-natured sweetheart. My daughter rescued her right after she (daughter, not the cat) graduated from college, three years ago. Four days after they got to our house this summer, she had a lump removed from her (the cat this time) lip which turned out to be Mast Cell Cancer. She (still the cat) will have to be examined regularly because once a cat has this type of tumor she can get another . . . and another.

One week later, my 2nd oldest, Pear, a tuxedo lap cat, had her dental cleaning. The vet and I both decided to remove a teeny tiny little pimple on her nose. It was so small the vet couldn’t use stitches and had to glue the skin. It turned out she had Spindle Cell Cancer. The margins were clean, so she should be fine. My husband thought he’d be funny and called her Scarface a few days later, but I hid the coffee until he asked her forgiveness.

My oldest, Mac, is a darling. At least to me. He’s a master of intimidation, but he’s also a huge orange and white tabby whose beauty lures humans in for a touch, even if they are afraid. And with good reason.

Felix, my brown tabby, and Tiger, my calico, have been featured in previous posts.  I wrote about Felix in “Unease in the Desert,” a story about living in the desert at night. In “How and Why I Don’t Know Science,” I showed off a photo of the simply marvelous Miss Tiger.

The only problem with cats is they don’t mix well with just anyone or anything. I used to have finches for pets. No more birds for me since I became a (crazy) cat lady. I had a lovely pet rat named Nutmeg Noodles; she slept on the back of my neck, under my hair. I can’t have any more rats–just in case. And my husband used to get me flowers for every birthday, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. But my cats like to eat poisonous flowers–and so many of the florist flowers, even Baby’s Breath, are toxic to cats.

Luckily, roses and orchids are non-toxic to cats. Here is a beautiful orchid a friend sent me for my birthday a month and a half ago–still blooming radiantly. My cousin raises orchids in Arkansas, and I can’t help but wonder if this is one of his.  He’s got cats, too.

*  I have 4 cats, not millions. But I love that Wanda Gag picture book Millions of Cats: “Millions and billions and trillions of cats.”


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs

More Nerdy Activities

I’ve got some writing projects going on right now that have time constraints.  Writing my book is mainly an open-ended, not-time-schedule-driven endeavor, but other writing must get done by the deadlines (real and self-imposed).  Still, I can’t write for too long a period at a time as I get burned out really fast.  Lucky for me, it’s spring and there are a lot of reasons to pull out my camera.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store with my husband. While I followed him out (he had parked after dropping me off, so I didn’t know where the car was), I caught sight of the church next door.  The sunlight was shining through the super-cool and at-risk-for-demolition thingie on top of the building.  So I pulled out my always-handy camera and started snapping shots.  When I was done, I kept walking to the car.  That’s when I heard a honking waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind me.  It was hubby, watching me walk mindlessly in the wrong direction.

When I got in the car laughing hysterically at myself, he (lovingly) said, “You’re such a nerd.  Who do you think you are?  Georgia O’Keeffe?”

I said NO because everybody knows that Georgia O’Keeffe was a painter and photography model, not a photographer.  (Ok, I admit that’s just me being a smart mouth.  I am–as you can see–no photographer, but I am a nerd with a camera, and that’s all I aspire to be).

In keeping with O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers and of Arizona, here are the flowers I saw this week:

Arizona flowers April 2013

Arizona flowers April 2013


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Photographs

Cruel April’s Fool

Welcome to National Poetry Month!  Dedicating April to poetry is a great way to remind us to enjoy the wealth of poetry we can turn to for sustenance.

One of best known poems of the early 20th century is T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.”  The first few words, “April is the cruellest month,” have become part of the language, even if many people don’t recognize where they come from.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept
us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with
dried tubers.

When you read the second part, about how winter kept us blanketed in forgetfulness, it comes clear why April which awakens us to life by stirring both our memories and our desires, can be seen as cruel.

I’ve never been one to like being kept in the haze of winter as I delight in that which flourishes when the spring rain nourishes those “dull roots.”  Sometimes what grows is dangerous or sad, but I’m willing to take that risk. In some ways, I’m just a fool for life ;).  And a fool for poetry, too.

Either because photos are poems–or just because–here are some photos of northern California spring splendor I took in March, when California spring really begins:

This last photo shows the blossoming almond trees in the background.  For more on the almond trees, here is a photo and short-short piece on Cowbird.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Poetry