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thumb downI was helping a fellow food blogger with her Facebook page, basically doing for free what I normally charge for, when I happened to mention that she could improve her food photos by using natural light.

Her reaction? She immediately disconnected, distanced herself, refused any further help from me and basically gave me the cold shoulder.

I was amazed!

Yes, my feedback was negative. And although it was not mean, it was direct – I never thought to sugarcoat it. But it was important, helpful feedback that she could leverage to become better at what she does, to be an even more awesome food blogger than she already is.

I myself have been working hard to become a better photographer, and I find that one of the best tools for that is submitting my food photos to tastespotting.com, a “visual potluck” site where users submit food photos, and the site publishes the best of them. When I started food blogging, the site rejected 99% of my submissions. The criticism was harsh and direct. “Composition” and “lighting” seemed to be the most common reasons my photos were rejected, and although I didn’t like hearing that my photos sucked, I listened. I browsed through the site, looking at photos, getting inspired, getting a feel for what is considered “good lighting” and “good composition.”

I am getting better, although still quite far from where I’d like to be. I estimate that the site now accepts around 50% of my photo submissions, and although it may not seem like much, to me it marks great improvement. Had I not listened, had I decided to stop submitting my photos, I would not have been able to improve.

Negative feedback is extremely difficult to hear. It’s even more difficult to embrace. But if you learn to let go of your ego and pride, and listen, you can turn that feedback into something wonderful – free advice that helps you get better at what you do.

Years ago, when we still lived in Tel Aviv, my husband used to work for the European Marketing organization at his company. He traveled a lot, and always came back bearing all sorts of exciting food gifts. He used to bring me Pates de Fruits from France, sweet chewy marzipan from Austria and Germany, melt-in-your-mouth Teuscher Champagne pralines from Switzerland, flavorful Salami from Hungary, and pungent, salty Gorgonzola cheese from Italy.

Back then, 15 years ago, I couldn’t get any of those delicacies in Tel Aviv. The sweet anticipation of his return (hey, we were newlyweds 😉 ) was intensified by my excitement over experiencing the amazing, intense textures and flavors. I savored the tastes for days after his return, allowing myself to eat just a small portion at a time. And when it was all gone, I was often left with the interesting jars and packages the food came wrapped in.

Now, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California in 2011, I have access to pretty much anything. Even if I didn’t, I could easily order it on the Internet. But it’s all here – and often you don’t even have to go to specialty stores to find international delicacies. Many of them are sold at the local grocery store.

When we found the charming little French-style cafe in Los Gatos, California, we loved everything about it. Coffee was excellent. Desserts were amazing – it was difficult to choose!

dessert selection

We ended up settling on an airy eclair, and a decadent chocolate mousse to accompany our strong, frothy cappuccino.

I was thoroughly excited to discover that the place sells pates de fruits – one of my favorite French sweets, little chewy fruit jellies with an intense flavor and a soft texture.

Pates-de-Fruits

But then I realized that having pates de fruits right here, so close to home, so easily accessible, makes them a whole lot less special.

Yes, we can now get everything, shipped anywhere. And for the most part, it’s great and I would never go back to the old days of yearning for things that you could only dream about. But once in a while I miss the days when each country, each city even, had its own special delicacy – and the fact that it was so difficult to get made it all the more special.

red leaves

Winter can be magnificent and powerful. Summer is fun. And spring – my favorite season – always fills me with excitement and with a sense of renewal.

Fall? Not so much. I’m sure many of you love fall – it’s a season of bounty, of giving thanks and of slowly going back inside after a long, hot summer. But fall, to me, is a little depressing. Its colors are boring! Summer is bright yellow and blue. Spring is green and pink and red and a thousand other colors. Winter is pure and frosty and white.

But fall? Fall is brown. And gray. It feels to me like an end, not so much a beginning, and I don’t particularly like the in-between weather.

However, there’s nothing depressing about this beautiful tree, right next to our house.

tree in fall

I am such a city person that I have absolutely no idea what kind of a tree it is (if you do know, please tell me!), but it never ceases to amaze me and always catches me by surprise. One moment it’s just a boring tree, the next – in the spring – it is adorned with these beautiful, large pink flowers.

spring flowers

The same thing happens in the fall. Just a few days ago, we were standing right next to it, me busy getting stuff out of the car, my kids doing what kids do – jumping around – when my daughter suddenly told me, “Look how beautiful the tree is, mom. It’s all RED!”

And I stopped my busyness for a moment, looked at the tree, and smiled.

And then I wondered. What if I didn’t have a child? Would I have even noticed this beauty? I sure hope so. It scares me to think I wouldn’t have seen these colors. It’s so GROWNUP, isn’t it, to be so busy doing all this STUFF that we grownups do, that you don’t even take the time to look around and see the really important things. The beauty. It’s the part of being a grownup that I really dislike.

What’s your favorite season?

Waiting in line at the UPS store, I couldn’t help but notice the promotional posters on the walls, all featuring smiling, happy people in some type of an office setting. You know – the same setting that in real life sucks the life out of you and makes you want to die, but in the world of stock photography, people are always relaxed, happy and smiling. Which I find incredibly plasticky and annoying.

They smile during one of the most annoying occasions known to mankind – a business meeting (note the token woman of color):

Business meeting

They smile in other phony work-related settings:

business gift

They sweetly smile at they shop at the supermarket:

shopping supermarket

My own UPS guy is nice enough, but I’ve never seen him smile as broadly as this guy (which quite frankly freaks me out with his robotic smile):

UPS guy

Of course, you could say that this little rant of mine is pointless and stupid – stock photography is essentially marketing material, and marketing needs to create a warm fuzzy feeling around a situation or a product. Perhaps, and I will be the first to admit that I’ve been using stock photography in this blog and in clients’ blogs.

But somehow, standing in line at the UPS store, frowning, I couldn’t help but become annoyed at the impossible, terribly artificial world that stock photography creates and presents to us, especially becuase those images are everywhere – at the UPS, at the post office, at the supermarket, in shopping malls, and of course in magazines and in online publications.

So in the interest of balancing things out, here’s a lovely photo from Flickr that shows how most of us truly feel during a business meeting:

meeting

PS. This is my personal blog so I generally don’t talk business here, but companies that fill their site pages with stock photography of Corporate America are hurting their brand, in my opinion. A website like this tells me that there’s nothing unique or exciting about the company – it simply tells me that “We are generic Corporate America.” What’s exciting about that and why would I choose them over the competition?

As I stood there in the kitchen, next to the sink, washing dishes, I glanced outside to the backyard. I was frowning, becuase a stray cat has been using our backyard as its litter box lately, and I find the need to clean after it extremely annoying.

And then I saw it: a rose in full bloom, white and pristine and beautiful. And I smiled, becuase after a dreary winter, how can you not smile when you see something finally blooming in what is otherwise a rather grayish yard, still not fully recovered from the winter.

white rose

Of course, as I grabbed my camera and ran outside to share this miracle with you, I found another rose, a pink rose, also in full bloom and so very pretty:

pink rose

The yellow roses, my favorites, are still sleepy… they are taking their time. I think I will get to enjoy them in May.

yellow rose

Then, a disturbing thought: could this be my THIRD “my roses are blooming” blog post on this blog? Why yes it is. Maybe I should stop harassing you with these posts, but how could I? Year after year, as my roses start to bloom, it feels like a miracle, all over again.

california-beach

The concept of staycation – staying home and relaxing instead of going on an expensive, stressful vacation, makes more sense than ever during a global recession.

We still want to break away from our routine and recharge, but most of us are looking for frugal vacations rather than costly ones.

Staycations are easy and inexpensive. Vacations, on the other hand, tend to be complicated and costly. They often involve a lot of advance planning and many expenses, such as air travel, hotel, and car rental.

When it comes to air travel, it’s not just the expense I object to. I don’t know about you, but I hate to fly. I always hated flying. Being locked up in a small, pressurized cabin with no hopes of getting out until the plane lands has always made me more than a little nervous.

The added security measures and the gradual deterioration in customer service over the past decade are making the entire experience even worse. Of course, flying is also extremely unhealthy.

If it were up to me, I would never fly again.

Obviously, I sometimes have to fly. But when it comes to planning a vacation, in recent years the desire to avoid flights has certainly had an impact on my travel plans. Even if in our case, a staycation is not necessarily about actually staying home, I much prefer going someplace close to home over picking a far away destination that would force me to fly.

Recently, my husband and I spent a lovely long weekend staycationing in Half Moon Bay and in Carmel, California. Both locations are a mere 2-3 hours drive from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead of the elaborate vacations of years past (such as our visit to Barcelona and to Mercat de la Boqueria), which involved several flights and hotels, we picked a nearby destination that enabled us to really take it easy.

We spent one night in Half Moon Bay, where we enjoyed a gourmet dinner, followed by a lovely breakfast and a stroll along the beach the next morning. Yes, the Northern California beach is cold – you definitely need a jacket there, even in July:

half-moon-bay

 

But it’s also pristine and magnificent:

north-california-beach

 

After breakfast, we drove along the beautiful, picturesque California Highway 1 to the Carmel area. On our way, we stopped at Ano Nuevo State Park. Hiking in the fresh air was pleasant, and watching the local elephant seals pick a fight with each other was hilarious:

elephant-seals

 

Taking in the views from the gorgeous highway was one of this road trip’s main attractions. We saw several historic bridges that were built during the Great Depression. The magnificent Bixby Bridge was one of them:

bixby-bridge

We did indulge in fine dining – this is important to us. But we completely avoided shopping, which we hate (you just add more clutter to your house when you buy stuff. I hate clutter.)

By the end of the weekend, we were happy, relaxed, and ready to face the new week.

vered-deleeuw

Air travel is usually pricey and stressful. A staycation is the perfect solution for me.

A Rose Garden

by MomGrind

Every year in May, around the same time, our garden fills with colorful roses.

rose-garden2

 

There’s something comforting and reassuring about things that happen, predictably and without fail, every year. Just like traditions, they have a way of anchoring our lives, of being a constant in an ever-changing, fast-paced reality.

pink-rose1

 

There’s also something unsettling, maybe even a little upsetting, in realizing that another year has already gone by, especially since the older you get, the faster time seems to go by.

orange-rose

 

For a blogger, it’s always interesting to write about the same topic year after year, then compare old posts to new ones. My rose post from last year is quite similar to this one, except that I got myself a better camera a few months ago.

pink-rose

 

Other old posts, such as this post for International Women’s Day 2008, which is very different than my post for International Women’s Day 2009, make me cringe and think I have come a long way as a blogger.

red-rose-700

 

Cringing when reading old posts is actually a good thing. It means you’re growing and developing as a blogger and as a writer.

 

Yellow roses are still my favorite flower. 🙂

yellow-rose1