Last Shoot

This weekend marks a milestone…

About ten years ago some friends of ours saw how much I was enjoying photography with my first little point ‘n click camera and gifted us with an SLR camera we never could have dreamt of purchasing ourselves. Just a few weeks later we were approached to do our first wedding shoot. Wifey Dagmar and I were sooo happy our friend Barb helped us for our first few weddings as we gradually learned the ropes.

Since then we’ve gone through cameras and lenses and lighting systems and props, constantly upgrading our equipment best we could over the years – Dagmar was “the bossy one” who would organize the shots and get everyone organized, I was the quiet one behind the lens pushing buttons like a madman, spending weeks or months afterwards editing each shoot. Every year we did a few more wedding shoots, sprinkling in high school senior photo shoots and family photos in our schedule whenever we could. We kept quite busy, and had a good time!

But things change… It gradually became apparent that my Beloved Alpine Wifey was struggling physically to get through a wedding (a wedding shoot often lasts ten, twelve, fourteen hours – with the photographers on their feet nearly the entire time). I don’t know if our customers could tell or not (I doubt it), but I could tell. She wasn’t able to hold or carry a camera for long, and she’d need to sit and rest quite often. She quit helping me with smaller shoots altogether, and we had a wedding where it was apparent that she just couldn’t do it any longer. At one point she was so exhausted and distracted by the pain that she kept reverting to her native German.

“Maybe you should call Sara,” she said the next day. “I didn’t do vell yesterday. Sara could maybe help you with the next vedding?”

“Sara? Sara who?” I asked.

“Sara, you know, the happy little twinkletoes with the little blonde girl?”

“Wait, Sara’s a photographer?” I blinked a few times. “Really?”

“Really. You should creep people’s Facebook pages more often. Her pictures are good. Call her and see if she’ll help you. Vait, I know you. I’ll call her, you suck at phones.”

We’d done work for Sara Krause on several occasions. Had she TOLD me she was a photographer, I would have panicked and spent a zillion hours second-guessing every edit I made to one of her photos… And Dagmar was right – not only was she a photographer, but a very good one! She quickly became my Number One Ace Photography Assistant (I hate to call her an “assistant,” she could easily run her own photography studio, but “associate” sounds odd to me).

The next few years HippieBoy Design expended our photography quite a bit, Sara and I both learning new photography techniques, updating editing software, and doing various shoots every week. We quickly got to the point where we couldn’t keep up with the editing. Each hour of shooting often equals between four and six hours of editing; an average wedding shoot means about eighty man-hours of work in post-production. In the winter and early spring of 2015 we decided to add a few more folks to the HippieBoy Design team to help out – Matti Smith, Stacy Harpeneau, and Lexi Millikan. Things were looking up! We were busy, had a ton of stuff booked, and were expanding. Yay!

But then Wifey’s health issues really began to overwhelm us a bit. In April she was no longer able to work, and shortly afterwards she started having seizures – with the added bonus that she’d sometimes quit breathing or have an asthma attack during the episode. It was very clear that it wasn’t feasible for me to be away from home very often or very long as we needed someone to come and watch Wifey whilst I was gone. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that we couldn’t book any more photography. “We’ll honor our commitments and do the shoots we already have booked,” I said. “I’ll keep all the archives and my website and whatnot so our customers can still get in touch with me if they need to. But I’m going to quit booking new shoots.” I felt bad – I was hoping to have more work for the HippieChicks as we’d just got everyone trained and had our workflow hammered out, but they understood.

Last summer we were still very busy with wedding shoots as well as just a few smaller shoots that had been booked in advance. Both Sara and I felt a sense of relief when we finished the season last fall. We both truly enjoy photography, but I was trying to adjust to my new role as Wifey’s caretaker, and Sara was a bit overworked and needed a bit of a break. I e-mailed her this spring, “We just have two weddings this summer that were booked in 2016. It’ll be fun to do those – I’m looking forward to them! It will be odd, though, when we’re done… We’ve been doing this so long it’s hard to imagine not having a shoot on the calendar.”

We did one wedding shoot about six weeks ago. This weekend is our last shoot.

I’ve had folks we did wedding photos for call us years later to take photos of their children, we’ve done senior photos for awkward 17-year-olds who called us years later as confident adults to do their wedding photos… We’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit, doing shoots in Des Moines, up north of Sioux Falls, at the lakes. It means a lot to me that I’ve remained friends with quite a few of my customers through Facebook and other channels – I like the thought that we’re not just hired photographers, but friends. I have absolutely no idea how many photo shoots we’ve done in the past decade, but it’s a lot. And whenever I trip over old photos on my computer it brings back so many good memories of the shoot, meeting the people, all the goofy things that happened during the shoot (and there are always goofy things happening), it all comes back in a flash.

So, tomorrow I’ll charge up my batteries, pack all my cameras and lenses up, load the lights in the car, set out my suit ‘n tie out one last time… And on Sunday I’ll unpack it all and put it away. I have a space ready in the basement where I can set up my lights and do macro and hobby photography and store the rest of my gear. But it will be strange not to have three cameras and two tripods in my office, memory cards scattered on my desk, battery chargers filling every spare outlet in the room, invoices and contracts filling my little filing cabinet, six external hard drives full of photos whirring away on my desk.

I’ll miss it.

Had he only studied philately instead…

Yesterday I mentioned TIbbles the Cat who is the only creature known to have single-handedly caused the extinction of an entire species. Today I’ll talk about another rather extraordinary individual.

If I asked you what human being has caused the most environmental damage in history, you may think of the famous industrialists of the 1800s and early 1900s such as Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie, or possibly the Koch brothers of our time (if you don’t know about the Koch brothers, take a minute to look ’em up). But you probably would’t think of Thomas Midgley.

Back in the early part of the 1900s it was discovered that adding iodine to fuel reduced engine knock just a bit. Thomas Midgley Jr., an engineer and chemist working for General Motors, decided to look into the situation further and after experimenting around a bit found that adding lead (tetraethyllead, or “ethyl,” commonly referred to as TEL) to gasoline worked much better.

Of course within just a few years people realized that leaded gasoline was a potent neurotoxin and a deadly pollutant (Midgley himself suffered lead poisoning in 1923 and had to move to Florida for fresh air), but lacking governmental oversight the petroleum industry, notably ExxonMobile, pushed to use the additive. GM and DuPont built a plant to produce TEL in 1923, but halted production after ten people at the plant died of lead poisoning. In 1924 ExxonMobile built a their own chemical plant to produce TEL, but by mid-year the workers were suffering from hallucinations, insanity, and five more folks died of lead poisoning. At a press conference later that year Midgley poured TEL over his hands and breathed the fumes to prove how safe it was. He had to take a leave of absence a few weeks later to recover – again – from lead poisoning.

A few years later in 1926 a special government committee declared that there were no good grounds to ban TEL, but should its use become more widespread further study would be necessary. In a sweeping and generous wave of compassion, GM, DuPont, and MobileExxon funded all studies of TEL for the next forty years…

(It’s since been shown that as well as being a deadly toxin, even very low exposure to airborne lead significantly lowers a person’s IQ and has other adverse effects on people – especially children. TEL has also been linked to violent crime, but that’s another story.)

That was the first of Mr. Midgley’s inventions… There’s more.

After he recovered from lead poisoning, GM moved Mr. Midgley to their Frigidaire division, where he worked on air conditioning and refrigeration systems. At the time the refrigerants used were all highly toxic and in some cases flammable. Mr Midgley, possibly in an effort to atone for the damage caused by his previous work, decided to find an inert gas to replace the dangerous refrigerants. His research quickly led to dichlorodifluoromethane – the very first chlorofluorocarbon or CFC. He named the safe gas “Freon.” Freon and other related CFCs were soon widely used as refrigerants and in spray cans…

And, as we now now, CFCs very quickly destroyed the ozone layer, causing all sorts of environmental havoc and health issues.

So, Mr. Midgley was single-handedly responsible for two of the largest ecological and health blunders in history.

The Monstrous Tibbles

Odd Fact o’ the Day: Between the two islands that make up New Zealand lies a very small piece of land, Stephens Island. In the late 1800s it was decided to build a lighthouse on the uninhabited isle due to the rocky and treacherous waters (I assume). Land was cleared, a lighthouse was erected, and a lighthouse keeper was found – and tragedy was soon to ensue.

The lighthouse keeper, being a kindly chap, brought his beloved cat, Tibbles, along on his new job to keep him company on the lonely mission. The two fared perfectly peachy on their lonely isle, and it wasn’t long before Tibbles presented his master with a present of a dead bird, as cats will do. Then another Then another.

With alarming speed a pile of dead birds grew, and grew. And grew.

As it turns out, Stephens Island was the last remaining habitat of a rare flightless wren. But by the time the lighthouse keeper had figured out that the birds his beloved TIbbles was bringing to his doorstep were endangered it was too late – Tibbles had eaten the last one.

And thus, Tibbles the Cat is the only creature known to have single-handedly (pawedly?) caused the extinction of an entire species.

(It should be noted that while TIbbles wears the crown and the story is widely regarded as true – and very nearly is – several more of the flightless wrens were found on the island about fifteen years later. Dead, of course. Brought to the doorstep by Tibble’s great-great-great-great grandkits.)

Dollar Sign

A Fine Mess…

Health care costs are a very real concern for us. At one point last year I was paying 48% of my income directly to private health care insurance. Thankfully the Affordable Care Act was passed – I’m saving about $900 a month on my insurance alone now. BUT, the insurance isn’t as good as what I had before in many ways – I have to pay more in deductibles, and office visits cost more as well. I’m still coming out way ahead on the deal, but it’s frustrating and nerve-wracking.

The problem is, the system isn’t working for everyone the way it did for me. Here’s an NPR story that looks at the issue in a bit more depth:

I’m very tempted to write a detailed essay on my views on the matter, but I’ll restrain. I’ll settle by saying I’m very, very concerned about the views the leading conservative presidential candidates have on the issue. If we deregulate the health care insurance industry we leave ourselves open to more corporate greed demanding, in essence, “your money or your life.” Pharma BroRemember Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli? The young man who bought rights to a pharmaceutical and immediately (and quite legally) raised the price from around $13 a pill to over $750? The drug in question is a common, and very effective, treatment for an illness often suffered by people with compromised immune systems – people like my wife, for example, and those who are on chemotherapy treatments. Without the medication a person only has a 15% chance of survival. So it’s quite literally a question of your money or your life. Without government regulation, health care insurance companies could very easily follow Shkreli’s example.

And that scares me.

Springtime Ramblings

Apologies for being absent the past few weeks – we’ve had a lot going on, seems like… Wifey’s illnesses are still illin’ her, we’re still hoping for some good news from her insurance company, some friends of ours held a benefit for us last weekend, and I’ve been busy with general springtime madness.

I’ve been trying to clear out some of the deadwood in our grove, get some grass seed planted in a few problem areas (mostly trying to clear up some gunky corners where I can’t mow and get a handful of grass seed to “take” to keep the weeds down a bit), planting some cuttings I took earlier of our little willow tree and some austrees (we desperately need a windbreak/privacy/keep-the-road-dust-down to the south and east, and most of our grove is mature trees that look like they’re on their way out – or ash trees that will be susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation that’s headed our way in a few years). I’m trying to do as much as I can with what we have on hand…

Every year since we moved here I’ve had to take the truck to town to buy more bark mulch for the raised flower beds we have around our house. The wind in the spring is so bad it would blow about 70% of the bark away every year. It’d cost about fifty bucks or so. Last year a friend sold us some pavers for cheap so I put in a new little garden on the windy side of the house and opted to put rock in instead of bark mulch. It looked great and lasted through a whole season without any maintenance at all. This year I wanted to update the little wildflower garden we have that’s been hiding our septic tank manhole covers and make it a little more formal and tidy as we have about an acre of new wildflowers in the pasture now. But buying rock at $3.50 a bag… I estimated it’d take about $75 to $100 to do. Icky poo. I was a little surprised when I found out that the same rocks were $15 a TON at the local aggregate dealer. One truck load of rocks later and viola! Next year I’ll replace more of the bark with another load of rocks.

Flower beds waiting for flowers

A couple flower beds waiting for flowers

Hooked up the battery, an oil change, some grease, and the mower actually started yesterday. Huzzah!


I’ve taken to having NPR play on my computer whilst I work as music is too distracting for me at times. I rarely actually listen to the stories—I just like having some background noise—but this one caught my attention simply because I heard the name “Dagmar.” My wife’s name is relatively rare, even in Europe, so when I heard the name I started paying attention.

It turns out that the Dagmar in the story is a Swedish museum director who is helping an Afghan refugee rebuild his life. (So far every woman I’ve ever heard of named Dagmar has been kind and compassionate by nature.)

The article made me realize that many people in the world have to make difficult choices—far beyond what most Americans have to face. The college-educated Afghan refugee in the story had refused to help the Taliban, was beaten, left for dead, had to leave his wife and infant behind to flee the country, and is now learning a new language and a new trade, hoping to find a way to get his wife and baby out of Afghanistan.

I can’t imagine the desperation, terror, and confusion the refugee faced. It makes me sad that the very people who robbed him of his home, family, business, and education have also robbed him of the chance to rebuild a life here in America. The United States once prided itself on accepting immigrants and refugees, calling itself “the melting pot.” We realized that our strength relied upon our diversity, that everyone deserves an honest chance to prove themselves, to rebuild their lives. Tolerance and compassion were values we held dear, as we knew that our fathers and grandfathers came here needing to find that tolerance and compassion and had found it.

This isn't the answer.But now the current political climate in the US precludes such ideals and values. We no longer welcome refugees and immigrants, and have traded compassion for fear, tolerance for mistrust. We are now willing to hate the oppressed because at first glance they look too much like the oppressors. We are willing to turn our backs on those who need our help most because our political leaders have turned fear into an industry. We’re afraid that if we share our plate with the poor we may not have enough food for ourselves, we’re afraid that if we help the disabled we might not have enough money to care for our own, we’re afraid that if we welcome the stranger he may harm us — so we shun the poor, turn our backs on the disabled, and close our door to the stranger and live in isolated fear, counting our precious pennies, eager to judge and to hate.

And that makes me sad.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Real Problem with Solar Power

When we first moved here to Happy Hippie Acres about six years ago, I had visions of someday getting wind or solar doodads hooked up to help offset our power bill, be self-sufficient, and, equally importantly, reduce our carbon footprint a bit. We live in Northwest Iowa, so it’s windy all the time, and there are plenty of places to put solar panels to take advantage of the sun, so why not look into those avenues? After we got settled into our new home and had been here for about a year I e-mailed a few companies that specialize in solar power asking them for advice, prices, etc. Of the four companies I e-mailed only one responded.

“Why would you want solar? Energy is cheap where you live. It would take years for you to recoup the investment. I wouldn’t bother.”


Well, it’s not all about money. It’s about a bit of independence and helping the environment. But the response put me off for several years. I looked at wind energy, but again I was waved off by everyone I contacted, “the technology isn’t ready for home use yet.” Sigh.

After about the 90th time I found myself airbrushing power lines out of photos of my acreage I started to wonder… If solar isn’t viable for my home, would it at least power my shed and garage so I could get rid of the ugly power lines? Hmmm. Not long after that, the local power company came and replaced the pole in our yard and I absolutely loved the way things looked when there were no power lines dangling about…

So just a few days ago I finally found time to do some research on the issue. Could I find an inexpensive solar system to power my shed? I started thinking about what I really use in the shed as far as power goes.

  1. The dogs’ “invisible fence.” (Very, very low power usage, but it needs to be on 24/7 365.)
  2.  A couple fluorescent lights. (I’d love to replace them with LEDs, but I haven’t the faintest idea how to go about that.)
  3. My old stereo from the 1990s that is plugged in about three times a year.
  4. A chainsaw sharpener – basically an electric grindstone. I use it about 15 minutes a month, if that.
  5. In the summer I’ll plug my power tool batteries in up there to keep them charged.

I occasionally toy with the idea of getting a small heater of some kind to put up there to keep the barn kitties a bit more comfortable and to offset the bitterest cold of an Iowa winter a bit, but that’s so very low priority that it’s not even on the table… The shed’s about two-thirds insulated and has plenty of holes in the walls.

When you add all that up, it doesn’t seem like I’d need much juice to power the shed. I’d need less for my garage – all we have in there are a few lights on a motion sensor and a garage door opener that gets used every couple days. So I was excited when the first solar power kit I saw online was a $150 setup – way, way more affordable than I thought! Huzzah! Visions of those power lines coming down danced in my head, along with the thought that maybe with solar power I really could put a passive heater in the shed during the winter.

Then I started reading…Output is 12 megapascals per hectare, the voltage is ohm with jelly, you need some sort of battery (I’m assuming double A size, I don’t really know), you need to put iodine on the kerjigger to make the farvel whoozit, snark morgle kerbam woof in parallel except on Tuesday but you have to buy a donkulator to carburate the flonk.

Evidently some of the words were English, but I have close to zero idea what any of it meant. I’m assuming the kit could power either a cell phone or Kiev in December, but I don’t really know. After reading the description I wasn’t even sure if it plugged into the wall somehow or if it was all some sort of battery-powered thing.

I'm pretty good with a screwdriver. How hard can this "electricity" stuff be?

I’m pretty good with a screwdriver. How hard can this “electricity” stuff be?


I looked up a different model – “The first complete home solar power kit on the market. Runs appliances, lights, and devices up to 800 watts. Plug and play, no installation required.” Sounds perfect to me, even though I don’t know what the “up to 800 watts” means! But once I read a little further it became apparent that this “complete home solar power kit” didn’t include solar panels, any mounting brackets, wires, or anything – it’s just some sort of a funky battery. You have to buy all the other stuff separately and hope it all works together by magic, I guess.

Which leads me to the main point of this article – the REAL problem with solar power.

The real problem with solar power is that I want to go online and find some unit or kit somewhere that says quite simply, “This will provide enough power to run the lights in your garage and the garage door opener. Everything is included, and this is how it works.” I don’t understand voltiwatts or ohmages, I don’t know how many electric kerjiggers I need by number, I just want to know how much gunk can I run with this unit. Plain English. I mean, c’mon, I’ve got a job, I don’t have a month of spare time to fiddle with this, I just wanna buy a thing that works with a description I can read without pulling a dictionary out.

Until some company comes up with a description that uses language that hippies, artists, and tree-huggers can understand, I’m afraid I’ll be left on the solar sidelines. Sadly.