Day in My Life

Raindrops keep falling on my bed

You know it’s been a long drought when you forget you have a leaky roof until you are reminded two years later.

It began at 3 a.m., as all annoying events should.



Must’ve been a dream.


Nope, my forehead is wet.


Oh geez.

I got up to turn on the light. The rain had been relentless for three days.

I peered at the ceiling. You could still make out the trail of the repair job, spackled and repainted, from when carpenter ants invaded, broke through the plaster, and began landing on my bed.

I’d take the rain any day.

But apparently the damage was more extensive than we realized, as at the very end of the old ant trail, water had seeped through the paint, creating a slit that looked like a winking eye, and–


I didn’t think I had enough room to move the bed away from the drip. I certainly wasn’t going to fix it or call anyone. It was the middle of the night. I was tired.

I did what any reasonable person would do–went into the bathroom, got a big fat beach towel.

And slept beneath it.

Skydiving for the rip-cord challenged

Deanna Skydiving 1I owe my life to a man named Matt Bessonette. Well, sort of.

Matt is a tandem instructor at Skydive Spaceland, a flight school outside of Houston where both ordinary people and extreme-sport junkies hang out to jump from airplanes.

Matt is very good at what he does — strapping newbie after newbie into harnesses, cracking jokes to keep us calm, and getting uncoordinated, clueless people safely back to earth.

I am quite sure he pegs people like me right off — a hapless soul unable to follow directions even if her life depends on it.

And when you are hopping off a plane at 14,000 feet, it does.

I really wasn’t that nervous. I’d already done the scary part — informed my parents (and my kids) that I was going. I felt some flutters when we arrived at the hangar and people were dropping out of the sky, but I quelled them and strode up the walkway like something out of Top Gun.

Then I saw the instructional video.

Deanna Skydive 2I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to show an ambulance leaving the landing area, lights flashing with some crushed body most certainly inside, but it definitely made the point: You Can Die. Or at best, break your leg landing badly.

But then, as we first-timers were told how to arch our back, read our altimeters, and interpret hand signals, came the kicker:

I was expected to pull my own rip cord.

I nearly fainted. I thought this was a joy ride. Strap me to some experienced jumper, smile for the camera, and sail down on their very competent skill set.

The video ended and my legs took me out the door, but my mind was adrenaline buzzed, trying to focus my errant memory on the important points. Did they say 5,500 feet to pull? Or was it 6,000? Which hand? Was the wave part important?

Matt introduced himself and handed me a suit. I smiled and acted brave but, still, I was shocked — I had to pull my own rip cord! I looked up at the friendly bearded face, and thought — please, Matt, say it ain’t so! But no, he was cheerily going over all the points on the video again. Check the altimeter, when it reads 6,000, look up, wave, reach behind him and pull the golf-ball shaped release.

As I tugged on my suit and Matt started buckling a harness on me, Ori Kuper, the video man, peppered me with questions — how high are you going? When do you open the chute? How fast will you be falling? When I kept shrugging, he just gave me all the answers and laughed, tilting the camera at crazy angles for effect.

Suddenly I’m past what I thought would be a thorough and repetitive set of instructions, hardly having understood anything more than “arch your back,” and we were loading in the plane.

Deanna Skydive 3I watched my altimeter creep upward, Matt and the others still cracking jokes. Ahead of us, solo jumpers disappeared from the front of the plane like synchronized swimmers diving into a pool. We slid forward on the narrow bench for our turn. The worst was to come, I knew, standing on the precipice of disaster, staring down at the ground, and maybe, maybe refusing to jump.

We moved forward again and Matt told me to stand up. Before I could even remember if it was ready set GO, or ready set go … and then GO, we turned sideways, and then — as simple as falling out of a chair — we were belly down in the air, arms outstretched, hurtling in a way that felt more like a wind storm than a freefall.

In the rush of the air, I could scarcely think. I was misinterpreting hand signals like a newborn chimp. Matt kept having to push my hand one way or the other, trying to get me to angle with him. I waved at Ori, the videographer, who plummeted alongside us. We reached out and shook hands.

Matt forced me to bring my altimeter to my face. It already read 6,000! I was supposed to reach behind him and pull the rip cord, but gosh, the instructional video was eons ago and by the time I remembered — oh yeah, I tug a golf ball and a parachute is supposed to come out — Matt, having a vested interest in the chute opening — pulled it himself.

Everything slowed down for a while. I was flying — literally flying — and it was impossible to do anything but look and look and look. The air slipped from chilly to cool as we passed through a cloud, then suddenly grew warm again. Matt showed me how to control the handles of the chute and do 360s and by God, I could DO them! Never had anything so deadly and beautiful — especially that bright flutter of fabric that kept me aloft — been so easy to control.

web04fall8076.jpgAbout that time I realized that despite my utter incompetence, I was not going to die after all. The ground came closer and Matt patiently reminded me how to land. We went through the sequence again and again so that when the grass did arrive, I easily lifted my legs, pulled the cords to slow the descent, then set my feet down.

I hugged Matt, grateful that even though I have the memory of a fruit fly and the attention span of a gnat, I could do something as fun and crazy as skydiving without disaster. I was relieved also to learn that even if in a fit of torrential clutziness I had whacked my tandem instructor on the head as we left the plane and knocked him unconscious, an altimeter-controlled device would set off the reserve parachute.

I highly recommend Skydive Spaceland. And get the video. Ori did a killer job — a really fun little edited film — and if you don’t think you can handle skydiving, just come watch mine. After witnessing poor Matt tap me, signal me, repeatedly grab my hands and arms to MAKE me do what I supposed to do, you’ll quickly see that if Deanna can do it, anybody can. Even if you forget the rip cord.

On Class Reunions

Nelson Mandela once said:

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

I suspect most of us who attend class reunions find this to be true.  Last weekend I went to my own 20th high school reunion in the little town of Archer City. Of the 31 people in our graduating class, 18 of us attended.


I was nervous all out of proportion to the event, partly because I had missed the 10th reunion, and partly because I’m anxious about anything Archer City-related. Like most people who blow out of their small towns as a teen, I felt beyond my element, strangely separate.

michelle-angela.jpgLooking across the cafeteria (which was almost completely unchanged–it still had green linoleum and the SAME water fountain from when I first arrived there in second grade, 1977), I really did get the sense of my personal history.

Tressa walked in, my best friend in elementary, a natural fit since she lived next door. We so often got tangled up crawling through the barbed wire between our properties, that our dads made a gate for us. We recalled our many exploits — trying to make a waterbed out of trash bags, throwing rocks over the garage and accidentally knocking the window out of my mom’s car.

Michelle arrived, carrying her four year old. She moved to AC in 8th grade and became a new best friend as she lived in bicycling range. I knew her house better than my own (SHE always had strawberry Haagen Dazs ice cream in her freezer) and we were notorious prank callers.

When my family moved into town in 9th grade, Darci and Trisha became my friends. We often spent Saturday nights out on one of their trampolines, and as we got a little older, boys would come by to visit us in the night (ha, our parents might be reading this!)

eric-tony.jpgAngela also arrived in time for high school, and by virtue of our many debate trips as extemporaneous speakers and a mutual love of drama (the acting kind — okay, all kinds), we became best friends. There was virtually no boy-disaster I didn’t call her up about, and she is probably the most complete repository of my life secrets as we have kept in touch in the intervening decades, easily taking up the confessionals even if years pass between the times we can get together.

Despite all this, the majority of my social life was held elsewhere, as I dated outside of my hometown. I had learned the hard way that what one boy said about me could discolor everyone’s view, and that in a town that small there is no escaping a mistake — one you actually made or one that was made up.

But my senior year I could not resist one of my “own kind,” a boy from Archer City, and ended up attending events (oh those Shack parties) with my own high school classmates. I learned in that year that all my silly hangups were unfounded, and I truly did feel I was part of everything around me. (Of course, 20 years later half the class now knows — thanks Gary for hosting the reunion after party with a whole lotta beer — exactly why I was late to Mrs. Campbell’s class every day after lunch.)

But none of that stopped me from diving headfirst into the vastness and anonymity of big-university life at UT, a decision I will never regret, and one that definitely ensured that I could never go “home” again. But I feel a little better about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

If a high school reunion has anything going for it other than finding out who is still skinny, who still has hair, who got rich, or who married the bad boy, it’s exactly what Nelson Mandela says–you can see exactly what made you who you are, and how the very thing you ran from is exactly what got you where you are today.

The fight is ON

Many of you know I’ve been fighting the City of Austin over the $50 per-session fee they now charge for professional photographers to use Zilker Botanical Gardens. I have not asked for the fee to go away, only for them to charge us an annual fee instead so that photographers like me can absorb the cost rather than pass the cost on to my clients.

I sent letters to some twelve members of the City Council, Zilker, Parks and Recreations, and Mayor Will Wynn. The letter was cosigned by a number of members of my professional photography group, ApNet.

Stuart Strong, the acting director of Parks and Rec, simply said the fee was a way to “monitor and control” our use of the gardens. He did not address my request for an annual pass.

Some of you may have noticed that last Thursday, the Statesman ran an article on how the city is now proposing to charge fitness trainers who host running classes or yoga or even the “stroller mom” groups who jog together with their babies a $500 annual fee for the right to train in parks or on the trail.

I understand the city is strapped for cash, but the amount of money they make off these fees is so insubstantial when you add in the processing and personnel to do it. And the cost to the goodwill of the citizens of Austin and their view of their city and parks is enormous.

I’ll be speaking to the Austin Professional Photographers Association in a couple weeks in hopes they will join forces with my own group to fight the city. I’ve been communicating with the Statesman reporter about this as well. Even if we lose, we’re going to make some noise, and help ensure that sneaky measures get attention before going through, and to ensure the new City Council members (the run off election is June 14) take a good long look at how they are eroding the quirky, open, fun reputation of our city.

And we’re off!

The New Year is out of the starting blocks, and I’ve already checked several of my January goals off my list.

  1. Started submitting writing again
  2. Got my studio un-Christmastized and shot my first sitting
  3. Located a company to manage my emails to you guys (they are going to be so much prettier and more functional as well as actually getting to you–your spam filters dislike me even though you end up calling woefully about missing specials.)
  4. Identified the coolest web gallery software EVER where you can “sticky” images and put several up at a time to compare images. Go look at a sample gallery! (Just click on any image to make it big, then drag it around.) I’ll be redoing my Fun Prints Web Site from the ground up starting next week.

babyemilypea.jpgBut I only have one actual New Year’s resolution this year–and I’ve done it every single day even though Elizabeth is miserable because of it. Here it is:

I hereby resolve, on this 1 January 2008, to make my youngest child, Elizabeth, age 5, eat one vegetable every single day, no matter what it takes.

So far so good (well, depending on if you’re sitting next to me in a restaurant–not so good on your ears.)

But she’s eating green things. For the first time since she was TWO.

Your resolution may involve eating less. Mine–eating MORE!

Crazy Tales and November Folly

In the last few years, Halloween has taken on a significance unknown in my previous thirty-um, thirty-some-odd years. No longer a holiday marked mainly by passing out candy or possibly going to some grown up party, it’s a big day for my children to demonstrate their personalities through their costumes, and at midnight, it’s the kickoff to National Novel Writing Month.

The costume search this year was harder than ever. Elizabeth, as usual, wanted to be some form of web-girls-as-princess-buttercup.jpgdecadent feminine explosion in tulle and roses. Emily, though, really is more male-oriented in her interests (math, architecture, heroes.) But those costumes are too boy for her. Or, transversely, too girly (one look at Wonder Woman and she shouted, “No!”)

We searched on the Internet, viewing over 250 costumes via and other online outlets. When we went through two complete sites with no luck, I turned to her and said, “Figure it out or you’re stuck being Hermione again.”

Both girls shouted, “No!” This upset me a little, as I had hand sewn under duress, a costume for Elizabeth that exactly matched Emily’s so that they might go to the Harry Potter Book 7 release parties as Gryffindor. I’d done it with the deal that Elizabeth would use it again at Halloween.

No dice.

After a lengthy discussion of movies they liked and characters they might portray, both simultaneously chose Buttercup from The Princess Bride.

An argument ensued, mainly composed of “I’m Buttercup! No, I’m Buttercup!”

I never dreamed Emily would pick a princess! And a useless one at that, falling in fear in the battle of the Rodents of Unusual Size when she should have clubbed the buggers with a stick. But that’s beside the point. I now had the opposite problem.

Eventually we came to an agreement: Emily would be the red-robed casual Buttercup; Elizabeth the resplendant white-gowned bride.

web-nano-midnight-write-dragons-lair1.jpgHalloween was not quite the same as last year: the usual crowd but less booze as we parents gabbed in driveways while the kids lumbered up to doorways. When the candy bags were too heavy to manage, we took them home and then as is tradition, I joined friends on Sixth Street for a walk-about before heading to Dragon’s Lair for the midnight kick off of NaNoWriMo.

I wrote 1200 words the first night from midnight until about 1 a.m. I’m about 3500 words in now, but more on the book later. I’m off to the Texas Renaissance Festival! (I just finished MY costume an hour ago!)

Ho Ho Humbug

ho-ho.jpgIt’s that time of year where I break out my Christmas tree, pull out the Santa hats, and prepare for the onslaught of holiday portraits. Every year, families who come back season after season ask me, “What’s new this year?”

Well, this year it is *supposed* to be my Ho Ho Ho props. I saw these on a Christmas card last year and loved it. And since I had already created the elaborate Not-Frosty snowman out of grapevine for the outdoor shoots (and some families will opt to use him outside the house), I thought I would keep it simple for the studio shots. The Ho Ho Ho was perfect. Families could do it. Big kids could do it. Even babies. Cute all the way around.

Until I started working on the prop.


First was the massive search for just the right H and O. Big, but not too big. Sturdy but not heavy. And most of all, I wanted to be able to glue the H and O together to make it easier for small children. The original shot I’d seen had them separate, with a child holding a letter in each hand, but with my age clients, we’d probably see as much “OH!” as “HO!”

I finally spotted just the right thing at JoAnns, but with “Halloween” taking up many of the H and Os, I had to drive all over town to find three sets. Then I had to search for paint (I wanted them red and sparkly). Just today, a mere 48 hours before my first scheduled shoot, did I finally assemble all the supplies.

And nothing’s working. The H and Os won’t stay together. They’d never survive the kids who would handle them. The paint is too thin, not glittery enough. It shows all the flaws in the letters. It doesn’t pop the way I want them to for hand tinted black & white, which is how I envision the final images. I’m giving up for the day, well aware that if I don’t finish them tomorrow, they won’t be dry in time for Friday.


I’ll cheer myself up with a couple of my favorite images from all the outdoor shoots. I’m remembering now why I love photographing babies and kids–they don’t worry about backgrounds, props, perfect pictures, or that Christmas card shot–they just have fun. I’m lucky that I get to play with them almost every day and most everybody comes out of their photo shoot laughing.

Black Cats/White Cats

I’m not very superstitious. I might believe in signs and symbols, but mainly that’s because I think we can act on what we want to see and believe, much like we read a horoscope and take away only what applies to us.

But two days ago, when a black cat took the trouble and danger to dart in front of me on Bee Caves Road, I admit to feeling a chill. As his sleek little body dashed across the four-lane road, he actually turned to look at me for a moment, as if to say, “Fear me!”

I immediately began counting the bad things that happened.

Remember how happy I was to find the box that just fit my contest entry, therefore making me feel positive and happy about submitting the book?

The day of the black cat I went to the post office to mail off a second entry, this time a novel. I picked up the flat rate postage box, same as a few days before, but when I tried to shove the manuscript box inside it, it DIDN’T fit.

I then noticed an almost identical box next to it, same markings, slightly larger, which didn’t say “Flat Rate.”

I had a terrible feeling I had done something very stupid.

The post office lady confirmed it. I’d mailed a regular postage box with a Flat Rate label. I had underpaid by probably $4.

I asked her what would happen. She was very sympathetic, because if the box gets returned, the contest deadline will have passed and I won’t be able to submit it–therefore wasting all the paper and printing and postage. “Well, if you’re lucky, no one will even notice,” she said, plastering labels on a pile of photography portfolios. “The minute I saw these new style boxes, I knew this was going to happen–people would do exactly what you did–mix up the flat rate box with the regular ones.”

She expertly flipped the envelopes over, already noting they were photographs and stamping “do not bend” all over them. “But the good thing is, the people who empty out the parcel slots aren’t trained for the windows, so they probably won’t notice either. It might get through.”

“What if it doesn’t?” I asked.

“I will sit postage due for ten days at their post office, then get returned.”

“Too late to send it back.”


I thanked her and left the counter.

On the way back home, in almost the exact same spot on Bee Caves Road, a fuzzy white cat darted across the street. I slammed on my brakes and couldn’t believe it. Another cat? Another dash across a huge road?

I drove on, wondering about this, if the white cat negated the black cat. Or if the white cat meant my luck had turned back to good.

It’s been six days since I mailed the first contest entry with the wrong postage. In the next week it will either be returned or I will get the post card saying it was safely received.

NOW you can wish me luck.

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

I do love the fall. When you feel the relief from the heat, the chill rippling across your skin, it relaxes your tension and slows your pace, no longer a rush from air conditioned car to air conditioned house. We can pause a bit, listen to the leaves rustle, push our hair out of our face from the wind. We are grateful for seasons and often sense the stir of the spiritual, the realization that our world was created well and in balance by forces we don’t always fully understand.

I’m always busy in October with the outdoor special, but it’s nothing compared to November when I combine my two passions–writing and photography–into one crazy month of a dizzying overabundance of both.

National Novel Writing Month is a marathon writing spree where you try to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days. We begin at midnight on Halloween as the calendar flips to November, and it stops at midnight on the 30th.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo for two years now. In 2005 I began Helena the Muse (you can read the first chapter), which is completed. I’m in the process of querying agents for representation for that. In 2006, I wrote Baby Dust (also a first chapter available), which has a complete draft but needs a lot of work still.

This year I have a novel in mind about a circle of frustrated art students who are trying to figure out a fool-proof way to make their work explode into fame and recognition. In the style of Helena, which had significant historical fiction streaks as the main character forces herself back in time to serve as muse to some of the world’s greatests art masters, this book will also have a number of historical twists involving real artists who have either purposefully or inadvertently used suicide to catapult their oeuvres into infamy.

I’m very excited about the onset of both things–holiday pictures and the new novel. I’ll be posting about both things along the way

Happy Occasions

kuppershower-2.jpgSometimes it’s fun to be a photographer, as I get to capture people’s events for them. There have been many happy moments in my friends’ lives lately, and I am pleased to have been able to be a part of them.

Baby Kayleigh got a surprise shower (of course she didn’t see a thing, still in Mama’s tummy!) The games at this shower were, kuppershower2007.jpgwell, a little different than anything I’d played–other than the “guess how big a string will go around the mama-to-be.” Which I always win. And did this time. Ha! I have a foolproof method.


But they had a “smell the diaper” game to guess what was in it…I scored rather poorly, only getting “chocolate” and “jam” correct. (I SWEAR there was vinegar in one.) Then four lucky friends got to have a race swilling apple juice from baby bottles. And let’s not forget the blindfolded baby food spooning contest, where couples fed each other. Sam and Lisa were *not* to be denied that prize and shoveled apple sauce as though their life depended on it.

And of course, Kayleigh herself made an appearance finally! She’s a beauty!

kate-baptism.jpgOur friends Sean and Tessa had their baby Kate baptized this past Sunday at St. Katherine’s Catholic Church. We know it was a bittersweet moment without Corey, but so many family members, coworkers, and friends came to see little Kate on her big day!

Otherwise the outdoor pictures for the Fall Special are going well and I’ll post some when I get a chance! I’ve been a bit swamped with a run on “First Steps” images. But I’m not nearly so busy as I’ll be when the Holiday Portraits start.