Interview with Santa

Santa ClausSanta Claus took a little time out of his busy schedule to come into the studio for a fresh portrait a little while back. While he and Mrs. Claus were in, we talked a bit about some of the questions that children frequently ask him. He was gracious to share his answers.

Q: What does Santa do when a house does not have a chimney or there is a fire burning in the fire place?
SC: I use a little magic and make one!

Q: Does Rudolph always lead the sleigh?
SC: Yes! His nose is bright and can light up any sky!

Q: How do the reindeer fly?
SC: Magic reindeer feed!

Q: Why can’t I ever see Santa or his elves?
SC: The elves are very magical and fast! If you’re very good, you might catch a glimpse of an elf!

Q: How do I become an elf?
SC: Stay in school, get good grades and then – who knows!

Q: How does Santa’s sleigh make it around the world in one day?
SC: A little hard work and planning, a touch of magic and the reindeer of course!

Q: How does Santa know whether I have been naughty or nice?
SC: I get a fax every morning!

Q: What kind of snack does Santa like left out for him?
SC: Cookies! Chocolate chip are a favorite, but I will try anything left out! The reindeer like carrots and sugar beets the best!

Q: How many reindeer are in the North Pole?
SC: Lots & lots! Santa has way too many to count!

Q: What are the names of Santa’s reindeer?
SC: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and of course Rudolph. There are many more Chet, Bailey, Dibbz, Baxter, but not enough time to list them all.

Santa & Mrs. Claus

Q: What do Santa and Mrs. Claus do during the spring and summer?
SC: I like to take Mrs. Claus out and see the world and spend a week in the sun! Just one week though, lots of toys to make!

Q: Why doesn’t Santa always bring me what I asked for?
SC: Thanks to the elves, I know what you ask for, but I also know your parents and use their judgment, what you have room for and take all that into consideration. You may not have room for the pony you asked for, or I didn’t see the latest best RC cars guide to bring you that special toy car you wanted – but that doesn’t mean I won’t next year!

Q: Why does Santa Claus climb down the chimney?
SC: It would be better than falling!

Q: Why don’t you come every day of the year?
SC: It takes a whole year to get ready for the next Christmas!

Q: Do you have a red-nosed reindeer?
SC: Yes, Rudolph!

Q: Is there a real Rudolph?
SC: Yes!

Q: How many cookies do you eat?
SC: Lots & lots! Way to many to count!

Q: How many kids do you deliver to?
SC: Billions! Big kids, little kids, all kids!

Q: Has Santa ever missed a year?
SC: No! Never missed a Christmas yet! There a lots of practice and planning that go into Christmas eve to make sure nothing goes wrong!

Q: Do you get the flu?
SC: I did once, June of 1956 I think. Mrs. Claus keeps me very healthy and makes me and all the elves get flu shots!

Santa & Mrs. ClausQ: Do you really live at the North Pole? I thought it was all ice up there and dark all winter long.
SC: Yes, but I do take vacations. The place is always decorated with plenty of festive lights, and Mrs. Claus’s cheerful face always keeps me in high spirits, and her cookies!

Q: Why does Santa Claus give toys to children?
SC:I give toys to all good boys & girls! I enjoy putting smiles on their faces!

Q: Why does Santa Claus wear red?
SC: Mrs. Claus made the suit the very first day I started delivering toys and red is a very cheerful color and I stand out from the other grownups!

Q: Why doesn’t Santa grow old and die like other people?
SC: I was once a mortal man, but because of all my kindness to all the good boys & girls, I was given the gift of immortality or Christmas spirit to continue my work every Christmas eve!

Q: How do you remember who wants what?
SC: An in-dash computer system with speech to let me know what house to get to next and the list of goodies to be left under the tree!

Q: Does Santa’s sleigh have air-bags, navigation or in-sleigh stereo?
SC: No need for air bags, the reindeer are very skilled in landings! Navigation has been computerized in the last few years to help plot a faster route to all the houses! And yes, a stereo is a must! Christmas carols are the preferred choice!

Q: Can children from the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or other faiths be visited by Santa?
SC: I’m known in many cultures by many different names, so yes children all over the world will be visited by me!

So there you have it, straight from Santa himself. He’ll be at Bellingham’s Holiday Port Festival next weekend to listen to children’s wishes and pose for photos with them. Hours are 4-8 pm Friday, December 4; 1-5 pm Saturday, December 5; and 1-4:30 pm Sunday, December 6. Look for Santa just inside the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

I’ll be there too, photographing the kids with Santa. Photo packages begin at just $20. While you’re there, enjoy the holiday music and check out all the gingerbread houses entered in this year’s contest.

Participatory Politics

This isn’t a political blog, and isn’t slated to become one.  However, I think my experience at this afternoon’s Democratic Party caucus is worth a few comments.  I admit that I was a reluctant participant.  Casting a primary ballot is a much simpler process that requires considerably less time.  In Washington it’s particularly confusing because we received presidential preference primary ballots in the mail a few days before the caucus, but the primary only counts if you consider yourself a Republican.

Apparently the Democrats broke through the general confusion and attracted lots of people to their caucuses today. Everyone was patient with the sign-in process, which is where you indicate your initial candidate preference. Some people didn’t understand that, but had an opportunity to commit to a candidate before the first tally.  I was one of the two official vote counters for our precinct. The local party organization provided a good set of instructions for us to follow. One observer for each candidate watched what we did as we counted and did the delegate selection math.

Following the first count people could speak on behalf of their candidate and then there was a question period. Those who had marked uncommitted or to a candidate that had a very low number of votes could then change their preference and the handful of latecomers were added.  We counted again and announced the results.

The last step in the process was subcaucuses for each candidate to select delegates to the legislative district convention in early April. Those folks will select delegates to the state convention, and they in turn will select delegates to the national convention. It’s a long and involved process, but it seems pretty open.

In our precinct, the great majority of people who participated looked to be under 30.  I think that’s good news for our country, from the perspective of one who is on the high side of 50.  We had 85 people, with 15 supporting Clinton, 84 for Obama, and 1 who remained uncommitted to the end. We’ll know the feelings of the whole state later tonight.

Importance of Deadlines

Without deadlines would I get anything done? Probably, but deadlines sure provide a little extra motivation to move a task to the top of the priority heap.


I committed several months ago to give a slide show based on my Bellingham Impressions book, which was published last August. The show dates are this Monday and Tuesday, so today I finally made time to select the photos and sequence them. The show will be all digital, created in Open Office Impress. I already had digital files for everything that’s in the book, as well as a number of other photos I wanted to include in the show, so that part was easy.

For me, the hard part of building a slide show is deciding how to arrange the images so it makes sense and has a nice flow. I didn’t want to mimic the book, which has a color-based design that looks good as 2-page spreads. Print and screen are two very different media. To put the show in sequence I used what seems like an anachronistic technique — I printed thumbnails of every image I might want to include and cut them apart so I had dozens of little squares of paper. Then I started playing with the order, moving pictures around until I was happy. I numbered each photo, then picked up the thumbnails and carried them to my computer so I could page through them as I entered photo file names and built my show. I made a couple of minor revisions to the order and I was done.

Finally, I previewed the entire show and thought about what I wanted to say when each slide was on the screen. I’ll run through the show again on Sunday after I transfer it to my laptop. If you’re in Bellingham Tuesday, come to the Whatcom Museum at 12:30 for the brown bag series in the Rotunda Room and see the show. I’ll have autographed books for sale, too.

Losing Weight is Hard

There’s been a tremendous amount of press lately about how overweight we Americans are. Much medical research touts the benefits of maintaining a “normal” weight, as indicated by a body mass index (BMI) under 25. Regular exercise and a good diet high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with modest amounts of protein and low in fats and sugars are the keys to maintaining a trim figure and healthy weight. Over the years I think I’ve done pretty well at eating and exercising.

Unfortunately, when I’m on the road photographing it’s much harder to eat well and get enough exercise. I may be on my feet all day and lugging 25 or so pounds of metal and glass around, but I don’t generally walk very far. My tiredness at the end of the day is more from mental concentration than physical exertion. Couple that with restaurant meals and it’s nearly inevitable that I gain weight. So is location photography bad for my health? Not necessarily, but there are definitely issues to deal with.

Most people look at me and see a fairly trim person and wonder why I’d want to lose weight. I’m certainly not in the obese group, but when I got home from my last road trip and stepped on the scales I weighed 158 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been. I top out at 5′ 6″ when I stand up straight, so that weight gave a BMI of 25.5 on the National Institute of Health BMI calculator. That put me slightly into the overweight category. I only weighed 120 when I graduated from high school and was definitely a skinny kid. That’s still my body image, but 120 is unrealistically low and probably unhealthy at age 53. I’ve got a bit of love handles around my trimmed waist I’d like to get rid of so there’s no fat to pinch. I figured that if I could drop 10% to 140 that would be a reasonable goal.

We live in a society that encourages instant gratification in nearly everything. I’ve never bought into that in a big way, but it would sure be nice to wave a magic wand and drop weight without doing anything serious. There’s no way for that to happen. To lose weight, one must burn about 3500 more calories than consumed to lose a single pound of fat. Eating less and exercising more are both important factors. I’m not big on counting calories — it’s just too much hassle. I find it easier to think in broader terms about what I eat and drink. Three regular meals daily, with little or no snacking in between, has been part of my lifestyle forever. So where could I cut down? I’ve actually increased the quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables. They’re in season, tasty, and have a lower caloric density than many other foods. I’ve reduced the amount of meat, cut back on pasta, and go easy on the olive oil when cooking. The big sacrifices have been avoiding a daily bottle of beer (about 150 calories) and a daily bowl of ice cream (about 150 calories per half cup, and my servings are definitely bigger than that). There’s never been much snack food like chips or sugary drinks in my diet. Smaller amounts of dense food and larger amounts of low-density food makes sense and satisfies my need to eat until I feel full.

The other side of the equation is increased exercise. I tend to be a sporadic exerciser. I’ve never been an athlete, but have tried to stay in good shape. I never want my body to limit what I can do, particularly when it comes to outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking, cycling, or skiing. When I had a day job I commuted to work by bicycle about 2 miles each way. That modest amount of exercise did a lot to keep me fit and I didn’t have to go out of my way to do it. It also saved money with no gas, parking expenses, or bus fare required to get to work. Now that I’m self-employed I work from home. When I’m out shooting I drive because the distances are too great and the amount of gear required is too heavy. It also probably wouldn’t look very professional to show up on a bicycle all sweaty.

Since I like to bicycle, it’s a low-impact sport, and riding burns a lot of calories I decided to return to riding lots of miles to increase my exercise level. I got back in the routine of regular riding on August 12 with a 20-mile loop with a couple of hills, averaging 15.4 mph. I felt like someone had put molasses on my chain. Following the exercise recommendation of every other day to allow recovery, I aimed for alternate riding and rest days with a goal of about 100 miles per week. Bellingham and Whatcom County have many roads that are bicycle-friendly so I could vary my route and not get bored. I’m in my fourth week of this exercise program and have ridden more than 415 miles with nearly 25 hours in the saddle. The molasses is gone from my chain, but hills still have me huffing and cursing. On Labor Day I rode nearly 46 miles, averaging 17.2 mph. The last two hills hurt and I would have been happy to be home 10 miles sooner, but with a day of rest I’ll be back on my bike this afternoon. I definitely push myself when I’m riding, trying to maintain as high a speed as I can. The hills may hurt, but they’re the key to the fun of going down the other side.

What are the results so far? I’m down to about 150 pounds and have burned over 12,700 extra calories. I use a Java applet to do the calorie calculation. It’s harder to judge how much of the love handles are disappearing. It’s been a lot of work. I feel good. I’m riding faster. I can ride 50 miles and not feel exhausted when I get home. I fantasize about bicycling to California and Florida while I’m out pedaling around the county.

Will I be able to keep it up? I hope so, but I’ll be going back on the road again soon to photograph fall gardens. I’ve also got a trip to the Garden Writers Association annual symposium coming up. That means there’s certainly going to be a break in my exercise routine and probably a decrease in the quality of my diet. When the shooting season ends the dark and rainy season will have begun so long bike rides will be less attractive and more dangerous. Maybe I’ll get back to swimming a mile three times a week for the winter.

Garden Vandalism

After writing about the goodness of people I’ve met along the way I’ve encountered the bad egg. I don’t know who this person is, but they’ve made us feel violated.

One morning recently I went out to wander around the garden and noticed that something was missing. Actually, several somethings were missing. During the night, a person unknown had broken off three stems of ‘Stargazer’ lilies that were in bud, all of the stems of a nice pink mallow, some delphiniums, astilbe, tall bellflowers, liatris, and hosta leaves. To do this, they had to enter our yard, not just pluck stuff from the sidewalk. Natalie discovered a plastic box out at the corner of the garden with some of the broken-off flowers and foliage that the thief had left behind. She put a sign on it, “Monday Night Vandalism,” and left it by the sidewalk. Several neighbors asked about it, but hadn’t seen or heard anything in the night. There was enough broken off and left behind to make a nice bouquet for our dining room table.

On further inspection, I found that the thief had pulled two plants up by the roots — a Mexican feather grass and a little variegated yucca — that we’d just planted last spring.

Occasionally we’ll have someone knock on the door and ask if they can have a few flowers to give to their mother or some such thing. We’ll often oblige them. But this is the first time someone has helped themselves wholesale to our garden. I hope it’s a one-time thing because I still believe that overall people are good.

We’ve Got Chicken

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The title is indicative of the generosity of the people I’ve encountered in the past months while on the road photographing gardens. I’ve logged thousands of miles of driving and spent more nights away from home than in my own bed.

A couple of trips back I was meandering home across Washington from the east side. I’d finished my photography for the trip and stopped to camp along the shore of the Snake River at Illia dunes downstream of Lower Granite Dam. It was late on a weekend afternoon as I wandered along the beach and up over the sand dunes to see what might be blooming (not much). Several groups of boaters were enjoying a picnic or party on the beach, and one group had a fairly loud boom box playing music, but it wasn’t obnoxious. I kept to myself as I needed to unwind after several intense days of photography. But eventually I wandered along the beach near one of the groups and heard someone call out, “We’ve got chicken.” I didn’t quite hear them the first time, but a man repeated the friendly shout so I wandered over to talk. When I got closer they offered the remains of a barbequed chicken from their picnic, and since I was hungry I graciously accepted.

I stood around talking with the group, who were mostly from Pullman and vicinity, and eventually they offered one of the last cold beers from their cooler. We continued to talk until they loaded up their boats to head back to the marina up the lake.

Over the course of the past several months I’ve met dozens of wonderful people for the first time and been welcomed into their gardens and homes, often at very early hours of the morning. I’ve been offered drinks and meals, and feel like many of these people have become friends. Some of these gardeners I met through referrals from someone else, others because they opened their garden for a community garden tour and I simply asked them if I might come back and photograph.

There’s certainly an element of flattery involved when I ask a gardener if I may photograph her garden, but it’s a sincere compliment that recognizes that they’ve created something special in the garden that surrounds their home. I depend upon the kindness of strangers, or friends I have not yet met. I find that people most people, regardless of income level, are pretty friendly, outgoing, and welcoming. That’s a very positive sign in this world where the news is so often filled with horror stories.

I’m off to make a new gardening friend this evening in Palouse, Washington.