More Net Zero Construction Notes

The further along we are getting in this building process the more apparent it’s getting that not many people know what the heck a Net Zero house is. In fact, we have not run across a single person that knew what it was when we tried to explain that we are building one. And this is not only true for common folk not in the home construction industry, but this also applies to all the home product sales people we encountered. From Home Depot and Lowes to flooring, lighting, plumbing, and fireplace specialists. Nobody has any idea what we are talking about when we try explain that we can’t have use propane for cooking or a fireplace and how important it will be to use healthier building materials. They just think we are tree huggers and then proceed to try to change our minds about propane fireplaces and gas ranges. This is prompting me to want to become a Net Zero evangelist. After living in one I may just feel as though I’m “Born Again” and may start preaching to everyone in sight in hopes of getting them to convert.

Sure I can’t get all that excited about it yet because at this point it does seem a little bit like the promise of Heaven. It does sound an awful lot like Heaven actually. A toasty warm house in the Winter and a nice comfortable house in the Summer  . . . all without having to pay energy bills. Fortunately, unlike actually making it to Heaven, in this case I will be able to live through it and tell my story so everyone knows if Heaven does indeed exist. Only time will tell and we are so anxious to find out.

So in my efforts to help spread the word and educate on this Net-Zero technology I want to blog a little here and there to try to explain what makes a Net Zero home special. I already tried to explain the basics of the foundation and basement being built with thick blocks of insulation. And I also mentioned that the walls would be “doubled.” You can see in this picture the outside wall (that has the window framed in it) and then an additional 2×4 wall in front of it making our exterior walls a full foot thick.


Both of these walls will be insulated essentially doubling the amount of insulation that a normal house has. And in between the two insulated walls is what is called a “thermal break” of air. I’m not totally sure how the technology behind this works and perhaps I’ll become more knowledgeable when we get that far so stay tuned on that.

Then there’s the roof. On a conventionally built roof you would normally have insulation only in between the roof trusses. Those trusses might be 2″x10″ or 2″x12″. Our roof trusses are 16″ thick as show below.


Not only are the trusses thicker, but we will have double the plywood under the roofing shingles. Along the same theory as the exterior double walls with a “thermal break” of air in between, the roof is very similar. We have the traditionally covered plywood roof, but then another layer of plywood gets added. The picture below shows the two layers with the gap of air between.


I still haven’t figured out how all this “air” does so much in super insulating the house, but like I said, I’m hoping to become more knowledgeable about how this stuff works. Right now it’s all very new and very fascinating.


Escape to Mexico, Third Edition


It took me years to convince Karlo to visit Mexico and now that he’s been there, it’s hard to drag him away. If he had it his way he would just stay in the ocean for the rest of his life. I can understand. I’m not at all a water person. In fact, it’s normally near impossible to get me into any body of water. I even complained on some occasions about having to get into the hot tub, but for some reason I love the beaches in the Mexican Riviera. The color is amazing, the sand is heavenly, and the water temps are bearable. Well, almost bearable. I might stay in the water all day too if I could tolerate it. Just the fact that I can get into it means it’s pretty darn warm, but it doesn’t take me long to get cold and have to get out in search of dry land and full sun. We got a kick out of watching our snorkeling footage to see all the huge goosebumps all over my skin. Leave it to me to freeze in Mexico. This just proves that I’m going to freeze anywhere I go so why not go to Maine?

So Karlo had an aversion to visiting Mexico and I had an aversion to beach vacations and yet this is our third consecutive Mexican winter break. We just love it and I can’t even explain it. It’s so not our style nor our speed. The first year we used Jessica as the excuse to do it. We really did it for her because we knew she would love it. Last year we used my neck recovery as an excuse. I needed to just kick back and relax for a week. This year we made a very last minute decision to take this vacation because we knew that this was likely our only shot at taking a real vacation this year. There was some comfort in knowing exactly what we were getting ourselves into and also some comfort in knowing we were taking a relatively inexpensive vacation. It still wasn’t easy to break our “If it’s not for the new house we can’t buy it” rule, but I’m really glad we did.

So now that we made three excuses for taking what we would normally consider a “lame vacation” we have officially decided that we love it and we want to continue the tradition as many years as we can. We even, dare I say, discussed looking at real estate (just for future reference). After all, the grand long-term dream was always to be snow birds. If we could ever escape the cold in our new favorite warm weather place it would be Heaven indeed.

It’s just so amazing how comfortable and content we feel in a place that we never dreamed we would be drawn to. The locals are so incredibly friendly and they are really set up to cater to US tourists. English is widely spoken by everybody and you can even use US dollars just about everywhere. In fact, on our last day we needed more cash and every single ATM machine spit out US dollars exclusively. It was a challenge to find one that dispensed pesos.

Last year we pretty much stayed directly on 5th Ave which is lined with every sort of tourist trap known to man. Restaurants, bars, boutiques, souvenirs, shopping galore . . . along with endless tour companies trying to lure you in. We strolled through just about every shop and ate at a different 5th Avenue restaurant every night. Although the atmosphere was always awesome it wasn’t until this year that we discovered the food was not nearly as good on 5th Ave as it was a block or two away. Not sure if we just got braver because the place was so familiar or we were striving to spend less, but this year we ventured off the famous 5th Ave and discovered a whole new world. The best part of venturing away from 5th Avenue is that you all of a sudden feel like you’re in Mexico as opposed to being on the main drag where it feels like you’re in Epcot center. It was a nice change to be more emerged into the culture. The bonus was that the food was twice as good for half the price.

One of our favorite places that we stumbled across was the Crepa Cabana. What caught our eye was the enormous tubs of Nutella on display all over the cute little hole in the wall. The owner was so awesome. Not only did he ham it up for me when I wanted to video document the making of the crepe, but he also let Karlo do a little faux cooking for the camera.

That crepe had to be the highest fat and calorie content food item I ever saw. It had about 2 bananas, 1/4 cup of cinnamon sugar and a 1/2 gallon of Nutella inside. One bite and I was jittery, but Karlo managed to chow down the entire thing. That was an accomplishment for sure.

Another huge step for us this year was not getting a rental car. We always shy away from public transportation, mostly because we just plain suck at it. I would have hoped that my European husband would know his way around the trains in Europe, but no, we got lost and got on the wrong trains, etc. It’s always very stressful for us. But again, Mexico makes it so easy for the tourists. The public transportation is easy and cheap. We took a shuttle from and to the airport and we even took the public “Collectivos” to travel to our favorite little snorkeling spot in Akumal Bay. The ride was about 25 minutes and it only costs $60 pesos each way for the both of us. That is about 5 US bucks! It couldn’t be easier because the shuttle vans run every 5 minutes (or less) and there’s only one road going up and down the coast. It is impossible to get on the wrong one.

As always Akumal didn’t disappoint and the snorkeling was terrific. The beach is lined with palm trees so you can easily find yourself some shady spots to set up for the day. We were completely comfortable leaving all of our belongings (including my camera, money, credit cards, etc) on our towels as we swam. Last year we rented lockers, but again, this year we were just more comfortable in our surroundings. We saw tons of big sea turtles and even a few sting rays. Another huge leap for me was snorkeling without a life jacket. And I did this more than once. First in Cozumel and then in Akumal. I’m not even sure I recognize myself these days. I’m getting so brave!

In Cozumel we took a guided snorkel trip that required me to jump off the side of the boat. I must say I was not all too pleased with this situation, but I did it. And not only did I do it three times, but later we found a little beach to do some private snorkeling and I got into water that Karlo thought was cold! I guess I figured if I could jump off a boat this wouldn’t be so bad.

Cozumel is my favorite place to snorkel and visit while in Mexico. The water is even more spectacular than on the main land and it’s easy to scoot all around on scooters. The traffic isn’t too bad, the scenery is always awesome, and the weather couldn’t be more perfect. We never experienced any humidity and everywhere you go there are ocean breezes. Oh and I mention that there’s not much air conditioning? Definitely a huge plus.

And speaking of weather, we were there for 8 days and we got 8 perfect carbon copy days of mid 80s sunshine. You just can’t beat it and I don’t even think I even want to bother trying. I’m sold on Mexico and it’s where I hope to spend a lot more time in the future.

Buen día.


Going Green

How many times have you fantasized about calling your cable company and telling them to take a hike? A few months ago I called them just to downgrade our cable and cancel our land line and it was the best feeling. Next month I can make the call that says, “I quit.” That won’t feel as good as it sounds because we’ll still be on the hook to pay some other cable company in another town. There’s just no way to shake them completely, as much as I would love to.

But now just try to imagine making that type of call to your oil company . . . imagine calling them to tell them that you will no longer be needing anymore oil delivers. Can you even imagine this???

We got our very last tank of oil delivered just last month, to the tune of 900 bucks. As much as it hurt it also gave me a little sense of relief knowing that was the last time we would be dropping nearly a grand for a tank of black muck.

So how are we going to do this? You might be thinking that we decided to heat our new home with propane, or natural gas, or even electricity and if that’s the case we will still be paying dearly for our heat, it will just be paid to a different company. But now keep that imagination going and try to imagine a home that makes most, if not all, of the energy that it needs to keep you warm and toasty in the Winter and cool and comfy in the Summer. Is that possible? We will soon find out.

I have to be honest when we first started our house building research I didn’t even really fully understand what a “Net Zero” house was. It was our boss at work that introduced us to the idea. The more we researched, the more interested we became. It all sounded too good to be true and there had to be a catch. Why wouldn’t everyone build houses like this? Why on Earth would anybody still be building conventional houses?

As far as I can tell there must only be two things keeping people from jumping on these newer building technologies: one is likely the cost because anything worth having takes an investment and building one of these homes will cost more than a traditional home so that is an obvious initial deterrent; and another possible reason that this seems to be the best kept secret is simply that it’s so new. People don’t like to do new things because the unknown can sometimes be risky.

Sometimes it amazes and scares me just how little we know about what we are about to build. We have a tremendous amount of faith in the builder (Black Brothers Builders) we choose and the fact that our boss seems to be a very big believer in these new building methods certainly gave us the confidence to take this leap of faith. We started off by randomly searching for builders in our area and Black Brothers not only was right directly in Rockland, Maine but they specialized in building Net Zero homes. What were the chances of that? It had to be fate!

So what exactly does Net Zero mean? First off, our house will be super super insulated. The basement floor will be insulated and so will the walls. In fact, the concrete walls will be sandwiched between blocks of insulation. These are the blocks that will make up our basement walls.

photo 1
The exterior walls of the house will be a foot thick and will actually be a “double wall” with special insulation and air between the two walls. All of this means that the house will be incredibly ‘tight.’ One amazing fact that the builder told us last week was that in the event that we lose power (and heat) the house would only lose 1 degree per day! So you can see how the house will be very efficient to heat. And where is that heat coming from?

Our roof will be covered with solar panels that will be generating most of the energy that we need. In some months (Summer) we will actually make more energy than we need, but that should offset duing the Winter months when we need more energy than we make. The Net Zero term means that ideally at the end of the year you break even–you sold the electric company just about the same amount of energy that you needed all year long.

It’s likely that we will not actually net zero due to the fact that we will be working from home with tons of electronics running all day long, but just the thought of not having to buy oil and having most of our electric bill covered is wildly exciting.

I plan to blog about this entire experience, from the new building products and construction techniques used to the results of living in a Net Zero house so I invite you to come along for the ride and check it out.


There’s Something About Maine


It’s hard to describe what exactly it is about Maine, but there’s something . . .

Maine is a unique and inviting place in so many ways. It has always felt like home to me even long before there was any glimmer of chance of actually living there. Over the past 4 years I spent one week every Summer in Rockport which is in the heart of Mid Coast Maine. Attending the Maine Media Workshops throws you directly into the community on various assignments. My first thoughts were always ones of dread. “They expect me to approach complete strangers and ask them to help me by participating in my projects?”  These assignments, on first glance, put me way out of my comfort zone. After all, I’m from CT and I’m just not used to approaching strangers. And I’m certainly not used to these strangers bending over backwards to help me as if I was there long lost family. The thing is, in Maine, it feels like there are no strangers.

After my first experience living among the locals in Maine I thought I just got really lucky by the folks that I encountered. I remember coming back home to Karlo and trying to explain the feelings that Maine left me with. It was hard to explain then and it continues to be hard to explain today.

Fast forward a few more years and it just can’t be luck. I’m convinced that the folks in Maine are just simply a different breed of people. So friendly, so welcoming, so patient, so genuine, so different from what I’m used to. Karlo and I have spent the last 12 years traveling together. We’ve been to some pretty spectacular places and we always played the game of imagining ourselves living in these various locations. Aside from Boulder, CO not one of these places that we loved visiting so much could ever lure us to live there. None except Maine. Every single time we ever visited Maine we simply did not want to leave the place.

Sometimes I still have trouble believing that this dream of ours is becoming a reality. I’m in the middle of packing up our house, but it still has not completely sunken in. I know that most of my friends have bets going on how long I’ll last “in the cold North” as if I’m leaving a tropical location to go there. I hope we haven’t over-glamorized the ideal of Maine. I pray that it’s all we hoped it would be. I crave a new life style where we can slow down every aspect of our life. I want to change my evil ways and I want to become a true Mainer. I want to be that patient, friendly, generous neighbor and be proud of the stereotypical Mainer characteristics. Well, maybe not all of them, but certainly some of them. If you ever catch me wearing bright orange clothing . . . anywhere, just shoot me!

Jeff Foxworthy’s you might live in Maine:

If you have ever refused to buy something because it’s “too spendy”,
You might live in Maine

If someone in a store offers you assistance, and they don’t work there,
You might live in Maine

If you have worn shorts and a parka at the same time,
You might live in Maine

If your town has an equal number of bars and churches,
You might live in Maine

If you know how to say…Wicked. .. Up to camp. . Ayuh. Can’t get there from heyah,
You might live in Maine

If you think that ketchup is a little too spicy,
You might live in Maine

If you measure distance in hours,
You might live in Maine

If you know several people, who have hit deer more than once,
You might live in Maine

If you often switch from “Heat” to “A/C” in the same day and back again,
You might live in Maine

If you can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching and keep drinking coffee,
You might live in Maine

If you see people wearing hunting clothes at social events,
You might live in Maine

If you install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked,
You might live in Maine

If you carry jumper cables in your car, and your wife or girlfriend knows how to use them,
You might live in Maine

If there are 7 empty unlocked cars running in the parking lot at Hannafords at any given time,
You might live in Maine

If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow,
You might live in Maine

If you know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and of course, road construction,
You might live in Maine

If your idea of creative landscaping is a plastic deer next to your blue spruce,
You might live in Maine

If “Down South” to you means Boston,
You might live in Maine

If you know “scat” is something you don’t eat,
You might live in Maine

If you find -10 degrees “a little chilly”,
You might live in Maine


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My Love/Hate Relationship With Tripods


There is no question that I sometimes love and hate tripods and I admit . . . it’s mostly hate. Well, I should say it has been mostly hate up until recently. I even pride myself on the reputation that I’ve built up over the years at photo workshops. At first the instructors work very hard at convincing me that I MUST use a tripod. They preach endlessly about the importance of using one until finally they realize that they are wasting their breath. Not only am I stubborn and will continue to stick to all my reasons why I don’t like using them, but in the end my creative photos almost make them re-think their own strict rules on using what I refer to as “creativity stifling devices.” Pretty soon I became known as the “rogue photographer” and although the jokes were many, the preaching has since stopped. I proved that I can handle hand holding a camera.

Just to be clear, my flat out refusal to use a tripod doesn’t apply to conditions that truly warrant needing one, i.e., shooting a long exposure. There is a time and place for everything and when the real need arises I would comply and use the proper tools, but I can’t remember a time when I was happy about doing it. Seems there is also a bit of grumbling and maybe even sometimes cursing. Then there was that one time when tears where actually involved – when my heavy 70-200mm pivoted on the ball head and came crashing down nearly breaking my finger that got crushed between the lens and the tripod. That illustrates a typical day using a tripod for me.


I also felt that using a tripod was work, too much work in fact to enjoy taking the photos. And when taking photos feels like “work” I quickly lose interest. This is why I was so surprised and delighted when I discovered a tripod that I didn’t dread using. This year I bought a new travel tripod for a recent trip overseas. I guess you can say that I downgraded from a Manfrotto to a MeFoto. The darn thing was just too cute to pass up. It came in a variety of beautiful anodized colors and packed into the smallest tripod bag I ever saw (just over a foot). The most brilliant part of this design over my old travel Manfrotto is the fact that the legs fold up backwards so you no longer have the big bulky head sticking out beyond the length of the collapsed legs. I have a hard time believing that it took tripod manufacturers this long to come up with that brilliant idea.

sizeThe other thing that I love about this tripod is how buttery smooth the ball head is. Now please keep in mind that I’m not upgrading from a cheap no-name tripod. I had been using a carbon fiber Manfrotto and the smoothness of this ball head blows away my sticky Manfrotto. I think that aspect alone is why I always disliked using tripods. It was always a struggle for me to get the adjustment just right. I would loosen the head and either push too much or not enough. That problem is gone with the MeFoto.


It’s got all sorts of cool features like different leg angle positions and 360 panning, but the thing that excites me the most is the fact that I can put my hand over all four extension tubes at once and in one single twist of my wrist either loosen them all up or tighten them all back down. These tubes are similar to the Gitzo style tripod and very different from the individual levers on my old Manfrotto. I have 4 sections on three legs that need to be loosened and then tightened with every use. You do the math. That’s a lot of time wasted pulling open and pushing closed levers.

I didn’t think there was a tripod out there that could make me less cranky when using it, but this cute little number seemed to do the trick. I just might have to find some good excuses to take more long exposure photos. The MeFoto is “approved by A-pro.”

approval stamp



The Next Chapter


The next chapter of our life is about to unfold and it’s about time I start documenting it. I’ve been so busy lately with my never-ending To Do list, never making any time to blog and that needs to stop. It’s so easy to find excuses to not write and I don’t want to let that happen. This upcoming year will be an important one, a life-changing one, and one that I will want to remember for many years to come. So . . . it’s time to start the documentation.

Let me just start by saying how happy I am that last year’s Project 365 was a documentation of my wardrobe. This weekend we came to realization that we will be living out of suitcases for nearly 6 months. I know I’ve been through this before (for 4 months) and it wasn’t easy. I am certainly not looking forward to be separated from most of my wardrobe for 6 months, but it’s the price I must pay to move to the next chapter,

This next chapter has me so overwhelmed with emotion. I’m not sure how I could be so excited, terrified, happy, and sad all at the same time. One thing is for sure, I’m not going to get a good nights sleep for the next 6 months. Despite my body being completely still, my brain refuses to take a break. I’m in non-stop planning mode and most of my energy goes to trying to update my paper and electronic lists to match my endless mental lists. If I could just figure out a way to sync my phone directly to my brain I would be all set.

At this point we are completely consumed with packing up our house. Packing is never an easy task, but the way we are doing it is even harder. We are moving in several stages and have different categories of items to move:

  1. Things that will be in long-term storage that we will likely not be able to access for 6 months. Is there ANY question that half of that stuff will be needed within the first 2 weeks?
  2. Things that will be moved to our temporary housing. This needs to be the bare bones basics and it’s nearly impossible to think ahead 6 months to try to determine exactly what we will need. Factor in the fact that we are moving in the cold weather, staying over the Summer, and possibly into the beginning of Fall means I need a lot of clothing options.
  3. Building items that we have been buying for several months that will be needed for the construction. These items are scattered all over the place and by the time they are needed we will probably forget that we even own them, let alone where we put them. I really need that brain syncing app!
  4. And possibly some items that might stay in Eastford (due to the fact that we sold our house to saints that will allow us to use part of the garage) until we gain more storage space in Maine. Karlo is determined to drive his motorcycle to Maine and I don’t see that happening in March. At least it better not!


This past weekend we made our very exciting first trip to our new garage. The commute was amazingly terrible. Holy Lord I have no idea how I’m going to get through these trips. It took us 6 hours to drive the beater Jeep hauling my brother’s big trailer. We had a max speed of 45 MPH due to the fact that anything faster would send us into a terrifying wobble. So not only was it 6 hours of a hellish rough ride, but it was also 6 hours of pure stress for both of us . . . both of which are exactly what my neck and nerves need!

photo 2

Pulling up to our lot to see our newly completed garage, the big hole in the ground, and the spectacular winter view made it all worth while. We never saw the land without leaves on the trees, let alone covered under a blanket of fresh snow. It seems the view was even prettier in the Winter than it was in the Summer.


The day was very hectic with unloading the trailer, rental house hunting, and meeting with the builder. We certainly didn’t have much time to soak in the thrill. Before I knew it we were back on the road to get home. What a stinkin’ long day it was–approximately 12 hours of driving . . . with a very sore neck. That was fun. Not. But I’m very very grateful that we successfuly made the trip and both the Jeep and trailer held out. I guess this means we will be doing it all over again real soon.

I’ll do my best to document all this craziness. At the very least I need to start posting photos of the construction. Hopefully those will be coming soon.

My Introduction to Animation

motionIt might be difficult for me to compose this blog posting because my brain has still not recovered from the past three days of information overload. It was unbelievable how draining it is to be on your toes every second for 8 straight hours for three straight days. Under normal circumstances I can’t focus on any one thing for more than 30 seconds so these past few days have been a true test of my attention and focusing abilities.

A few years ago I was brave enough to enter the world of video production. It was completely and utterly overwhelming. Not only did I need to learn how to work a professional camera (and all the insane amount of accessories that go along with it) but I also needed to learn some pretty sophisticated software. I still remember how overwhelmed I felt back then. It seemed like there was an endless amount of things to try to remember and for sure it was going to take me a lifetime to grasp it. But somehow or another I managed to learn it, and not only learn it, but get amazingly efficient at it.

So my next logical step was to torture push myself again to take the next step. Now that I can shoot and produce videos I wanted to learn how to be able to do motion graphics. In other words I want to be able to create and animate objects in addition to what I can capture with a camera. This opens up a huge new world of possibilities. And a huge new world of stuff to learn and master.

And once again, I feel completely overwhelmed and convinced that I’m never going to grasp it. I hate this feeling. On any given day I usually can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before so how on Earth am I going to remember the thousands of icons, buttons, and menu commands . . . let alone all the brand new terms and concepts that I need to understand in order to make this magic happen? I’m not sure I have the answer to that question, but one thing I do know is that I live for these challenges.

There is no doubt that I’m a techno geek. I love to learn about and utilize new technology. It excites me. I remember back to my video production training. It completely ruined movie watching for me. I could no longer focus on the plot and enjoy a movie. Instead I was analyzing every camera angle and video edit. I tried to detect every new technique I learned about. It took months before I could go back to just watching a darn movie for the fun of it.

And here I am all over again. The night after my second class I took Karlo to see a Pink Floyd laser light show. This was part of his birthday celebration and I’m not sure either of us really enjoyed it. I caught Karlo with his eye closed on more than one occasion. Hmmmm, we could have just stayed in our hotel room with our eyes closed listening to Pink Floyd so that was just silly. Then there was me . . . every laser that got displayed was a test of my animation knowledge. I couldn’t help but to try to imagine how I would animate every design. Could that be a particle emitter? A replicator? A generator? What motion behaviors would I need to apply to mimic that movement. Oh my goodness, it was exhausting. I just couldn’t shut my brain down and enjoy the show.


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Looking vs Seeing; Listening vs Hearing

looklistenI recently watched a photography lesson where the instructor gave a lengthy discussion on the difference between looking and seeing. The lesson itself was “How to See Like a Photographer.” They were very careful in the wording of this lesson and the entire point was to illustrate the difference between “looking” and “seeing.” A great example was a person looking for their misplaced keys. I’m sure it would be easy to imagine a scene where you run frantically around all the rooms in your house looking for your car keys. You start in the most obvious place (the kitchen and the kitchen counters – the notorious place to accumulate miscellaneous things). You look and look and when you discover the keys are not there you start to extend your search to other rooms. You retrace your steps in hopes of going back to the spot where you last saw the missing keys. After many minutes of frustration you finally break down and ask your family members to help you. Come to find out, your spouse finds the keys sitting on the counter, right under your nose, despite the fact that you looked there several times. The problem was that you were “looking” for the keys, but not “seeing” exactly what was on the counter.

Our brains use our memory to fill in the blanks on so many things. Whenever we look around at scenes that we are familiar with we are really only seeing half of the matter. Our brains automatically fill in the rest with what it thinks should be there. We really only “see” things properly when we see them for the first time. In those instances our brains don’t have the past experience to override reality. The lesson I was watching suggested spending 5 minutes purposefully looking at objects around the room, pointing to them and calling them by some other completely different object. For instance, look at and point to your telephone and say “umbrella.” Continue to do this for several minutes until your brain is so confused that it will start to really see things for what they are.

One of the biggest reasons why I love photography so much is that it forces me to see the world differently. When I’m looking for a shot I really open my eyes and take the time to see things in a much different way than I normally would.

Yesterday I realized that this theory also applies to listening. During my morning run I had my headphones on (like I always do) and I was listening to the same old play list (like I always do) and l listened to the same songs that I’ve heard hundreds of times. Despite the fact that I’ve “heard” them hundreds of times, yesterday I became aware that I never really “listened” to the lyrics. Normally music is playing in the background when you’re busy doing other things. You hear the melody and the tunes, but it’s nearly impossible to really listen unless that is all you are doing. Playing music through headphones seems to make all the difference. Suddenly you can hear the words, and not only just hear the words, but listen to the story and understand the meaning.

The song that made me realize this was Jack Johnson’s “Cookie Jar.” After waking up to news about a young man opening fire with an assault weapon at LAX I suddenly became interested in the story that Jack was telling through this song. Here’s a sample of some of the lyrics:

“Well, it wasn’t me,” says the boy with the gun,
“Sure I pulled the trigger, but it needed to be done,
Because life’s been killing me ever since it begun.
You can’t blame me, ‘cuz I’m too young.”

“You can’t blame me; sure the killer was my son,
But I didn’t teach him to pull the trigger of the gun.
It’s the killing on this TV screen.
You can’t blame me; it’s those images he’s seen.”

“Well, you can’t blame me,” says the media man,
“Well I wasn’t the one who came up with the plan.
And I just point my camera what the people want to see.
Man, it’s a two-way mirror and you can’t blame me.”

“You can’t blame me,” says the singer of the song
Or the maker of the movie which he bases life on.
“It’s only entertainment and as anyone can see,
Its smoke machines and make up man, you can’t fool me.”

It was you, it was me, it was every man.
We’ve all got the blood on our hands.
We only receive what we demand,
And if we want hell, then hell’s what we’ll have . . . .

How many times have I “heard” this song, but this was the first time that I really listened to it. It made realize how disappointing it must be to be the artist with a serious message to tell the world, and the world is happily buying the music up and playing it daily, but in many instances completely missing the intended message.  The whole experience just made me realize how much of life we are missing by not going out of our way to pay attention. Our brains have a way of putting us on cruise control and sailing through life without taking it all in. It really does takes some effort to see (rather than look) and listen (rather than hear) the world around us.