Why Flowers Bloom

  

Why Flowers Bloom

Every morning when we go for a walk with Max in our neighborhood, we encounter all of the changes in nature, which, unlike the East Coast’s climate, is not so noticeable. But spring is different, because of the colors of all of the blooming flowers. Photographing them and then processing the images on my computer, gave me the opportunity to see flowers up close in their various shapes and colors. We see flowers all the time, and perhaps some of us take them for granted. Turns out that scientists have difficulty answering the question: How do flowersbloom? All the same, the question I actually have is — “Why do flowers bloom and why are they so colorful?” Years ago when our family traveled to the New-York state area in the Fall and saw the changing colors of the leaves, I asked myself why there is so much beauty in nature? Are humans the only ones who could see and appreciate it? Do wild animals benefit from this colorful gamut?

The idea which I shared with my family was that it was part of God’s plan to give people something to enjoy and to look forward to returning every year, and that we do not have to do anything to have this experience, other than just to notice and to appreciate.  My family did not buy the idea that God interferes in our appreciation of nature; thus, my question remained unanswered. The same question continues regarding flowers – why are they so attractive? Only for the bees and other insects to see where they collect pollen?  Regardless of the answer to that question, flowers keep blooming, and not only in our neighborhood. When we travelled to Israel last fall, a friend suggested coming back in early spring and travelling to the Sinai to experience the blooming desert. We do not have to travel so far. We have our own desert – Death Valley. Though it is located in over 500 miles from San Francisco, and it can take 8 hours to get there. Fortunately there is another alternative – the blooming trees, and you can find them in many places (like in our backyard). But the place to really see those beautiful trees is in Golden Gate Park. There are quite a few of them around Stow Lake where we go for a walk with Max on the weekends. One morning while I was driving Max to his doggy sitter through the park, I encountered a woman photographing a blooming tree. And as it often happens, seeing her, the answer came to me. Most of the trees looked alike, however her red coat actually made the image.

Flowers bloom from spring to autumn, which is replaced by the colors of fall. Appreciating the beauty is part of our being. We need it as we need air to breathe and water to drink. As co-creators, we learn from nature and manifest it in the colors of our clothing and the flowers we use to decorate our lives. We plant blooming flowers and trees by emulating wild nature, because we are part of the nature and follow its circles and rhythms.

Part of the circle is prescribed by the Jewish “moadim lesimcha” or “celebration of joy”. This weekend there are number of them. Friday night is the first night of Passover” – the holiday of the liberation of the Jews from slavery.  It is also Good Friday, a Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which led to the creation of Christianity.  It is followed by Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday.  Regardless which holiday you are celebrating, most people decorate their homes with flowers, which my wife primarily buys at Costco.

P.S. The four images of the blooming trees are for your enjoyment.  I also added three groups of flowers on my website mannykagan.com. To see them – click on www.mannykagan.smugmug.com.

Happy Holidays!

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Are You Happy?

  

Are You Happy?

What is happiness and how can it be measured? According to the recently compiled World Happiness Report produced by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, for the second year in a row, the happiest country is Finland, a small Nordic country with a population of 5.5 million. The survey was based on factors including economic wealth, life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices and levels of government corruption. The United States dropped from 18th to 19th place. Venezuela came in last place, at 108th. I found a fascinating article in Wikipedia, regarding the philosophy of happiness. In his book Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 BCE, Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated that, “happiness (as well as being well and doing well) is the only thing that humans desire for their own sake, alike riches, honor, health or friendship”.  The term Eudaimonia which was translated as “happiness”, is for Aristotle an activity rather than an emotion or a state of being. According to Aristotle, “the life of excellent rational activity is the happy life”.

In her book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”

I do not know about you, but for me all of those words are just “words”. To support Aristotle’s statement that happiness is an activity, in 1604, Miguel de Servantes Saavedra, famously proclaimed in his book Don Quixote that, “The journey is better than the inn.”  In this context, the question one would ask oneself is, which activity makes me happy?  This can obviously vary from person to person. But then, since we would like to learn from others, let’s ask what the Scandinavians of Finland, Denmark and Norway, who were listed as first three countries in the Happiness Report, do that we in the United States do not.

For starters, those countries have a significantly smaller population. In addition, Scandinavians live under their own version of Socialism, something the U.S. Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders frequently references. You can read about “What is socialism like in Scandinavia” in a recent article written by Scotty Hendricks.

I feel happy when I see our dog Max in the morning with a ball in his mouth. I feel happy when we drive with Max and my wife Elfa to go for a walk in the park. I feel happy when I write a story for the “Encounters” series, and someone sends me an email liking it. I feel happy when I can help my clients with their mortgages. I feel happy when someone buys one of my books. There are too many things which make me happy to list. How about you?

P.S. My journey for happiness starts in the morning, when Max and I go for our ritual walks, during which I always carry my small camera. I encountered these four images of calla lilies in our neighborhood after the rain.

Enjoy, Share and Be Happy!

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How Much Water Do We Need?

  

How Much Water Do We Need?

On my recent visit to the San Francisco Public Library I picked up a free copy of a 2019 wall calendar.  It has twelve images of flowers photographed by various photographers. However, what piqued my interest was the theme of the calendar information related to the water in San Francisco.  Whether you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy the recent heavy rains, this is what we needed, because we are currently using about 64.7 million gallons per day, or about 83 gallons per person.  That sounds like a lot.  Where does all of this water go?  Health authorities generally recommend drinking eight 8 oz glasses of water a day, which comes out to about 2 liters, or half a gallon. There is an opinion that we need to sip on water constantly throughout the day, even when we are not thirsty.  There are other studies pointing out that there is no science behind the 8X8 Rule, therefore, people should drink water when you are thirsty, when not thirsty any more, stop.  And lastly, during hot weather and when exercising, it’s important to drink enough to compensate for lost fluids. Online I found a number of articles and videos on the subject.  But then there is another question – which water is good for our bodies?

What is remarkable – we do not need to spend money on the plastic bottles, which pollute our environment.  In San Francisco we are blessed to have great tasting water which mostly comes from the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System. Unlike bottled water, the tap water costs less than half a penny per gallon.  Reading this information online got me thinking. We use a costly filter at home, which needs to be replaced every so often, and at work we use large plastic bottles.  Do we need all of those devices?  Turns out that the water that goes straight to our tap is tested over 100,000 times a year and is highly regulated by FDA.

Regardless how much we drink, it is still a small portion of the water we consume every day.  According to the article titled “How We Use Water and Why We Should Conserve More”, Marni Evans points out that according to the United States Environment Protection Agency, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water at home daily.  Wow! Why do we need so much?

Turns out that the total amount of water needed to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons versus 108 gallons for corn. This information alone would turn me into a vegetarian (I have already been one for the last forty-three years).  I do not think that you will make this decision right away, but I hope it will make you think.  You can find more information about how much water is needed to produce food on different websites.  Meanwhile, visit your local library branch and pick up a copy of the calendar to read a lot of good advice regarding the use of our water.  While there, do not forget to check out an interesting book or an educational audio-program.  Through the years, I have listened many audio courses and books while driving.

P.S. I like to photograph water as an abstract image. You can see the result in these three images (you can see more images in my photo-gallery in our office).  But I also included a photo of Max cooling off in a water puddle at Stern Grove where he “worked hard” to chase his ball.  This is just as a reminder that you can learn more of how to take care of dogs while enjoying their whimsical images in “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers”, which you can order on Amazon.com.

P.P.S. While checking the archives of my “Encounters”, I encountered the story I wrote on March 11, 2016 with the same title “How Much Water Do We Need?” but with different content.  If you need some easy reading, check out my other stories.

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How to Commemorate St. Patrick

  

How to Commemorate St. Patrick

On Sunday March 17th, many Irish people and their friends celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.  But how many? I had no idea that according to the U.S. Census, there are 34.5 million Americans who list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish. That number is seven times larger than the population of Ireland itself (4,784,000). Irish is the second most common ancestry among Americans, falling just behind German. I found this information in an article from “The Washington Post” dated March 17, 2013. The reason for my quest has to do with the work for my next photo-story book, “42 Encounters with Pairs in San Francisco”. Though I have enough images to finish the book, last week I decided to go to Downtown to photograph the St. Patrick’s Parade, just in case I could capture some new images. I usually take the Muni train at West Portal, down the street from our house, but it was a weekend and I did not want to leave Elfa and Max at home, despite the fact that when I photograph, I prefer to be by myself, but this would go against the Kaizen of our relationship. Driving by car became an issue when as we approached Civic Center, where the Parade ended. The traffic was at a complete stop. Our solution was to turn into the Hayes Valley area. We were lucky to find parking and blended into the crowd of young people, who were there to have a good time. In spite of the proximity to Civic Center, I did not see many green shirts or any other signs pertaining to the event.

My next question was, how many people of Irish decent reside in San Francisco?  Online I found a very interesting article written by Mary McCloy titled, “The Irish in San Francisco”. I could not find the exact number of San Franciscans of Irish decent, but wandering through the streets and seeing the faces of people who could be from any parts of the world spending time together, I realized that in today’s egalitarian San Francisco, with a total populationof 884,363 (as last tallied in 2017), does it really matter?

In his San Francisco Chronicle column on Sunday March 17, 2019, our former mayor Willie Brown wrote about the Triple I, the Irish-Israeli-Italian Social Club. Over the last fifty-three years, the group has been celebrating major holidays together (like St. Patrick’s Day). San Francisco’s population  is well known for being a melting pot.

P.S. These four images are of the different pairs that I encountered that day. The image of a dog loving pair is just a reminder that if you need a special gift for a special person, “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers“ is available on Amazon.com.

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Where to Find Peace of Mind

  

Where to Find Peace of Mind

There were at least two reasons why I decided to write about the subject of peace of mind on the night of our return from The Sea Ranch. After downloading close to nine hundred images and deleting hundreds of them, while selecting a few to share with you, I realized that there are more than eight images that you have seen in the last two weeks, that might give you the desire to visit The Sea Ranch. It was a famous photographer Ansel Adams who said, “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop”. Since he did not have a digital camera or processing software, worked exclusively in Black and White photography, and was known as a true Master, this statement makes perfect sense. For me, if I can choose twelve images from a three day trip, it was time well spent. This leads me to the second reason for this story – peace of mind.

In Online Dictionary.com I found a number of definitions for “peace of mind”. What resonates with me is – “The absence of stress or anxiety”. One of the examples given was, “Meditation on the beach creates peace of mind”. When was the last time you meditated on a beach? (I’ve done it numerous times, but there was no lasting effect.)

Most of us live very stressful lives, which affect our body and behavior. Before adopting our dog Max, I tried to meditate regularly in the mornings. Now I have replaced it with a walking meditation. It probably helps, since stress is part of every loan transaction in my line of work. Though I try to stay “cool”, I am sure it sneaks in anyway. Therefore, short vacations like a trip to The Sea Ranch are not a luxury, but a necessity. But why drive for three hours on a windy road if there are so many locations that are closer in the Bay Area, like Sonoma or Napa or further up in Monterey or Carmel? Those are beautiful places too, and have a lot to offer. But personally, they have not been particularly helpful for finding peace of mind, as I have experienced in The Sea Ranch. For me, it starts during the journey there. From 101 North, we take the Old Pengrove exit, which takes us into the countryside, with cows grazing in the fields. While I drive, I notice the beauty of the open space. It takes us about two hours to reach Jenner. This is where Russian River connects with the ocean. We usually take a break to have our lunch in the local café where they serve great salads, sandwiches and very good hot chocolate. We consume our food while watching the flow of the river. The next 27 miles take us an hour to drive through the winding and twisting road with beautiful views of the ocean, which remind me of my travels in Greece. When we reach The Sea Ranch and come out of the car, my head starts to spin from the fresh ocean air. After unpacking, we take our first stroll along the ocean, and I take my first photos. We usually arrive here on a Friday and leave on a Monday. During those three days, we do not read or watch any news, do not check emails and minimize use of the phone. I usually just walk, sleep, read, photograph and write. Though my wife Elfa packs the food for the journey, we visit local supermarkets for missing items, and local café for afternoon indulgences. There are also a number of very good photo galleries. One of them is owned by Jim Alinder, who has an incredible collection of works of Ansel Adams and other great photographers. I invite you to follow my footsteps.

P.S.
The four images I’ve chosen have a meditative quality, which might help you to reach your peace of mind. I want to offer them to you as a gift. If you buy two “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers” books (one for you, another for your friend), I will mail you all four beautiful 8.5″ x 11″ prints. You can order the books on Amazon.com or Encounterspublishing.com.

Enjoy and Share with a friend.

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What Is Kaizen?

  

What Is Kaizen?

As we were packing for our trip to The Sea Ranch last Friday, which I wrote about last week, Max had a lot of questions in his eyes. He obviously did not know what was going on. After we picked up his “sister” Alona in Tiburon, he was excited and settled on her lap during most of the journey. When we got there, unexpected thing happened.  There was a huge meadow in front of our house. When I opened the door, Max ran out the deck.  This did not concern me. However, when he saw a family of deer eating grass nearby, he started to chase after them. We in turn started running after him yelling his name and begging him to come back. After he chased the deer away, he saw a flock of birds, and now they had to be sent away as well. Meanwhile, Alona and I tried to get him back – running through the wet grass under the drizzling rain.  Finally, after getting exhausted, he came back to Alona.  Over the next three days, we did not let him out off-leash.  Though I thought that he learned the recall command, one thing is for sure – a dogs’ wild nature can be challenging to overcome. There are two places we take him in San Francisco where he can run off-leash. When we go to Fort Funston, Max likes to run around the sandy hills; however, he always comes back when called.  At Stern Grove, where we play a lot of fetch with a ball, he always brings it back.

For Max, who depends on us one hundred percent, every day can be unexpected.  Some days he goes to his day care; on others, he comes with us to the office. Sometimes we take him on a shopping trip, or to one of the parks.  How about us, humans?  What can we do to be better prepared for unexpected events? Physically and emotionally… As far as dogs are concerned, we, humans, need to train them (and ourselves) all the time (You can find a lot of suggestions on how to in my photo-story book, “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers”). Though I know that as long as Max hears and sees us, sooner or later he will get tired of running and will come back.

However, The Sea Ranch is not a place to let him out without a leash (unless we are on the beach, which has natural borders).  At the same time, I am going to continue training him to ensure that running away will never happen again.

I am a firm believer in the Japanese Kaizen Productivity Philosophy.  The word “kaizen” translates roughly to “good change”, which means “constant, continuous improvement”, and is a mindset you can apply anywhere, at any job.  I practice it all the time.  In our business we have weekly staff meetings where we learn about new loan programs from different lenders (I share some of these tools every Wednesday in the Money Solutions emails you receive.), and we also share our various work experiences with each other.  When it comes to writing, I constantly learn from books and the internet.  As a photographer, I photograph daily, and I take excursions on the weekends with my camera, to add more images for the forthcoming books and to share them with you, here.  I am currently writing “42 Encounters with Pairs in San Francisco”, which is going to be available in the Fall.  But I am also going to attend two week long workshops taught by well-known photographers.  (You will read about this experience in due time).  I also buy photography books from other authors.  During our trip to The Sea Ranch, I was reading “How to take Great Photographs” while photographing with three of my cameras with different lenses. If you wonder how I manage to accomplish so many tasks and still have time to sleep, my answer is – I focus on Kaizen.

P.S. These four images of Max during our trip are the result of my practice of Kaizen in photography. You can find more images of dogs with their owners in “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers” available on Amazon.com.  While there, read the amazing book reviews.

Enjoy and Share with a friend.

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