Happy New Year 2023

Here is my post to welcome in 2023 to my 1,168 subscribers across all seven continents.

Thank You for your support with my compliments and best wishes.

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Here’s a fireworks display to help you celebrate.  Click on any image for a larger view.

Click link to visit my online Fine Art Photography Gallery.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Christmas Ornaments

The Nutcracker

Our Nutcracker wooden figure carries a weight of memories.  Early memories are of my sister, Christina’s Sugar Plum Fairy solo for Saint Aidan Parish talent program, Mom’s appreciation of performance of Swan Lake in her pre-child past, a friend of my Mom was a former dancer who taught Christina ballet.  Hanging quietly, these memories swirl around the Nutcrackers open maw.   

Click this photograph for my Fine Art Photography gallery.
Click this photograph for my Fine Art Photography gallery

Thirteen years ago we observed New Years Day 2009 in the lobby of Winthrop Medical Center, Mineola, New York waiting for the outcome of Mom’s hip replacement surgery grateful the head of Orthopedics was performing the surgery.  That year saw large changes played out in the last four years of her life, she never returned to her home of 52 years.  

From then on her winters were spent with her daughter Diane in Mesa, Arizona.  Mom would call us, amused at the sight of neighbors walking by in 50 degree weather in winter parkas.  She was well known in Albertson for her habit of walking everywhere, it was fortunate she never needed to learn how to drive a car: all she needed was readily at hand.  

I needed to return to Albertson several times a year to our childhood home.  December 2009, Pam and I melded the trip with a day in New York City.  Memories of Mom’s enjoyment of Swan Lake drew me to purchase tickets for The Nutcracker.  The New York City Ballet has performed The Nutcracker every Christmas season since 1954, when I was one year old.  The 56th performance was our first. 

As with Dante’s version of hell, the David H. Koch Theater has rings.  I sprang for the highest ring, the fourth, the least costly and, optimistically, the best vantage to view the formations of grouped dancers.

A full orchestra is dedicated to each performance, the hall acoustics are fabulous, and we were able to appreciate the scenes, the grouped dancers and, even, the soloists.  The last scene of the first act, the Snowflakes (or Snow Crystals), brought tears to my eyes, the music, the scene was impossibly beautiful and brought back some experiences of mine in winter nature.

We were hooked after that, immersed in the very real (i.e., non-virtual) alternate reality at least two Sunday afternoon performances each year, seeing all Tchaikovsky’s ballets in the style of Balanchine for which the New York Ballet is famous.  For the 59th season of The Nutcracker were brought two granddaughters, took fourth third row orchestra seats.  We marveled at the experience.  It included, during intermission, a photo session with a character from the performance.

Here they are with a Snowflake.  This is a scan of one of the 8 x 10 prints we received from this session.

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Nia and Gabby with the Nutcracker Ballet character “Snowflake” during the intermission of a December 2012 performance.

 

We planned to share a performance of Swan Lake with Mom during the September 2013 season, in her 90th year.  Mom passed away in her birth month, June, 2013.  

Click this link for another Christmas postinhg.

Christmas Tableau

Cozy Snowmen dance round the candle

My dear wife Pam is the heart of Christmas in our home. Over the years we have collected a treasure of ornaments and knick-knacks she crafts into displays around our home. Pam completed the project well in advance of our grandchild holiday visits, before card writing and gift wrapping.

My contribution is a photographic time capsule. Here is some of my artistic output from this work.

This grouping of five cozy snowmen (three males, two females) are warmly dressed in knit sweaters and stocking caps; the women with long skirts. The five hold hands in a ring, rising from a common platform. We place a cup and devotional candle in the center.

The tiny group evokes community, harmony, amity. I captured them with a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III dslr, a fixed Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens mounted on a Manfrotto studio tripod and hydrostatic ball head. Fixed lenses provide the sharpest macros. The mounting allowed precise framing and use of the widest aperture and a low ISO. The light sources were sunlight from a large north facing bay window, a Canon Speedlite 600Ex-Rt and the candle. When used, the flash was angled in various ways toward the ceiling.

I start with a tight shot, maximum aperture. A single figure is in clear focus, the remaining gradually lost in the bokeh. The flash was used. I can almost see then circling around the candle in a winter wind.

Cosy Christmas Snowmen

Here the candle is lighted, aperture narrow to f8 using only the candle and ambient light (no flash). The group is visible within surrounding figures. I backed away and the viewpoint is higher.

The candle light enhances the perception of community.

Cosy Christmas Snowmen

Viewpoint is closer, still only the candle and ambient light. Aperture widened to 3.5. I must remove the hair in lightroom.

Cosy Christmas Snowmen

I backed off, aperture at the max with only the candle and ambient light. The figures are placed in a tableau with other snowmen and a structure, a birdhouse.

Cosy Christmas Snowmen

For this overview I swapped in a Canon 24mm f/1.4L II USM with a flash, aperture f2.2.

Christmas Snowman Display
Christmas 2017 snowman display laid out in our den on top of the entertainment cabinet.

Pam’s Holiday Cranberry Pecan Salad

Easy to make, nutritious, a favorite with our family

You will be well-remembered for years, honestly, when you include Pam’s salad in a holiday celebration. We hosted 2017 Thanksgiving and Pam’s salad was requested by her son and daughter’s families. When we went around the table to give thanks, our six year old grandson offered, “I am thankful for the jello”, meaning Pam’s salad.

My wife, Pamela Wills, perfected this recipe over the years as a nutritious and tasty dish she could make in advance.

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or Anytime

Holiday Cranberry-Pecan Salad travels well and is a visually appealing dish to share at parties.

Click the pic for my Online Gallery

Holiday Cranberry-Pecan Salad

Ingredients:

1 12 oz. bag of raw cranberries

1 6 oz. box of raspberry gelatin

1 6 oz. box of orange gelatin

3 cups orange juice

3 cups boiling water

1 large orange

2 large apples of your choice (I use sweet/tart/firm apples)

1 tablespoon orange rind

½ cup chopped pecans

Curly leaf parsley

3-4 small bunches of green grapes. I dip the grapes in water, then in sugar and let dry. Or you can use raw cranberries.

Directions:

  1. Boil water. In large mixing bowl pour water over raspberry and orange gelatin and stir until dissolved. Wait a few minutes until the gelatin cools down (keep stirring). Add orange juice and stir again. Place in refrigerator until gelatin is the consistency of raw egg whites. This is tricky step since, if you don’t let it set up enough, the fruit will sink to the bottom.  When set too much the fruit mixture won’t blend with the gelatin.
  2. In food processor finely chopped cranberries. By hand cut orange and apples into small bit-size pieces. Combine chopped cranberries, apples and orange. Fold in grated orange rind and pecans. Set this aside while waiting for the gelatin (see above).
  3. Fold fruit mixture into the gelatin. With a large spoon scoop up mixture and transfer it to a Bundt pan. Cover with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator for several hours or until set.

To serve:

Dip bottom of mold into a sink of a few inches of luke warm water (not too warm or the gelatin will melt). Turn upside down on a large round platter or plate and garnish around the edges with parsley and the sugar-coated grapes or raw cranberries.

This is a great dish to share at a holiday party since you can make it in advance. My family prefers it over cooked cranberry relish and it is even good enough to serve as a dessert. It is easy to make, it’s festive and has always been a big hit. Enjoy!

Note: EAT the parsley garnish. Parsley is packed with vitamins and minerals.  Just 7.5 grams (a fraction of an ounce) contains 150+% of most people’s Vitamin K requirement and about 15% for Vitamin A and C.

Ireland on the Mind at Christmas

Irish Christmas Spirit

A previous post, “Christmas Tableau”, provides some context.  The photographs from that set were accepted by Getty for stock images.  Click the link to take a look:  “Cozy Snowmen” on Getty Stock.

This is part of my project to document our Christmas memories through photography.  Here we explore the Irish and Ireland themes of our decorated Christmas Tree.

Where would we be without Saint Patrick?  He was a force, to be sure.  A favorite story,  is the landing of his return to the island 432 AD.  The tides on the eastern coast of the Irish Sea can be strong.  His plan was to sail up to coast further north than what we call today Strangford Lough.  On passing this inlet the boat was swept into the lough tidal narrows.  Circumstances called for a landing, rather than wait for the tide.  Patrick came ashore where the Slaney River enter the lough and “quickly converted” the local chieftan, Dichu, who provided a barn for holding services.  The name of the town “Saul” in Irish is Sabhall Phádraig, translated as “Patrick’s Barn.”

IrelandChristmas-1

In this posting I’ll go lighter on descriptions of technique.  Leave it to say I held to the Canon fixed lens EF 50mm f1.2L USM throughout.  Some, like the photograph of Saint Patrick, used a tripod.  Others, like the latter two of the following Irish Themed Cross set were handheld.  Generally a flash was used to supplement ambient sunlight from a large north-facing bay window.

Here the “celtic” cross is converted to an Irish theme through a substitution of a shamrock with golden decoration inspired by pagan neolithic petroglyphs for the nimbus (circle) intersecting the central intersection of arms and stem.

For the first three I played with aperture, taking advantage of the stability of a tripod.  The final two of the set are handheld.

Note the fanciful leprechaun snowman with pot o’ gold, on the left.

Blown glass Irish dancers.

“Travel memories”

Lets’s finish up with a resin cast Santa Claus in hiking garb.  Hiking is a favorite activity of ours.  Featuring a stout staff and Aran Island sweater.

IrelandChristmas-17

Halloween

Pam talked me into putting on a sheet and walking out in public for blocks and blocks to meet our daughter-in-law and the grandchildren. At the moment we were captured by the staff photographer for The Ithaca Voice, Casey Martin, I was telling Pam, “This is insane.”

A consolation is no one could possibly recognize us, even the grandchildren who we conspired with their Mom to give a scare.

Until we were sucked up into the Bio-containment vortex.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Harvest Festival

A Photo Essay

Commerce

Family

Fun

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Happy Saint Patricks Day 2022

On the Tain Way

On Monday, June 9, 2014, cousin John Mills dropped his son, Sean Mills, myself and Pam Wills off at the foot of the western slopes of Slieve Foy on the Tain Way.  Sean, Pam and I walked the way over the mountain and into Carlingford in the footsteps of epic Irish heroes.

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On the Tain Way– CLICK ME!!!!

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saint Patrick’s Return to Ireland

Thoughts on the Fifth Century return of Saint Patrick to Ireland

In follow-up to my last post my IStock photograph of Saint Patrick on the Hill of Tara was accepted and is available for viewing (click the link to go there).

Since July 2008 a sea generation tidal turban, “SeaGen”, produces electricity (1.2 MW) for between 18 and 20 hours a day while the tide is forced in and out of Strangeford Lough through the Narrows where the generator is installed. The first large scale commercial production of electricity from the tide, “SeaGen” is located between the Northern Ireland towns of Strangeford and Portaferry, the strength of the tides there were used by the earliest tidal mill known, the Nendrum Monastery mill dating 787 based on archeological excavation.

History records Patrick converted the island of Erin (Ireland) to Christianity in the Fifth Century AD as a return to his place of captivity and slavery.

Saint Patrick legend, Down Cathedral
An informational plaque mounted on granite next to the grave of Saint Patrick.

There is a connection between “SeaGen” and the return of Patrick to Ireland. The first sanctuary dedicated by Patrick was at Saul, County Down not far from River Quoile that drains into Strangeford Lough. Historians identify Patrick’s first landing site, upon return, as Wicklow where he was forced to leave by the locals. Heading north in the boats of the time, the strong tide of Strangeford Narrows pulled them into the Lough and, from there, headed up the River Quoile to encounter the local chieftain, Díchu mac Trichim. Patrick’s first Irish convert to Christianity, the feast of Saint Dichu is April 29.

On June 7, 2014 Pam and I visited this area. Here are some photographs of the traditional burial place of Saint Patrick.

View of Downpatrick
View of Downpatrick from the hill of the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity (Down Cathedral)
Downpatrick High Cross
The High Cross of Downpatrick fronts Down Cathedral on a hill overlooking the town. The informational placard reads
“The granite head and shaft date to about 900 AD and were once re-used as part of a Market Cross at the bottom of English Street. The pieces were found in various places in town, reassembled and presented to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral in 1897.”
St Patrick's Grave
The placard text reads:
“A large memorial stone of Mourne granite was place here in 1900 to mark the traditional burial-place of St. Patrick. The stone was quarried at Slieve-na-largie near Castlewellan, and it took 12 men 14 days to cut from the quarry.”
Inscription, St Patrick Grave
Inscription on the upper surface of stone marking grave of Saint Patrick.

Please browse my reasonably priced stock photography. License a photograph, download and use it for your website or blog. Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Ireland” Fine Art Gallery.

Copyright 2018 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saint Patrick’s Return to the Hill of Tara

The year 2000 AD return of Saint Patrick to the Hill of Tara

To continue my posting “Climb Hill of Tara” my first submission of three Hill of Tara photographs to Getty Istock had two of the photographs returned for revision.

For the fenced statue of Saint Patrick the reviewed wrote:

Please provide a full description for the work of art featured in this image. Include the artist, date of creation, location, etc. Works of art created by someone other than yourself must be free of copyright protection to be considered. If this work of art is indeed under copyright protection, a property release signed by the copyright holder will need to be provided.

Hmmmm….What I do while capturing a photograph of a statue is take photos of any plaque, sign, whatever to acquire the name of the creator, how it came to be there, community connections. There was nothing around the statue nor the very informative Office of Public Works placards at the entrance.  I was proud to submit the statue photograph, as it turned out so well, and hoped for the best.

Last week, I put in a query to Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW), the agency responsible for the Hill of Tara, and did not receive a response when, for other queries, they were helpful.  This Saturday and Monday mornings, several hours of internet research revealed this history.

The original statue was placed on Tara sometime after the 1829 Catholic emancipation.  It was molded concrete, created by Thomas Curry of Navan at his own expense to honor the connection of Saint Patrick to Tara.

The OPW removed Curry’s statue 1992 for repair of a century of wear.  During the removal the statue was damaged beyond repair and, afterwards, was further damaged by vandals who decapitated and used it for target practice.

Initially, the OWP decided not to replace Saint Patrick citing the “pagan” nature of the place. After an angry meeting of local people at the Skryne Parish Hall.  In this meeting the local Rathfeigh Historical Society formed the “Committee to Restore St. Patrick to Tara.”  In turn, pressure was put on Michael D. Higgins, Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (and the OPW). It was decided a new statue was to be created, based on a competition, and instead of it former place at the hill summit (called Rath na Rí), it was to be near the entrance, outside the Interpretative Center, to offer a Céad Míle Fáilte to visitors and be seen on departure.

The outcome was the competition winner was rejected by locals.  The winning entry, by sculptor Annette Hennessy, did not follow competition rules that specified the statue incorporate traditional features to include shamrocks, harp, miter, a crozier and, perhaps, fleeing snakes. Hennessy’s design was of a shaven headed teenage boy in a short (“mini-skirt”) kilt, a handbag-shaped bell in hand.  She agreed hers was “not a traditional style statue” saying it “acknowledges our Pagan Celtic history.”

The rejection included a statement from Dr. Leo Curran, chairman of the Rathfeigh Historical Society, “We agreed that most of the monuments in Tara are from the pre-Christian era, but St. Patrick should be at the uppermost layer, representing Christian tradition extinguishing paganism.”

By this time, a new government and minister were in place.  The decision was made to search Ireland to find a suitable, existing, replacement statue.  By 2000 the present statue, donated by the Sisters of Charity, was in place at the Hill of Tara entrance.

At the end of this post I provide the two references from my internet research and from which many facts and all the quotes were used here.  I concluded the statue author was anonymous without copyright protection and submitted a revised image description, attaching a copy of my research.

Let’s see what happens to my IStock photograph of Saint Patrick on the Hill of Tara.

Please browse my reasonably priced stock photography.  License a photograph, download and use it for your website or blog.  Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Ireland” Fine Art Gallery.

References :
“Should St Patrick stand again on Tara?” Independent, Dublin, Ireland March 17, 1999.
“Statue of Saint Patrick”, Meath Roots web site. The page includes photograph of the Thomas Curry statue.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved