It Was The Best of Times… It Was The Worst of Times… It’s Life.

As 2017 comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect back to the last few years of my life and how far I have come from the worst of times to the best of times. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time, have witnessed my struggles and celebrations. Thank you for your support and kindness.

The Best of Times…

Four years ago, just when I thought life would give me a break, I fractured my left ankle during the first day of my 7 day Hawaiian vacation. It wasn’t exactly the break I was looking for. At the time, all I could see were regrets and pain. If only, I wasn’t so eager to chase after that turtle! If only I wasn’t so clumsy… if only I didn’t take that step… If only… Oh the regrets that occupied my mind…

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That step took me down a hole so deep that I thought I would never be able to climb out. But somehow, I did. As terrible as that step was for me, I realized; I would not be where I am today had I not taken that slippery step. The broken and painful step took me on the path of living a purposeful life — where I can use my life experience to help other people who are still stuck in their own deep holes to see a way out. The job affords me the opportunity to live the independent life I had lost so many year ago.

For my 52nd birthday last month, I went back to Hawaii to celebrate my independence.

IMG_3426_resizedI finally fulfilled my dream to swim with the turtle after three years of waiting.

DSC_8226I rediscovered love with me, myself and I.  And found myself at the end of the rainbow.

IMG_1508Life Lessons learned: Things happen for a reason, good or bad. No regrets. Learn from it and move on. Have faith. The right opportunity will show up when you are ready to receive it. You never know where that next step will take you.

The Worst of Times…

After I got back from Hawaii, a very difficult decision was waiting for me to make. My beloved Max was having hard time walking. I took him to the vet and was given the bad news that cancerous tumors have invaded his entire body. I could prolong his life for a few months with surgery and chemo. Given the fact, Max was 12 years old; I decided to help him live the rest of his life as comfortably as possible. And hoping, maybe… by some miracle that he would get better on his own. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks; I knew I was only being selfish keeping him. I did the inevitable and took him to the vet for his final check-up.

Now that he’s gone, I realized I took him for granted. Maximus Minumus, a true friend and companion who never complained, never hurt me or anyone, was always ready to play and most of all give unconditional love.

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DSC_8238This photo was taken two hours before I took him to the vet. Even to the end, he was ready to play; even if all he could do was to sit there and enjoy the the moment.

Life lessons I learned from Max:  Live life in the moment. Accept the good and the bad. Enjoy what you have. Give love and kindness even if the person doesn’t deserve it. Smile even when you hurt. Don’t complain. It’s Life.

May All Beings Be Happy and Peaceful… Happy New Year.

 

Almost Paradise

After more than five hours of flight, free from any major turbulence and bad passenger behaviors; my destination came into view — the beautiful island of Oahu. My paradise island for the next 7 fun-filled days with my camera and scuba gear.




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It has been over 10 years since I last visited the island and my baby sister, who lives there with her family. As I looked out window, memories of my last visit came flooding back… it’s amazing how my life has changed so much in those 10 years. Little did I know, this trip would bring me another big change — a challenge that will once again test my courage and strength.

Talk about life throwing a curve ball… the term “Life Sucks” doesn’t even come close to describe what happened to me on my FIRST DAY of exploring the island. While hiking along a jetty by an inlet, I was so engrossed by the colorful sea-life swimming along that I forgot to pay attention to the next rock I stepped on. It happened so fast, all I heard was the loud crack of my camera hitting the rock and the feel of excruciating pain in my left foot. After sitting for a few moments in a daze, my first instinct was to check the camera, fearing for the worse but with great relief no damage other than a few scratches. However, one look at my leg and the pain engulfing my whole body; I knew my paradise trip was over. To make the long story short, I fractured my ankle in two places. I have never had a broken bone of any kind in my entire life, until this incident. Like the old saying, there’s a first time for everything. Though this is one of those first times, I would rather not have.

For the rest of the vacation, I spent the next 6 days in excruciating pain, feeling like… honestly, I can’t really find the words to describe all the emotions going through my mind… all I know is that I will not be able to use my leg for the next couple of months and the challenges ahead.

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However… not all was completely loss. On my return flight, I was able to witness and photograph one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. For the moment, the beauty brought me peace and tranquility that made me forgot about my painful broken leg and the screaming babies… ALOHA!!




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Back to Basics

Yesterday, I started my new journey as an underwater photographer. Pirate John and I went back to the Mukilteo T-Dock for my debut. Unlike last weekend during my certification where the visibility were low and murky — which was made worse by so many other inexperienced divers; this time we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.

After spending sometime adjusting my weights, we were able to descend. I was so focused on photography and Pirate John was focused on keeping me safe and getting me to perfect my buoyancy. Which I can understand is really important but… the photographer in me was definitely more predominate; especially when we got to the bottom. The visibility was so much better. It was probably 20 feet compared to last week’s 3-5 feet. I was like a little kid with her first camera. I wanted to take pictures of everything. Since I don’t have a underwater housing for my Nikon, I had to use Pirate John’s point and shoot.

It has been years since I last used a point and shoot camera. I discovered it was quite a challenge to go back to the basics and shoot on automatic. The camera came with many settings, including underwater — which I chose to use to see what it can do. Even though it was a point and shoot, it was challenging for me. I missed being in control of my camera and the creative settings involved when shooting manual with a DSLR. But I think the point and shoot was  the best way for me to learn from in the underwater environment. I only have three buttons to work with: On/Off, Wide Angle/Close Up, and Shutter. Which is all I can deal with when I have to focus on staying buoyant and not float away with the tide. On couple of occasions, Pirate John had to redirect me because I was going in the wrong direction and floating too much with the current. You can definitely become easily disoriented in the wide open water with no landmarks to guide you. Or the fact you can easily go from 30 feet to 70 plus feet without feeling the change of distance. That’s why I pay close attention to the air and depth gauge on my dive computer. Safety is the most important, photography second…

A few minutes into our dive; I came face to face  with a young wolf eel half hidden in a kelp bed. Wolf eels are extremely shy and elusive. So it was amazing that I found one so easily. Excitedly, I took out the camera and Pirate John thought I wanted to take his picture. He took out his regulator and started to pose. I shook my head no and kept pointing towards the kelp bed.
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Since we only communicate through scuba sign language, by the time he understood what I said, the wolf eel started to swim away. Quickly, I just pointed the camera and shoot.

During our two separate dives, I was able to experiment more with the camera and swam around happy like a fish in water… point and shoot at the abundant of sea life around me.
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There were flounders everywhere… most tried to camouflage themselves though, I was able to capture a couple having fun. Can you see them?
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On our second dive, Pirate John took me to the popular dive spot, Geo Dome. It’s a man-made structure but the sea life didn’t seem to mind. The visibility wasn’t good because of the strong current and lack of sunlight but I could see the abundant sea critters hidden everywhere. As I tried to become neutrally buoyant so I can steady myself enough to shoot without stirring up more silt, the current was bouncing me in all directions.  Then I spotted a large rock fish and was able to get a few shots while battling the strong current at the same time.
Geo Dome, Mukilteo

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On our way back, I didn’t see anything interesting. So I decided to do some selfie shots.

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I took this shot just as the current pushed me down on my back…

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And as I looked up, I saw a school of fish. When I tried to shoot, the current pushed me sideways and I ended up with this image. I like the abstract look of the fish and air bubbles.

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Finally, after I tumbled around a few more times and couldn’t get the photos I wanted; I put away the camera and enjoyed the rest of the dive with my dive buddy, Pirate John… who made sure we do the safety stop before ascending to the surface. Over all, it was a good first underwater photography experience and though these snap shots aren’t award winning;  it’s a thrilling feeling to know I’m another fin kick closer to my new goal of being an underwater photographer. Happy Diving! 🙂

Happy Like a Fish In Water

After swallowing what felt like gallons of sea water, battling the currents and poor visibility, tumbling around in all different directions, and crashing to the bottom on several occasions (thank-goodness there were no sea urchins below); it’s official… I’m a certified PADI scuba diver!!

Pirate John was there to capture my moments of glory… happy like a fish in water.

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Wow! What an amazing, awesome experience. Even though the eerie green water was freezing cold and murky, visibility less than 4 feet, and my only life source is a 50 lb steel tank strapped to my back; the feeling of being able to swim with the fishes evoked the absolute magical and thrilling emotions deep within me.

There were challenging moments during the certification that made me lose my sense of bravery… but I was determined to make it through the training. Being a certified diver is the only way take my photography to the underwater world. I am looking forward to the new challenges and exciting discoveries waiting for me below. Here is my first of many photos to come as I embark on this new journey. Happy Diving! 😀

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A Different World

A couple of months ago, Pirate John introduced me to the world of sailing and now he has rekindled the love that I have lost years ago –Scuba Diving. I was probably about eight years old the first time I watched Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s undersea exploration shows. I was mesmerized by Cousteau’s beautiful underwater world and his French accent. I remember telling my grandma that I wanted be a scuba diver, undersea scientist like him when I grow up. While I ended up studying art, I never abandoned my desire to explore the ocean. A few years after moving to Seattle, I became a certified scuba diver. What an amazing experience. During my first open water dive, I encountered a huge octopus and that was it… the experience made me want to pursue my dream of being an undersea explorer. However, my undersea world was short-lived. Motherhood took center stage and I had to quit scuba. Over the years, I’ve thought about going back to the scuba world but for one reason or another, the timing and money just didn’t work out… until now. Pirate John gave me a wondrous gift — scuba lessons. Since it has been twenty years since my last certification, I have to start over. I will complete my certificate in a few weeks. It’s truly an amazing gift to combine my passion for photography and scuba diving. While I realized that I no longer wanted to be a great undersea scientist like Cousteau, I am looking forward to being an undersea photographer.

Since I can’t shoot underwater yet, I spend the weekend photographing Pirate John, scuba instructors and students from Evergreen Dive Service; the school where I will get my certification as a scuba diver. It was a fun and challenging shooting experience. The day was gray, the water reflective and the divers were mostly black moving objects. Talk about exposure nightmare. It was very difficult to get both the water and the divers with correct exposure at the same time. I decided to shoot a little under exposed so that the sky and water would not blow out. I find it easier to fix an under exposed dark area in Lightroom than a blow out area. Another challenge I encountered was the low light from the gray sky and the constant movement of the divers. I didn’t want to use high ISO so it was difficult to capture sharp images. But in the end, it was all good. I learned a lot on technique and processing. Mostly, it was great shooting and observing the divers in action… I can’t wait to be one of them in a few weeks.

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Pirate John & Cool Scuba Instructor, Chad.

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Calm, cool, dive instructor Chad. So patient and understanding.


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_DSC1239Pirate John, Alex, and Paul.

_DSC1356-2Finally, Pirate John noticed the camera.
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Alex, happy like a fish in water. He passed his dive tests. I’m sure he is looking forward to his diving trip he has planned already…

Paul, Alex’s brother. He also passed.
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And Hernan… the big smile says it all.

OKAY! We are certified divers!! Alex, Hernan and Paul.
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Kitchen Nightmare Moment

On my way back from the post office this afternoon, I passed a group of people filming on the sidewalk. I thought one of the man looked very much like Chef Gordon Ramsay from the reality television show, Kitchen Nightmares. Quickly, I pulled over to take a better look and to my happy surprise, it was Chef Ramsay. This is what I called the “Being at the right place, at the right time”  opportunity moment. I certainly did not expect to see him in my little town. But there he was… dressed in his casual shirt and jeans. I found a place to park and proceeded to follow Chef Ramsay and his entourage. They went into the restaurant, Prohibition Grille.

I found out Chef Ramsay is in town doing a follow-up show on the Prohibition Grille that was featured on his show, Kitchen Nightmares last year. I was told the restaurant made the top three worst restaurants he had to makeover list. And they are doing a special to see how the restaurant have improved — or have gotten worse. From listening to Chef Ramsay’s closing act outside the restaurant (which he had to retake about 30 times to get it right) the restaurant had made a significant amount of improvement; the best part was that the owner no longer subjects her customers to her appetite suppressing belly dancing acts. I saw the original episode last December, and the belly dancing would have turned me away regardless how good the food was. Though in her case, the food was as bad as her dancing. Would I go there to eat? Probably not.

 

I’ve never been one who cares much about celebrities, but I have to say — I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to meet Chef Ramsey. So I waited with the crowd of his adoring fans across the street from the restaurant, with my crappy camera phone — wishing I had brought my Nikon. Oh I kept thinking… the great shots I could have taken, instead of the poor resolution images from my not so smartphone. But oh well, it was still an amazing opportunity to finally meet the loud mouth, bad tempered, super talented chef I’ve admired for so long. It was a long wait, but in the end: I got to meet him, shook his hand and had him autographed the only paper I had in my purse; my bank statement that I got from the post office. Which I believe is a good sign. Perhaps his money making energy will somehow transferred on to my bank statement and brings me the opportunities to increase the balance to millions someday….

Chef Ramsay

As I watch him smiling and chatting with his adoring fans, I could sense Chef Ramsey has a kind demeanor about him, not at all the loud, dirty mouth, condescending jerk that he portrays on T.V. His hand was cold but his eyes were kind as he shook my hand and said “hello” to me in his lovely British accent. So, that was my excitement for the day. Perhaps, I should have invited Chef Ramsay to come visit me at Big Bear and challenge him to criticize my food… which I doubt very much he would be able to find any faults with Big Bear. 😉

The Road To Big Bear

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A couple of months ago, I had my photography cover debut for 1859 Oregon’s Magazine. I am still in awe of my good fortune every time when I look at the magazine; which I have a copy on all the tables and shelves around the house. And today, I have another debut. Today I finally opened the doors to my grand project — Big Bear Rest Stop.

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A few months ago, after my long and winding road of employment rejections; a real estate developer saw my diverse work experience as positive qualities and he decided to hire me as the general manager to turn an old chalet into a rest stop that contains a restaurant, beer and wine garden, and a gift shop. It was the perfect project tailored for me. I knew there would be many challenges ahead to turn an old, dilapidated building into the grand vision I had in my mind. But it’s exactly those kinds of challenge that drives me — the kind that brings out my passion and creativity.

After countless construction delays, dealing with vendors, health department regulations, broken kitchen equipment, sampled more hot dogs than I ever had in the last 5 years but it was all worth it. When I see what I have accomplished in such short time I feel very grateful and proud — which is not something I usually feel about myself. However, with each challenge I overcome; I am learning to not be so hard on myself when things don’t work out the way I want. That’s why I was able to remain calm when I was driving up the beautiful highway 2 to Big Bear this morning, all excited about the grand opening when I got a call from my assistant, Billie. Right away, I knew from the tone of her voice that it was bad news. She told me the walk in refrigerator failed over night and while the fan is running, the temperature in the fridge reads 60 degrees (16c) Calmly, I told Billie we are going to open today regardless. Good thing the extra refrigerator that broke the week before had been fixed. I told her to throw away all the perishable foods, move everything else into the other fridge and work with what we have left that was usable. We might not be able to serve everything on the menu but I told her we will open and we will just have to deal with whatever that comes our way. In the end, all was well and we had an amazing opening day… my road to Big Bear is complete. 😀

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(These last four photos belongs to Billie Preston)

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Emily, Shannon, Malia, April and Billie

Cover Debut

Tomorrow will be the three-year anniversary for  Emily’s Photography Blog.  In the beginning, I wasn’t expecting anything great would come from blogging. I started the blog because I was unemployed and the daily blogging kept my mind busy.  However it didn’t take long for my expectation to change — especially after my tumor operation a couple of years ago. I realized that photo blogging did more than just keeping my mind occupied. The blog taught me about determination, friendship, selfless sharing, support and learning about life around the world through pictures. Most importantly, it made me appreciate and perfect my skills so that I can become the professional photographer that I am today. So my fellow bloggers. Just keep taking pictures, blog about it and enjoy the journey… because you never know who might be looking and want to pay you for your hard work.

In the three years of blogging, I have received many requests to use my photos. I have granted all but one request for free. Normally, I’m okay without getting pay and would settle for a credit and link back to my blog. However, the one that I have turned down was actually someone who works in a famous hotel in New York City. The person was interested in using my photos for the walls in the restaurant. At first I was very tempted in letting them use it for free. After all, the hotel is famous. But then I thought, if I do that then I would only depreciate my own skills and the value of my work. It’s not as if they couldn’t afford the small payment I was asking. I wasn’t going to let my work be used by people who could afford to pay regardless of how much potential exposure I might get. I’ve learned long ago that I would rather get paid and get the exposure at the same time. If they want my work, they should pay for it. I’m sure they wouldn’t let me stay at the hotel for free.

Anyway, a month ago, I received a request to use my photos from the creative director of 1859 Oregon’s Magazine.  And on top of that, my photo debut made the cover of the magazine. When I received the check a month later, it was an amazing feeling to be compensated fairly for my hard work. I’m so glad I stay true to my values.  Thank you everyone for your support and wonderful comments. Your uplifting and kind words have helped me through these dark periods of my life in more ways then you’ll ever know…   🙂

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